Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What comes after #1?

By Joe Moore

There is a title sought after by all writers, fiction and non-fiction. Having it behind your name means you’ve made it, you’ve reached the highest level of skill in the publishing industry. It adds legitimacy and validation to your claim to be a writer, and it’s prestigious and honored by all. You get to place it after your name when, for example, you make a public comment and are quoted or you contribute a blurb to a fellow author. It’s a badge to be worn with pride. And once you’ve achieved it, you keep it for life.

It’s the title: New York Times bestselling author.

Sure, there are other bestselling lists. But none has that crystal clear ring of authority and accomplishment like the NYT list.

For those who have garnered that title, congratulations. Quite a few have made it onto the list. For everyone else, keep trying by writing the best book you can. Who knows, someday your name might be there, too.

But there’s actually one more level of achievement to that title, one very few manage to obtain. It’s the most prestigious of all.

#1 New York Times bestselling author.

There’s nothing higher. There’s no better. I’ve never seen a writer claim to have been #6 New York Times bestselling author. Being #1 is like being the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Sure all those other generals and admirals are members of the Joint Chiefs. But there’s only one Chairman. And there’s only one #1 on the NYT list.

I was chatting with a few fellow authors the other day and a couple of hypothetical questions came up. If you become a #1 New York Times bestselling author, what would you try to do next? Go for a Nobel? Maybe a Pulitzer? Oprah Book Club? If your next book also reached #1, would it be considered better than the first one? What if it only got to #20 or didn’t make the list at all. Would that mean that it was not as good? Or that you’ve failed somehow?

In answering the questions, we all agreed that as writers we would still keep writing. That’s a given. But in our minds and in our hearts, what would be that next sought-after goal? One author suggested he would write his next book under a pseudonym and try to achieve the #1 status again. Another stated that after achieving that title, nothing else mattered in the area of prestige.

So lets have some fun in a non-scientific survey. If you became a #1 New York Times bestselling author, what would you strive or hope for next? How would you top being #1?

THE PHOENIX APOSTLES, coming June 8, 2011.
The Phoenix Apostles demands to be read in one sitting. – James Rollins


  1. Interesting question. Tough to answer. But I'd hope that I'd just keep on writing. Such accolades are wonderful, but if you get too hung up on it and start buying your own press, it seems to me that right about then is when your career would begin its nosedive.

    If I actually ever have this problem I can find out what I'd do and report back. 8-)

  2. from a reader's perspective, i should be from the "show me" state. as i take the NYT best seller's list with the grain of salt thing. as some prolific authors are given up front fees for just writing another book...and then the NYT follows suit, naming their latest, based on the sales, based on their name....and believe me...some of them are not deserving of the list. imho, anyway. so i give the list the same amount of weight as i do movie critic reviews......"show me".

  3. I suppose I'd hope the alarm wasn't too loud when it went off to wake me up.
    Seriously, I guess I'd keep on writing. There might not be any new worlds to conquer, but the thrill of filling a page with words would still be there.

  4. I'd put Pulitzer as my number one, because it has more to do with merit than hype.

  5. Awards and honors are nice...for about a day. Then it's back to "What have you done for me lately?"

    That's not a bad thing, IMO. As Kipling counseled re: triumph and disaster, "Treat those two imposters just the same."

    You can hurt your writing by believing too much a) your own press releases; and b) that inner critic Kathryn wrote about yesterday.

  6. BK, that would be a great problem to have.

    Mark, your books are terrific. I hope I'll see you on that list someday.

    Kathy, the NYT list is a good starting point, but nothing beats word-of-mouth.

    Richard, you've got the spirit of a true writer.

    Kathryn, Pulitzer prize winning author would look mighty good behind your name.

    You're right, Jim. We're only as good as our last book. And the Kipling guy sure had a way with words. :-)

  7. Seeing as we're doing this just for fun... how about translating that into foreign success? Maybe "#1 London Times bestselling author." Maybe if your next book is set in Paris, you'd go for "#1 Le Matin bestselling author."
    The world of #1s is our oyster...


  8. If I hit #1 on NYT I think I would try to write the next book under a pseudonym and see if I can knock myself out of number one by putting the pseudonym in that spot. Then I would start a feud with myself and refuse to talk to me at conferences, or even attend the same conference I am at. Finally Dr. Phil or Oprah would agree to mediate and have both of me on their show to work it out. When I show up I would of course be just the one me, but talking in two voices and arguing with me until I hug and make up with myself and the host is totally freaked out, not being sure if they have done something worth congratulating themselves or if the world has just turned inside out and they missed the escape pod.

    Ah the joys of celebrity.

  9. I don't know what I would shoot for next if I hit #1. But anyways, do people actually write with the hope of making the NYT list or winning a Pulitzer? I always thought authors just write the best book they can and then see what comes of it.

    That has always been the impression I got from author interviews.

    This has made me feel sort of guilty in the past, because I write with those kind of accolades in mind. Then I tell myself I'll never make the New York Times list etc. unless I'm not planning for it.

  10. With all due modesty, as a NYT best selling author (#16) I can honestly say it didn't mean all that much in the long run. I do use it in any self promotion I do. My publisher wouldn't use that distinction unless the author got to 15m or above.

    Had I been number one ...I have no idea, but number one beats the steam out of 16. I was number 24 on USA Today's all books sold one week. That's a list I never see people use. I guess it did translate into sales...

    Yea me.

  11. My goal: to make sure that each of my books thereafter are #1 NYT bestseller quality.

  12. D.A., you're right, there's a whole world of bestseller lists out there. But none carries the weight of NYT.

    Basil, I forwarded your post to Dr. Phil. You should be hearing from him soon. :-)

    Taylor, I don't think anyone should approach writing with an award or bestseller list in mind. But if they come along one day, it sure would feel good.

    Miller, no need to be modest. Making the list is big time, no matter how you look at it. When I grow up I want to be just like you.

  13. Best seller does not mean best book. It is commercialism associated with the former. Many books are best books than bestsellers, but they lack the marketing muscle of others...

    So, IMHO, literary it means not much, commercially; means a lot.

  14. I'd want to do it again to prove that I wasn't a one shot wonder... Then wouldn't it be nice to be listed as prolific and standardized as - another Patterson or Stephen King best seller...even people that don't actually read them know them by name and simply accept that they are #1. How cool would that be- yes- "another great #1 from Henriksen".

  15. You want to make the list with the third, fourth or fifth book, not the first. It proved to me that when a publisher gets behind a good book (if I may brag a bit) it pays off. My first book sold a lot of hardcovers and ten times the paperbacks and it wasn't because anybody had ever heard of me.

  16. It depends on what your career goals were to begin with. If it's to reach the Times list, you've done it. Then you need to reevaluate where you want to go next. Personally, I'm more interested in the money. I'd rather make enough off each book to pay for my house repairs. Unfortunately, most awards-except for the Edgars and RITAs-don't often translate into book sales. But bestseller lists do, especially with readers groups and book clubs who follow them. So maybe, if I made #1, I'd pick a different standard to define success.