How Do You Define Bestselling Author?

Is Mommy a bestselling author?Many authors have asked me how Marred hit the bestsellers list during pre-release and remained there for several days. It’ll hit it again soon, too, by the way…any day now. But rather than discuss the work involved to sell enough books to hit the list, let me pose this question: Does that make me a bestselling author?

I honestly don’t know the answer. The title of bestselling author has been done to death. Lately, it seems everyone is a bestselling author.

For me, I don’t think I’ve earned the title yet, even though Marred has created quite the buzz and is doing fantastic. I’ve discussed this with my crime writing buddy, Garry Rodgers, many times. Perhaps I’m too honest for this business. But until the day I hit #1 and stay there I simply don’t feel comfortable crowning myself with that honor. Was it thrilling? Absolutely! Do I use Amazon to gage how I’m doing? Yes! So, why can’t I call myself a bestselling author? Everyone else does, and I don’t judge anyone who does. Matter of fact, I’m thrilled you’ve achieved that milestone.

Am I a bestselling author?

Perhaps the title takes some time to get used to like a well-worn denim jacket or an old pair of jeans. My husband has no problem tooting my horn, but every time he does, I want to dive under the closest piece of furniture.

It’s almost as if Marred and I are two separate entities. I can cheer for Marred. But I don’t dare cheer for Sue Coletta, the author. And it’s not lack of confidence. I’ve done the work, earned my place, and am comfortable with myself as a writer, though I’ll always be a student of the craft.

Take today for instance. This morning I went to my doctor’s office, and the nurses swooned all over me. “I love your book. Will there be a sequel? When’s the next one coming out?” To say I wasn’t prepared for this reaction would be an understatement. One might think I cured cancer by the way they reacted to me. No longer am I just another patient. I’m the author of a book they loved. It’s cool. I won’t lie. At the same time, I found all the compliments overwhelming.

Marred hit the bestsellers list.

Look. For years I wrote stories that no one ever read. I swam through more than one slush pile and drowned with everyone else. So, when my head finally crested the water’s edge, I wasn’t prepared for what awaited me. Intense panic set in when I had a release date. And once Marred hit the shelves, I had no idea how it would be received. Thankfully, it’s been a fun ride so far.

The other day Marred made it onto the local high school’s approved reading list through no work of my own. One of the parents took the initiative. When I first heard the news I thought, “Oh, no. Will Marred give kids nightmares?” I don’t want to be responsible for that.

I posted my concerns on FB and received warm and honest responses from so many people. Basically, they all told me that kids today see worse on TV and in movies. And maybe, just maybe, Marred will inspire a student to become a writer one day. How cool would that be? So, yeah, now I’m over-the-moon happy about it. When enough kids read Marred I’ll go visit the school. Which should be a blast. I’ll post pics here afterward.

[tweetthis twitter_handles=”@SueColetta1″]How do you define bestselling author?[/tweetthis]

Anyway, back to my point.

For many years while I struggled with rejection letter after rejection letter, pulled myself up and studied and learned and persevered and honed my craft, I always believed bestselling authors were those who hit the USA Today or New York Times lists, who were critically acclaimed, who sold hundreds of thousands of copies, who inspired and amazed. Amazon never entered the equation. Bestselling authors won Edgar awards and Bloody Daggers. They gave speeches and taught at conferences and seminars. They were held to the highest level of standards and achieved excellence in their chosen genres. Their work touched lives. Their work touched my life. They’re the reason I became an author. So, for me, until I reach that level of success I can’t in good conscience wear the title of bestselling author. Not yet. In my eyes I haven’t earned it.

The strange part is, I have no problem rejoicing when Marred hits the bestselling list. But when it comes to turning that title on myself, I stop. Is it humility? Or do I expect too much from myself? What about you? Can you wear the title proudly? If you can’t, then where’s your benchmark that will signal when you can?


About Sue Coletta

Member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers, Sue Coletta is the bestselling, award-winning author of psychological thrillers and mysteries. Sue’s short stories and flash fiction have appeared in OOTG Flash Fiction Offensive magazine and numerous anthologies, and her forensic articles have appeared in InSinC Quarterly.

In 2017, Feedspot awarded her Murder Blog as one of the Top 50 Crime Blogs on the net. Sue’s the communications manager for Forensic Science and the Serial Killer Project, and co-hosts the radio show “Partners in Crime” on Writestream Radio Network. As a way to help fellow crime writers, Sue created a team of crime experts (detectives, coroners, police captains, etc.) and founded #ACrimeChat on Twitter. She’s also a proud member of the Kill Zone (see details in full bio — menu bar).


