Monday, December 20, 2021

Do I have to be a bestseller?


It's not a plus that we're published authors unless we're bestsellers? I was hoping that having books published would let an agent know that I'm not a beginner, but maybe the only thing that matters is whether you have a book they think they can sell?



Not so much bestseller as sold well.

And it's not me that cares about this.

It's the marketing department at your soon-to-be publisher.


Their job is slinking into bookstores with an armload of great books and persuading the bookstore buyers to load up.


It's a whole lot easier to do this if you don't have a track record (i.e. you're a debut.)


More than once I've had VERY unhappy conversations with editors about Books 2, and 3 in a series.



Here's how that goes:

Bookstore lays in 1000 copies based on the salesperson's rapturous medley about the book.

Book 1sells 900 copies.


Book 2 is published.

Bookstore looks at Book 1 and lays in 850 copies (knowing as they do that second books mostly do not outperform the first book.)

Book sells 750 copies (100 are returned.)



Book 3 is published.

Bookstore looks at Book 1, and Book 2 and orders 500 copies.

Book sells 400 copies (100 are returned.)


At this point, if you have a three book deal, no one is happy. Not you, not me, not the editor.


If you query with a backlist, I'm going to look at your sales numbers as will everyone else to see if we're already at the Book 3 point.


Reviving a flagging career is VERY VERY hard.


That's why agents like debut novels (and editors do to).

It's a clean slate.




KMK said...

A VERY good reminder that things are just as hard, if not harder, once you make it into print. (Said the woman coming up on Book 3 after a pandemic debut -- and wondering if publishers will at least be merciful enough to figure in how hard it has been for new writers to sell books in the last two years...)

Kitty said...

No backlist ... yeah?

E.M. Goldsmith said...

And suddenly I am very happy I am not a published author yet as my first attempts in the query trenches look sub-par in the rear-a-view mirror.

What happens when that sub-par back list that only sold 700 books suddenly gets picked up by Netflix and turned into the latest streaming sensation? Does that revive the poor author's career? Can that happen?

I know so many writers that have had the 700 out 800 books sold scenario and had their careers just stutter out than I do the Netflix streaming type. So harsh for such hard work.

Kitty said...

The late Kari Lynn Dell called the publishing business as "one of the most cutthroat industries in the world."

Les Edgerton said...

Janet, I think this is a bit misleading. I think if a bookstore sold even 200-300 copies, the publisher would be ecstatic. I think what you intended to say was a "bookstore chain." If say Barnes and Noble even had 15 of their stores sell 400 copies of a single book, they'd be asking the author when his/her next book would be available... Not trying to be a nitpicker, but always think precise language is important. In a bit of a mood lately, as just this last week saw two national publications with articles that in a sentence said, "He was on the lamb..." and I got a mental picture of a convict straddling a poor sheep in an act of copulation. Two reasons: one it's "lam" not "lamb", and two, it's a saying cons used in the twenties and not today. The only people who use it today are ill-informed writers who try to write crime and don't have a clue. I also had a new writer acquaintance ask me to blurb his book and he made the same mistake. I won't bring myself to give out hosannas to a writer who can't spell nor to a publisher who can't hire a decent editor or at least a semiliterate sixth-grader.

Okay. I have to go yell at some kids on my lawn...

Blue skies,

P.S. I read your blog religiously--it's the best out there.

Mary said...

Because of this, is why I may give up. None of my books have sold over 5000 copies (but how do you really know? I find royalty statements hard to understand) and I'm not having success shopping books 4 and 5. I, gasp, am thinking of self publishing actually. Never thought I'd go that route.

Unknown said...

This is understandable. Speaking only as a reader--not as a writer--if book two or three isn't at least as good, preferably better, I quit reading that author.

This happened with a recent urban fantasy writer I liked. Book one was great. Book two was okay. So I went on to book three, which was even less interesting. Must be other readers felt the same because book three didn't sell well at all and the publisher cancelled the series.

Make book two better. If you have some spiffy new idea not germane to the main plot or a necessary secondary plot, think about leaving it for book two.

Again, as a reader, a novel needs to be rich in ideas--meaning subplots--to carry the main story. Make book two even more rich in its subplots than book one.

John Davis Frain said...

So, today anyway, I'm reading the same thing as Les Edgerton.

I won't explain the details of how I know this to my wife. I'm just gonna tell her me and the guy who wrote HOOKED are reading the same thing right now. She might wanna try and keep up.

Ash Complin said...

What if you aren't looking to publish a series? Does the same logic apply to the second and third stand-alone novels as opposed to the second and third books in a series?

miriam said...

So, I'm confused here. Are we talking about a bookstore or a book chain? Did they sell 900 of 1000 in the lifetime of the book, or over a series of months? If an agent can look up an author's previously sales, what is considered acceptable? And doesn't this vary depending on whether the book is MG, YA, or adult? AND, wouldn't they look at whether the book was sold by a bigger or smaller publisher as the smaller publisher may not have as many sales? I'm just trying figure out whether it would help or a hurt for an author to mention previous sales. If you're not a bestseller, what kind of sales are considered acceptable and when should an author go with a pen name so no one sees previous sales???

Katja said...

I just realised that I am not the only one who was/is confused about the 900 copies per store (or chain), because I deleted both my comments yesterday here, out of embarrassment... 😆

Donnaeve said...

I was scanning your posts and this is GOLD.

I have a friend, traditionally published. Her last/latest book did not do well - it was basically orphaned by the editor (who left the publishing company) and then the publicist had trouble with her assistant, who apparently left lots of things undone, so bottom line, friend's book launched to crickets, and had no guidance/direction from within the pub company.

Now her agent is having trouble selling her new book basically due to her poor track record in sales on the last book. I love the details you've got in here. I've never seen it broken down like this, and I'm going to share it with her. It's not what she'll want to read (who would) but it does help to put things into perspective.

My (very late) question to you is, how on earth does an author ever regain lost footing b/c of a crummy situation as described above?

Thanks, Janet, for all you do.

AJ Blythe said...

Ugh, and this is why I want an agent. I am sure I will stumble over things and mess things up if I don't.