Bestseller Books Aren’t Always the Best

I’m writing this after watching the film of The Girl on The Train. I should have learned my lesson by now. I didn’t think the book was all that, why on earth did I think the film was going to be any better? I know many of you loved both but the crux of the matter is that bestseller books don’t often rock my world.

But It’s a Bestseller!

Bestseller books - sheep following off cliffIt stands to reason that if anything is a bestseller then it must be quite good, right? I’m not saying that’s not always the case. I’ve read some popular books and loved them. I am not a bestseller grouch.

However, there have been far too many bestseller books that I have found to be incredibly disappointing.

It has taken me years as an avid reader to venture away from the top sellers and start to seek out books that aren’t always in the book reviews. I once thought that if a book was a bestseller then it must be good.

Silly me. I forgot I’m not a sheep in many things in life so why did I always feel the need to follow the flock and read what they are reading just because they say it’s worthy?

Curiosity more than anything has compelled me to read a bestseller. Sometimes it’s been awarded with the pleasure of finding a great book. Unfortunately, too often have I wished I could seize back the hours of my life spent reading a duff bestseller.

Don’t Believe the Hype

I’ve finally figured out why I’ve become averse to bestsellers; there’s too much hype.

I feel this way about bestseller films as well as books. If I don’t read it or see it before the hype starts I don’t often enjoy it when I do get round to it.

Nowadays I like to keep in touch with new releases and it’s so helpful to be part of Facebook book review groups where I know about books releases in advance. This way the early bookworm catches the bookish worm.

By knowing about books before the advertising mill starts to grind I can often read them before they start becoming commercial. I avoid the hype, the reviews so detailed and numerous that I feel I know the whole plot of the book before I’ve cracked it open, and I can make up my own mind.

Hype often leads to my reading disappointment. The newness of discovering a plot is stolen away and the characters become familiar before I’ve read a single line. Give me reading oblivion over hype any day.

I’m not against book reviews. I love them. I read and write them. I’m just not a fan of reading gazillions reviews on the same ‘hot’ book.

Who Says It’s Worth Reading?

Bestseller books - the good books listI know there are wonderful anomalies of the ‘little’ people’s books being discovered and widely read without huge marketing campaigns and money thrown behind them, but the truth still stands that most bestsellers are such because they have a well-known publisher behind them.

Yes, self-publishers can get recognised too but they have to do the long hard slog to be read and revered. Whilst I also understand that the traditional publishing houses expect authors to do more of their own promotion nowadays it’s still true that the books publishers believe have the ability to be a bestseller will have the powerful publisher juggernaut behind them.

A bestseller is often the product of a publisher telling us it is worth reading. Then someone read it. Then a few others did. A lot of reviews and promo happened. Many more of us read it, and then the hype begins.

Call me a cynic (oh you already did) but this is not always because this book is an amazing work of writing art. It’s not necessarily because it’s well-crafted, rich in character or has depth of plot. It is sometimes because we are told by the juggernaut that keeps on gathering momentum that we really must read this book. You wouldn’t want to miss out would you?

How horrific it would be if you weren’t able to contribute to the conversation about the latest bestseller when you’re at book club. Er, if you haven’t read the book and you’re in a book club you’re probably going wrong somewhere anyway. Oh wait, they’re the places people go to drink wine aren’t they?

Why Is This Book So Popular?

I have often asked myself this question as I’ve battled with reading another bestseller and thrown it to the floor, annoyed that I was sucked in again by the hype. Then I have to have a word with myself and consider my possible book snobbery.

The book probably wasn’t meant for me. I am not its audience. It’s not my genre. However, there are millions of readers out there it was meant for, who are its audience and who love this genre.

I will never, ever understand the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey. Yes, I did try to read it out of idle curiosity. I knew I wouldn’t make it beyond five pages of incessant ‘Oh mys’.

It’s so not my thing. But it might be yours. It’s certainly millions of others’ ‘thing’. All credit to E. L. Grey. I think it’s tosh, I’m entitled to my opinion but I respect that others do not share it.

Harry Potter. Dangerous ground now… I have never liked it. I know that will horrify some of you.

