The Numbers Game

I’ve been doing some catching up on my favorite blogs today. There have been some fascinating posts on author blogs over the last few weeks about the writing life.  For example, Tess Gerritsen talks from experience about the pros and cons of big print runs

The larger the print run, the better the chance the book will hit
national bestseller lists.  Part of it is just the visual impact of
seeing huge stacks of BIG GAMBLE in  a bookstore — customers see those
stacks, assume the book must be important, and are inclined to check it
out.  (Seeing only one or two copies of a new novel, conversely, may
make the customer think it must not be a very popular book.)  To sell a
lot of books, you have to display a lot of books, just to catch the
customers’ attention.  Also, if Borders has taken delivery of 30,000
copies, then their sales force will have an incentive to push that
title even harder and will offer deeper discounts to move the copies. 

If the simple secret to hitting the bestseller list is just to print
a ton of copies, why doesn’t a publisher do it with every book?

Because they’d go out of business fast.  That way lies disaster.

Meanwhile, Sandra Scoppettone talks about how good novels aren’t getting published because of the obsession with those numbers and the evaporation of the mid-list. Her musings were  prompted by a rejection letter that an author-friend of hers got:

is a fine piece of work, as you no doubt are painfully aware, but I’m
not sure that we could convince the big stores to buy thousands and
thousands of copies.  And that is my mandate these days.”

just makes me feel all warm and cozy.  And it definitely makes me want
to sit down in front of my computer and hit those keys.  Not that I
intend to write a book that will make those big fat stores buy
thousands and thousands of copies.  And that’s just the point.

is going to publish the books I write…the books that you write?  I know
the mid-list category for fiction is nonexistent but I didn’t think it
was happening in the crime genre.

The editor’s mandate.
Discouraging and depressing.  I’ve never sold thousands and thousands
of copies to the chains.  Most of us don’t.  We all know who does.
Ten, twenty at most.  And they’re the people who get major reviews and
big time ads.  Over and over again.

And Sandra has had it with the Numbers Game…she’s not going to play anymore. She’s just going to write. Or not.

I know the breakthrough book isn’t going to happen for me.  That’s
okay.  I had my chance.  Now, despite my wishes, which, by the way, are
for the forty year old me, I don’t have any idea if I’ll publish
again.  Or write again.  I’m inclined to think I’ll write, but that
doesn’t mean I’ll be published. That’s not okay.  But there’s not a
damn thing I can do about it.

I hope the next book I write
is good.  Still, it won’t be the kind of book that’ll make me a
household name or bring in loads of money.  That’s okay, too.  I want
whatever I write to see the light of day and make back the money I was
paid. At this point in my writing life that’s all that’s important.

On the other side of the coin, John Connolly seems to be one of those  authors on the verge of his big breakthrough. He is half-way through his international book tour and it’s catching up with him.

This week marked the halfway point on the tour – 29 days down, 29 more
to go – and the shift from the US to Australia. The first half has been
an interesting experiment in how much travel, etc. a body can take
before it begins to exhibit signs of distress. The answer, it appears,
is roughly 28 days, because meltdown has begun.

[…]Too many flights, and too many 16- and 17-hour days. My body is
starting to rebel. I have managed to tear something in my neck hauling
my bags from hotel room to car to check in desk, and from baggage claim
to car to hotel room. I felt it rip the way paper rips. At the moment,
I’m freezing it with spray, but the spray wears off, and at night I
don’t sleep as well as I’d like. I’m not much good for anything after
about nine o’clock, and this weekend had to bow out of meeting some
nice people for a bite to eat in Melbourne. I went to bed instead. I
feel like an old person.


2 thoughts on “The Numbers Game”

  1. I keep hearing that the midlist is doomed and that these books will no longer be published. And I don’t doubt that it happens to some authors. But at the same time, the flood of books never seems to slow. I still get dozens of them every week, scores every month.
    For a long time now, I’ve thought that publishers would be better off, and most authors would be better off, if the houses put out less product. But I never see any evidence that it’s actually happening.

  2. I agree with David. They’ve been talking about the death of the midlist for about 40 years.
    I’m trying to envision walking into a Borders or Barnes & Noble if they only stocked bestsellers. The coffee bar would be huge because they’d have to fill all that space up with something. Maybe DVDs and CDs. Right there between the Stephen King section and the Dan Brown section.


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