Pub Rants

Category: bestseller lists

The Agent Crystal Ball Myth

STATUS: Reviewing royalty statements—of course.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I LOVE ROCK AND ROLL by Joan Jett

Agents really don’t have a crystal ball to anticipate the market. For example, 2 years ago when Gail came to me with her manuscript SOULLESS, I wasn’t sitting at my desk thinking, “wow, if Jane Austen were to write a Victorian Steampunk fantasy, this vampire/werewolf comedy of manners called SOULLESS would definitely be it and yessiree, this type of parody is the wave of the future.” Heck no. I just sat at my desk thinking, “wow, this is cool and I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

Little did I know two years ago that in 2009, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies would hit a cultural nerve and climb the New York Times bestseller list and something like SOULLESS would be hitting the market at exactly the right time. Now I look like a genius who anticipated potentially the next “hot” trend. Uh…. yeah, that’s it.

SOULLESS is powerhousing out of the gate with thousands of copies sold in its first two weeks on sale. It’s number #21 on Bookscan’s fantasy bestseller list (and may have the potential to climb some—although it’s going to be dang hard to knock Charlaine Harris out of the top 10 slots with her Sookie Stackhouse/HBO’s True Blood series.)

It looks like I’ve had incredible foresight but the truth is that I didn’t know this was going to happen. Any agent that tells you differently is feeding you a load of you know what.

Now we can surmise, guess, analyze what is hot and what is still selling and make some assumptions about what might trend in the future.

But none of us actually know. Which is a good reason to never ask the question at a writers’ conference!

Congrats Gail on a stunning debut!

Does The Size Of The Advance Equal Success?

STATUS: Blogging a bit late tonight. Busy day.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MR. JONES by Counting Crows

The answer is yes.

The answer is no.

The size of the advance paid can increase the likelihood of success as the publisher is more likely to commit significant resources toward a title that a large advance was paid for.

However, the size of the advance is not a guarantee of success for any specific title.

I remember reading an article in Publishers Weekly last year (and I wish I had saved it). The article outlined two thriller titles being released by two different publishers. Both thrillers were in hardcover and the lead titles for their specific imprints. Both titles had a solid six-figure advance. Both titles had significant resources allocated for the marketing and promotional push. Both titles were from debut authors.

One title hit the New York Times Bestseller list. The other title had, in the publisher’s own words, “disappointing sales.”

So what happened?

Quite simply, no amount of money can force a public to want and buy a book. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t. If the publishers knew what created that ground swell to catapult a title onto bestseller lists and a million copy sell-thru, they’d do it for every book.

It’s a dangerous to assume that the size of the advance paid is the only indicator of possible success. (Or that a publisher who has paid a large advance will always pay attention to that title rather than embrace a newly bought title that might sell even better.)

And every agent I know has a story of a little book that could. The book that was a hard sell, that didn’t have a big advance, that had almost no marketing or promotional budget attached and yet defied all the odds.

A great success story that exemplifies this exactly is agent Deidre Knight’s 90 Minutes in Heaven—a book that was not sold for a lot of money and certainly wasn’t released with a lot of hoopla. Initial print run was by no means huge. The hardcover sold modestly well but then when the paperback version released, an explosion happened. The book kept gaining traction. Word of mouth. The ground swell that money can’t purchase started to happen. In the end, I don’t know exactly how long the title stayed on the bestseller list but I do know that it was for more than a year. This book has now sold millions of copies.

So does a large advance equal large success?

The answer is yes and the answer is no. All the stars ultimately have to align.


STATUS: We are dancing around the office; we can’t believe it!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN by Cyndi Lauper

It’s no small feat to hit the NYT series list. Looking at who was on the week before last, it was even scarier. At that time, there was only one non-vampire, non-paranormal title on the list (Diary of A Wimpy Kid).

Then last week, 39 Clues popped back on making that two titles on the NYT Series list.

Now I’m happy to report that there are THREE titles on the Series list. Coming in at #6, The Gallagher Girls land a spot.