  1. I’m so excited that Marred is doing so well! Congratulations! And as uncomfortable as the title feels, let yourself wear it and feel proud. You’ve earned it, no matter what.

  2. Sue, you simply underestimate yourself! In my opinion, taking into consideration all the hardships every writer goes through on the way from giving birth to his or her works till presenting them to the public, he or she already deserves a monument. You not only managed to go through those several circles of hell, you gained recognition and now should proudly wear the crown of a bestselling author! It suits you! Don’t perceive your book as something separate. It’s part of you, the result of your hard work and the source of your inspiration for the future masterpieces!

  3. Really interesting post, Sue – and many many congratulations on Marred’s success. You deserve it.

  4. Congrats, Sue!!
    Traci Kenworth recently posted…Reading Links…12/02/15My Profile

  5. Comment luv was already checked so I unchecked it.

  6. Hi Sue,
    The buzz around your book is amazing and so well deserved. You’re such a hard working and inspiring writer. But I suggest you relax and don’t try to over think this. As long as you keep writing, and you enjoy what you’re doing, all will be well.
    Robin Rivera recently posted…5 Obscure Tricks for Winning #NaNoWriMoMy Profile

  7. I’m so happy Marred is doing so well. I think you should enjoy the facts (the book is doing well, people love it, they’re buying it and reading it and sharing their feeling with you) and don’t worry too much about names.

    Titles will come and go, but what you did for people will stay with you and with them 🙂
    JazzFeathers recently posted…No fearMy Profile

  8. Congratulations on becoming a best selling author. I’ve recently subscribed to your blog and I enjoyed reading your post. I’m a fan of mysteries, thrillers and suspense and recently completed the draft of my first suspense novel. I certainly can’t attest to how you’re feeling about having the title of best selling author, since I haven’t reached that honor. But I have had similar feelings when I received praise for something that I didn’t believe I fully earned. On the other hand, from my perspective, becoming a best selling author does not appear to be an easy task. It’s apparent that you have done what it takes and have earned the title respectfully. I applaud you.

    • Aw, Jet. I’m humbled by your comment. Thank you for your kind words. Welcome to our community! Congrats on completing your first suspense. You’re way ahead of the game. Finishing that first novel is brutal. I wish you HUGE success, and am so glad you’ve joined the rest of us here.

  9. Bless your heart. A success is a success. All the little ones along the way are just as significant as the major ones. I have an author friend who has made the Best-Seller- USA Today category. It was months before she could put that on her books and feel right about it. After she connected with Anne Rice and got invited as a panel member to the Undeadcon (three years in a row), she really began to feel she had made it. I don’t think all that is necessary. I’m such an introvert around real people, and terrified of public speaking…I doubt if I’ll ever “make it” by that definition. I say, find your glory where you can…and make the most of it. Any time my book has broken #100, even if only in it’s genre, and even if only for a day or two, I’m shouting from the roof top.

    • Your friend has definitely made it, IMO, Susan. Impressive indeed. See, in that case I wouldn’t hesitate, but hitting the “list” doesn’t seem, I don’t know, like anything more than selling books. Ah, well, maybe in time I’ll feel better, or when I achieve something more. Until then…

      • She’s got twelve books out already in four years. You’re really moving along. I recently heard Randy Wayne White tell an audience that he wrote his first eleven books under the pen name Carl Ramm. He recently released them as ebooks. I never knew he had written so many, but then again, he didn’t want us to. Now that he’s famous, the old books are selling and we get a glimpse inside his growth and development as a writer. I’m throwing all my stuff out there. If something catches fire, great.

  10. Hey Sue. Great piece. You know I love open and honest posts. 😉

    Also, congrats on being a bestselling author!

    Obviously, I’m comfortable calling you by that title… because you’ve earned it.
    David Villalva recently posted…Be Thankful (Even If You’re a Robot)My Profile

  11. I have often asked myself that question! I have even dedicated an entire post describing how both my first books hit #1 on their genres, to help other do so.

    I do use the best-selling title, usually like this: “XX has repeatedly hit #1 on its Amazon genre” I feel this satisfies both my honesty and marketing needs 🙂
    Nicholas C. Rossis recently posted…Cover Reveal: Pearseus, Bundle (Books 1-3)My Profile

    • See, so you separate yourself from your books too. Why am I not surprised? 😉 Maybe that’s exactly how I should do it. Oddly, that never occurred to me. Doh! Thanks, Nicholas!

