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Books that, in your opinion, should be best-sellers but aren't.

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Mike Jung

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HP got a tiny advance in the UK, but Arthur A. Levine Books acquired it at auction for publication on this side of the pond - just over $100k, which I believe was a record at the time. Melissa Anelli's HARRY, A HISTORY gives a pretty interesting rundown of its launch in the States - it seems like it got a BIG push, particularly from Arthur himself.
#31 - February 02, 2012, 07:56 AM
« Last Edit: February 02, 2012, 07:59 AM by Mike Jung »

CC, I'm adding A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY and THE SAINTS OF AUGUSTINE to my TBR list!

C.K., tell me what you think of A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY if you do read it. I found it riviting. I didn't like the ending as much as I wanted but otherwise, a stunner. Grodstein's voice is that sort of Curtis Sittenfeld, literary-ish thing, but maybe a little more accessible. I kept picturing Harrison Ford as the main character.
#32 - February 02, 2012, 08:04 AM
OPEN COURT, Knopf

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To the thread question-
Oh, so many...
And don't get me started on the books that shouldn't be best sellers, but are.

I seem to not run with the current in my reading taste.
#33 - February 02, 2012, 08:29 AM
THE VOICE OF THUNDER, WiDo Publishing
THERE'S A TURKEY AT THE DOOR, Hometown520

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THE SAINTS OF AUGUSTINE.   

This strikes me as a title that could have doomed the book.
#34 - February 02, 2012, 09:31 AM
Adventures of Jenna V. Series
Caroline Grade Mysteries
The Journey of Emilie
Anne Bradstreet: America's Puritan Poet
www.marciahoehne.com

Tyger Tyger by Kersten Hamilton. You should all go out and buy a copy now. Buy *two* copies in fact. You will want to give one away.

 :laugh eab
#35 - February 02, 2012, 11:30 AM


And honestly, I'm not trying to be all, "I agree with Cindy!" but I think Holly Black's Curse Workers series is amazing and I've been surprised it hasn't been talked about more.

please. agree with me whenever you'd like, anne! haha!

but seriously, not enough love out there for this series.
i believe because it IS so different than what's out there
right now in YA paranormal reads. i highly recommend it.

mrh. HA! i have bad memories of reading St. Augustine myself.
too funny.

mike, interesting. so in the uk (which i suspect also gives much
smaller advances) perhaps harry potter wasn't a "lead title"?
#36 - February 02, 2012, 12:20 PM
Silver Phoenix (Greenwillow: 4/28/09)
Fury of the Phoenix (Greenwillow: 3/30/11)
Serpentine (Month9Books: 9/1/15)

Mike Jung

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Cindy, I don't really know anything about British publishers and their tendencies with advances or lead titles, but you know, JKR has that proverbial story of being rejected by a bunch of publishers and being told nobody would want to read a book about a boy wizard and whatnot before getting picked up by Bloomsbury UK with a £2,500 advance. So she wasn't a debut author who landed a deal with a lot of fanfare or anything, but the galleys were passed around at Bologna just before the UK publication date. The Bloomsbury UK rights person gave a galley to Arthur, he read it on the plane home (as did a few other U.S. publishers), bidding war, record advance for a kidlit writer, and BAM, unprecedented, industry-changing, galactic explosion of success.

There's a transcript of Arthur's Leaky Cauldron interview at http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/2006/0117-pottercast-anelli.html
#37 - February 02, 2012, 12:53 PM

There's a adult novel I read a year or so ago, called, A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY, by Lauren Grodstein that was probably the best book I read that year. Phenonminal. Themes of jealousy woven in. I'm pretty sure it got a ton of good reviews, but I don't know if anyone read it, and I doubt it was a bestseller. I'd never heard of it, only stumbled across it on a library shelf.

I don't know if it was a bestseller, but FRIEND OF THE FAMILY did get at least some press. I'm pretty sure it appeared on my phone as one of Bookpages - Books of the Day.

Sometimes it's interesting to see  what publicity reaches different people. I chat a lot about middle grade with my school librarian and inevitably there are books she thinks "everyone" is talking about and I've never heard of - and vice versa.
#38 - February 02, 2012, 03:06 PM

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I remember the birth of "Harry Potter" as a phenomenon especially well because my friend had been in England and brought me back a copy of this book she said looked interesting, called "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" -- and I looked at it and thought, hm, could be good, looks a little like madcap adventure for boys, and did not read it right away.  Then suddenly there was all this news about Harry Potter in this country, and I went back to the kids' bookshelves and dug out my old Philosopher's Stone and loved it!

