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 2 of 4:
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Hulu :
Posted 1631 days ago
I just got an e-mail from wal-mart with all their clearence items and you can click on etcrlconies and see if they have one you like. Also I was looking at the sunday paper and lots of deals at best buy on all elec.
Jarold Imes :
Posted 2906 days ago
Greetings Denise,
First, much love and respect for responding to the article and it is great to hear the view from a book store that contributes to the list.
I'm not surprised that authors have called your store wanting to "work something out". I hold them solely responsible for their ethic and moral character in their efforts to buy their way to the top. And I agree that these authors are a part of the problem.
I also realize that the August's list (***note for the comment readers that my article was published in June 2009, so I would not be talking about the August 2009 list) would reflect sales of a book in May... so when you take that in consideration just as it answers some questions on some books, it raises questions on others.
I believe that the blame as well as the problem relies in a multiple of factors: authors trying to buy their way to the top; some stores who may not be following guidelines set forth by Essence and Essence not enforcing guidelines that all it's contributing stores should be following.
While I agree that it possible for a title to have sales in some stores and not others cause I do realize stores can be temporarily (or permanently) be out of stock on some titles, I also feel that if in theory, if 20 black owned bookstores are contributing to the lists; at least half if not more than half should have some sales of any title that appear on the list. Then again, if things are set up right, there are several avenues (to an extent by no fault of the bookstore) in which an author can make the list with minimum titles sold.
Denise :
Posted 2916 days ago
Greetings Jarold
I just came across your article about The Tainted Best Sellers List, I'm with Pyramid Books in Boynton Beach, Florida, and we happen to be one of the reporting stores for Essence. The guidelines we follow for the list are monthly sales are tallied, the top five books in the four book categories are then placed on our submitted list. In cases where 2 titles have the same number of books sold for the month both are add to the list. We have followed these same guidelines since joining the list which was before the sale of Essence. We are contacted often by authors wanting to Work Something Out to get their book(s) on the list. We at Pyramid Books pride ourselves as professionals in this business so everything we report can be verified with sales tickets. Your article made it the sole problem caused by the booksellers (Black Bookstores) but the problem is really a two way street. I would recommend finding out first how Essence selects the titles to be placed on the list submitted by the bookstores. Also, the list for example for August 2009, was submitted by the bookstores 3 months earlier, so when the magazine comes out for August those titles were from sales 3 months prior. So granted if you call some of the stores the book may not be in stock at that time. If a title makes the list there maybe a reporting store or stores that had no sales for the title during that reporting period. Essence has the final decision on what appears on the list. We at Pyramid Books have no idea what the sales for other reporting stores are, so it seems it would be a little hard for the bookstores to target certain titles to be placed on the list. I just want to comment to the article. Take care Peace
Jarold Imes :
Posted 2947 days ago
I did not know (but not surprised) that stores that were closed were listed as reporting stores. Ideally that is not the case but keep in mind that maybe the stores were able to report before they closed and in fairness, a reporting store that is in liquidation is fair game because they are trying to turn over inventory and in that case, a sale is a sale. Those sales I don't mind because 11 times out of 10, no publisher is sending them new inventory.
Also look at this, the July list (which appeared on new stands and stores around June 15) may reflect the sales of books that were sold from say February 15 - March 15 (I don't know but I'm just saying) because magazines are usually produced three months in advance. I understand that, I respect that. However, in those three months, there is plenty of time to verify the information.
In some ways, I see the Essence Best Seller's lists and others like it as a gift and a curse.
On one hand, I have strived to make the list legitimately and I would take great honor if that were to happen... however I am proud to say that I am an award winning author because some of the awards mean just as much as the sales. Very few of my sales comes from black book stores, because most of my catalog is teen fiction now, I get my sales from libraries and distributors who sale to schools... so on that merit alone I wouldn't make the list and I'm cool with that.
All I want (which I know may take some time) is for Essence and any other agency who may decide to create a best sellers lists to be used and respected by industry to evaluate the current standards and make changes. What may have worked for Essence in producing the list in 2003 is not working now and there is nothing wrong with raising the bar every now and then.
We can talk about Essence and some of these other lists if we want to, but on the flip side, we must also be willing to attempt to come up with solutions to the problem, which I attempted to do in my article.
Therone shellman :
Posted 2948 days ago
ISBN-watch yourself. Replaceable? You or no one else dictates my fate( I proved this out the gate with the sales of my first book). If anyone tries to stop me from doing what I want to do they are going to meet that person I used to be who knows a lot of cats who are still on that b/s. If anyone has anything else to say save it- especially when you are going to use a fake name. If yall got heart team up with your real names, and bet you get some visitors in real life. Try me see if i'm t
Danni :
Posted 2948 days ago
Why is it that no matter the subject matter Therone has to come and weigh in with a lengthly post that ends up being about him when all is said and done? Go write a book or something.
Good article, UBS. It's been awhile since you had something worthy of reading. Like Jarold I've known for some time that the list was bogus. Books and authors that no one has ever heard of make the list. Stores that were closed were still showing as reporting stores. Stores that have next to nothing for inventory reported. And stores that aren't stores at all were reporting.
I hope that one day they revamp the list but I somehow doubt it.
Just a thought :
Posted 2948 days ago
I would state my name. But why? I'm not one for the drama but I did find this article interesting. And I did find the point of views by everyone thought provoking.
Jarold, hey like some have said you have stated what many have felt for awhile.