Children’s Best Sellers

1 THE TWILIGHT SAGA, by Stephenie Meyer. (Megan Tingley/Little, Brown, hardcover and paper) Vampires and werewolves in school. (Ages 12 and up)

2 PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS, by Rick Riordan. (Disney-Hyperion, hardcover and paper) Battling mythological monsters. (Ages 9 to 12)

3 DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, written and illustrated by Jeff Kin­ney. (Abrams, hardcover only) The travails of adolescence, in cartoons. (Ages 9 to 12)

4 THE 39 CLUES, by various authors. (Scholastic, hardcover only) A brother and sister travel the world in search of the key to their family’s power. (Ages 9 to 12)

5 HOUSE OF NIGHT, by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast. (St. Martin’s, hardcover and paper) Vampires in school. (Ages 14 and up)

6 GALLAGHER GIRLS, by Ally Carter. (Disney-Hyperion, hard­cover and paper) A school for spies. (Ages 12 and up)

7 THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS, by Cassandra Clare. (McElderry/Simon & Schuster, hardcover and paper) A world of demons and warriors. (Ages 14 and up)

8 NIGHT WORLD, by L. J. Smith. (Simon Pulse, paper only) Su­pernatural races form secret societies. (Ages 14 and up)

9 WARRIORS, by Erin Hunter. (HarperCollins, hardcover and paper) Four clans of cat warriors aspire to meet up with the Star­Clan. (Ages 10 to 14)

10 VAMPIRE DIARIES, by L. J. Smith. (HarperTeen, hardcover and paper) Vampires in school, with a love triangle. (Ages 12 and up)

The Gallagher Girls Are Here!

STATUS: Manhattan had some rockin’ thunderstorms last night about 3 in the morning. Chutney is not a fan. Took me 20 minutes to coax her out of the closet.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MY PREROGATIVE by Britney Spears

Interesting Fact #1: I signed Ally as a client for an adult novel—not a young adult novel. In fact, her first two published novels were adult women’s fiction for Berkley.

Interesting Fact #2: This series has over a million copies in print.

Interesting Fact #3: The first two books in this series, I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have To Kill You and Cross My Heart And Hope To Spy, both hit the New York Times Bestseller list. For this book to hit the NYT list, we’ll have to land on the series bestseller list along with the Twilight Series, Percy Jackson, Night World, House of Night, Mortal Instrument, Vampire Kisses, Nicholas Flamel, and Pendragon.

If we do, it will be one of only three non-paranormal/fantasy titles on the list (with Diary Of A Wimpy Kid and Maximum Ride). [I stand corrected! I hadn’t read Maximum Ride but according to the comments, I guess it has a paranormal element. I amend, “If we do, it will be one of two non-paranormal/fantasy titles on the list.”]

Happy Release Day Ally!

When Cammie “the Chameleon” Morgan visits her roommate Macey in Boston, she thinks she’s in for an exciting end to her summer break. After all, she’s there to watch Macey’s father accept a nomination for vice president of the United States. But when you go to the world’s best school (for spies), “exciting” and “deadly” are never far apart. Cammie and Macey soon find themselves trapped in a kidnapper’s dangerous plot, with only their espionage skills to save them.

As her junior year begins, Cammie can’t shake the memory of what happened in Boston, and even the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women doesn’t feel like the safe haven it once did. Shocking secrets and old flames seem to lurk around every one of the mansion’s corners as Cammie and her friends struggle to answer the questions, Who is after Macey? And how can they keep her safe?

Soon Cammie is joining Bex and Liz as Macey’s private security team on the campaign trail. The girls must use their spy training at every turn, as the stakes are raised, and Cammie gets closer and closer to the shocking truth…


STATUS: Hugely excited. Today was just a day for good news.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? KOKOMO by Beach Boys

I have to say that Denver is expecting a fairly large snow storm tomorrow. I wish I was in Kokomo.

But today is for celebration nonetheless.

Congratulations, Sherry, on your double RITA nomination for PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS for Best First Book and Best Historical Romance.

And Congrats also to Jamie for hitting #15 on the New York Times Bestseller List for HOTEL. This means it will actually be printed in the paper rather than just online with the Extended List.

Happy happy happy dance!

