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While It’s Sometimes a Scam – Sometimes It’s Not

It’s been a few weeks since Brent Underwood’s article What Does it Take to Be an Amazon Bestselling Author?  $3 and 5 Minutes went viral through the writing community.

First I want to say that Mr. Underwood makes some fantastic points. There are most certainly people out there who game the system or charge authors ridiculous amounts to game the system for them. However, I’m here to point out that while it may be easy to get on Amazon’s bestseller list in obscure categories like Mr. Underwood proved – getting into larger, mainstream categories is a LOT harder. And when any title, indie or other, makes it into some of these bigger, not-easily-gamed categories  – it actually IS a pretty big deal.

Sure, the Amazon or Barnes & Noble bestseller lists may not be the NYT Bestseller List or even USA Today, but getting into Amazon’s Top 100 Paid Romance titles for a couple of weeks at a time is no small feat. Nor is it easy to take the top spot on both Barnes & Noble and Amazon in the over-saturated erotica/erotic romance category. I did both, and it wasn’t easy.

I don’t take it lightly when someone dismisses my achievement of selling over 50.000 copies of a single indie title as if “anyone can do it”.  No – no they can’t.

Even today, with ebooks, your average small press title is lucky to sell 250 copies. Your average mid-list title is lucky to sell 4,000 – 8,000 copies.  It generally only takes a book selling 10,000 copies to get on one of the big bestseller lists. The drawback here is they are usually only counting physical copies sold. Back when Training Amy was an Amazon Bestseller (before erotica got hidden behind the filter) – there weren’t any real, well-known, respected and accurate bestseller lists for ebooks that people didn’t pay to get on, or that weren’t biased toward big publishing.  If there were, my erotic romance novel Training Amy would have made that list at least once back in 2011. I know this because I made $117,000.00 in writing income that year thanks to that book. That was the book that launched my fiction writing career and it is one of the reasons I still make a living as a writer today.

But because I self-published, and because some people really don’t like the idea of writers without a publisher succeeding, certain people have to render my success (and the legitimate success of others) illegitimate with articles like the one above.

I’m not trying to brag or be cranky, but I earned my B&N BESTSELLER and  AMAZON BESTSELLER rankings back in 2011.

Let me put my money where my mouth is from just my B&N sales ALONE from the first few months of 2011:

2011 B&N PaymentsThis is only 8 months worth of “paychecks” from B&N Nook from Dec 2010 to August 2011.  My Amazon payments were just as neat and tidy, but a lot bigger.  I actually hit the reader jackpot on B&N before my titles took off on Amazon.

Have I had bestsellers since? I’ve hit some high spots on Amazon and B&N with my Paranormal Romances.  I’ve kept a couple of my Daemonolatry titles in the #1 spots in Demonology and Satanism. I also have a few books that tend to stay in the top 20-50 in Demonology and Satanism with some regularity.  I am there because my books sell rather well, even for niche titles.

So tell me again how I gamed the system and I’m not a legitimate bestseller? To this day I still make more than a lot of my big-five mid-list writer friends who are lucky to sell 300 books a month of a single title. I usually surpass that 250 “small press” title benchmark the first month of new releases.

If you still think I’m illegitimate and that my Amazon Bestseller status was a joke, I guess that’s you’re right. Even if you convince 95% of the writing world that I’m a fraud – it doesn’t change the fact that readers enjoy my books and keep buying them, or the fact that I know just how legitimate my sales numbers actually are when I deposit my royalties into the bank.  I know I’m not alone. There are legitimate bestselling Amazon and B&N authors out here, and getting to the top of these lists (in broader, bigger categories saturated with thousands and thousands of books) is anything but easy.

Steph is an award winning and bestselling author of thrilling steamy and paranormal romances, dark urban fantasy, occult horror-thrillers, cozy mysteries, contemporary romance, sword and sorcery fantasy, and books about the esoteric and Daemonolatry. A Daemonolatress and forever a resident of Smelt Isle, she is happily married and cat-mom to three pampered house cats. Her muse is a demanding sadistic Dom who often keeps her up into the wee hours of the morning. You can contact her at


  • Patricia Stoltey

    You’ve given us a lot of interesting information here, Steph, so thanks for that. It’s tough to convince some writers that it can be done. Wise choices in genre and promotion techniques can make all the difference (as well as good writing and editing, professional quality cover art, etc.) I’m just trying to up my game to become more prolific because up to know, I’ve been a very lazy writer.

    • Steph

      Absolutely! Good writing, editing and covers are essential. It’s nice when readers become the gatekeepers. Also, I agree about being prolific. That is, IMHO, the key to making a living at this gig. I am currently writing two to three novels a year, several novellas, and several short stories. There’s always something being written, being edited (I have a great team), and in production on any given day. It’s hard. I’m honestly surprised I’ve been able to make a living writing for the past five years. I count myself fortunate every day for the opportunity. 🙂

    • Steph

      I am convinced anyone can do it as long as you work it and try to release something new monthly or bi-monthly. 🙂 We all have an audience of readers, it’s a matter of finding them and then giving them what they want.

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