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.

Friday, April 23, 2010

home sweet home

I'll do more posting later, but let's just say quickly that the London Book Fair trip was interesting. I made it, we were on some of the last planes to Heathrow that weren't turned around, but we got to go to Paris/Charles De Gaulle instead and when we were able to book Eurostar didn't take advantage of the 7-hour bus ride the airline was offering. And the cloud lifted in time for us to go back to NYC on our originally scheduled flight. But 2/3 of our appointments cancelled because they could not make it to London.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

touching base, briefly

London Book Fair beckons in just a bit, and I can't have less time to do a post from London than I've had the last week to do a post from the US!

I spent 48 hours doing intensive touring of bookstores all over the Dallas/Ft. Worth area thanks to the generosity and hospitality of oft-times blog commenter Kyle White, who was my escort for the DFW Writers Conference and really went above and beyond the call. My Borders count is now up over 220! Also a few Whole Foods added to the list.

Friday night, Saturday and Sunday to mid-afternoon were devoted to the writer's conference.

And since getting back Monday, it's been one of those weeks. The phone line has been busted and Verizon seemed to think waiting until the 19th to fix was just a peachy-keen thing to do. Two billing problems with different people. The photocopier is getting cranky on longer jobs. There's a small drip at the valve for the washing machine. All sorts of little things.

But ready or not, in a half hour it all gets put behind...

Monday, April 5, 2010

Here vs There

If you click along to here you can find a very nice photographic voyage into the Sunday Times of London for 4 April 2010, wherein we find Peter V. Brett's The Desert Spear nicely perched on the hardcover fiction bestseller list. This list is derived from the Nielsen Bookscan UK data, and those numbers at the end of the listing line for each book are the quantity UK Bookscan reports sold during the week and then the total to date.

This is a good way to explore the size difference in the US and UK markets. You will notice that the top book on the Sunday Times list sold 17,690. That number of copies would have been good for #3 on the US Bookscan list for the same week. And at 10,425, the UK/Sunday Times of London #2 would have been the US #7. Those numbers are not totally without correlation. But -- and with Charlaine Harris and Peter V. Brett over the past year giving me my first UK bestsellers I've been looking at this lots to see how Charlaine's doing and predict with Peter kif we had a chance at making -- the tail-off is where you start to see the difference in the two markets.

We'd generally felt that 1400 to 1500 copies in a given week was the sweet spot for getting on to the Sunday Times of London bestseller list. So in the UK, we make #9 with 1473 copies with some room to spare. Because the NY Times list in the US isn't based on actual Bookscan sales data, there is rarely an exact correlation, but what the NY Times has as their #10 book is Angelology by Danielle Trussoni, and that sold 5600ish copies for #13 on US Bookscan. SHATTERED by Karen Robards was #9 on the Times list, #7 on Nielsen Bookscan, with sales of 10,800ish copies. This can vary mightily from week to week, but let's just say as a rule that you might want to sell four times as many copies to have a decent chance of being a US top 10 as a UK.

I might also mention that the UK has kind of two tiers of bestsellers, the Sunday Times top 10 and then the top 50 chart on Bookscan. In the US, we have at least three. The NY Times top 10, because many papers that reprint the NY Times list reprint just the top 10. The full top 15 that appear in the printed NY Times. And then the extended Times list, which is what appears on the NY Times web site. That list goes to #35. That doesn't mean so much to the general public but means lots and lots within the industry because an author making it to the extended list for the first time may get more marketing attention as the publishers try hard to push higher and ultimately get the author on to the printed list. Generally, you need to sell at least 2000 copies to have a chance at making that extended list in the US, sometimes less if you're lucky or are doing well in the channels the NY Times looks at most closely. There's also a top 50 Bookscan list in the US, but this doesn't have a lot of street cred. But for what it's worth, that'll take sales of around 1500 copies.

So now that Peter made the Sunday Times of London list, we start to think "can he do it here..."

Because the UK market is smaller, Peter's first novel, which was called THE PAINTED MAN in the UK and THE WARDED MAN in the US, was able to make a bigger splash in the UK, and thus to become better positioned more quickly to move high up the charts. In fact, the first hardcover printing in the UK was something like one-sixth the size of the first US printing, but in relation to the overall size of the market seemed bigger. And at the same time, because the US market is larger, we have an excellent chance to sell more copies first week in the US than we did in the UK.

Those numbers will be revealed on/about April 21, and between now and then there's a lot of regular checking on Amazon as a barometer of just how the buzz is building. Which clearly it is. But now it's so exhilerating and so nerve-racking. Before I'd crunched numbers on the WARDED MAN hardcover. I've been using Bookscan long enough to know that for a really popular author you can have x% of the total lifetime sales of the hardcover of one book in a series that end up selling the first week for the next book. I've had this aspiration that maybe we could make the extended list in the US with THE DESERT SPEAR, but now that the chance is becoming more real, the next two weeks of waiting become more nail-biting.

There are differing schools of thought in the US on whether you launch your new paperback simultaneous with the new hardcover or a month before. What we're seeing with Peter V. Brett is a good example of why I think the month before is the better approach for building an author. If you get that good response like what we're having for Peter in the US now, you can build a bigger head of steam for the new hardcover. That's why I pushed Penguin three years ago to move from their same month philosophy for Charlaine Harris, since I thought it would help a little to push her hardcovers higher up the bestseller list, this being back in a pre-True Blood era for Charlaine and Sookie Stackhouse. Now that Charlaine is established as a top-selling author in the US, we may not need that head of steam and there might be an argument for the bigger same-day splash you get by having the hardcover and paperback come out at the same time.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Borders news

So I'm listening to the year-end earnings and financing report from Borders.

They've paid off a big loan that was due April 1 and gotten a new round of financing thru 2014, so they can at least focus on managing the business a little bit more for a little while instead of managing the debt load. That is very good news.

They want to improve the in-store experience. Who doesn't! The average Borders store had 10%+ more inventory this past holiday season than the year before, and to me, that is the most important thing.

There are 33 million Borders Reward members, and they want to leverage them more. They want to personalize it more and get it away from a discount-of-the-week mentality.

Because nobody shops at Borders.com, this is a significant area of potential growth, and they are going to hire an Executive Vice President level person to run Borders.com.

They have high hopes for the Kobo.com e-book web site they are partnering on. They also plan to sell as many as 10 different e-readers at their largest volume stores in order to be a neutral source instead of forcing everyone to drink the Nook or Kindle Kool-Aid. This may be a very good idea. This is the part of the call that I'm finding to be the most intriguing.

They also want to maximize community education and social media. Buzzwords, you ask me.

Nothing very juicy, but the big news is really that there isn't a loan expiration hanging overhead as the company's had to deal with for the past two years or so, and this should help.

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.