aprilhenry (aprilhenry) wrote,

Marketing = Bestseller? Not Necessarily

Recently the New York Times looked at books that had buckets of money poured over them, but which didn't grow into the huge booksellers everyone expected. There were titles like The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters , a 760-page Victorian thriller with fantastical elements, published by Bantam Books. (Currently it is at 45,000 at Amazon – not good news for a fairly new and hugely hyped hardcover). And The Meaning of Night , a murder mystery that takes place in Victorian England that W. W. Norton spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote. (Currently 2,892 at Amazon – much better.)

And there's the Interpretation of Murder , from Holt. (Current Amazon ranking 984 – not bad, although the book has been labeled a "disappointment" in terms of sales.) From the beginning, Holt planned a large campaign. Early in April it sent 3,000 galleys — a substantial number for a first novel — to booksellers and the news media, and took out a cover ad in Publisher’s Weekly. At Book Expo America in May, it handed out 5,000 more galleys, which had fold-out jackets that Holt hoped would make the book stand out. Mr. Rubenfeld was sent on a series of lunches in New York, Boston and San Francisco to meet with booksellers.

Last year Doubleday spent about $1 million for three books in a planned trilogy of futuristic thrillers by John Twelve Hawks, then devoted close to $500,000 trying to turn the first book, The Traveller ,into a national best seller. "Twelve Hawks" was supposedly the pseudonym of some guy who lived off the grid and whose name had to be keep a secret. (Full disclosure: Maybe he's glad now of the anonymity!)

They had street teams - groups of young people armed with posters dispatched to talk up the book at events like concerts - and a Web campaign to start discussions of the book in forums like the Alternate Reality Gaming Network. Other tactics ranged from tsending models who looked like Maya, the book's protagonist, to walk the floors of BookExpo America to mailing a DVD to booksellers featuring Mr. Twelve Hawks, his voice filtered through a machine, reading excerpts of the book over minimalist animation. The official site for "The Traveler," www.traveler-book.com, had a game in which players used surveillance techniques to track a minor character from the book. Doubleday also set up what it calls "unofficial" Web sites, including a blog ostensibly written by a character; Web sites for a fake auto body shop and martial arts studio with no obvious links to "The Traveler"; and a site for the Evergreen Foundation, an insidious presence in the book. Although the book made the New York Times best-seller list for hardcover fiction for two weeks, it sold only 47,000 copies in outlets that usually account for 65 percent of a book’s sales. They don't seem to have ever put it out in paper back, which seems silly – maybe they could have gotten back some of the cash they put out on it? They must have really felt burned. (Currently the book stand at an extremely dismal 2,634,706 on Amazon.)

[Updated to add - just checked out the book with one "L" and discovered it does exist in paperback, where it isn't doing that badly, coming in just under 10,000. Maybe that should be a lesson - don't have a book title that can be spelled two different ways? It's confusing to me, because if you type in John Twelve Hawks, the paperback does not show up.]

Two years ago the Putnam Publishing Group acquired two books from a first-time novelist, Jilliane Hoffman, a former assistant state attorney in Miami, for seven figures and dedicated $300,000 to a marketing campaign for the first book, Retribution . Despite the fanfare, it sold just 20,000 copies in hardcover, according to BookScan. (Full disclosure: talk about "high concept = high crap." "Blond, beautiful law student Chloe Larson is looking forward to a great future with successful New York businessman Michael Decker. Her expectations are shattered forever after a madman in a clown mask rapes and tortures her until she is near death. She survives physically, but psychologically slips into an extended mental breakdown. Twelve years later she's dyed her hair mousy brown and become unassuming, hardworking C.J. Townsend, assistant chief of the Miami Dade State Attorney's office. A suspiciously lucky break nets serial killer suspect William Bantling, and C.J. takes over the prosecution as part of her normal workload. GAK!!!) (The book is currently at 276,487 on Amazon for the paperback.)

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