About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Oh, That 2009

Every year, Publishers Weekly does a year-end sales wrap up for which publishers provide sales information for their top sellers so that PW can give very nice year-end bestseller lists. A few publishers provide the information to be kept in confidence for placing the books on the list, but not to actually be published. Most, the copies reported are given, and that means you can at least tell that this Random House book sold between the 289,382 copies of the book above it and the 258,298 of the book below.

This year, the March 22 issue of PW listed all of the little paperbacks over 500K sold, the big ones over 100K, and the hardcovers over 100K. It's worth noting that the numbers aren't 100% accurate because more copies can sell after Dec. 31, and more important more copies can be returned. The earlier in 2009 a book was published, the more accurately reflective of actual sales that PW number is likely to be.

Last year, DEAD UNTIL DARK by Charlaine Harris was the first time I'd had a book up high enough to be on the lists. This year, Charlaine places so abundantly with no fewer than eight of her mass markets selling over 500,000 copies that she received her own little paragraph in the wrap-up article. And on the hardcover said, DEAD AND GONE was #25 on the fiction list with Penguin reporting around half a million copies, while A TOUCH OF DEAD was #41 with sales a tad over half that. It was quite an amazing year for Charlaine.

One of the things I will never tire of repeating about all of this: True Blood could get people to buy one Sookie Stackhouse book. It's the enjoyment Charlaine has given her readers consistently, book in and book out, that gets her to here.

Another interesting thing about the whole Charlaine phenomenon. The Sookie Stackhouse books were established NY Times bestsellers before True Blood came out. At the #6 or #8 level on the list, not #1 and leagues ahead of the #2, but established NY Times bestsellers. So as you can imagine, Dead Until Dark as the first book in the series was selling nicely every single year. In 2009, Real Murders, which is the first Aurora Teagarden mystery, the first that was initially published in 1990, sold more copies than any pre-True Blood year for DEAD UNTIL DARK.

It wasn't just True Blood, it wasn't even just Sookie Stackhouse. To me, the question in all of this is why this was an overnight success 20 years in the making, instead of starting 20 years ago when Real Murders came out.

In a similar vein, lurking a couple spots below Dead and Gone, in the #27 spot with 400K hardcover copies reported sold, was The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson.

Just as I like to be loud and long on giving Charlaine Harris all the credit she is due for her success, I like to be sure my client Brandon Sanderson gets his full share of the credit for the success of The Gathering Storm.

Brandon's assignment was not an easy one. To step in, fill the shoes of an established bestselling author, keep a series going that had been in hiatus for several years due to Robert Jordan's tragic illness and passing, satisfy all those fans.

This is the sort of situation where the knives are sharpened long before the book is out, where everyone's ready to shout Sellout, Abomination, Sacrilege, anything you care to think of along those lines. Brandon Sanderson came in to those circumstances and instead wrote a book that has gotten 410 four or five star reviews on Amazon out of 454 total, or around 90% that are very favorable. A book that didn't just come out for one week, sell to the die-hards, and then drop like a stone, but rather a book that held on the bestseller lists through the entire holiday season and which is likely to have Nielsen Bookscan numbers that will approach and perhaps even exceed those for the previous hardcover in the series.

There was a twenty-two month period between the time when Brandon Sanderson was announced as the collaborator and the actual publication of the book. Two years when a lot of people who cared started picking up Brandon's Mistborn novels or Elantris. And most of those people, when they samped Brandon Sanderson they liked what they saw. They could decide over those two years that the publication of this book was something to look forward to instead of something to dread. Just as with Charlaine Harris, we have a situation where circumstances could persuade people to sample one book by an author, but after that it's the author who makes it happen, at the level it's happening at. There were no guarantees The Gathering Storm would hold up, but even more importantly no assurance if readers had felt differently about Brandon's own work during those twenty-two months that it would even have started out strong.

In the case of Brandon Sanderson, it's worth noting that his own Mistborn books are selling very nicely now, week in and week out, in very similar numbers to most of the Wheel of Time books according to Nielsen Bookscan, and the Mistborn boxed set is #6 for 2010 to date.

It was a great and well-deserved 2009 for both of these authors, with many more good things to come. I'm extremely happy for both, extremely proud of both, and honored to revel in their well-deserved and hard-earned successes.

Success has many parents, of course, and there are John Morgan, Ginjer Buchanan and Susan Allison at Ace who took a chance on Sookie, and all of the editors like Kelley Ragland, Elisabeth Story, Susanne Kirk and Janet Hutchings who were with Charlaine over the years. Alan Ball, too! Moshe Feder discovered Brandon and Elantris for Tor, and then Harriet Rigney got Tom Doherty to OK Brandon's work on the Wheel of Time series. And many other people all the way along the line. Leading the charge are extremely good books and extremely talented authors, but a lot of good people along the way.

1 comment:

Maria said...

Congratulations, all around!!!!