Amazon-HD-Best-Seller-XparentHow easy is it to have an Amazon bestseller? Easier than you might think. On The Observer, publicist Brent Underwood details his adventure creating an Amazon bestselling book from scratch, as an exercise in debunking all the scam services out there that offer to make you an “Amazon bestselling author” for umpteen thousand dollars. Underwood’s method was surprisingly simple.

All he did was create his ringer e-book—from a photo of his own foot—and go through the Amazon publishing process. He picked a couple of seldom-used categories—transpersonal psychology and Freemasonry—set the price at 99 cents, and got the book approved. He then bought a copy, and got a couple of friends to do it, too. Boom: his book was #1 in its category, and he got the “Amazon Bestseller” logo slapped onto it.

The book was taken down a day or so after Underwood published his article—surprise, surprise, Amazon doesn’t look too kindly on fraud, even fraud to prove a point. Nonetheless, it might suggest a good approach for people wanting to make some money more legitimately. Find a less-commonly-used e-book category, write book that actually does cover that subject matter, sell a couple of copies, and there you go: a real Amazon bestseller.

It also suggests that perhaps Amazon could stand to revamp exactly how it determines what a “bestseller” is. But then, it’s not as if the “bestseller” category has ever been completely reliable or trustworthy. As I’ve mentioned before, in the ‘50s Jean Shepherd effectively manufactured a New York Times bestseller that didn’t exist by getting his radio show listeners to go to their bookstores and request a copy of the fictitious book I, Libertine. This spurred so much demand that he eventually collaborated with Theodore Sturgeon to write an actual book by that title.

And Underwood himself points out that modern bestseller lists have other problems. For example, Nielsen Bookscan, whose data is used by the Wall Street Journal’s bestseller list, doesn’t include Amazon’s e-book sales. Even though it might not be as easy to do as with Amazon’s, these other lists might also be prone to manipulation.

Perhaps the biggest lesson to take from all this is that, while bestseller lists might be a handy way to see some popular titles, they’re not necessarily always going to be an accurate survey of the most popular titles. There will probably always be room for improvement.


  1. I have never used the term Amazon Bestseller or Amazon Best-Selling Author even though my “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free” over the years has been #1 in Amazon’s retirement planning category, sometimes for weeks on end. In 2015 alone, Amazon sold over 14,000 copies of the print edition of this book.

    Plain and simple a best-selling author is one who has written a best-selling book. In Canada, a book is deemed a bestseller if it has sold 5,000 copies. So, the Canadian Best-Selling Author term should not be used unless a Canadian author has a book that has sold over 5,000 copies.

    In the U.S., which has a population 10 times what Canada has, I would say that a best-selling book has to have sold over 50,000 copies. But, according to the late book publishing expert Dan Poynter, a true best-seller is one that has sold at least 40,000 copies. I can accept that.

    Sadly, there are thousands of authors (and people claiming to be book experts) out there who say that they are a Best-Selling Author. In my opinion, these people are frauds.

    You can read more about what I have to say about this on John Kremer’s blog at:

    The most important point I make on John Kremer’s blog:

    My advice to you as an author: Don’t use the term Best-Selling Author unless your book has sold 40,000 copies in the U.S. or 100,000 copies worldwide. If you start using the term when your book has sold only 25 copies or 100 copies or even 2,000 copies, deep down you will know that you are a fraud and lying to the outside world. Moreover, you will be telling yourself subconsciously that you are incapable of creating a true bestseller and have to use trickery or outright lying to claim that you are Best-Selling Author.

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