The Big News

on February 8, 2007

I’m officially a New York Times bestselling author!

SPEAK NO EVIL hit #14 on the NYT list.

I had hoped we’d make it, but I didn’t want to jinx it. While the competition is tough this month, next month the competition is even worse (or better, depending on what you read–I know there’s a lot of books released in March that I’m excited about!) I felt that if I was going to make it with this trilogy, this month was my best shot. If not now, I feared I’d have to wait another year.

So I’m both excited and relieved. Yesterday was a day of nervous waiting. Have I mentioned that patience is not my strong suit? I have Karin and Debra Webb to thank for helping me get through it without a breakdown. The glass of wine over lunch helped, too.

But I thought I’d talk a little about lists in general. Hitting any of the big lists–NYT, USAT, PW, Booksense–or any local bestselling lists like the LA Times, SF Chronicle, etc., is a huge accomplishment and shouldn’t be taken lightly. At the same time, there’s really no telling WHAT books will hit or when. It’s a crapshoot in many ways and dependent on so many factors.

First, the NYT list. They poll 4,000 bookstores and over 60,000 wholesalers (groceries, airport sales, drug stores, etc.) then weight the responses to represent all such type of stores. This is essentially how political polling happens. You poll XX number of people, break down the demographic, and extrapolate how each demographic group is voting or feels about an issue based on a smaller subset. The NYT list is broken down by type: hardcover fiction, paperback fiction, harcover non-fiction, etc.

The top 15 is called the “printed list” and gets published in their paper. The “extended list” is books numbering 16-35 in sales. That list is available online. It’s fabulous to get on the extended list and usually authors will consistently hit there first before cracking the top 15. All three of the books in my first trilogy hit the extended list.

Second, the USAT list. They take bookscan information and print the Top 50 in the paper, but the top 150 are available online. From their website: “USA TODAY’s list is based on a computer analysis of retail sales nationwide last week. Included are more than 1.5 million volumes from about 4,700 independent, chain, discount and online booksellers. ”

I THOUGHT that the romance bookscan list that RWA members have access to for a fee was a microcosm of the USAT list. So when I came in at #15–nothing to sneeze at–I thought I was toast. Just a cursory glance at the list over the last year told me I had to be in the top 12 to hit the top 15 NYT (though even that was no guarantee.) Fortunately, Debra set me straight on that. This is why me majoring in business economics was really a bad thing–I took too many statistical analysis classes and thought I could predict anything with numbers. Because I dropped out of college, I probably missed the advances class where they tell you statistics don’t mean anything.

What does this all mean? How do you hit lists? You really want to know? Okay–there’s no rhyme or reason. When Tess Gerritsen blogged about fairy dust awhile back, I thought she was just being her usual humble self. But there is an element of truth to that. Some books sell more copies and never hit The List. Some books have print runs that “conventional wisdom” says won’t make The List–and they hit.

What it comes down to is two things. Velocity (as Tess pointed out in her September blog here and here) is crucial. The first week is crucial. And I can’t tell you how absolutely thrilled and humbled I am that so many people took the time to go out and buy my book the week it came out. YOU made the difference. All the friends and acquaintances I’ve made since I joined RWA in 2003 made the difference. I know that, and I’ll never forget it.

The second thing is competition. How many similar books are out the same week? This is why I sensed that I had to hit now, rather than next month. March is a hugely competitive month for mass market romance, romantic suspense, and thrillers. Since I straddle the genres, I look at all books being released, including other types of books by bestselling authors. This March is tough. Maybe next year it won’t be the same. I don’t know.

I said two things, but there are really three things. The third is your publisher. Some houses are better at keeping booksellers to the onsale date. Why is this important? Because if your book is trickling out over two or three weeks, you’ll never achieve that velocity of sales during “opening week” when they should be on sale everywhere. This is not as important in hardcover where bookstores across the board stick to the onsale date, but it is absolutely crucial when you’re in mass market–and most bookstores, and even publishers, don’t care as much. We’re paperback writers. I am blessed to have a publisher who works hard to encourage bookstores to stick to the onsale date, and I believe that made a huge difference.

Okay, four things. Karin will slap me if I don’t say you have to write a good book. Yes, quality matters–quality of the book, the cover art, the story itself. And honestly? This is the ONLY thing you, the writer have control over. YOUR BOOK. And without the good book, nothing else can happen.

1) Velocity. YOU, the readers.
2) Competition. How many books out that same week?
3) Distribution.
4) The book itself.

I’m excited beyond measure that I can call myself a New York Times bestselling author. But I know that I would never have been able to do it without an agent who believed in me, an editor who pushed me, and readers who like my books. So THANK YOU. Have a glass of champagne this weekend and help me celebrate OUR achievement!