Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Greatest Mystery: Making a Best Seller

I found this article in the NY Times quite interesting. It talks about the vagaries of the publishing business, the lack of market research, the disconnect between advances and actual sales, and it provides some interesting numbers on books that were successes or failures in monetary terms. (Remember that $8 million advance Charles Frazier received?) Bill Thomas, my editor-in-chief at Doubleday, has a few words to say.

I also thought this quote was interesting, especially considering our earlier conversation about blogging and reviewing...

"We need much more of a direct relationship with our readers," said Susan Rabiner, an agent and a former editorial director. Bloggers have a much more interactive relationship with their readers than publishers do, she said. "Before Amazon, we didn't even know what people thought of the books," she said.

Strange business, indeed.

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Blogger clindsay said...

Interesting, as this is pretty much what I've been doing for ACACIA - going directly to the reader.

11:43 AM  
Blogger Constance Brewer said...

Looks like it all comes down to marketing. The product (novel) is an afterthought. "any combination of timing, packaging, marketing and other factors could help ignite the mysterious spark that leads to best-sellerdom." "Marketing campaign, Oprah, the latest trend". They could be selling cola or the latest book, hard to say. It kind of reminds me of the stock market and the rush to find the next best thing. Surely there has to be a better way? If it's such a bad business model, why does it persist?

One side of the writing world repeats the mantra of 'good writing trumps all' while the other side is looking for something 'cutting edge and marketable'. What's a writer to do? This search for "surprise best sellers" seems to be the driving force. Perhaps some of the reason a sure thing falls flat with the readers is that people are tired of the hype. I know I get tired of being marketed to, or at. If people are fickle in their book buying habits, maybe it's because that is an area they have some control over. Many bloggers have no vested interest in the book, they review because they are fans of the genre. I feel I'm getting a more balanced opinion. I want to know what's good and bad, then decide if it's worth the risk of my limited buying dollars to purchase the book.

This is where I see publisher's fear of alternate reviewers coming in. (As discussed earlier) If the promotion and sale of a book is such a delicate balance, a negative review, widely promoted, could effectively kill the chance to recoup initial outlay.

If publishers want an interactive relationship, they need to do something about it. People today (Kids today! *g*) aren't willing to sit back and be passive recipients of their entertainment. The Internet has made it easy to gather and disseminate all kinds of information. If publishers want to know what people think of a book, all they need to do is ask. David, you took the initiative on your Forum and asked for discussion on Acacia, maybe the feedback isn't always what you want to hear, but do you feel more knowledgeable about your readership now that you've asked? And is that a good thing?

1:16 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


Hi ya. You know, I didn't actually propose the topic of talking about Acacia. Shawn put that in there and it never occurred to me to take it out. I hope people use the Forum for talking about a lot of things, but - for better or worse - my books need to be part of it too.

I doubt that I'll always follow the responses as much as I am now. Once the book is actually out and many more people (hopefully) are responding to it, I'll need to look away and get focused on the next book. Right now, though, it's helpful to get an idea of what sort of things come up for these early readers - especially because they're mostly diehard fantasy fans.

For one thing it gives me a heads up on things I might want to address in interviews, a way of framing issues and commenting on them when I have the opportunity. The book isn’t even out yet, but I’m already feeling prepared for some of what’s to come when it does appear. That’s a good thing.

As far as what's a writer to do?... I think all we can do is write the books that most interest us. Make smart choices, sure, but still write what's important as best you can.

1:32 PM  
Blogger James McLauchlan Johnston said...

I agree Constance that people are put off books if they are heavily marketed. I for one have avoided Dan Brown and Charles Frazier for those very reasons. They might be authors I'd really like but it'll take many years and a chance finding (so we are talking years!!) of one of their books somewhere, 2nd hand, when all the hype has died down

As for the writer, I'm going to attach a couple of David Lynch quotes (from an excellent series: Lynch on Lynch).

Lynch: 'What makes you worry about [the work] is when you start thinking about what certain people might say about it later. Because you're not really sure what they might say. And if you start worrying, you could make some really strange decisions based upon that worry. The work isn't talking to you anymore: the worry is talking to you. And you become paralysed. So the trick is you've got to forget making a hero or a fool of yourself and just try to get into that world.'

I guess it boils down to being true to the work. You'll know if you've done something for an audience rather than the work, and you won't be happy.


4:33 PM  

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