Sunday, November 09, 2003

I received this in an email - it was labeled as being from the Wall Street Journal, but I could not confirm that. It is an interesting piece, however:

November 6, 2003

Recipe for a Bestseller: Baked Fudge and Author Charm


New York

Hyperion was reasonably certain it had caught lightning in a bottle when it
acquired "PS, I Love You," a first novel about a woman coping, through a series
of letters, with the untimely death of her husband. Rights to the book were
swiftly sold to 14 countries -- and Hollywood. The author, Cecilia Ahern, was
young (22), pretty, well-spoken and, by the way, the daughter of Bertie Ahern,
prime minister of Ireland. "We believed she was someone who could break out,"
says Ellen Archer, Hyperion's vice president and publisher. Thus, the decision
was made to send Ms. Ahern on a six-city tour five months before the novel's
February 2004 publication, to chat up and charm bookstore buyers and owners at
specially arranged dinners, in the process perhaps convincing them to up
their orders for the book. "They loved her," adds Ms. Archer, "and yes, they
wanted more copies."

For decades, the author tour has been one of the key weapons in a publisher's
arsenal. The book comes out and the writer is dispatched to selected cities
for interviews, for readings, book signings and meet-and-greets with would-be

But over the past several years, many publishers have chosen not to wait
until a book is in print to put an author on a plane but to do so six months, even
four months before publication, all in hopes of generating big buzz and big
buys. "When we've done it," says Judy Hottensen, marketing director at
Grove/Atlantic Inc., "it always increases the order, whether it's by two books or 20
or 50."

In June, Sandra Brown, a prolific author of suspense novels, was on the road
for "Hello, Darkness," which was published last month. District attorney
turned best-selling novelist Linda Fairstein just got back from the pre-pub tour
for her latest effort, "The Kills," due out in January. And let's not forget
Grove/Atlantic, which arranged a pre-pub tour for the then-unknown Charles
Frazier, author of the phenomenal success "Cold Mountain." Or Doubleday, which sent out Dan Brown to get the drums beating for "The Da Vinci Code." Perhaps you've
heard of it.

"It's book publishing's version of the DJ tour that musicians have done for
decades to get that all-important segment to play their soon-to-be-released
records on the air," says Stuart Applebaum, spokesman for Random House Inc.
"Anything we publishers can do to break our authors out of the pack is something we
want to try."

Pre-pub tours often involve first-time novelists, a tough sell under any
circumstances, and mid-list authors who seem poised to hit the next level of
success. Mr. Brown is a case in point. So, to a lesser extent, is Elinor Lippman,
whose seventh novel, "The Pursuit of Alice Thrift," was published last spring.
"A few months before 'Alice Thrift' came out we decided to have a booksellers'
dinner in Los Angeles and San Francisco just to extend her reach," beyond the
northeast, where she is strong, says Carol Schneider of Random House. Ms.
Lippman charmed the crowd, Random House's L.A. sales rep baked fudge for everyone (that confection was a key plot point in the novel), "and come publication,"
adds Ms. Schneider, "there were huge stacks of the books at all the stores."

The pre-pub tour can also be good for an author who's working well-mined
territory. "Before 'John Adams' was published, we were all thinking 'another
biography of a president,' " says Anne Kubek, a marketing vice president at Borders
Books. But its author, David McCullough, "was good about showing that it was
a different take and it raised our buy." Other candidates include the novelist
who's just branched out to nonfiction (or vice versa), a well-established
novelist who switches genres, or a well-established author who switches houses
(witness Sandra Brown, a recent emigre from Warner Books to Simon & Schuster).
Depending on budget and circumstances, some authors who do pre-pub tours will
also do the traditional tour to coincide with the book's release.

Publishers know they have to be very selective in their choices. Booksellers
will clear their calendars for only so many author dinners; in any case,
visits from too many authors diminish the general effectiveness of the pre-pub
tour. The books have to dazzle. So, come to think of it, do the authors. Ms.
Brown, according to Simon & Schuster publicity director Victoria Meyer, "is
wonderfully charming and spectacular looking." Dan Brown, author of "The Da Vinci
Code," "is an appealing, charming and knowledgeable author," says Doubleday vice
president Suzanne Herz. "The pre-pub tour paid off in spades for that book."

Booksellers praise the innovation partly because it signals a publisher's
commitment to a book, partly because it calls their attention to a galley they
might otherwise have overlooked. "We hadn't paid any attention to 'Cold
Mountain' until Frazier came in," says Carla Cohen, co-owner of Politics and Prose in
Washington, D.C. "But he was so charming and so self-deprecating, and it was
fun to be with him, so it made us want to read the book." And order it big.

Booksellers say they can recall no author whose appearance did a disservice
to the marketing efforts; publishers insist they can think of no author they
should have kept at home working on the next book. "Be assured," says Random
House's Carol Schneider, "that we always have writers come and meet with us
before we decide to send them on the road."

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