jarold imesThe Tainted
Best Seller's List

by Jarold Imes
June 2009

What you are about to read will probably cost me a lot of publishing opportunities: make me more enemies than friends. Then again, fixing a problem has never been about seeking opportunities or making friends.

“The Essence Bestseller’s List” is tainted, and there needs to be a drastic overhaul in order to restore the list to the level of prominence it once had a few years ago. The problems probably began before Essence Communications became part of the conglomerate Time, Inc. I can’t say that is the case for sure, but I will say that in the past year or two, I have become more disheartened and confused about the books that are, and the books that aren’t making the list. And with that come interesting stories on how some books did make the list.

If I were the only one with this suspicion, I’m pretty sure I would be labeled as an author who is “hatin’” on another author. For the record, I have nothing but love and respect for the authors on the list who legitimately, through marketing, word of mouth, radio/television buzz, and by writing a great book, earned their spot on the list and have the book sales to prove, that they themselves did not purchase their spot. I have respect for authors who don’t make the list but have written powerful and critically acclaimed tales that made me wonder why they didn’t make the list. However, when members of various message boards I frequent ask me if I’ve even heard of the book in the #4 spot or the book in the #7 spot and I say no, and when I ask my publishing colleagues and they say they haven’t heard of the book either, that rings a bell, sounding the alarm signaling that something has gone amiss.

How can a book be #4 or #5 on the list when it is not in stock in all the stores that contribute to the list in the first place? Shouldn’t that be a basic requirement? I mean damn, if one store is doing astronomical numbers with a particular title, while the other fourteen to nineteen stores have never heard of a title, any auditor who values their reputation or credentials should see that as a red flag. How does a book that has no buzz, that no one has ever heard of, be ahead of two or three books that everyone and their mama is talking about on internet message boards, mailing lists and (gasps) with their real live book club? Better yet, how come I don’t see anyone reading the #3 or the #5 book but every time I turn around, I see someone reading the #8 or the #10 and book store managers have a hard time keeping the #6 or #9 book in stock because they say that that book is one of the top selling African-American books in their store? I go into stores and I look at how books move in my area (which covers North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia) and I check print runs of titles on a shelf and when a publisher is on print run number three or four, I promise you the book is not just sitting on the shelf.

Dare I say the list is being bought and as early as maybe 2005 that some authors have figured out what it takes to do just that. Plan a large event, make sure the suppliers of the books are Essence Magazine Contributing Stores, tell your readers to buy your books at those stores and viola, you’re on the list. How about this, if your publisher is friends with or actually owns one of the contributing stores, just have them ring up your sales through that store for a month or two and you could make the list that way. Or, you could just buy your books from all the stores and have them ship the books to a few book clubs or libraries or something like that . . . works like a charm.

But if the list is “best selling” then shouldn’t I, as an author, literary researcher and participant in various message boards, chats and mailing groups know about the books. I mean, I read the catalogues, visit the websites, hell I even call the publishers and book stores themselves on a good day just to make sure that whatever I say or print is correct. I know back in the day, I always figured that 10,000 units was what it took to get on Essence and 50,000 units was what it took in general to claim best selling status without making it on any published list. But even for that to happen, the average fan in a particular genre should at least have heard of any book in question.

And for the record, there are few exceptions to this rule . . . no scratch that. The only exception to any scenarios I’ve mentioned before is Dutch: The Finale. It’s been almost two years since the book made its magical appearance on the streets and on and off of various book store shelves across the country. And we all know the story, so let’s put my argument this way, other than say, Midnight: A Gangsta Love Story, what other street lit book (or any other African-American title for that matter) has had readers anticipating, calling and begging for the book? Don’t worry I’ll wait . . .

I don’t hate “Essence,” its staff or anyone affiliated with the magazine. What I’m challenging Essence to do is to either go back to or instate the following rules to make the list as pure as it was a few years ago:

  • No bookstore that is owned by an author, publisher, publicist or anyone affiliated with the publishing industry should be on the list.
  • If rule number one is not feasible or gets to a point where it is no longer feasible, then do not factor in the books written, promoted or published by owners or its affiliates that are sold at that store.
  • The book should be in stock in at least half of the reporting stores in the month it appears on the list.
  • Allow more stores, street vendors and non-traditional African-American owned book sellers, who can meet the requirements, should be able to contribute to the list.

View more of Jarold Imes articles<<

Jarold Imes is a contributing writer for The Urban Book Source and author of Hold on Be Strong; he is the creator of online soap opera: Hold on Be Strong (www.holdonbestrong.com), send emails to:jaroldimes@yahoo.com.

