This week! Books!
A factoid this week about the publishing industry certainly got some eyeballs popping. In an article about how the publishing industry is weathering the pandemic, Alexandra Atler and Elizabeth A. Harris noted that 98% of the books newly published in 2020 sold fewer than 5,000 copies. Sales have inexorably drifted to the backlist, celebrities, and already-bestselling authors. Jane Friedman also notes the ongoing shift to online sales.
How much of this is really an aberration? Lincoln Michel notes that it has always (mostly) been the case that most books don’t really sell very many copies, and I’d add that perceptions of book sales have been skewed historically by the tradition of ludicrous announced “print runs” by publishers that are largely fictional and certainly don’t correlate with actual sales (particularly when returns are taken into account). And bestseller lists are notoriously opaque.
At least from my vantage point, this 98% stat feels more like a culmination of industry trends more than it has always been the case through time. We live in a “winner takes all” moment in history, and the mid-list authors who sold fine but weren’t bestsellers have been largely decimated, at least at traditional publishers. The rich are getting richer, megabestsellers are getting more mega, and everyone else fights for the scraps in the long tail.
None of this takes into account self-publishing, and because that data is largely hoarded by Amazon, the stats understate just how much bookselling has shifted online.
Norton halted distribution of its upcoming Philip Roth biography, already the subject of a scathing New Republic review by Laura Marsh that addresses its problematic treatment of women, due to sexual assault allegations surfacing against biographer Blake Bailey. Ugh.
Also from Lincoln Michel, a deep dive into the history of book word counts and the slimming and fattening of books due to shifts in bookselling and the publishing industry.
Agent Jessica Faust delves into the perennially popular topic of what agents learn from the big books they passed on, and agent Kate McKean talks about how authors should navigate meeting and communicating with editors prior to receiving a book deal.
And I really love this post by Austin Kleon about taking back weekends for rest and idleness.
This week in bestsellers
Here are the top five NY Times bestsellers in a few key categories. (All links are affiliate links):
Adult print and e-book fiction:
- Ocean Prey by John Sandford
- The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman
- The Devil’s Hands by Jack Carr
- The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
- Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Adult print and e-book nonfiction:
- On the House by John Boehner
- Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe
- The Code Breaker by Walter Isaccson
- Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile
- The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk
Young adult hardcover:
- Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo
- Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley
- Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
- One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Middle grade hardcover:
- The Ickabog by J.K. Rowling
- Wonder by R.J. Palacio
- Refugee by Alan Gratz
- The One and Only Bob by Katherine Applegate
- When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller
This week on the blog
In case you missed them, here are this week’s posts:
Don’t forget that you can nominate your first page and query for a free critique on the blog:
And keep up with the discussion in all the places!
And finally, if I ever stop blogging it’s because I’ve found a new profession. Scientists are using observation and artificial intelligence to learn to decode whale languages.
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