Therone, my suggestion would be to do you, there is no need to state your opinion. I have followed you for four years and your stance has not changed so I'm sure people know where you're coming from. So why keep it going? You're gifted, a good speaker and you have a lot more to give than just writing. Your self publishing booklet helped me out, that's all I'm going to say. You should be doing motivational seminars and taking your talents further than this book industry can. This is nothing, you could be filling stadiums and making in one day what most authors make in years. You're always trying to get people to think. Well, that's something for you to think about. I hope you use this book to take you to where you should be going because all it seems like you've been doing is arguing with people who are clearly on a different path. With all the information I've seen you spill in these sites over the years I cannot figure out why you write fiction?
I'm not trying to downplay what you do. But by now you should be on to other things.
ISBN :
Posted 2950 days ago
Jarold, awesome article. Well written, well said, and the evidence clearly speaks for itself. You said what so many of us were thinking and have known for the last two or three years. And, once Karibu was closed the list shifted once again because they were a main part of the foolishness as well. Thank you Jarold for standing up for those of us who may or may not have a voice and platform to do so.
**And, as far as Therone Shellman-why does every article posted end up being about you, your point of view or your upcoming projects. Spend some money on marketing, write better stories, stop lying on your bank account and issues, and do something admirable with your gift. Because right now you are looking real ignorant, very irrelevant, and very replaceable. You are the definition of wack a$$ author. It's authors like you who give other authors a bad name. Take your randomness to a street corner near you.
Therone Shellman :
Posted 2950 days ago
No negative vibes here. He gave his pov and I gave mine. For any author or publisher in this industry who is looking at the big picture they would care less about the list. It serves no benefit if you were to try to use it to advance your career. Literary agents don't care about lists unless its the New York Times. They want to see print run receipts. Or see a buzz created by the work.
It's 2009 and a new year so let's cut it out! When I speak I'm stating my pov. I speak with conviction, so anyone who is emotional they will take my words as being offensive. Thats me. Thats who I am. On a personal level, trust me I don't see most folks because my life and reality is dictated and defined by myself not others so I have no real reason to be upset or concerned about whatever. I'm not on the sidelines, I don't cry, and if I complain about something I'm actively doing something about what i'm disgruntled about. So if a person is taking the time out their life to think I feel negative about how they feel or see whatever I assure you they are wasting their time for nothing. It's 2009 "Survivor" I Changed The Rules coming real soon. 2010-2011 get ready for the smoke. Thats all I have to say.
God Bless!
I Get Money :
Posted 2950 days ago
Wow! I don't get the negative feedback. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and Jarold Imes can write and express his concerns if he wants. Everyone else just sits back and point fingers and complain. Bu the truth is the list is bogus regardless.
Therone Shellman :
Posted 2951 days ago
Jarold, the list dicates a months sales. Which really says very little.
Nardsbaby, I understand where you are coming from and I'm a say the following speaking in general and nothing toward you or your book club. But I will say when readers come together, and in the process make money in the industry, get involved personally with authors careers or publishers this poses a dilemna. So I do not see any difference with how the list is handled now if readers or book clubs were to compose their own list. I say this standing on the sidelines actually, because since day one I have primarily dealt with two markets. This is the streets and the mainstream market so I don't concern myself too much with book club issues or whats taking place in AA bookstores. Dealing with signed authors kinda took me down a different road than I started out on and planned. But now I'm back to my regular. Even with my autobiography which is the first I will be doing major publicity for I'm hiring a major publicity firm. We already agreed that my original program of dealing with the mainstream market is the program I should continue . You know what the book is going to put a lot of things out there and force folks to change. Everybody has been talking about change, etc for about two years. Now when I put this book out there and shit gets widely known shit has to change if cats wanna be around. So in 2010 we can get back to writing, and folks who can write and busines tactics and leave all the publicity hype in the background.
Therone Shellman :
Posted 2951 days ago
This is an issue in the market but its not a big issue. Authors or publishers cannot use the list to further an authors career in the mainstream market. Since 2007 literary agents and lawyers request print run receipts so they can look up the serial code numbers of the print runs through the printer. The list does not dictated overall sales of a title. It comes out monthly because it is based on month to month store reports. Which means a book store may have a title which sold 120 copies that month, which may be more in sales than other titles. Two other stores may report that the same title was in their top three in sleas for the month. This is how the report is made. Am I sure the list at times gets tainted-of course. But you don't have to sell in the thousands to make the list because its a month to month list which does not reflect overall sales of a title like The New York times. So you may some authors who make the list who's titles may have not sold a whole lot in many stores or may not be even available in most of the market. Thats not what the list reflects. the list reflects participating stores.
As fas as issues in the black book market. There is a whole lot more important things going on than this. For instance mainstream distribution. I myself almost had an issue with Atlas which is a sister company to Bookmasters. They took over Biblio my old distributors contracts. I knew I was not going to be dealing with them because I'm aware of BookMasters program. Well, they tried to hold me in the contract although I never signed on with them and was still under the contract with Biblio. Needless to say ti took me about seven months to get through that mess. In the process I lost close to six figures or maybe more. So there is a whole lot more going on than some silly list and bragging rights and a lot of the other things which get brough up in these sites. Some of us are more than just authors and are really in this as a business and out to get that paper. Its one reason I stopped street distribution and distributing other AA publishers titles to the market. I'm not trying to grow the market. I'm trying to make it a whole harder for cats who are not about their business to get money in this industry.
"Survivor" I Changed The Rules Part 1 my autobiography hits the streets late next month and the store market in Dec. A lot of issues are going to be put fourth because I'm doing major publicity for the book. So trust it's going to get a whole lot harder
 



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