Monday, November 01, 2010


Just as Hollywood ranks its celebrities (A-List, B-List, C-List, D-List, etc.), I'm sure there is a similar if unacknowledged broad-range ranking for authors out there somewhere. And it is interesting to note that for all my egocentrism, I wouldn't rank myself higher than the D-List. It's not that I don't think I'm a good writer, it's just that I know I am nowhere near being a great writer.

And just as there are many Hollywood celebrities who, with no discernible talent, are famous merely for being famous, there are many top-selling writers who churn out books selling tens (or hundreds) of thousands of copies on the "fame" of their name alone. (I had a friend who wrote a couple of books for Harlequin Romances many years ago. She told me that Harlequin insisted on--and issued its authors--a standard guideline specifying that certain actions were not only mandatory, but dictating elements which were to be accomplished by a certain page in the manuscript. (The first romantic encounter described by, say, page 9; hero/heroine basic conflict must be established by page 22; etc.) And she sold thousands and thousands of copies. I doubt that my sixteen books have sold more than 20,000 copies, total. (There is really no way of knowing, since each publisher reports the number of sales in a different way; some specify sales of each book, others just by total number sold. And the royalty for e-books is different than for print books, and....)

The New York Times rankings of the top ten best sellers does carry a lot of weight, but I (and 99.8 percent of all other writers) have about as much chance of getting within twenty miles of the New York Times list as I have of growing wings. provides a running "sales ranking" for the books it offers, and writers on roughly the same level as I tend to seek support and validation from them. "I'm up to #986,212 on Amazon!!!" we say, proudly, having, the last time we looked, fifteen minutes before, been at #987,837. We choose to overlook the fact that while no one seems to have any real idea how these rankings are derived, and that they fluctuate wildly from day to day, and even from hour to hour or minute to minute. Having a new book out will almost invariably raise your ranking considerably, since you are being weighed against the sales of every other book in Amazon's vast library. If 25 people buy your book in one day, your ranking may well go up by a couple or several thousand.

Out of curiosity, I checked the rankings of three of my books at random, one week apart: The Secret Keeper, the most recent Dick Hardesty book, went from #727,798 the first time I checked, to #358,359 the second--a jump of 369,439; Aaron's Wait, the most recent Elliott Smith entry, was #663,473 the first time, #100,406 the second--a 563,067 increase--and The Ninth Man, the very first Dick Hardesty, went from #1,158,812 to #1,078,626. Of course, it should be pointed out that The Ninth Man has been on Amazon for nine years now. Just looking at all those numbers makes my head spin. Nevertheless, that's a lot of jumping around, and all in one week. And when all is said and done, they are just numbers--merely vague indications, and not very good ones at that.

Which does not stop me from checking them every now and then.

When it comes right down to it, the most important "ranking," to me, is not where I stand on Amazon's or any other arbitrary list, but where I stand in the individual reader's estimation. All I really want is for people to read my books, to enjoy them, and to hopefully identify with them on some level. And when one occasionally goes the extra mile by recommending my writing to their friends, or writing a brief review on or elsewhere, I never cease to be humbled by their kindness.

Writers too seldom take the time to express their gratitude to their readers. It is a mistake I try never to make. So I thank you for reading this.

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