aprilhenry (aprilhenry) wrote,

When showing up on the NY Times bestseller’s list is a disappointment

A fascinating article in The Wall Street Journal talks about whether you can make a bestseller if you start with something pretty good and throw a lot of money at it. Authors are always wishing that their publisher would do more for them, thinking that’s the only thing standing between them and best-stellerdom.

The article seems to say sometimes your best isn’t good enough. But I think what they got was still pretty damn good.

The book in question is Jeb Rubenfeld’s The Interpretation of Murder . It’s a sad day when a book released on Sept. 5 is already being called a failure less than six weeks later. I remember when my first book publicist, the wonderful Brian Jones at HarperCollins, told me my book had six to eight weeks to be judged a success. I told him I had yogurt in my fridge with a longer shelf life. (Full disclosure: I think YAs have longer legs. And I sure hope I’m right.)

The book was bought about a year ago. The artcile says the publisher, Henry Holt, saw it as the next Da Vinci Code. (Um, I think about a million books had already been touted as that before they bought the book, and a million more after they did.) They paid $800,000 - a stunning advance for a first time author. “[The eidtor] committed his publishing house to a $500,000 marketing campaign, in which it printed 10,000 advanced reader copies at a cost of $17,000. …He prepared a marketing blitz, including a promotional cover wrapped around an issue of Publishers Weekly and full-page ads in the New York Times and the New Yorker. Holt built a $10,000 Web site. There was an author's lunch with the media in New York City, an author dinner in San Francisco and lunch with senior staff at Barnes & Noble Inc., the country's largest and most powerful book retailer.”

That $800,000 only bought them North American rights. Later, the author's agent sold foreign rights to 31 publishers for more than $1 million.

“The early signs were good. Entertainment Weekly magazine, in its June "Must Read" issue, declared the book, "a compelling, expertly crafted murder mystery." … Independent stores were particularly enthusiastic. "Murder" was named the No. 1 pick for September by Book Sense, the marketing arm of the American Booksellers Association.” (Full disclosure: two of my books, Circles of Confusion and Learning to Fly, were named to Book Sense. But not to the top 10. I think they were listed with other mysteries and thrillers. Which often happens to genre books. Relegated to the genre ghetto.)

“Mr. Rubenfeld's book was published Sept. 5, and the first feedback came a week later. It wasn't good. Holt got early word that first-week sales were strong enough to rank it only No. 18 on the New York Times extended best-seller list dated Sept. 24.”

“Holt invested $1.3 million in buying and marketing the book, a sum that doesn't include the cost of manufacturing. It will need to sell at least 150,000 hardcover copies to recoup its investment. [I bet they are figuring that out based on cover price, but so many books are sold through Costco and Target now at steep discounts.] Barring an unforeseen spike, it will be lucky to get to half that. Next year, Holt hopes to benefit from paperback sales. And there's always the chance a movie might get made.”

“Still, the book never caught fire and could leave Holt in the red. What happened? A timing issue, say several rival publishers. Holt may have erred in promoting its book so heavily six months prior to publication. “

Read the full story here.

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Tags: bestsellers, interpretation of murder, wsj
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