The Gallagher Girls Are Coming

STATUS: HOTEL landed in the USA Today bestseller list for the very first time. Granted, pretty high up there at #118, but hey it’s start. Right after Eckhart Tolle.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HAVE YOU EVER SEEN THE RAIN? by Spin Doctors (CCR cover)

June 9th.

The galleys didn’t even have the cover. You blog readers are some of the first people to see it.

Hotel on the NYT!

STATUS: If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? IN THE MOOD by Glen Miller Orchestra

Congratulations Jamie on now being a New York Times bestselling author—debuting at #30 on the extended hardcover list.

We here at the Nelson Agency are just thrilled to pieces for you! Go knock ‘em dead in Milwaukee tonight.

STATUS: Buried in contracts—round three in the negotiation process for all but one on my desk.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ROCK THIS TOWN by Stray Cats

Folks, if we had the answer to this, we’d rule the world. And every book a publisher (and the author) wanted to be a bestseller, would be one. As you know, the world doesn’t work that way.

There have been case studies of books that publishers threw a lot of money behind (and their whole weight) and the book was dead in the water.

Then you have stories like WATER FOR ELEPHANTS that was an indie bookseller chug-a-thon and the word of mouth was so great even before the book hit shelves that when it was finally available, it was “sleeper” hit.

So why did I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU hit the NYT list two years after its debut?

I have no idea. Now I do have some theories. I can tell you what little I know (as it’s certainly not a trade secret). Not to mention, Ally was inspired by my post to offer her reasons on why as well so you might want to check out her blog too.

Here’s what I know:

1. LYKY (shorthand for that very long title) sold very well right out of the gate but never hit a list. In fact, we had sales numbers so good, some titles that were on the NYT list would have been envious.

2. LYKY was firmly supported by the Publisher—Hyperion Books for Children. They made this their lead title and did a lot to get the word out initially. Ads, author lunches with key book buyers, white box mailings, the works. There was a solid initial first print run but nothing crazy. (Sorry, can’t share that as the info is client confidential.)

3. Hyperion was aggressive on its reprints so LYKY continued to sell well and build steadily for 2 years (a success we really owe to B&N—which got strongly behind the book from day one as did some great Indies stores).

4. This title started landing on State reading lists (we love Librarians!) and won several awards—thus continuing the notice build.

5. CROSS MY HEART AND HOPE TO SPY, the second book in the series, had a really rockin’ initial print run and in Ally’s case, it was this title (lovingly referred to as CMH) that landed on the NYT hardcover list first (because of all the awareness-building LYKY had done, sales in the initial weeks after release were out the roof. And to land on the NYT list, a book needs a set number of sales within a short period of time to land. Actually that is just conjecture as the NYT does not share their criteria for the how and why of books hitting the NYT list.)

6. Just weeks after CMH hit, LYKY landed on the NYT trade paperback list and stayed there for 16 weeks.

7. Now we have notice and momentum building on each other. Readers excited about the release of CMH were talking to other readers and telling them to buy LYKY first. Not to mention, the trade pb price is always more appealing so sales took off in that format. There’s an uptick in hardcover sales as well but not like there was for trade pb edition.

8. Borders finally gets on board with a big buy-in for book 2. Because all this notice is happening, Costco, Best Buy, Walmart, etc. all buy-in for both titles as well. Now sales are really picking up.

I can’t tell you where they are right now (client confidential) but let’s just say the weekly sales are eye-popping.

Here’s what else I know:

1. There were few to almost no reviews for LYKY (or CMH for that matter)–although Publishers Weekly did feature the cover for LYKY in the front pages of their issue and they did review the title. It wasn’t a starred review though. So the success was not review-driven.

2. Librarians. Need I say more? They were a force behind talking to students about what great books these were. They ordered many copies for their school libraries to keep up with demand.

3. The biggest component to what makes a book a NYT bestseller? Word-of-mouth. Avid fans. We owe a lot to the readers who absolutely loved the book and told 20 of their closest friends to read it too.

Unfortunately, no one fully understands how w-o-m works. Why some titles make it onto everyone’s lips and others don’t—despite whatever money, marketing, or promotion is given to a book.

This can’t be “created.” It just is.

