Can A Writer Buy Their Own Books To Become A Bestseller? – Op-Ed Piece


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Can A Writer Buy Their Own Books To Become A Bestseller? – Op-Ed Piece


There are some questions that you may not want to ask as you go through your busy day that includes going to work, grocery shopping, fixing that leak in the basement, and finding that piece of paper you misplaced the other day. You’d rather ignore them altogether (the questions, not the tasks) and pretend that you never heard them. They don’t inform you, like well-placed advice. They don’t help you, like a stranger who can jumpstart your car. They don’t really do anything good for you, like a sickness in your body. They are just there. We’ve asked questions like them before here on this blog. These types of questions will make you wonder if we are all there (Hey, we can at least admit they are a little much). These unspeakable thoughts include asking if there is something else going with social media. We only ask that because we got tired of pondering over character creation and Santa’s cowboy status. If you ask enough questions, you’ll ask some that you never wished to ask.

Literature, the field that has a boy wizard who saves the world, a man teaching his kids with birds, and too much poetry, has one of those “bad questions” that I want to address here today, not to inform you or help, but rather as speculation towards an issue that can persist in the field I love so much. Some of you more curious readers may have already asked this to yourself after you finished a novel or put back a book on your shelf.


Can a writer just buy enough copies of their book to make it a bestseller?

We know that to be a bestseller, a book needs a certain amount of copies sold, so can’t one person just buy that amount and have themselves a bestseller?


Eh… Yes, and no. When you make the situation into a question, it sounds more straightforward than it really is.


Before I go into that wild theory, I want to talk about some other things that go on in other industries that don’t help the literature’s fake bestsellers.

girl reading

First, there is the music industry; to the artists that create the songs that we all sing-along to at karaoke and in our cars. Music is the stepbrother of literature, in that we are doing the same thing; we are telling stories of the world we are in, but one has a beat and a microphone, and the other has an empty room and pages in a book. Can a music label just buy enough copies/downloads of a song to make it number one? Well, they already did. Yeah, back in the 1950s or so, there was a whole scandal called Payola; DJ’s were paid to play certain songs. They were pretending that the songs were not paid for, though. They acted as though the listeners wanted those paid-for songs. Even recently, artists such as Beyonce and Kanye West were accused of buying downloads of their songs. They bought so many downloads that everyone claimed the songs to be hits. So it is still very much a thing that exists today. You purchase enough copies of your music, it is then on the charts, people check the charts, and then they see your song, and if they like it, they actually buy it. I am not sure why the music industry acts as though this doesn’t happen today, but moving on.

The second is the movie industry. Those films that engage our imaginations while allowing our buts to rest. Movies are the more popular, not as sophisticated, brother of literature. On to the question, though; Can a movie studio buy enough tickets to a movie to make it number one? There have been some rumors over this for some movies like Captain Marvel in recent years, so people do question the numbers to the box office totals. People were sharing pictures of empty theaters to a movie that was supposed to be sold out. Personally, I can say that there have been times when I was at the theater, and I couldn’t help but notice how empty it was, even though I had a hard time buying tickets online before I walked in. That thought isn’t given much time, but I am confident that some of you have had the same experience. If the movie was sold-out, why is no one even there? (We can ask the same thing of the hit song too. If the song is so popular, how come no one I ever see knows of it? It must be my friends that are the problem) Also, we are always told about the movies’ box office gross, never the ticket sales, which is a very different thing. If we went by the tickets sold, we would all get a better sense of how many people went to see the movie. Unfortunately, this industry is the same as the music industry, in that we can’t really tell if this happens because there are some movies we actually pay for.

books

The third is the blogging industry. The very sector these random words go under. Blogging is the younger, less talented brother of literature, believing that it can be better, but never actually ever doing it. Can a blog just buy enough readers to become popular? Some do. It is a dirty little secret in the blogging industry, but it is there; buy the email list. You buy an email list of people you think would be interested in the blog, and then you send them an email without them ever asking for one. Why do you think that all these blogs are trying to get you to subscribe? Each blogger knows that if you buy enough emails, you will eventually get enough people to go to your site, hence making it appear popular, and then people who actually want to go to your site (who weren’t emailed) will then subscribe. Notice how no blogger ever says how they got all those people on the list. They want you to believe that the numbers they give you are legit.


The major problem with all of these possibilities is elementary, unfortunately.

