Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Judging books by their . . . sales?

Your P5 for Wednesday, September 28, 2005:

(1) SUFFER IN SILENCE: 8,765 5
(3) COOKIN' FOR LOVE: 28,325 5
(4) THE CIRCLE OF SODOM: 155,723 6

In case you haven't checked out this article--The Book Standard Honors Bestsellers--you should give it a once-over. Not so much for the award discussion, but to get a realistic idea of what a bestseller is. (Granted, the figures are based on Bookscan data, but it's the closest thing we have to real sales results.)

Many people think the term bestseller means sold a million copies. Not even close. Further, it depends on what bestseller list is claiming the book. Obviously, the NY Times is the one to watch (among others.) But believe me--when a book sells a million copies, they will make that very clear on the cover of the book, and they'll choose their wording well:

Over a million copies in print!

Because they want to claim all those remainders, too.

If you look at the list, you'll see the (*yawn*) obvious entries like HARRY POTTER (6,397,000 units) and DA VINCI CODE (2,261,000) but some others might not clock in the way you think.

Like Malcolm Gladwell's BLINK, which moved just under 600K units. Having been on so many bestseller lists, most folks would assume he sold millions.

How about READING LOLITA IN TEHRAN? Under 500,000 copies.

THE HISTORIAN? 282,000. A success, for sure. But a mega-blowout? Not exactly. Little, Brown paid over $2M for it, so--even though they claim it as a victory--the jury may still be out.

Perhaps most disturbing is that HAMLET only moved 36,000 copies. Poor Shakespeare would have had to dump his SoHo apartment.

And now that Ms. Winfrey is back to plucking literary stars from the sky, expect to see James Frey top (or be near the top of) all the bestseller lists.

Just one final note to drive the point home: Ranking your Romance:

Fantasy: BLUE DAHLIA (Roberts) 554,000 units
Suspense: MURDER LIST (Garwood) 202,000 units
Historical: THE QUEEN'S FOOL (Gregory) 134,000 units
Time Travel: OUTLANDER (Gabaldon) 39,000

Yes, that's right: 39,000. That is the bestselling Time Travel Romance of the year. A book that has been in print for over a decade. Not a good thing for other folks writing in this genre.

As for my book? Just over 20,000.

And counting desperately.