Ben Wildavsky explains how you, too, can be a best-selling author

In the July 5th Soapbox column from Publishers Weekly (“Number One*”), Ben Wildavsky draws on his experience as an education editor at US News & World Report and his recent experiences with his book The Great Brain Race to demonstrate how the Amazon sub-categories work to compare “apples to apples”.

Here’s a brief excerpt, but head over to PW to read the whole article.

It was April 6, 2010—just an ordinary Tuesday morning for the rest of the world—when The Great Brain Race became a bestseller. The Princeton University Press title would not be formally released for another month, but my new book had already made it to the top. Time to shout from the virtual rooftops. “I know Amazon is bound to break my heart,” I wrote to my Facebook friends at 1:40 p.m., attaching the Web link, “but today I’m in love.”

Number one! Say it loud and there’s music playing. Say it soft and it’s almost like praying. Number one.

Here’s the backstory. When I first checked out my book’s Amazon ranking, many months before publication, it was somewhere in the 450,000 range. By April 1, thanks to two well-placed op-eds and other bits of early buzz, the book had vaulted to 18,759.

Not too shabby. But not good enough. A new approach was surely in order. How fair was it, I thought, to be ranked with the Dan Browns and Robert Atkinses of the world? Wouldn’t an apples-to-apples comparison make more sense? Soon, I discovered Amazon’s Education category, together with a plethora of subcategories, from Preschool to Homeschooling. There was a Globalization list, too. (A good bet, because as I’ve told everybody, The Great Brain Race is about much more than just education.) And because it would be unjust to stack me up against backlist stalwarts like the Fiske Guide to Colleges and The World Is Flat, did I mention that within each subcategory there is a “Hot New Releases” list as well? Not just new, but hot. I liked the sound of that.