I cannot refute that the series is incredibly popular. I read a few books. I found them ploddy, repetitive, and dare I say it, not stylistically all that great (to my taste). I will, however, state that I admire J. K. Rowling for what she’s achieved and for how she tells celebrity and political idiots to sod off on Twitter. She worked flipping hard to get where she is too. Kudos to her.

I often ask myself when considering reading a bestseller, why is this popular? Most of the time I just don’t have an a answer although I’m beginning to develop a conspiracy theory where bestsellers have subliminal ‘Read me or Die’ messages written in invisible ink between the lines of the first paragraph. Maybe I’m immune to this trickery.

It’s a ‘Girl’ Thing

Bestseller books - girl powerThere was a recent spate of books with ‘Girl’ in the title: Gone Girl, The Girl on The Train, Luckiest Girl Alive, The Girls… The list continues.

The trend for ‘girl’ in the title appears to be dying off now which is a relief as I’m really finding it tough to stick it in every short story I write, particularly those with only male characters.

The ‘girl’ bandwagon is synonymous of the bestseller trend. You will often find that if a book becomes a bestseller, people will then start buying other books that sound similar, both in title and plot. Cue a squillion books about girls, who strangely enough are usually women, as tortured souls in a heavily psychological plot. Bestseller formula nailed.

The amusing thing is that the ‘girl’ in a title can be confusing. A. J. Waines found out this for herself with many a disgruntled review from those who purchased her book, Girl on a Train mistaking it for The Girl on the Train. However, it worked to her advantage too. Several readers were also pleasantly surprised by how good her book is and thought it better than its more famous counterpart.

I guess Beyonce was right when she said that girls run the world.

I’m wondering what the next title trend will be. I desperately want it to be something really out there like ‘Cockwomble’. How brilliant would it be to go to the bookshop and find ourselves surrounded by cockwombles? I mean that kind of thing usually only happens in bars, restaurants and shopping centres. Bookshops are usually cockwomble-free due to its clientele being awesome readers.

The Celebrity Bestseller

Ranty time up ahead.

Before I begin I need to make it clear that I am not stating that all books written by celebrities, or their ghost-writers, are crap. There probably are some good ones out there. I just haven’t found them yet and I’m happy for you to suggest some.


How bloody annoying is it that a celebrity will usually have a bestseller because they are a celebrity alone?

I can kind of deal with it if they are a proper celebrity like the Queen. My issue is with reality television nobodies who think that I want to read about their lives. This to me is tantamount to reading the diary of the bloke who lives round the corner. It means nothing to me!

Actually I’d probably rather read the memoirs of the bloke who lives round the corner because at least I have some kind of idea of who he actually is.

Even more amusing are famous people who write novels. For shits and giggles I’ve often picked up a book in the library written by television presenters and had to have a lie down to get over the hysterics of how poorly written it is.

I’ve probably got some writer envy going on with a touch of snark, but it really annoys me that regardless of the book’s content, a ‘celebrity’ is pretty much guaranteed a best seller.

I so desperately want to get famous for doing naff all so that I can get someone to write my life story, stick a few photos in the middle, and go on a long holiday to the Bahamas on the proceeds.

Instead I will just try doing this ‘writing well’ thing as an unknown. Sheesh.

Why I Will Probably Still Read a Bestseller

Bestseller books - pile of booksI don’t want to miss out. What if this is an amazing book? What if all the hype, reviews and the woman next door who read it in one sitting are right? I cannot miss out.

Reading is breathing for me. I must devour the books. This book might just change my life.

However, I’m being more discerning nowadays. I am no longer an English teacher who has to blag it with my colleagues and pretend that I’ve read the UK’s top ten selling books.

I don’t have to feel like an idiot when talking to fellow writers that I haven’t read the current bestseller, because I’m a grown up now and I’m busy writing *cough*.

I will read that bestseller if it sounds like my kind of thing. I will try to read it before the world and their dogs tell me I must read it.

I will remember to read a bestseller with an open mind and recall the brilliant bestsellers I have read in the past.

I will not, however, be coerced and I will continue to forage for those little gems that lurk in libraries, tucked between the big names, and the indie authors vying for space on the internet.

