Wednesday, January 16, 2013
What bestsellers tell us about the book world
by Sandra Parshall
If you’re at all interested in the wild ride that is modern publishing, the bestseller lists make up a fascinating map of the book world. It’s all there in the listed titles: the e-book revolution, the self-publishing revolution, the scramble to keep traditional publishing afloat by any and all means, including embracing e-books and self-published successes.
If you look at the ten bestselling print books of 2012, you might think traditional publishing is doing okay. But the first three slots were occupied by the three Fifty Shades books by E.L. James, and coming in at #9 was the boxed set of the trilogy – books that started life as self-published projects. Together, the four print versions sold around 15 million copies in 2012. Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed also dominated the e-book bestseller list last year, and they’re still selling at a steady clip, rubbing elbows with the likes of John Grisham’s The Racketeer, Gillian Flynn’s phenomenal Gone Girl, and Nicholas Sparks’s Safe Haven.
We’ve become accustomed to announcements about major publishers acquiring print rights to e-book bestsellers in the hope that they can cash in on an enterprising author’s self-generated success. E.L. James is the prime example of how joining forces with a print publisher can – if everybody concerned is lucky and readers are willing – add another fat layer of sales and wealth that might not have been possible in the self-publishing world.
Some self-published writers, though, are holding on to their independence and reaping big rewards. The #3 title on the January 13 New York Times combined print and e-book bestseller list is a self-published young adult romance called The Coincidence of Callie and Kayden by Jessica Sorensen. It’s #2 on the e-book fiction list, sitting between Safe Haven at #1 and Gone Girl at #3. At the beginning of this week, Sorensen’s book (one of several she released in 2012) was #7 on the Kindle paid list and #5 on Amazon’s print literature and fiction bestseller list, in an Amazon Digital edition.
The #5 title on the Times combined print and e-book bestseller list for January 13 is a self-published book called Hopeless by Colleen Hoover. It’s #4 on the e-book bestseller list. Hoover released her debut novel, Slammed, in January 2012 and the follow-up, , in February. Both books were, and still are, bestsellers and have been optioned for film. Hoover’s books, printed in trade paperback using Createspace, occupy the top three slots on Amazon’s paperback bestseller list, with prices ranging from $8.88 for the first two books to $12.98 for Hopeless – the same prices people pay for trade paperbacks from major traditional publishers.
Yes, traditionally published novels still take most of the bestseller slots, for e-books as well as print. But when four of the top ten sellers for the past year were originally self-published, and the big imprints are offering multi-million-dollar contracts to independent authors, you know the ground under the publishing business has shifted and the industry will never be the same again. E.L. James, Colleen Hoover, and Jessica Sorensen are in the second wave of change, after Amanda Hocking and a couple of others led the way.
One thing hasn’t changed: Nobody knows exactly why one book succeeds wildly while others fail or register middling sales. It’s tempting for authors to think that if they self-publish they might parlay an e-book hit into huge multi-platform success. But good sales, let alone bestsellerdom, are no easier to achieve than they ever were, and self-published writers are starting with several strikes against them (lack of a bookstore presence being one). The writer still needs the elusive magic, the indefinable something that will ignite the interest of a vast readership.
I’m still looking for that magic myself. I can hope, can’t I? Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the constantly shifting landscape of publishing, as traditional imprints court writers they previously rejected, as friends who have been dropped by their publishers move on to independent mode, and still others shun the traditional path altogether and jump straight into self-publishing. I wish all of us well as we explore the options for getting our stories into the hands of readers.
The bestselling books (print and electronic) of 2012:
1. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
2. Fifty Shades Darker by E.L. James
3. Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James
4. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
5. Bared to You by Sylvia Day
6. Reflected in You by Sylvia Day
7. The Racketeer by John Grisham
8. The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks
9. Fifty Shades Trilogy by E.L. James
10. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin