Pub Rants

Category: New York Times

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!