I will champion the precious finds of books not many know about but soon will after I have loved reading it.

I will live on a healthy balanced diet of books I want to read with the occasional binge on a bestseller; everything in moderation after all. Apart from chocolate. Normal rules do not apply where chocolate is concerned.

About Lisa Sell

Lisa Sell is a fiction writer. When she's not wrestling with words she can be found showing the love for chocolate, cheese, coffee, books, the cats, and the husband. Perhaps not in that order.

26 comments on “Bestseller Books Aren’t Always the Best

  1. Lisa,

    You are so right about the idea of a best seller. Some of the ones I have read are awesome when others just don’t do it for me. Everyone has different tastes when it comes to what they like to read, so I think it is hard to call a book a best seller, unless it sells more copies than others. Just because it sells a lot of copies, doesn’t make it a good book in everyone’s eyes.

    1. It is completely down to the personal taste of a few people sat in a publishing house as to what gets pushed upon us as ‘the next big book’. We all know reading is a subjective experience so this really is odd. Of course I can’t refute that some books are big sellers because a lot of people have read them and loved them too.

      Thanks so much for offering your insight into this Selma.

  2. Great post. The why’s of how a particular box became popular is fascinating. I think with some of these runaway reads, one particular book somehow becomes the flagship book and captures an audience that wouldn’t normally read books. FSOG and Harry P are good examples of that. And in that respect they probably bring non-readers into the reading world which is good. But I agree that bestsellers are as much of a mixed bag as any other books.

    I got 40% into FSOG before I gave up. I love Harry Potter. Twilight – finished it but meh.

    1. It is fascinating as to why certain books become bestsellers. Often there’s no clear reason for it.

      I agree with you that if a bestseller gets people reading that’s great. I am sure there are many people who picked up FSOG who hadn’t read a book in years. I do wonder though if they continue reading after that?

      Thanks for your comment Elise; food for thought.

  3. If you think celebrities writing books are bad, be grateful you have mostly avoided celebrities (non musical) in bands….

  4. I only read the bestsellers in my genres of interest, particularly self-help and alternative spirituality. Sticking to what I love to read anyway seems to be the ticket to picking the “best” bestsellers.

  5. Interesting post! I think bestsellers are great – but that doesn’t mean the book IS a great read. It might not be written that well, but something appeals to people. I don’t know. I read a ton of books though, and I try and read a mix of things that are popular and more unknown reads. As for The Girl on the Train – I found it to be okay, but too obvious.


    1. Like you, I mix it up too. I love reading and I’d never refuse to read a bestseller because it’s a bestseller.

      I worked out the ending to ‘The Girl on the Train’ very quickly. Not what I expect of a good thriller. So I’m with you on that one Lauren.

  6. So true. I have found treasures in Amazon Prime’s .99 books and others that just captured my attention. As a writer, when I look at how some authors got noticed, I’m amazed.

    1. It never fails to surprise me as a fellow writer what sells either Karin. I don’t go with the trends when I’m writing as I know they’re fleeting. By the time I’ve written a novel with ‘Girl’ in the title, it will be out of fashion!

  7. Totally with you on Fifty Shades of Grey!! I tried to read it because everyone said I had to. They were the most painful books! I kept reading them because I figured they HAD to get better because everyone loved them!

    1. We’ve all been there, plodding away with books we think we should be reading. Ask E. L. Grey for a refund on your life! Thanks for commenting Vicki.

  8. I love your style! Most best sellers are not for me. They are rather like those fashionable restaurants where everyone wants to be able to say they went but the food is not so amazing especially for the price.

    1. What a great analogy! It’s exactly like that. People go to those restaurants and dare not say they didn’t like it because no one else ever says it but we’re probably all thinking the same thing; I’d rather go to the local cafe. Thanks for sharing that Gillian.

  9. I understand your points. I too have struggled with the fact that many bestsellers aren’t necessarily well written or aren’t an inspiring read. But I suppose to each their own! Thanks for the post.

  10. I am *so* skeptical of bestsellers! I’m actually less likely to read a book that is overly popular. Someone then has to personally tell me that I would like it, otherwise I’m just going to assume it’s bad. (Judging a book by its Oprah’s book club sticker?)

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