There’s A Hack For Everything Part 2.

I know everyone wants me to get to the hacking of the Best Seller List, and I will in a minute, but you have to put the meat and potatoes down before you pour the gravy (otherwise it gets really messy.) 
The first step in any good attack, is to examine what’s worked in the past. However, it’s not the only one. A penetration tester also has to understand how the legitimate user (or in this case, book) gets in. Other things to consider are potential attack vectors (point of sale outlets, distributors, etc.) and the reporting methodology, i.e how the lists are compiled.
Okay, now that the meat and potatoes are down, we can pour the gravy. First, it should be noted that most publishing companies, like their record label and art world counterparts, are slime. They are happiest when they can take an unknown, sign them to a multi-year deal that puts most of the profits in their own pockets instead of the artist’s (unknowns are happy just to be there) and push them to the top of a list or chart they can manipulate. They are miserable when they have to write much larger royalty checks to established artists.
Don’t believe me? Read on. No one is exactly sure when the kids first broke into the candy store, but it went on for a pretty long time, “and them that knows ain’t sayin'” (boy did my spell checker hate that one.)
The major publishers concocted the following plan and they were all in on it. They would use their weight to push large amounts of a particular title out to the big distributors. The carrot was that all the books were returnable for credit. So the big distributors grumbled, but they went along with it. Now this alone was not enough to crack the lists, because there were no sales and, for obvious reasons, the publishers aren’t allowed to report sales to the list. So they did the next best thing. They used shell companies to buy back the books in large chunks at a discount. The shell companies would then warehouse them and pass them back to the publishers. The publishers now owned the books again so their overheads were zero on that batch which they pushed back out to the distributors again and repeated the process. When the book hit the best seller list it would get prime real estate at the book stores and people would buy it. (Go into a Barnes and Noble and take a look at the books that assault you as you walk in the door.) Thus, a title that appeared to sell 500k books, really only sold 250k but the publisher broke even on the first half and pocketed all the profits on the second half. Total marketing cost – “0”. Plus, all those shell companies posted nasty losses that were written off at tax time. The distributors were happy as profits were up. and the NY Times was none the wiser. (or were they, they are a big publishing conglomerate…)
Does this still go on? The answer is no. Someone figured it out and now books that sell in large blocks are asterisked like Barry Bond’s home run ball and never make it to the list. 
Do the major publishers still hack the list? Well the alternative is that they collectively developed a conscience and are now playing fair and square. (Yes, Virginia there really is a Santa Claus.)
Am I going to try to hack the list with my own novel, Playing God? No, but it was a cool mental exercise.
’till next time.

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There’s a hack for everything Part 1.

The trick is to find it. The only exceptions to this rule are death and stupidity. Now, at first blush, stupidity appears no fall under the category of the corollary rule, namely: Most problems will go away if you throw money at them. But I would postulate (follow the recursive logic here) that if you are stupid and hire a bunch of smart people to get around the fact that you are stupid, that makes you pretty smart. 
I’m a hacker, thinking outside the box is what I do. Ergo, I, a penniless author (Hey, I have five kids, three of which are teenage boys that play football. My food bill alone would cripple a third world nation) should be able to make it onto the NY Times best seller list. 
If you are a new author and and you Google book promotion, here is what they tell you to do: Make your book available. (with millions of books published every year, that puts it at the bottom of a very big pile) Get accounts and engage with readers on Facebook and Twitter. (That will work if you already have hundreds of thousands of friends and followers) Get a video up on You tube. (See: the bottom of a very big pile) Write a blog to get people interested. (A different very big pile) Then be patient and wait. The internet is full of “success” stories from people who did this. They will tell you that after two years, they had sold a thousand books and were now selling at the breakneck clip of 5 or 6 per month!
Correct me if I’m wrong, but at that rate, the best seller list is a mere 10,000 years away! Well, I did everything they told me to do with my novel Playing God, and then I waited. And I waited, and I waited. After about 60 seconds of this waiting nonsense, I’d had enough!
I bet your first reaction is: The best Seller List can’t be hacked. Am I right?
Would it surprise you to know that it already has been? I’ll explain how in part 2.

The Screen Hackers Guild

The Screen Hackers Guild or SHG (pronounced shg, or for those of you mentally challenged individuals that demand a vowel amongst your consonants, shug) is an uber elite organization whose Screen Actors Guild members are 313371337. This is a designation that I’m sure you all aspire to but few if any of you will ever attain. Sadly, most of you will never rise above 1337 status. To be truly 313371337, you must pass the usual Screen Actors Guild qualifications, i.e. physical conditioning, perfectly straight ultra-white teeth, the ability to cry and sweat on cue, etc. Once you have met these rigorous qualifications, you will then need to take the SHG exam. This is an exam that many try to take, but few, if any pass. Its difficulty has been compared to that of working out the very last decimal place of PI in your head while you need to take a pee. Not for the faint of heart, right? I’m going to give you the test in a minute, but I want to caution those of you with fragile egos against even attempting this test. It will hammer home your humble 1337 status and has been known to leave test-takers in tears of frustration and rage. For the rest of you who fail, it will help you come to grips with your 1337 status and allow you the enjoyment of cheering when an SHG member comes onstage in a movie or TV show knowing that they truly are 313371337.
Okay, are you ready? Here’s the test:
You have EXACTLY 30 seconds to complete this test. First, sit in front of a computer terminal. Second, wrinkle your brow and adopt a look of intense concentration (method actors may wish to contemplate intangibles such as why their last girlfriend dumped them or how they ended up with spinach on their teeth at the last red carpet event.) With the clock at 30 seconds, begin typing in rapid fire bursts using all your fingers (playing air guitar is a good practice for this section of the test). When the clock hits EXACTLY 29 seconds, sit up, look to one side and say “I’m in!” Couldn’t do it? You are not alone. Common mistakes are: actually typing something, not frowning hard enough, and finishing before the 29 second mark. Remember, just because you are 1337 doesn’t been you are 14/\/\3.
Till next time.