So Edie posed a question yesterday, wondering what it took to get a book on the best seller list. Talk about a loaded question! I’ll take a stab at it, and my stab is an overall take, sans the many nuances that can and do have an effect on sales.
Okay, so let’s begin with the good book is a foregone conclusion part. Does it have to be a stellar, out of this world book? Not for a vet with a solid readership it doesn’t, but for a newbie? It’s a damn good idea, although that said, I have seen a few debut authors hit lists with a mediocre book. But for a good book, here’s how hitting a list happens:
First and foremost the one ingredient you must have to hit a list no matter what, is your publisher’s backing. There is a lot that goes into this. It begins with buzz in house, then the sales team taking that buzz outside and selling the hell out of your book. Your orders go up and voila you have a major print run (and for the record you do not need a 150K plus print run to hit a major list. It can be done with half that, but it’s unusual, however not impossible). Distribution is also key. The book must be out there for the reader to buy. Not just brick and motor books stores. It needs to be everywhere books are sold! Viral marketing, on line promoting, blogs, mailing masses of bookmarks and trinkets is but a tiny ripple in the buzz pond. It’s distribution and that lovely word co op. What is co op you ask? Co op is that front table at Border’s and Barns and Noble. It’s the # 7 spot on the Bestseller list at the grocery store. It’s having your book face out on that rack in the drug store. It’s real estate, baby, purchased to showcase your book. Book dumps and end caps go a long way.
When you’re standing in line at the grocery store and you look down and there’s a book dump with a hot new historical, what do you do? You pick it up. It’s called impulse buying, and since we ladies like books, we touch it, pick it up, turn it over and then we are hooked. Do you think you’d have purchased this new-to-you author if the book was shoved in the corner in the back of the romance section at your neighborhood Barnes and Noble? Hell no, but if it was on the new release fiction table in the front to of the store the book has a much better chance. Wal-Mart? Target? Kmart? They sell the hell out of books. Not everyone gets picked up there, but if you’re an established fave or your publisher’s lead title for that month your chances are hugely increased.
The old adage out of sight out of mine applies perfectly. If the book is not in view and no one knows to ask for it, you will never hit a list.
Now, assuming all of the above criteria is met, the next step to hitting a list is velocity of sales. How does one get this? Buy having their publisher strictly enforcing the lay down date. Most don’t, some are Nazi about it. What this means is, Master of Surrender is scheduled to release Tuesday June 24th. Since the books will already be in the book stores before then, if they put the books out before the release date, which is the lay down date, then sales trickle in. So when the actual lay down day comes the book loses velocity of sales, and since velocity is crucial, a book that sells incredibly well may very well not hit a list because sales leaked out the week before. Very conceivably, if a book with less actual sales is held to the lay down date and gets those sales for that week it can hit a list ahead of the book that sold more but had leak out sales. Happens all of the time. So, here’s the thing, lists are great! But at the end of the day it’s always all about the sales. Always.
Now there is the list and then there is the extended list. You can call yourself a New York Times Bestselling author if your book hits at the # 15 spot or lower. # 16 -50 (I think it’s 50 could be 35 or it might be 100) is considered the extended list. NY Times bases their ranking by preorders and how they think based on those orders the book will sell. USA Today is based on actual sales. Not all booksellers report to the lists. Case in point Wal-Mart doesn’t, and hasn’t since earlier this year which sucks for authors whose books fly off the shelves at Wal-Mart but not say Borders. Which stores do report? There is a combination of indies and chain stores who report. It’s a hugely guarded secret.
Now that I have depressed you all, just remember, lists are great! They stroke the ego, they look good in sig lines, and well, it means something, but what really matters at the end of the day is solid sales with no returns!
Feel free to chime in, especially if you can add to this information (I think I’ll hunt down my friend Allison Brennan, and ask her to chime in, she’s a whiz when it comes to hitting a list) or ask a question if you have one.
Tomorrow, I’ll tackle Holly’s question. She wants to know how you know if you’re wasting your time writing (as in how do you know you suck or have the talent to go all the way).