On the broader topic, I was just by chance reading C. S. Lewis's 1961 "An Experiment in Criticism" (it was lying on the table at my daughter's violin lesson!) and found his distinction between "literary" and "unliterary" ways of reading very, very interesting.  Enthralling, even.  You could say (grumpily) that publishers these days are pushing books that cater to "unliterary" ways of reading (reading for the Event [aka "plot"], reading as one-time speedy consumption) -- but of course Lewis was open to the possibility that books in scorned, "lowbrow" genres could turn out to be books a literary reader might also find wonderful and worth re-reading.

Anyway, the lesson ended before I had finished the book, so I'll have to wait until next week for more deep thoughts on literariness and bestsellers!
#39 - February 02, 2012, 03:08 PM
THE CABINET OF EARTHS -- HarperCollins, 2012
A BOX OF GARGOYLES -- HC, 2013
THE WRINKLED CROWN -- HC, 2015
www.annenesbet.com

I don't know if it was a bestseller, but FRIEND OF THE FAMILY did get at least some press. I'm pretty sure it appeared on my phone as one of Bookpages - Books of the Day.

Sometimes it's interesting to see  what publicity reaches different people. I chat a lot about middle grade with my school librarian and inevitably there are books she thinks "everyone" is talking about and I've never heard of - and vice versa.

Agreed. It may be one of those things that I just loved it so much that I wanted the entire world to read it and was perturbed that I'd only found it on a dusty library shelf -- you know, nothing surrounding it to say, This Rocks!!   :eh2

This strikes me as a title that could have doomed the book.

Also probably true!  :slaphead:
#40 - February 02, 2012, 04:18 PM
OPEN COURT, Knopf

Tyger Tyger by Kersten Hamilton. You should all go out and buy a copy now. Buy *two* copies in fact. You will want to give one away.

 :laugh eab

I second all of this. I actually have given copies away. It has become one of my go-to books when people ask for recs. SO GOOD!!!
#41 - February 02, 2012, 04:29 PM
I'm looking for a dare-to-be-great situation.

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On the broader topic, I was just by chance reading C. S. Lewis's 1961 "An Experiment in Criticism" (it was lying on the table at my daughter's violin lesson!) and found his distinction between "literary" and "unliterary" ways of reading very, very interesting.  Enthralling, even.  ...

Anyway, the lesson ended before I had finished the book, so I'll have to wait until next week for more deep thoughts on literariness and bestsellers!

Please do, Anne - that DOES sound fascinating!
#42 - February 02, 2012, 06:11 PM
The Farwalker Trilogy
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m_stiefvater

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I'm weighing in not because I'm mentioned in the thread (although thank you for that, guys!) but because this issue is one that I find really hard to get out of my head when I'm reading. If I read a book that isn't a bestseller and I think SHOULD be, it will drive me crazy until I can figure out what went awry. MOST of the time, I can figure it out. For instance, I adored KETURAH AND LORD DEATH, but it's not going to be a book everyone will adore. I would not give it to my mom and my dad and my sister and my vet. Not because I didn't love it enough, but because I'm sure they won't have as passionate a response as I would. Likewise, I loved SHIP BREAKER, and I did try to give it to everyone . . . and was incredibly disappointed when some of them found it too dark, some of them found it too slow, some of them found it too heavy on the world-building, whatever. I also adored The Monstrumologist, but it was too gory for a lot of people. I love lots of books, but only some of them are bestsellers. The rest are just too specific to my particular tastes for them to be loved by enough people to hit the bestseller list.

A bestseller is not the world's best book. It's not even the world's favorite books. It's merely a book that most everyone can find something to like, just a little. It's a book that has enough universal appeal that you can give it to your mom or your therapy group or your cat walker and be pretty sure they won't be offended, bored, or too distressed by it (generally). That's why there's no "bestseller formula." Because that's the only common denominator -- that a lot of people found it worth buying. Not worth loving.

Personally, I'm okay with this. There are so many other versions of success that don't involve the bestseller list — it's such an arbitrary thing, anyway, changing numbers from week to week, so a bestseller in January is a much weaker seller, for instance, than a bestseller in October. And it's not even truly a bestseller list. If you want to have a good time, have a friend with Bookscan show you the top 100 selling childrens' books for the week. Bookscan tracks actual books sold, and you can see how the list is not even real — we're all being outsold by titles that have "grandfathered" off the bestseller list because they've been on there for so long . . . like A Wrinkle in Time.

For me, the thing that gets my panties in a twist is when books aren't doing well at a much more basic level because of some sort of mishandling — bad cover, no ARCs at BEA, bad timing, crummy placement. There are those sorts of injustices going on all the time in the business, but that's a bit less flashy looking than "WHY IS THIS BOOK on the bestseller list?"

