All I care about is whether I enjoy a writer’s work. Don’t be shocked when I say this: How much money a writer makes has nothing to do with how much I like his or her stories.
But one writer thinks I should care. This year’s Hugo Awards were fraught with drama because Larry Correia filled his customers with resentment by arguing that his inability to win the award proved they’d been treated unjustly. Because bestseller. And no Hugo.
I’m all in favor of sf writers being financially successful. It makes me happy to see people who work hard rewarded. Larry Correia is no exception.
How would anyone know what a writer makes anyway? We have very few tools — mainly bestseller lists.
While we never see actual sales figures, we assume the books that appear on the New York Times bestseller list are doing much better than those that don’t.
However, even that relative information may be unreliable. Last year I ran a post about Jeffrey Trachtenberg’s Wall Street Journal article on ResultSource, a firm that orchestrates bestseller status for clients.
Then yesterday, Vox Day’s latest in a relentless series of negative posts about John Scalzi suggested that even ordinary publishers manipulate bestsellers as a marketing strategy:
That’s great and all, but recall what I pointed out before Lock In reached the NYT bestseller list: “[Scalzi] is getting annoyed that people keep pointing out that Larry Correia sells more than he does, even though his publisher keeps buying him a one-week spot on the NYT bestseller list each time he writes a book.” And also “Just keep an eye on the NYT list. If LOCK IN is only on it for one week, it’s a paid marketing stunt. If it stays on it for several weeks, it’s probably legitimate.”
I’m a science fiction fan, yet I’m constantly being surprised to discover how that shapes my thinking. Although I know bestseller lists are artificial constructs, I also know they are constructs dominated by mainstream fiction and literary biases. Consequently, when a science fiction writer appears on the New York Times bestseller list I don’t ask how, I just shout “Hooray!” But now a Higher Critic has explained why I should be dissatisfied and suspicious about how they got there.
And now I am.
Vox Day unfavorably compared John Scalzi to Larry Correia based on alleged manipulation of the bestseller list. But isn’t Correia’s status as a bestselling author the same reason people believe Correia is the gold standard?
Twice Correia has blogged about his bestselling books. He wrote, “You may now officially refer to me as New York Times Bestselling Author Larry Friggin’ Correia” in October 2010 after learning that Monster Hunter Vendetta ranked number 27 on the New York Times Bestseller list:
This is awesome. This is actually a really big deal in the publishing business.
The guy sounded happy. I was happy for him.
I am the champion. My friends! Dum duh duh duh! And I’ll keep on fighting ’till the end! Dum duh duh duh! I am the CHAMPION! I AM THE CHAMPION!! NO TIME FOR LOSERS BECAUSE I AM THE CHAMPION!!!!!! and #23 on the New York Times Bestseller list coming out August 14th OF THE WORLD!!!!
Even here, all Larry Correia ever did was point out two times when his books made the New York Times best seller list. Which they did.
But both times the books disappeared from the list the following week. One and done.
So what do we learn from this? Can it be that Larry Correia is not the Garth Brooks of science fiction after all?