A few years ago, I was talking with another editor about the next novel from a major bestselling writer. The book was scheduled to come out in several months, and galleys would be arriving soon. The author routinely sold about 400,000 copies in hardcover, and another million in paperback. Yet despite ten bestselling novels and over 40,000,000 copies in print worldwide, the author had never hit #1 on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list. It wasn't that his sales didn't justify it--many authors have hit #1 despite selling far fewer copies--it was that his books always came out in the fall, when the competition was at its fiercest, and more books were competing for almighty consumer dollar.
Then I made a (somewhat) bold prediction. I said that the author's next book would hit #1 in its first week out. Sure enough, months later, that book became his first hardcover #1 New York Times bestseller. How did I "guess" that this would happen? Well, it wasn't a guess really. I just looked at the schedule of upcoming books and realized two things:
1) This author's book was the only major (i.e. over 100,000 first printing) fiction release that week.
2) Several major bestselling authors were publishing books in the weeks leading up to it, but based on their track records their second and third weeks on sale would be well below what this author sold in his first week.
In the end, I determind that this author would hit #1 not because this book was head-and-shoulders better in terms of quality, but because, unlike his previous books, he was the one and only attraction that week. There were fewer books competing for readers, and more shelf space could be devoted to this author's book.
I think about this when prepping for the release of THE MARK. I'm constantly checking Barnes & Noble and Amazon to see what books are coming in my genre, in my format, within several weeks of my release. My motives are simple: I want to know what other books are competing for dollars that might otherwise be spent on my book.
THE MARK is a debut novel. It's coming out in July, a crowded month for commercial fiction. My publisher is pushing the book in the hopes that it will stand out in this crowd. Early reviews and feedback have been largely positive, but at the same time it is a debut. I can't expect people to pay for my book at the exclusion of a familiar (and reliable) author they've read before. Coming out as a paperback original, thankfully if a reader wants to take a chance on my book they won't have to pony up $17-25 when there are others they've already earmarked that much money for. So if a thriller fan buys the paperback of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's bestselling THE BOOK OF THE DEAD and Karin Slaughter's TRIPTYCH, then take a chance on mine too, they're only out $23.97. Or the price of one undiscounted hardcover. Not a bad deal for three books.
But at the same time, each book that comes out in July takes up valuable shelf space, and the fear is that I could be squeezed out. So when Daniel Silva's THE CONFESSOR comes out in July, as well as Kelley Armstrong's EXIT STRATEGY and Sandra Brown's RICOCHET, I'll be fighting established bestsellers for that priceless co-op.
In the end readers will respond to the book based on quality, but timing plays a huge issue in just how many readers will find the book, spend money on the book, then read the book. Just like in comedy, there's nothing more important than...