(and by the way, THE SCORPIO RACES has not hit the bestseller list, unlike my other books — I knew when I wrote it it was for a narrower niche than my Shiver books, and I was totally okay with that, I wrote it for me. I'm pleasantly surprised by how well it IS doing, and if I told you the numbers on it versus my bestseller list books, you'd laugh and shake your head . . . because they're nearly the same. Really, truly, the list is not a measure of a book's commercial success).
#43 - February 02, 2012, 06:25 PM

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A bestseller is not the world's best book. It's not even the world's favorite books. It's merely a book that most everyone can find something to like, just a little. It's a book that has enough universal appeal that you can give it to your mom or your therapy group or your cat walker and be pretty sure they won't be offended, bored, or too distressed by it (generally). That's why there's no "bestseller formula." Because that's the only common denominator -- that a lot of people found it worth buying. Not worth loving.

But what about the bestsellers that a lot of people *do* love passionately, like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games or Twilight? Even if many bestsellers appeal to the lowest common denominator, there are still book phenomenons out there that seem to defy explanation...

Also, I subscribe to the Nelson Literary Agency newsletter, and I found this line from their latest "What's Hot" section by Sara Megibow pertinent:

Quote
Bestsellers (duh, I know, but it was a huge topic and worth mentioning); books with huge hooks - something that will sell oodles and oodles of copies and be formative to literature like TWILIGHT, HUNGER GAMES, etc.

Are hooks all there is to it? I mean, how the heck do you tell?

Karen
#44 - February 02, 2012, 06:38 PM
Out now: DEADLY DELICIOUS

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m_stiefvater

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But what about the bestsellers that a lot of people *do* love passionately, like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games or Twilight? Even if many bestsellers appeal to the lowest common denominator, there are still book phenomenons out there that seem to defy explanation...

Karen

Oh, I didn't mean to say that universal love wasn't possible! I think that the very best bestsellers work on multiple levels. There is the very straight-forward story, the bare minimum easy-to-get plot (which is often "hooky", but is at least easy to identify and sympathize with) and then there are deeper levels that satisfy the more demanding readers (think Oprah book club choices here, books that can withstand critique and discussion, etc.). The quieter stuff and the more genre stuff and the more complicated, difficult, specific stuff often gets away by being a level beneath a greater, simpler arc.
#45 - February 02, 2012, 06:41 PM

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Some books that I love, and wish got more* love from the world:

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, by Peter Cameron
A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend, by Emily Horner
The Day Before, by Lisa Schroeder
Hate List, by Jennifer Brown
Three Rivers Rising, by Jame Richards
But I Love Him, by Amanda Grace
Secrets of Truth & Beauty, by Megan Frazer
Struts & Frets, by Jon Skovron
Saving Francesca, by Melina Marchetta
Liar, by Justine Larbalestier
Sweethearts, by Sara Zarr

*or even more, for those that have done fairly well in the marketplace. I don't think any of these have been bestsellers, though I don't really keep up with the lists--so if any of them did make the lists, hurrah!
#46 - February 03, 2012, 06:57 PM
Jennifer R. Hubbard
www.jenniferhubbard.com

Loner in the Garret: A Writer's Companion
Until It Hurts to Stop
Try Not to Breathe
The Secret Year

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin.

I love, love, love this book.
It's one of the few children's books I've read in the past few years that I think deserves to become a classic. I don't know how it's selling, but I'm curious to see whether it's a book that will slowly become more and more popular, just because it's so good.

Really. Please read it!

#47 - February 03, 2012, 07:53 PM

Thanks, Amaris! :tongue2
 eab
#48 - February 03, 2012, 07:59 PM

Thanks for the post, Maggie! It's so interesting to know that "bestseller" doesn't necessarily correlate to a book's commercial success... :)
#49 - February 03, 2012, 08:06 PM
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m_stiefvater

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Some books that I love, and wish got more* love from the world:

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, by Peter Cameron
Saving Francesca, by Melina Marchetta


I need to reread these two - they both have places of love on my shelf, and it's been so long.
#50 - February 04, 2012, 06:43 AM

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The quieter stuff and the more genre stuff and the more complicated, difficult, specific stuff often gets away by being a level beneath a greater, simpler arc.

