Tag Archives: publishing

Hitting the List: Learning from the Bestsellers

What does it take to reach the best-sellers list?  Like many writers, I’ve asked this question (and been asked in turn), and heard all kinds of theories, often presented as hard facts.  The answer is (as it so often is), it depends.  So here are some approaches to the bestsellers that may be of use.

  1.  There are a number of lists, and they are compiled in different ways. The New York Times list is still the gold-standard, and is broken out by fiction and non-fiction, and sometimes available in other categories.  It is a measurement of sales at about 3000 stores, now augmented for e-books with electronic sales as well.  But Amazon has their own lists, which can be shaved down into hundreds of narrow categories, meaning lots more bestsellers.  The USA Today list includes fiction and non-fiction together.
  2. The NYT list for fiction has about 780 slots per year.  Of those, only about 100 are up for grabs–the rest are pretty much locked up by the big names, and publishers will try to avoid launching certain kinds of books into the shadow of a big author’s release month.  Trad authors generally release a book a year, and the book will come out in the same month every year (the first Tuesday of the month).  This makes your odds of hitting the NYT list about 2 in 10,000–but that’s still better than your chance of being struck by lightning!
  3. All of the best-seller lists are a measure of sales velocity:  how many books sell in a short period of time.  So many books on the list are actually being out-sold (albeit very slowly) by other titles which are bought in smaller quantity, but on a more regular basis.  As an author doing self-promotion, you want to drive the most sales during the first week the book is out in order to achieve strong sales velocity.  (this is also what encourages Amazon to promote your book more to readers because it’s a primary metric they track)
  4. For the Publishers’ Weekly list, about 8 to 14% of the slots in any given year are debut authors.  Most authors in fact don’t hit the list with their first novel, but with a later one, generally in the same series or genre. Once one of the books in a series hits the list, it often brings the other ones along for the ride.
  5. According to the Stanford Business Institute, the first time an author hits the NYT list, their sales improve by 57%.

There have been some great works that analyze what makes the list and why.  The recent book, The Bestseller Code, discusses a computer algorithm that analyzed thousands of books, some from the list and some not and came up with some very interesting results about what the bestsellers have in common, and what sets them apart from the non-bestsellers.  Hit Lit takes a more longitudinal approach, developing a list of themes and ideas that appear in the bestselling novel of each decade for about the last one hundred years.

Aiming for the list?  Good luck–and hopefully I’ll join you up there!

Why Does It Take So Long for the Next Book???

One thing that readers often ask is why the gap between books is so long, and I thought I’d address some of the reasons for that here…

When an author is being published by a traditional publisher (like the members of Novelocity have been), there’s an awful lot that goes into the process, every step of which slows down publication. I’ll put some of these below:

  • The publisher has to find a place in their schedule for the book. Publishers don’t want to release too many books at once, and therefore they tend to spread them out throughout the year. That schedule can be set up as far as 18 months in advance, so Book X might be ready to go on January 1, but they don’t have room to schedule it until April 17…so that’s when it comes out.
  • The publishing process has a gazillion steps (edits, copyedits, proofs), and a delay at any of those levels can cause the above schedule to become problematic. I’ve known authors whose books, due to some issue—not necessarily the author’s doing—along the line has caused their book to miss its scheduled slot…and end up being shunted back 18 months. A small delay can turn into a huge one.
  • The publisher wants to wait on results before giving the green light to a later project. (My example would be my editors waiting for Dreaming Death to actually come out before greenlighting a sequel—which they did not do after all—but that would have meant at least 18 months between the book and its sequel.)


Of course, there can also be slow downs on the writers’ side. For example:

  • Some writers do not write quickly, no matter how much their publishers want them to finish that next book. In fact, you will see books scheduled that are pushed back several months for this very reason. *
  • Some writers have multiple projects going on, sometimes with multiple publishers. Necessary prioritization means that they may not be working on the book -you- want them to work on.
  • Some writers will have a series dropped by a publisher. This creates a whole new set of problems, as the writer has to figure out some way to get the rest of those books out there. There are a limited number of presses who will pick up an abandoned series (this is a complex problem), or the writer can self-publish the remaining books (far more common these days).

All of those reasons will cause slow downs. In most cases, authors probably wish things would go faster. I certainly do.

However, this also causes an issue for readers who want everything now…which in turn causes its own problems for the writers.

