The topic Jordan started on traditional mysteries has evolved, with more discussion about marketing/trends etc.

I have a question: Can you manufacture a trend? Can you deliberately create the next big author?

Here's my thinking. To some degree, the average consumer is more sheep than wolf. I grew up in a tourist town, spent time working in retail. You've got your impulse items near the tills and use end displays to move items. From time to time there have been the inevitable scandals - things marked down as discounted to make them look like a deal when they were never sold at the full list price. Yet the perception, the idea of getting a good buy, often moves merchandise.

How many readers realize that the publishers are usually paying for prominent displays in bookstores, not that the bookstores think these are the books of note right now that their customers should be interested in?

Will good writing win out over the long term, or do you think it's possible to 'create' a superstar if you put enough money behind them? (I guess this may go to the same debate with American Idol - Kelly Clarkson hasn't been a flash-in-the-pan but I hear more about Clay Aiken than Rueben what's-his-name.)

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This is a very good topic, Sandra. Timely too.

I was just reading in PW how a book on optimizing your presence online (something like that) launched on the NYT bestsellers list and several others due to blogging and reposts. Using their connections, I believe they offered a discount for people forwarding the release news--buy one get 1-2 free. The perceived deal you mentioned, but the sales volumes on the Internet could reach a greater audience than store displays. And the cost looks minimal to me. Doesn't this promo concept conjure up ideas?
That does sound like minimal cost, and very interesting. My understanding is that internet sales still account for less than 10% of total book sales, but I wonder if declining review coverage in newspapers might push more people online to get information on titles and spur online sales growth?
From what minimal time I've spent on MySpace, I've learned alot from that great little community. For authors & musicians, it's an amazing source of potential clients. Just watch someone like Barry Eisler out there. His MS friends count grows exponentially. What traditional means to grow a mailing list works as well? Now you have to be aware of MS's limitations to get the word out, but the low cost potential is there. Mainly because of the search capabilties and the formatting of MySpace to include favorite books and bands. This is an untapped resource for most authors and it takes time.

I like the way you're thinking about the domino effect of the decline in newspaper reviews and the impacts that might have on online sales. I think readers have many sources to get reviews if they want them. And for all the books available, the newspaper is only a fraction of the coverage anyway. I'd say people are already finding their resources online. These are the kinds of stats you can't track.

Forgive a newcomer here, but I have to ask. I'm wondering who actually reports online book sales and how do these stats get disclosed? Does Amazon, for example, report only a net number (excluding resales of books thru their system thru the indies or individuals) instead of all the actual outright purchases of new books?
Amazon sales are insignificant. Seriously, don't even bother giving them a moment's thought. Check out this post by Sarah Weiman, and you'll see what I mean. An exerpt:

Over a three week period this summer, the following sales numbers were recorded for a NYT bestselling thriller writer's most recent book:

B&N: 4,140
Waldenbooks: 4,888
Borders: 3,993
Anderson Merchandisers/Walmart: 47,671
Target: 16,341
Price/Costco: 17,291
Sam's: 14,108
Amazon: 320

Sarah adds:

I'm not sure what shocked me more: the unbelievably low number for Amazon, or just how powerful Walmart and Costco really are in the publishing business.

The author further adds:

For all their hype, the truth (and I've seen this with actual sales figures going back to 2000) is that Amazon numbers are tiny compared to virtually every other retail outlet.

Amazon makes their profit selling used books, not new ones. Maybe their low sales numbers was one of the determining factors to shift their focus toward used sales -- I don't know. But I do know that their numbers are insignificant to the pub in determining the success/failure of a book.

Surprised that some of the figures are so "low?" Bear in mind that a huge percentage of actual retail sales are from independents, grocery stores, pharmacies, outlets like that -- which don't report weekly numbers.

But the Walmart number is rather staggering, isn't it? It's one reason I put what little local/regional promotional efforts I do into cultivating Anderson reps and going on day-long road trips to sign and sticker stock for Walmarts. They get a hell of a lot of foot traffic, and sell a hell of a lot of books. [end quote]
Wow!! I would never have thought this. Very interesting and thanks for sharing, Karen.
I grew up in a library world-my mom is a librarian and when dad travelled we sometimes had to go to work with her in the evenings if there was no babysitter. Some of this publishing stuff, really, just amazes me. For librarians, or at least ones like my mom, it's all about the books-what do the patrons want (usually gauged by what gets stolen with the highest frequency), and how can their needs best be met.

So to flip to the business side, the publishing end, I've worked enough retail to know you can easily convince people that they need whatever you say they do. Look at Oprah-she sticks her name on a book and it's an instant bestseller, even if it's a bunch of hooey. Why? Because Oprah says you should read it.

There will always be the "unknowns" who sell well enough to stay in the game because they've built up a steady fan base, but the publishing companies know that they can build up a few names in each genre to support themselves on and look good-and if Oprah happens to come along and help out, even better.
Wait a sec---Mrs. McGoo had perfect twenty-twenty vision whilst we all know that the old man was blind as a bat---but, who bought the books in that family?

Can someone tell me?---I have no idea...

But, publishers do pay big bucks to have those books 'displayed' by the Barnes & Nobles and Borders of the world. It is usually done on a week to week basis. No, it would not affect what I purchase.
publishers manufacture writers all the time in varying degrees. i was manufactured to a small degree -- my name was chosen for me. (the very bizarre aspect of this is that my mother was cruel and abusive, and i now have her name.) i think the more willing a writer is to relinquish control, the more willing a publisher is to put money behind that writer. unfortunately that can all come back to bite the writer in the ass.
about 18 years ago i went to conference where a writer was talking about how her publisher created her public persona. they spent months training her with taped, mock interviews that she would watch and they would critique and she would redo until in tears. they changed her clothes and hair and makeup. taugh her just how to speak and carry herself. kind of a crash finishing school. all the while this woman was talking you could see she was monitoring herself to the point of not even seeming human. a shell standing there in perfect makeup, perfect hair, perfect clothes, while her husband sat to one side coaching her and rating her with small nods and gestures. she kept looking to him to see how she was doing. the whole thing was completely bizarre. i can't remember her name, and i imagine that name no longer exists.
Stepford author. Scary!
Very scary!
"I have a question: Can you manufacture a trend? Can you deliberately create the next big author?"

I say no. That's not to say publishers don't try, or that they shouldn't. Certainly they buy books intending to make them their lead title and throw a huge marketing effort behind them, but there's no guarantee it'll work. Sometimes it does - I believe this was the case with Nicholas Sparks - other times, as with Dan Brown or J.K. Rowlings, the groundswell just happens, and catches publishers by surprise.

Books are a product, and while certain marketing principles apply, I think it's important to keep in mind that in the big scheme of things, far more products fail than succeed. And when a product catches on and goes national and becomes wildly popular and yes - becomes the new big thing and begins a new trend, it's rarer than a lightning strike.

So too for books. Publishers keep searching for that elusive NYTimes best-seller, but evidence that they haven't found a way to manufacture trends or big, breakout authors with any sort of consistency is that the mid-list is HUGE. And most authors don't stay there beyond one or two or maybe three books, as their publishers drop them in the quest for the next big thing -- but that's another subject.
"other times, as with Dan Brown or J.K. Rowlings, the groundswell just happens, and catches publishers by surprise."

Dan Brown's publishers produced 10,000 ARCs of The Da Vinci Code. The publishers gave it a huge push. I don't know anyone who comes close to matching that number of ARCs printed offhand, and I know the publicist who handles Harry Potter here. I asked about a review copy. There won't be any.


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