Yes, love this observation. Books that have that overall, "simpler" hook and story arc but also a lot of great stuff that's more subtle and not picked up on by every reader...these books capitalize on the best of both worlds and attract a broad readership...and, one would think, are the most likely to achieve Best Seller status.
#51 - February 04, 2012, 10:24 AM
DREAM JOBS IN SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY (Rosen 2018)
THE GROSS SCIENCE OF BAD BREATH AND CAVITIES (Rosen 2019)

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I can't answer this because I have no idea how well most books are selling. I could list books I love but I don't know whether or not they're doing well; and, frankly, it's none of my business. I just wish the authors well and write nice reviews on my blog if I have time.
#52 - February 04, 2012, 10:05 PM
ANTIQUE PIANO & OTHER SOUR NOTES
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If I had to pick just one: SPLIT by Swati Avasthi. After I finished reading it, my first thought was, "This reminds me of SPEAK." Then I was speaking to Swati and found out that reading SPEAK was what made her go into YA fiction, and my head just exploded. In a good way.

Also The Demon's Lexicon trilogy by Sarah Rees Brennan. As I understand it, this book was actually intended to hit the bestseller list, but the publisher gave it an awful cover first time around and it didn't happen. They rejacketed the paperbacks, but I guess by then it was too late.
#53 - March 03, 2012, 05:47 PM

gosh.

anything by francisco stork ...
Just finished Marcello in the Real World and am reading The Last Summer of the Death Warriors - I totally second this. I might even like Death Warriors more which I didn't think was possible. :)
#54 - March 03, 2012, 06:43 PM
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Ashes, by Ilsa Bick.
The Scorpio Races, by, um, can't think of the author's name, Magg Something...
#55 - March 03, 2012, 06:49 PM

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I've been talking up Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis. I would have been in love with this book as a kid and I'm in love with it now.

Love Where the Mountain Meets the Moon! I smiled throughout that book.
#56 - March 03, 2012, 07:42 PM
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THE BOOK DRAGON, Sterling, October 2, 2018
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Also The Demon's Lexicon trilogy by Sarah Rees Brennan. As I understand it, this book was actually intended to hit the bestseller list, but the publisher gave it an awful cover first time around and it didn't happen. They rejacketed the paperbacks, but I guess by then it was too late.

This puzzles and intrigues me...are you saying that publishers intend for some of their books to be bestsellers, as opposed to all of them? Is that something they can control or influence in any way, or is it just a matter of how much marketing they put behind it? I overheard an author once talking about how the editor she didn't go with was asking her if she'd listed and when she said no, the editor was like, "You'd be listing if you'd gone with us." Like it was something she could just...make happen. Is that a thing that can be (and is) done? *is fascinated*

(and speaking of SRB's books, I think the British covers are amazing)
#57 - March 03, 2012, 10:14 PM
I'm looking for a dare-to-be-great situation.

Thanks, Amaris! :tongue2
 eab

I only speak the truth.   :yup
#58 - March 03, 2012, 10:17 PM
I'm looking for a dare-to-be-great situation.

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The Ranger in Danger Series. Which is based on actual experiences of the Park Rangers who put their lives on the line every day to protect endangered species.

It is a children's choose your own adventure series and some of the proceeds of the sale of these books goes to support widows and families of rangers killed in the line of duty.

Has there ever been a series of books written for a more worthy cause? 
#59 - March 03, 2012, 10:32 PM

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This puzzles and intrigues me...are you saying that publishers intend for some of their books to be bestsellers, as opposed to all of them? Is that something they can control or influence in any way, or is it just a matter of how much marketing they put behind it? I overheard an author once talking about how the editor she didn't go with was asking her if she'd listed and when she said no, the editor was like, "You'd be listing if you'd gone with us." Like it was something she could just...make happen. Is that a thing that can be (and is) done? *is fascinated*

Yes, publishers do buy certain books they believe will very likely hit the bestseller lists, and try hard to make this happen. These are the books which receive huge advances and corresponding marketing budgets. Publishers can't promote all books equally, and so there are always a few lead titles they hope will be substantial commercial successes. This isn't to say this strategy always works, of course, since I've heard of several authors whose books were expected to be bestsellers and weren't, which means they lost their publisher a lot of money and were considered a "failure" through little fault of their own.

And on the flip side, there are those books with more modest advances that rise into the sales stratosphere one way or another, even though they weren't originally identified as blockbusters just waiting to happen. Usually that sort of thing starts with word of mouth, followed by publishers realizing they should promote this book more. And of course I've seen BOTH things happen at one publisher, where their marketing team jumped ship from a "sure thing" book to a "smaller" book that was getting tons more buzz. I feel for the author who had the "sure thing" book that wasn't...

Karen
#60 - March 03, 2012, 11:15 PM
Out now: DEADLY DELICIOUS

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