Comments page 1 of 5:
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Larry Levin :
Posted 3402 days ago
The fact of the matter is that not many people would come out and say the Essence Bestseller List is bogus! Yes, the authors and publishers buy their spots! Thank you Jarold. And to the haters, stop hating and go focus on something positive!
Jarold Imes :
Posted 3402 days ago
I never took credit for being the first or last author, literary researcher, publisher, etc to say that something was amiss with the list. I'm probably one of the very few who would ever go on record publicly using my real name and not an assumed name. As I said on another message board, I've been in position to sit in on discussions on how certain books are making the lists, but I wouldn't divulge that information like that.
And Joey's right, people have and do say the same thing about "The New York Times Best Sellers List" (and who wouldn't want to be on that list?). But when sales are coming from Borders, Walden's, Books-A-Million, Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble along with large independent owned stories, who have systems in place to independently verify sales, that's harder to argue. Of course, we've all heard stories about authors buying their books with their advance money just to make sure they made the list so their publishers can keep them on the their roster. And then again, if I shelled out $1 Million for an author's book, they better be at the top of the damn list.
Other than Erick, there are other authors and other books, whom I'm surprised did not make the list. I mean, between January and now, there are three books that have been talked about continuously on several message boards including Amazon.com that I know for a fact are doing numbers because I've seen the print runs and I'm surprised they are not on the list yet. Also, there are authors who made the list with current books that should have made it for earlier books but that's another discussion.
At the end of the day, Erick said it best... your royalty checks truly indicate whether or not you have reached best seller's status. If you have not earned out your advance and collected a royalty check for any of your titles, that's a sign that the book is not moving. If you are self published and you haven't invoiced for a title in some time, that's a sign that the book is not moving.
I thank the majority of you who posted so far for having my back and as always, I interview teen and street lit authors on OurTeenVoices.com and you can always see me on the message boards... under my real name.
Nardsbaby :
Posted 3403 days ago
Jarold, this is a great article. In fact, this is the very reason I stopped reading or giving credit to the ESSENCE 'ALLEGED' BEST SELLERS LIST!
As a reader, reviewer and a member of a book club, it's disheartening when books that you know are being added to the list unfairly while there are real authors who are out there doing things the right way, yet they go unnoticed.
I would like to see the list go back to the way that it once was, but now that its integrity has been compromised, I doubt if that is even possible. What we should do ourselves, readers, reviewers, book clubs and authors, is come up with our own credible BEST SELLERS LIST!
I get money :
Posted 3403 days ago
Again this site is reporting NOTHING NEW! Aye Jarod R U serious dude? You have nothing better to report on. This is common knowlegde. Again! Where is the story? This site needs to be shut down,I'm tired of reading about nothing. And E. Gray you dont need the list bro man, your buzz is still off the charts. Fuck that list....
Broke A$$ Author$ :
Posted 3403 days ago
You got authors fronting like they selling all these books and ain't doing shit. They couldn't buy a fucking metrocard man . . . lol . . . I see you losers at HBF with a bunch of boxes and no money.
Sad Song (You Know Who it Is) :
Posted 3403 days ago
Jarold, I tip my hat to you for this article. Not only for the words, but just to come out with something like this. It is truly sad that it seems everything is manually controlled and the public doesn't even know. Damn, so if you sell books, or give away books, I guess you can get on this list?! You right, how the can a book be a best seller when the book is not even available on Amazon.com, let alone, the author's website?
Joey Pinkney :
Posted 3403 days ago
Jarold, thank you so very much for having strength for putting together an article on this level. You are truly a literary scholar.
This puts "The List" in a certain perspective. It's the same thing that has been said of the New York Times list in some circles.
To the average reader, being on either list adds to your credibility regardless of the true credibility of the list. The real value of a book is not on a list but in the hands of a reader who can't read the words fast enough.
I Get Money :
Posted 3403 days ago
@ Terrence Ellery, yep!
Ron Paulie :
Posted 3403 days ago
Nice article on a nice topic. Fake a$$ best seller list. And like an author friend of mine said, everybody puts "essence best seller" on their book and that list is tainted, always have been. @Erick Gray, nice comment on this, I'm surprised your not a best selling author myself. Wow that's crazy as ever, as long as you've been in the game?
Erick Gray :
Posted 3403 days ago
Amen to that Jarold....i've been knowing about that for years. As an author myself, with how many books published and circulating, I never once made that list. And you would think with my first book, "Booty Call" with fifty thousand sold, it would have been on that list, at least in the top five...but nah, it wasn't, like for my other titles, like Crave All Lose All, and Nasty Girls, which is in like the third print and I'm getting a royalty check from St. Martins Press. When I tell people that none of my books never made Essence best seller list, they are in shock and don't believe me. But I stopped worrying about Essence along time ago, because I know that i'm still a best seller without it. But I always questioned how does a book reach the top five on the list without me not once seeing the book on the streets or in any stores. But there are a lot of suspect things going on with this business...the tainted list is just one of many. But I feel as long as you got the streets buzzing and the stores demanding your book...fuck Essence, it ain't that important...cuz I still did me without ever being on that list, excuse my language, lol. But let's see wht's up...I got my new book comin' out next month, "Love and a Gangsta." and I feel it's already a best seller in my eyes. But good look on this article, Jarold, it's time that we all wake up and seperate the real from the wannabe...and see who's still standing when the smoke finally clears...lol. Peace. y'all.
Claudia :
Posted 3403 days ago
I hear you and I do agree with this. Over the years I have wondered also about the list. Thanks so much
Terrence Ellery :
Posted 3403 days ago
Is that why my book isn't on there?



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