I've been told by many other pros that you can buy your way onto the NY Times bestseller lists*, and sorta-kinda believed it, the way you do when your friends tell you there is no Santa Claus. You pretend like it's okay, and you're cool, but you don't really want to believe them because these are the same kids who told you that the stork didn't deliver you to Mom and Dad. Excuse me, but stork delivery was how babies showed up on Popeye, which in 1969 was the cartoon bastion of truth, justice, and the American Way.
Yes, my childhood hero was a short bald deformed tattooed chain-smoking vegetarian landlocked sailorman who had commitment and anger management issues. I make a lot more sense now, don't I?
Anyway, reading Tess Gerritsen's 10/08 post about writers buying their way onto the Times took me back to being a kid again and hearing my girlfriend Sandy say Sure your folks've been lying to you all this time, but my brother Joey says it's a trah-di-shun.
I probably should believe her, but I don't want to.
Btw, that lovely Santa Claus tradition? Did make Christmas magic for the darling children who never did anything wrong. You know, the Mary Sues we all hated. Kids with overactive imaginations and religion-induced guilt complexes (yo) didn't fare so well. Santa never hears Confession (not even when he's holding audience in the mall) so you can't do penance and avoid the lump of coal payback. How many holidays did we spend in silent fear, behaving like the angels we weren't because we believed that He Who Knows When You're Bad or Good was watching? How many times did we dread getting up on Christmas morning because we thought we hadn't been good enough?
Getting back to the Times BSL, I'm still in kinda-sorta-whatever territory. Yes, I suppose it can be done, but I don't believe all that many authors do. For one thing, the paper does list a cross next to the titles for which some stores receive bulk orders, so that's a flag. You can show up at whatever stores report to the Times for signing, as Tess hints, but that doesn't mean customers are going to buy your book.
I don't want to believe other authors are that desperate, or that manipulative. Disclaimer: I believed in Santa until I was thirteen, and pulled an all-night Christmas Eve stakeout so I could know once and for all. Thirty-one years later, I'm still pissed off -- do you know how many times I didn't defend myself in a playground fight because I thought Santa would coal-lump me?
I've never gotten anywhere close to the Times -- nor will I, evidently, unless a miracle happens -- but I'd be mortified if I could only get on by buying my way there. I hate that we live in the age of padding the resume, campaigning for awards and getting cheat codes for video games. But then, why work your way through all those difficult levels when you can skip right to the top and have everyone think you earned it fairly?
I'm sure it also makes good business sense. You only have so much time to establish yourself as a bestseller; why waste time competing with the herd and working to build a readership from scratch when you can get a bank loan, order a bunch of books from the right stores and make it appear as if you have one?
You can justify it a million ways, or write it off as meaningless industry posturing, only it's still wrong, and it's still cheating. What do you guys think? Feel free to call me a silly Popeyed idealist, too.