Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Buying the Bestseller List

Suppose a debut writer lands a book deal. For a modest advance; no one's expecting fireworks. Now, further suppose this writer has a war chest set aside for this day, and is willing to spend $100k+ of his own money on publicity, and quit his day job to make darn sure the book earns out the advance (this writer is determined, independently wealthy, and doesn't really care whether, objectively, this shot in the dark makes good business sense - it clearly does not).

My question is NOT "is it possible to buy your way to the bestseller list?" Let's presume it is with enough money and effort, albeit highly unlikely. Rather, my question is this: will the publisher stand behind this writer and allow him to buy ads in the trade pubs and co-op space at the front of bookstores, bring in an outside PR firm and purchase a few thousand review copies, etc.? Or is this sort of thing considered "untoward" in the industry?


Publishers are incredibly supportive/enthusiastic about an author who wants to work hard on their own publicity and marketing. It’s not untoward at all; in fact, these days, it’s almost required. The one thing I would encourage you to do when spending your money is make sure you’re working with the publisher to make the most of your dollar. In other words, make sure that you’re constantly communicating about what you’re both doing so you’re not wasting money simply doubling efforts.

A question for you though. If you have $100k to spend, why wouldn’t you simply epublish and make more in royalties? Forget the modest advance.

Jessica

20 comments:

Kim Lionetti said...

Just wanted to add one thing:

I don't think a publisher is likely to let you buy your own co-op placement. Since there are a limited number of spots available, publishers like to retain as much control as possible over who receives those coveted spots. In my opinion, they'd only let you buy your own co-op placement if they had decided they would've bought it themselves anyway. So why shell out your own bucks?

Oliver Yeh said...

But back to a more intriguing point: what is the real goal of making the bestsellers list? It's not for fortune; if he's independently wealthy, why is he working? Perhaps he's got investors.

I'm not the smartest nut in the bag, but I assume that you can only buy the bestsellers list once. If the writing stinks, no one's buying book number two.

steeleweed said...

If you have a good PR working for you or some other way to get 'air-time' it certainly helps, but you can make the bestseller list simply by buying copies from then initial print run(s). Politicians do it all the time. Who do you think bought up the first x-thousand copies of Palin's book? And she wasn't the first one to do this.

Lehcarjt said...

Question: If an author wants to purchase copies of their own book either for genuine publicity or to increase their sales figures, how much do they pay? Cover price? Some discounted price? Cost?

Anonymous said...

I suspect his strategy is more in line with kick-starting his publishing career in the traditional publishing venue. If he has $100k to put to this effort could also mean his intention is to push his book onto the bestseller list. It may be no more than vanity. Or a ploy to make certain his first book is successful with an eye to subsequent books and establishing a viable publishing career for himself. In other words, putting a big financial push as an investment to future earnings.

Anonymous said...

"A question for you though. If you have $100k to spend, why wouldn’t you simply epublish and make more in royalties? Forget the modest advance."

I was thinking the same thing...at first.

However, even though I support all people who self-publish 100%, there's still something nice, as it stands right now (I can't predict the future), about having a good publisher back you up. Maybe that's old fashioned, but that's how I'd feel if I were the person asking this question.

BookEnds, LLC said...

One thing that wasn't mentioned, that I feel the need to point out, is that a bestseller list doesn't necessarily mean the most money. It means you sold a ton of books in one day. That's about it. I've seen plenty of books far outsell bestsellers in the long haul.

anon 11:19:
I agree whole-heartedly. It's also nice to have pros do the work sometimes--cover art, copy, etc.

-jhf

Anonymous said...

"One thing that wasn't mentioned, that I feel the need to point out, is that a bestseller list doesn't necessarily mean the most money"

So true. I know this from experience. And, there are so many different best selling categories on Amazon you can write a book about toothpicks, be #1 bestseller, and only three people bought the book.

Nicole said...

I know we're talking generic everything here, but I'm mildly curious - whose bestseller list does Writer X want to hit? Being a New York Times bestseller means something, but not a whole lot. I say that as a bookseller - we get people who come in and say, "Well, it's a New York Times bestseller!" and our response is usually, "Er, do you know how many books are actually in that list?" Barnes & Noble has their own bestseller list etc. etc.

But I suppose that here the goal would be to be on everyone's list and be a bestseller in general in an attempt to turn that 100K into a cool million or two (and I liked the term "war chest" by the way).

Suzan Harden said...

A question for you though. If you have $100k to spend, why wouldn’t you simply epublish and make more in royalties? Forget the modest advance.

And this is why I read Jessica--she totally blows the lid off the conspiracy theory that NY agents and publishers are out to get writers. ;D

Anonymous said...

I have a question...

How much (average) of an author's money would it take to help the book become a success? $100 is pretty steep...but would a more modest (much more modest) amount be effective? And what are the best venues in which to put that money...i.e. for the biggest bang for your buck?

Anonymous said...

I meant $100K...

Livia said...

A question for you though. If you have $100k to spend, why wouldn’t you simply epublish and make more in royalties? Forget the modest advance.

Wow! That's an agent blog first, for me.

Tara Maya said...

The NYT list doesn't even reflect reality anymore. Is it worth even getting on?

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/03/lol-nyt.html

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song: Initiate (US)
The Unfinished Song: Initiate (UK)

Anonymous said...

For $100k, why epub? You can print first class and put rest into promotion. Sure, distribution gets trickier but cash solves all problems.

(You'd be shocked at how cheap even quality books are to produce if you can allow the lead time. [One of the generally unspoken reasons it takes an aeon to publish a title.])

Mary Vensel White said...

There's an insinuation here that the independently wealthy author is doing something untoward by promoting his work with his money. Don't agents and publishers do the same thing in a second degree role...front money on projects they think will make money? Who better to invest in your career than you, if you're a writer? You're right though, someone with those kind of resources should avoid traditional publishing altogether.

Anonymous said...

"Don't agents and publishers do the same thing in a second degree role...front money on projects they think will make money?"

Agents don't front money for anything. They take on authors, help them come up with proposals, and try to sell books to publishers. But agents don't get into publicity. That's the author's job. Some publishers invest a little in promotion. But that's disappearing, too. Getting publicity is and always has been up to the author.

I'm amazed at the misconceptions out there.

ryan field said...

I am so looking for the right sentence to use the word "untoward" tomorrow.

Norma Beishir said...

Love the last paragraph.

But then, I think everyone should bypass the suits and e-publish!

Fawn Neun said...

I've seen a lot of authors listed as "best-selling" and never heard of them or never hear of them again.

But I don't think publishers mind if you spend your own money on promotion. In fact, it's necessary.

But if I had $100K sitting around to blow, I'd probably quit my day job anyway, and live off of it writing fabulous novels, best selling or not.