I’ve seen a lot of people say “I’ll wait until the whole series is out and buy it then so I can read it all.”

Unfortunately, this is really deadly for writers because the publishers are looking at initial sales of books when they determine whether to buy more from that writer. If people are waiting to buy the book until the whole series is out, then the publishers see that as a lack of interest in the series…and cancel it.

The publisher can’t know that people actually do intend to buy the book one day…and even if they did, the publishers won’t take that gamble unless the writer is someone super-famous (G.R.R.M., for example.) I’ve seen a lot of writers with good reviews and decent sales get cut mid-series because….well, they’re selling, but not -enough-.

So the slow pace of the industry might be frustrating, but it’s not the author’s doing. Hang in there with us! We need readers’ support…

…and their patience!

TL:DR version
To the publisher,
readers waiting to buy until the series is complete = lack of interest in the series

*It’s very hard to know why books are pushed back, but most authors who have social media presences are usually happy to explain that. Check their blog/webpage/social media if you want to know why.

When a Series Dies an Early Death

One of the thing that traditionally published authors know is that your relationship with your publisher isn’t permanent.

Most of the time, our contracts with them are for a limited number of books. They purchase two books, see how those go, and then maybe purchase a few more.

Sometimes they don’t.

With my first contract, I made sure that Book #2 (the last book of that contract) could be read as a completion to the series…just in case the publisher didn’t offer to purchase my next book. Fortunately, they did, so I got to end The Golden City series the way I wanted. Yay!

I wrote books 3 and 4 for my second contract. Book 4 was the beginning of a new series, but since I didn’t have a new contract, I made sure it could stand alone. Yes, there are a lot of things that remain unanswered in that book (Dreaming Death) but overall, the story doesn’t end on a cliffhanger or anything like that.


But by the time I was coming up for my next contract, the merger between Penguin and Random House was motivating my publisher (which was an imprint of PRH) to clean house. They didn’t renew a lot of their writers…and I was one of those swept away.

So what happens to my story now?

Most writers live with the knowledge that this can happen. We’ve seen it happen to our friends.

Fortunately, nowadays there are a lot of ways that the series can go on now.  The author can self-publish the story, whether by funding it themselves, or going with crowd-funding. There are also a few smaller publishers who are willing to pick up a half-finished series. (There are a lot off drawbacks to that for that publisher, though, the main reason that it’s not common.)

The writer, however, usually needs to move on to a different series to stay afloat.

This can be frustrating and disappointing to readers (AND the writer.) But it happens. Far more often these days than anyone likes.
So what can the reader do when their favorite series is cancelled?

  1. Watch the writer’s webpage or blogs to see what they have planned for the next books in the series.
  2. If the writer’s going to finish out the series by crowdfunding, either donate…or just spread the word. (Others may not have seen the news.)
  3. If the writer does publish the remaining books in the series, purchase them. (Yes, we’re always asking you to buy our books. It’s how we survive.)
  4. If the writer DOESN’T publish the remaining books in the series, buy what they’ve got coming out next.

Some writers aren’t prepared to self-publish things. Either they don’t have the time (it IS time-consuming), the funding (we do have to eat), or the desire to put out that series ending on their own.

Please don’t let that scare you off of buying their next series. I guarantee, that author is working as hard and fast as they can to get new stories out there.

The publishing industry is changing so fast these days that writers are constantly under pressure to decide what’s the best next step to them. Whatever that step turns out to be, they can’t get buy without the support of their readers!

So stick with them!


Which favorite series of yours died an early death?




Vectors: How Do You Handle Rejection?

Our question of the week concerns something that all writers go through…rejection. How do we handle it?

Beth Cato

BethCato-steampunk-headshotHow I handle rejection: three days of debilitating depression, sporadic crying, and self-loathing.

Er. No. But that’s how I did respond to rejections back in 2008 when I first started sending out story submissions. I was crippled by self-doubt and rejections only confirmed every awful thing I thought about myself and my writing. A lot of those initial stories, I only sent out once because I thought one rejection meant the story was obviously awful and would never sell anywhere.

My skin’s a lot thicker now. Most rejections do not bother me. I read them and say, ‘Well, that stinks,’ and send the story or poem out again. There are exceptions to this. There are always some stories that feel especially personal for me, and having those rejected is hard, especially when it’s a higher tier letter (“We really liked this but just bought something similar, so with regret…”). Novel rejections are the worst of all.

