Since its creation in 1931, The New York Times Best Seller list has carried a reputation of suggesting quality publications, despite the only criteria for making the list being book sales. This idea that "The List" is recommending quality books came out of the idea that only “good” books sell enough copies to place there, but that’s just not what happens. It’s often the books that are the most talked about that sell enough copies to make it. Which used to refer to established authors like James Patterson or Stephen King instantly making The List because of their reputations, regardless of the actual book’s quality, but now means whichever book hits Twitter’s Trending page first.
How easy is it to con The List? So easy it’s not even a new phenomenon. Author manipulation is a tried and true a way to appear on the list. So common, there’s almost no reason to get there organically. Don’t believe me? Author Jacqueline Susann bought large quantities of her own book. Author Wayne Dyer purchased thousands of copies of his. To combat this The New York Times places a dagger symbol next to titles that have bulk orders. But even that isn’t consistent. Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness was found to be bulk-ordered, but never appeared with a dagger on the list.
We live in a world where any attention is good attention, which makes getting on the list organically obsolete. It’s all about money, movie rights, and gaining the kind of fans that will defend even an author’s worst decisions so why let a little thing like “actual sales” get in the way? Thanks to the Kardashians and social media there’s no longer any incentive to be successful or famous for merit, it’s almost more lucrative to be infamous. That’s what this author wanted.
I call it the Fifty Shades of Grey effect, and I’m sure I’m not the first to come up with that. This is when a book that’s widely considered to be poorly written gets attention through controversial means. For Shades it was through the tenuous connection to plagiarism and fanfiction. For this book it’s attempting to scam its way onto the The New York Times Best Seller list. In both cases the authors were aware that their books were not well written enough to ever garner acclaim on their own, so they did what many do and capitalized on negative media attention.
This most recent author is the turducken of book controversy. Not only did she attempt to scam The List, the book is poorly written and comically bad, but even the cover art has been stolen and the artist was never credited. No one could be that stupid right? Right. This is a perfect example of someone attempting to delegitimize the media to justify their own bad actions. This author has come out crying bully, claiming the list succumbed to peer pressure, saying she’s a martyr. So anyone who happens to support her will look at The Times and the book community in general as the bad guy instead of looking at her actions and motives. In our polarized culture, if someone cries bully, no one thinks to look into it. Supporters of this woman will perpetuate falsehoods of her persecution eliminating credibility in a time when credibility has become subjective.
The Times is far from innocent. They could be doing a lot more to be clear about their methods, what being on the list means, and clarifying past controversies, but they haven’t. Because much like sex, controversy sells. The Times isn’t going to shy away from an opportunity to be the center of attention.
So did this author get what she wanted? Well, the film has been cancelled and the book hasn’t appeared on any lists of note. But the book is floating around the internet, garnering the same kind of hate-reading following that led to Fifty Shades being legitimized and this is yet another controversy that undermines the credibility of the The New York Times Best Seller list. So to me it looks like we’re all losers and will continue to be until the list tightens up and we, as readers, stop allowing ourselves to be taken for a ride by these shitty authors.