Waiting On A list

STATUS: Why did I plan two writers’ conferences on back-to-back weekends? What was I thinking?

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SOME ENCHANTED EVENING from the musical South Pacific

I really wish I knew the how and the what of when a book lands on the NYT bestseller list. If I did, I would certainly share. It’s proprietary information so any big reveal is definitely not happening any time soon.

I can tell you that here at the Nelson Agency, Wednesday afternoons are met with much anticipation as that is when the next week’s list are announced (before the info is known to the general public).

We jump on that email in about ten seconds.

Ally Carter’s I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU spent 10 weeks on the top ten NYT list before dropping off. With much sadness, we were greeted with that news about 2 weeks ago.

And then, rather suddenly (or at least it feels that way as it is not readily apparent to us as to why), the title hit the list again

Now we can’t wait for 3 p.m. each Wednesday to find out if the title has stayed on or not. I’m happy to say that we are still there for the week of April 13 in position number 5. That’s makes 12 weeks total (three months).

That’s an amazing fact to contemplate.

And now I’m waiting eagerly for next week’s list as we might be hearing about another title that has very strong sales right out of the gate but since we don’t know the factors involved (and it may or may not be harder to hit the adult list), we’ll just have to wait on pins and needles for the list announcement tohappen next Wednesday.

Now you know what we are doing every Wed. afternoon when we should be working as the waiting is the hardest part!

Top Dealmaker?

STATUS: What a way to kick off 2008! First I get an offer for a project I have on submission which is how I always like to start the year. Then I get the big, big news. Ally Carter’s I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU lands on the New York Times paperback bestseller list at #4 and CROSS MY HEART AND HOPE TO SPY, which has already spent 5 weeks on the NYT hardcover list, is back on coming in at #9. Woohoo!!!!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I ALONE by Live

Thank you all for all your lovely blog comments on my last entry of 2007. I did have to chuckle though. Selling 22 books over the course of one year is not actually a lot. I have many agent friends who sell double or triple that number (although I have to add here that they’ve all been in the biz for a lot longer than I have).

It’s not a high volume and I have to admit that I don’t see myself as ever being a high volume agent. I don’t take on that many clients or that many projects in a given year so there’s a limited quantity of projects to sell. I don’t want to say quality over quantity because that’s not necessarily the case. I have many agent friends doing a quantity of high quality projects and deals. I imagine as my clients grow their careers, the number will increase over the years just on repeat deals alone.

But here’s what’s interesting and why I bring this up. Publishers Marketplace has a new feature called Top Dealmakers on their website. Let me tell you, this has caused some interesting consternation amongst agent friends and here’s why. Our agent reputations are the key to getting future good clients; we want to be known as top dealmakers! Publishers Marketplace can only rank top dealmakers on quantifiable criteria. In other words, they can’t verify that deals actually sold for the money highlighted by the editor or agent (or by the authors themselves) in the announced deal. The only criteria they can use for rating top dealmakers is based on the number of total sales in a given period (and that is, of course, only if the deals are reported). Many agents don’t report deals for a variety of reasons.

I like to think that might be the reason why Michael Cader implemented this new feature to begin with—to encourage deal reporting. Very smart on his part.

But it also means, quite sadly I have to say, that I’ll probably never be a top dealmaker on Pub Marketplace. Right now, I come in at #40 for Fiction as a whole, #26 for women’s/romance, #15 for children’s (that ain’t shabby I guess!), #8 for young adult.

You get the picture. And I have to admit, this entry is solely self-serving. Big smile here. I might not sell a lot of books in any given year but because that is true, I also have to sell what I take on for more money and that’s not captured in the Top Dealmaker ranking.

Is it better for an agent to sell many projects (but all in nice deals) or just a few projects in good, significant, or major deals—in Deal Lunch terms? And the answer to this is purely subjective because it really depends on how each individual sees it.

Unfortunately, Top Dealmaker on Pub Marketplace can’t use that criterion for obvious reasons (although when I was chatting with Michael before the break, we did talk about it).

Maybe that needs to be my 2008 goal. More deals and all for a lot more money. I’m sure my clients wouldn’t say no to that!