  12. Sue, I think you definitely deserve a high 5 for hitting the Amazon best-seller list, especially with a debut release. That is a HUGE accomplishment and you should enjoy the accolades. I also understand the hesitation to tack on “best-selling author” though. Like you, I tend to think of that tag belonging to USA Today or NY Times lists. I was fortunate enough to hit Amazon & B&N for several days with Myth and Magic, but I can’t “own” the title. Maybe if a few more releases do the same, or if I stay there longer. Of course, USA Today or the NY Times would change my mind about everything, LOL. In the meantime, I”m happy to enjoy the ride 🙂
    Mae Clair recently posted…New Release: Food for Poe by Mae Clair #Christmas #Cats #SweetRomanceMy Profile

    • My feelings exactly, Mae. If I won a prestigious award or hit the USA or NYTBL, then absolutely, I’ll wear the title proudly. In the meantime I find it all so overwhelming. But I will take the high 5!

  13. Congratulations, Sue. I’m happy to hear Marred is doing so well. By all means, own the best-selling author tag. You earned it.
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  14. As an occasionally selling author, I really can’t answer that. I understand the humility part, and sometimes I let it hold me back. I’ve hit the top 100 in a couple of obscure categories, but don’t see that as bestseller qualifying. I think in your genre it is. Maybe you should own it. I’m off to ask Lisa what it’s like being a celebrity.
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  15. I think you gotta get out from behind the hedge on this, Sue, whether you’re dressed for it or not. Once you hit a bestseller list, then you’re a best-selling author – pure and simple.

    Today, making it to the Amazon list is a badge of distinction whether you come to it through traditional or self-publishing. To break 100 in as flooded a category like Thriller is no small feat and you deserve the recognition – and your work stands on its own – it’s a bloody good read and your reviews are proving it.

    We talked about a dirty little secret within the NYT and USA Today lists (which was told to me by someone who’s hit those lists) that the spots are manipulated by the publishing houses whereas Amazon goes by pure sales numbers alone.

    I’ll meet you part-way on your reluctance… sure, I made it to #5 on Amazon but it was in the far less crowded category of Horror & Occult. I play that for all it’s worth and don’t feel the slightest bit uncomfortable. My name was there – stuck between King & Koontz and I use it whenever I can – because it’s true and took one wicked amount of work to achieve – just like Marred.

    So, if you’re not there yet to call yourself a bestselling author, then OK. But if you break into the Top 10 – even the Top 25 – then you better bloody well start flogging it, because self-promotion (book name and author name) is the game 🙂

    So that’s all I got to say about that, because I gotta go flog my blog at the Huffington Post 😉
    Garry Rodgers recently posted…WHAT MAKES CONSPIRACY THEORISTS TICK?My Profile

    • You’re right; I know you’re right. I’m hurting myself by not owning the title. I don’t even know why I’m so reluctant. Thanks for the pep talk, Garry. I can always count on you to tell it like it is.

      • If I may weigh in again – Garry is quiet right. I think at times it is fear of seeing it all disappear – all the blood, sweat and tears for naught. That perhaps it’s all a dream and we don’t have an audience who appreciates what we have written. What if the bottom falls out? What if it never happens again? What if? What if…

        Drink in your success and let it nourish you.
        June Lorraine Roberts recently posted…The Last Witness: Denzil MeyrickMy Profile

        • You weigh in anytime you’d like, June. Always happy to hear your thoughts. I think you’ve touched on something important, too. It could be fear. It certainly feels like it. The dream was all I had for SO many years that now that it’s finally a reality it seems surreal. Funny how much pressure writers put on themselves, so much so that when something good happens we don’t know whether to rejoice or panic. I wonder if everyone goes through this in one form or another.

  16. What a thoughtful and honest piece, Sue. It really reflects my own thoughts, too, on myself and my writing. I am delighted for you that Marred is doing so well. I think that’s great! And I think part of the reason the book is doing well is that you’re thoughtful about your writing. The minute we take our writing for granted, it stops being our best work.
    Margot Kinberg recently posted…In The Spotlight: Marek Krajewski’s Death in BreslauMy Profile

  17. Wendy Anne Darling

    Great post, Sue!

    The more I read, the more I recognized that feeling. No, NOT being a best selling author, ’cause I’m not one.

    It reminds me more of the pride and love I feel for my daughters. I gave birth to them, I brought them up, fed them, gave them what wisdom I could – as a flawed human being – and loved them. When they get praised, nobody’s prouder than me, but I don’t want to step into the spotlight because my girls are their own people.

    Then I realized that’s a little how I feel about my book, too! 😀

  18. Congrats, Sue and so very fun to read your reaction to being a best-selling author 🙂 I am in the beginning stages of writing a short non-fiction piece for self-publishing on Amazon/Kindle. I loved reading about your reaction!
    Terri Webster Schrandt recently posted…Weekend Coffee Share in Which I Announce a Writing ProjectMy Profile

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