E. C. Ambrose

E. C. AmbroseAt this point, it strongly depends on who’s doing the rejecting. . .there’s a big difference between being rejected by a magazine choosing among a zillion stories, by writers large and small, many probably better than mine (bummer, but hey, those are the odds!) and being rejected with a project you hope to write by your own agent or editor who is not interested in the work.

The first kind no longer phase me. I’m happily surprised to be accepted by magazines or anthologies, but I have pretty low expectations (novel seems to be my ideal length). The second kind, on the other hand, can make me second-guess everything. My agent recently took a pass on representing a YA fantasy I still like, leaving me anxious and wondering if The Dark Apostle books were a fluke and nothing else I write will Ever Sell AGAIN!

The first kind really aren’t personal (though we sometimes take it as if they are) but the second. . .well, it’s probably *still* not personal, she just doesn’t think this book is marketable. It just *feels* more personal. Can’t pretend she doesn’t know who I am. Can’t think she just doesn’t understand me and won’t get my work. Can still stomp around the office and eat too many chips, tho!

M. K. Hutchins

MK HutchinsRejections tend to hit me in a variety of ways.

Sometimes (often with short fiction), rejections feel rote. Is there anything I want to revise? Nope? Off to the next market on the list. Not a big deal.

Some rejections make me want to go write an even better, shinier story and sell that. I wish I knew how to encourage this reaction. It’s easy to dive into a new project when I’m full of a yes-I’m-just-that-stubborn attitude.

And sometimes rejections just stink and it’s impossible to focus on what I’m currently writing. What if it’s all crap? No one will ever buy this! I generally find taking a break to stress-clean my apartment generally cures me. And, as a bonus, I end up with a nicer space to write in.

Tex Thompson

Tex ThompsonI’m not the world’s most experienced rejectionist by any means, but of course there’s times in everybody’s everything when the game’s not going your way, and disappointment reigns supreme.

One of the things I’m only just now beginning to appreciate is how my social circle has grown over the past few months – and how much that’s deepened my perspective. Sure, we all intellectually know that a story or manuscript rejection is the quintessential First World Problem – but it’s been such an eye-opener to have friends whose Big Awesome News is that they are officially six months cancer-free, or that the ex-partner has agreed to modify the custody arrangements, or that the kid’s rehab looks like it’s going to stick this time. I’m finding it much easier not to sweat the small stuff when there’s capital-B Big Stuff also situated somewhere in the frame.

I’m also working really hard to make sure I always have other irons in the fire, as it were. Putting my emotional eggs in multiple baskets – writing stuff, teaching stuff, family stuff, whatever – definitely helps minimize the damage whenever any single one of them falls and splatters on the floor. I don’t think it’s possible to sink thousands of hours into ANYTHING and not be deeply invested in the results, but I’ve learned the hard way how important it is to diversify your mental portfolio.

J. Kathleen Cheney

J. Kathleen CheneyFirst of all, I’d like to state that I handle rejection with the utmost maturity. I do not eat ice cream. Or tamales. (I’m actually more likely to resort to tamales. I’m not an ice cream girl.)

Truthfully, though, my reaction to rejection often surprises me. There are times when my work is rejected, and it hits me like a pile-driver to the stomach. Other times I simply shrug it off and move on. Often I don’t know which one of those it will be. It’s only afterward that I realize I wanted a particular sale more than I’d previously believed. And I’m surprised that my mind can trick me that way.

If it’s one of those instances when I can’t just shrug it off, then I resort to the old standby…a RomCom. I don’t cry for myself. But when I see Sandra Bullock getting beat down over and over again in Hope Floats or Katherine Heigl ruining her own life (temporarily) in 27 Dresses, I cry for them, and that lets out all my angst over my own situation. It never fails me.

Fran Wilde

Fran2014I love a passage from Connie Willis’ 2013 collection (The Best of Connie Willis, Del Rey 2013) – which has commentary on each story. After the post-apocalyptic “A Letter from the Clearys,” she wrote:

“What saved me from [quitting] was those already made-out and stamped envelopes and SASEs. I mean, stamps were expensive, and what would it hurt to send everything out one last time?”

She’s chronicling the moment she got eight rejections all on the same day. I’m so glad she didn’t quit then. I try to remember that when I get a rejection (usually I’m remembering that while munching chocolate and considering a career making tin cans). And then I make another go at it.

How do you handle rejection???