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What makes a Best Seller?

Discussion in 'Anything goes' started by JR, May 15, 2007.

  1. JR

    JR Well-Known Member


    The answer, of course, is nobody knows for sure.

    For those here who've had a book published, you know this all too well.

    For those who haven't, a glimpse into the rather strange world of book publishing.

    One of the highest advances ever paid was more than $8 million for a proposal that became “Thirteen Moons,” the second novel by Charles Frazier. He is the author of “Cold Mountain,” which sold 1.6 million copies in hardcover.

    Random House printed 750,000 copies of “Thirteen Moons” for the hardcover release in October. The book became a best seller, but it has sold only 240,000 copies so far, according to Nielsen BookScan. That would account for less than $1 million of earned royalties, under standard contract terms. The paperback will be out next month, further diminishing hopes of selling out even the initial hardcover print run.

    “It’s guesswork,” says Bill Thomas, editor in chief of Doubleday Broadway. “The whole thing is educated guesswork, but guesswork nonetheless. You just try to make sure your upside mistakes make up for your downside mistakes.”
  2. Simon_Cowbell

    Simon_Cowbell Active Member

    Three words.....

    By Stephen King
  3. JR

    JR Well-Known Member

    Yes, but remember that King's first book "Carrie" only sold a little over 10,000 copies in hardcover and King received an advance of $2500 (in '74).

    It wasn't until the paperback came out (New American Library paid $400,000 for the rights) and the subsequent movie that King's writing career took off.

    Prior to "Carrie", Doubleday had already rejected one of his novels.

    Point is, when it comes to this, everyone has 20/20 hindsight.
  4. zeke12

    zeke12 Guest

    Simon beat me to it, so I'll go with...

    John Grisham's name on the spine.


    Oprah holding the book up on television.

    We're nothing if not idiots.
  5. Simon_Cowbell

    Simon_Cowbell Active Member

    Poor Doubleday.

    Happy Viking.
  6. JR

    JR Well-Known Member

    Yeah but Zeke, Grisham is a best-selling author NOW. That's after the fact.

    The editor reading the unedited ms for his first novel would have had no clue. That's the point of the article. How do you predict best-sellers?

    In the book biz, nobody knows nothing.

    And yes, Oprah is probably worth at least a quarter of million copies.
  7. JR

    JR Well-Known Member

    King jumped to Viking after I think his third or fourth best-seller because Doubleday (they were a clueless fucking bunch back then) didn't pay attention to the care and feeding of their #1 author. They took him for granted.
  8. swenk

    swenk Member

    Not necessarily true: I've had a couple clients on Oprah whose books were complete bombs (most likely because they were sports related).

    The great misconception is that a 'best seller' is the same as a big success. 'Best' just means better-selling than others being tracked at the same time. It's all numbers--and it has nothing to do with actual success.

    A book can sell 100,000 copies, and sit on the best seller list for a couple of weeks...but if the publisher paid a million dollars for it, it's a bomb. They just hope their successes offset their bombs. Everything is a gamble.

    Book publishing: Vegas with verbs.
  9. JR

    JR Well-Known Member

    Book publishing is like baseball. If you bat .300, you're a star.

    Oh, and Swen, abook publisher who puts a sports related book on Oprah thinking that it guarantees 100,000 copies needs to find a new publicity director.

    Vegas with Verbs. Can I use that? :)

    I remember working for this guy (briefly, thank heavens), who was outside of the book biz--you know, the guy the bean counters bring in to bring "business acument" to the table.

    His first memo was something about "only publishing best-sellers".
  10. swenk

    swenk Member

    To be fair, these were "bigger meaning than sports" books, so they had chance, and the exposure didn't hurt. But they didn't "explode" the way we think Oprah books will always do.

    For 15%, absolutely. 8)

    Sadly, that's not too far from the entire philosophy of commercial (as opposed to literary) publishing these days. Publish fewer books, pay big money for big name authors with built-in publicity. They don't want to pay you $50,000 for a book that might sell--they want to pay you $500,000 for a book that WILL sell.
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