Bookseller Jim Huang has opened his blog with an interesting post on the state of mystery novel publishing today…
Where the business gets fouled up is in how is goes about trying to create blockbusters, in what publishers perceive is necessary to create a bestseller. Mostly, the approach boils down to “throw money at the problem.” They basically do this for one reason, so that the house can turn around and brag about how much money it’s spending. We’re supposed to be impressed that Putnam paid Jilliane Hoffman a seven-figure advance for her first novel, that they planned a $300,000 marketing budget and announced a 250,000 copy first printing. So impressed that as a bookseller, I’ll be compelled to stock lots of copies and that you as a reader will be compelled to buy it.
On the back cover of the advance reading copy of Hoffman’s RETRIBUTION, there are more words describing the marketing than there are describing the book itself — a lot more – and the few words devoted to describing the story are generic clichés. When Hoffman herself talked about the book at the Dearborn Library last fall, it was the money and the movie deal that she described. Readers — and we are all readers first — don’t relate to your advance. We relate to your book. In pitching this book on the basis of dollars and print-run, all Putnam does is bring to mind Oscar Wilde’s comment about people who know “the price of everything but the value of nothing.” That’s Wilde’s definition of a cynic, and it seems especially apt for a business with Jason Epstein’s attitude.
Three months into the book’s release, Nielsen’s Bookscan, which claims to cover 70% of the market, said that RETRIBUTION sold 16,000 copies. If the percentage is right and you do the math, you end up with total sales of 22,860. Under the circumstances, that’s pitiful. Personally, I’ve sold one copy.
I’ve been suckered by a few of those books… BREATHTAKER and DERAILED come immediately to mind.