The average consumer can’t distinguish the difference between the fraud and the real stuff;

between the song that is paid for to be a hit song and the song that is a hit because people really like it; between the movie that has tickets paid for to be number one at the box office, and the movie that is number one because a lot of people see it; between the blog that buys an email list to become popular, and the blog that doesn’t and becomes popular by having people actually subscribe to it. I told you about my experience at the movie theaters. When people are faced with moments with the possible scams, we brush it aside. It’s like none of us go forward with that because we don’t want to.

The clever scams of buying songs, buying tickets, buying emails could happen, but no one would ever know. Would you? What are you going to call up a buddy you know that makes songs and ask him about Beyonce? Do you know a movie producer who has a few friends? Are you going to search the email lists of that blog you suspect is doing something fishy? No. Most people only know whatever is available in front of them. I can tell you right now that I wouldn’t be able to tell if this actually happens. We assume that the charts are telling us the truth. But going from the history of the fields, we shouldn’t blindly follow whatever they say about themselves; after all, they have lied to us before. (Payola being the obvious example here)


There is another problem related to these scams being recognized by people. We actually like the product we are being sold. We enjoy listening to music on our radio as we bake pies or on our laptop as we type up another document. We like going to the movies (or it may be seeing them, at this point). The stories on the big screen of gangsters and adventurers and time travel captivate and entertain us. We like reading a blog to keep informed of our local sports team, or to read a book review, or to read a random-ass rant like this one. There are some in each industry that are rightfully number one because they are great, and many people go to see them. This doesn’t mean that the scam can’t happen, though.

book

I am only addressing these parts of those fields that I do like, to show them for who they are, rather than who they want us to think they are. To not only praise them for the art they give us, but to put out the methods they go to delivering such art. The more I thought about the original question, the more I thought of these other fields. My problem is that I like these fields, so after a while, I don’t want to think about this question. I want to just listen to my favorite songs. I want to watch my favorite movie in peace. I want to read my favorite blog without having to worry about the ethics of it all. But back to literature; if these other fields do stuff like this, why should literature be any different? And worst of all, who the hell would know?

If you really wanted to for some reason and had the money, then I don’t see why you couldn’t buy enough copies of your book to be a bestseller.

It has happened before. A guy bought enough copies from a store for his books to sell more than anyone really wanted to read the book. The book then “became” a bestseller. Bestseller is a status that gives the book credibility, so people feel as if they need to read it, so others who would have never read the book buy it. It’s similar to what I said of the other fields. People want to read what is popular, but no one will ask if we are being lied to about it.

Money is a thing that really affects books more than we think. Some books have more money poured into them than others, so of course, people will read that book. There’s a lot that can go into a book, besides the writer sweating and crying over the plot points. Marketing, book reviews, book tours, and the number of copies; that all cost money before any profit is ever seen. Most indie writers don’t have the one thing the major book industries have; money.


Why do you think the presidents always write bestsellers or famous celebrities write them too? Because they have the money to buy enough copies of their own book. Sure, you will be told it is not because of that. I am a loony. I am out of my mind here. Ignore what I am telling you. Just remember that is the same thing that the other fields say too. Of course, none of these fields would ever admit to anything like that. “Oh, yes, we pay for our song to be played.” “Oh, yes, we pay for tickets to our own movie.” “Oh, yes, we paid for an email list to grow the blog.” They are all very quiet about this. And if anyone ever asks, just tell them I was joking when I told you this. Yes, this is all a joke.

book and glasses

Sorry to say this to you, but there is a chance that the song you love, the movie you watch all the time, the blog you always check out, and the book you memorized may have bought their way to the top. The top songs, the hit movies, the most-read blogs, and the bestsellers may not actually be that way at all. Sorry about being the bearer of bad news.


There has been a controversy in the video game industry that relates to all of this. It is called “Pay to play.” You need to put down money on a game you already bought to be competitive in the game. Hence you are paying the game to play better at the game. This happens in many games, from the sports video games like Madden, where you can put real money down on better in-game players, or in open-world adventure games, where you put real money towards better armor and equipment. They have people paying real money to buy things that aren't even real. It’s messed up and obviously not fair since some people put thousands of dollars into the game when others were lucky to buy the DLC content. So that guy who put a mortgage down on the game will dominate it and appear to be great, but it was all the money that did it, not him. Perhaps things are more like the video game scandal that I would like to think. Whether you are a musician trying to write a hit song, or a movie executive penning your next film, or a blogger editing your next post, if you are not paying, then you are not playing.

Ending

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Greg Luti is an editor and blogger on pensandwords.com. He likes to listen to music. He enjoys reading books and watching hit movies. He hopes that what he wrote here is a theory more than reality.

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