What attracts audiences to particular titles? If Digital Book World's eBook Bestseller list from 2013 is an indication, readers are drawn to stories, not publishers. From DBW's top 20 list—one populated with A-list authors Dan Brown, JK Rowling, Stephen King and John Grisham—three titles were from self-published authors. So, not only are we seeing more eBooks top the bestseller list, we're seeing more independent authors achieve bestseller status. Whether it's Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl (Crown Publishing Group) or E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey (originally self-published), readers seek out compelling stories and then share their finds with fellow bibliophiles, propelling even the most unlikely titles onto bestselling lists.
When it comes to choosing reading materials, eBook audiences tend to respond better to ratings, recommendations and reviews rather than clever marketing campaigns. Customer reviews are an effective gauge of a book's quality and readership appeal. Sometimes these ratings generate more than sales; they can encourage the publication of new stories with beloved characters. Hugh Howey's bestselling Wool began as a novelette eBook but Howey expanded the story based on positive reviews and demand via Amazon reviewers.
Most independent titles aren't as fortunate as Gone Girl or 50 Shades to have a movie tie-in to help maintain buzz and bestseller status. What buoys many self-published eBooks is serialsation. It takes time to build an audience and serialised eBooks help in gaining recognition. With each new release, buzz builds and new readers are attracted to the series. These readers return to purchase earlier works, often boosting the original title to chart-topping success. Amanda Hocking made headlines in 2011 with her digital bestseller My Blood Approves when her groundbreaking Y.A. eBook series earned upwards of two-million dollars in sales.
Special price promotions can push titles into the bestseller limelight, but success may be short-lived without reviews and ratings to support the boost. Every eBook retailer has their own bestseller list reporting the day's biggest selling titles, so it remains unclear whether each retailer determines bestseller ranking by units sold or revenue. The self-published titles ranked on DBW's 2013 Bestseller list—including H.M. Ward's long-time chart-topper Damaged—were all priced at £0.77, while titles from more established publishers ranged in price from £1.99 to £12.99.
Because digital publishing has created a level playing field for all publishers, it's readers that now hold more power in determining the next bestselling title. Whether it's a self-contained novel or one volume of an on-going series, publishers of all sizes must focus on delivering quality stories at a reasonable price.