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USA Today Bestseller List Predictions


I’m starting a new column for Wednesdays on USA Today Bestseller list predictions. There were a few books that were on sale last week that had street dates for Tuesday, September 25, 2007. The most notable one was JR Ward’s Lover Unbound. According to Bookscan, purchases of Ward’s book were made as early as two weeks ago which is bound to hurt the official street date week’s sales. She didn’t make it onto the USA Today list last week and I don’t think she’ll make it on this week either. In fact, according to the sales recorded by Bookscan, Monica McCarty, a new historical romance author, is outselling Ward. Would that be true overall? Probably not. I would expect to find Ward in more non traditional book locations like Wal-Mart and drugstores and grocery stores who may not be reporting point of sales data to Bookscan.

I think McCarty’s success is interesting. She writes historical romances set in early 17th C Scotland. By most accounts, historical books are selling by author meaning that historical romance readers tend to buy the romance authors they recognize. McCarty’s first book was release in August and I had not seen any significant buzz campaign for her books prior to their release so name recognition can’t be the reason that she has been selling so well. Obviously word of mouth is helping to propel the Highlander series sales. I think McCarty’s success shows that there is definitely readers for the historical genre and readers who are interested in something other than Regency England.

Seaside Avenue
by Debbie Macomber was number 1 last week and I would expect that to remain unchanged. Nora Roberts’ In Death books are categorized as mysteries so it doesn’t show up on the Romance only bookscan report. However, given her past track record (and the fact that I think this is a really good In Death book), it’s likely to stay in the top 25. Beyond Seduction is in the number 2 position on Bookscan and while there is some drop in numbers, I would think that it wouldn’t drop tremendously. Overall, I don’t see much change other than the books that were on the list last week other than a slight drop for the big name books.

We’ll see tomorrow how close I am.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Jill Myles
    Sep 26, 2007 @ 15:25:36

    I’m curious – exactly how expensive is a Bookscan subscription?

    And I think JR Ward will still place high on the list. I also think Katie Macalister will be on the list, but higher up on it.

  2. Jill Myles
    Sep 26, 2007 @ 15:28:05

    And I, too, am morbidly curious about Monica McCarty’s novels. She’s sold so well and I see her name EVERYWHERE. I’m going to have to pick up one of her books, even though Scottish books are not on my auto-buy list.

    Do you know if she’s one of those that writes out brogue or doesn’t (a la Julie Garwood)? I much prefer no brogue.

  3. Wendy
    Sep 26, 2007 @ 15:28:35

    I think the McCarty success is interesting as well. I attribute it to a few things.

    1) The bare-naked manly chests on the book covers. Those seem to sell well. Gee, wonder why?

    2) I think many historical readers have reached “panic mode.” I know a lot of historical readers who are on listservs (but don’t blog or go to message boards) who are positively wailing over the “demise” of the historical romance. So honestly, I think some of them are starting to buy a lot more of their books “new” than they used to. I know if there’s a western historical out that I’m even remotely interested in I make a point of buying it new to support the genre.

    3) The Scottish theme. They’re very popular, but you don’t see a ton of books published in this setting, like say, Regency England. I know oodles of readers who love Scottish historicals and while there’s usually a decent stream of them, you never really see a “glut.” At least I haven’t in my short romance-reading lifetime.

    4) The trilogy was released in consecutive months. I know this is hard on publishers/authors, but I truly think it helps build a fan base/momentum. Readers read the first book, then don’t have to “wait” that long for the second book. Just a few weeks! It’s the “what have you done for me lately” mentality. By releasing the books quickly, back-to-back, there’s not time for the reader to “forget about you.”

  4. Jane
    Sep 26, 2007 @ 15:32:34

    Jill- the subscription is $50? I think if you are a member of RWA. It’s a romance only list. Katie MacAllister – i can’t remember. I would have to check but I think she does sell really well. There was some faux Scottish brogue in it but not like say, Julie Garwood did. The one book I read was really well integrated into the time period. The story just didn’t move me.

    Wendy – I think the back to back does really sell well. Bantam/Ballantine marketing was genius to come up with this idea and frankly I don’t know why they don’t do it more often. Maybe it has to do with the authors’ inability to write fast enough.

  5. Meljean
    Sep 26, 2007 @ 16:15:23

    It’ll be interesting to see how Ward places after the official shelving date, then — and I wonder why her publisher didn’t insist on a hard laydown? It seems that they’d want the series to place as high as possible, considering that she’s making the move to hardcover next year.

    I bought one of McCarty’s books (I think because of a review here) but haven’t had time to read it yet — but I noticed they’re showing up at my grocery store, which almost never carries newbies.

  6. Jane
    Sep 26, 2007 @ 16:21:10

    I think that Ward did have an official laydown date, but I know that Target and Wal-mart don’t pay attention to those. And what is a publisher going to do – not send the books to those places in the future?

    I also know that Ingram distributors sent the books early. I wonder if the publisher pays the distributor for the lay down date or bookstores?

  7. Jill Myles
    Sep 26, 2007 @ 16:23:45

    Well, there’s another reason to join RWA. *g*

  8. Ann Bruce
    Sep 26, 2007 @ 16:39:37

    To be honest, when I saw McCarty, I thought of Sarah McCarty. Could other readers be making the same mistake?

  9. Jami Alden
    Sep 26, 2007 @ 17:44:30

    I’ve heard NAL is notoriously bad about enforcing laydown dates, even for really big authors like Ward – authors routinely show up on bookscan a week or two before release date. And to answer Jill – Monica McCarty doesn’t do the brogue thing.

  10. Caroline
    Sep 26, 2007 @ 20:48:01

    Monica’s books are somewhat out of the ordinary in that they are more historical fiction that emphasizes a romance plot: she bases them on real people in the historic record (yes, she is a friend of mine).

    But the Ballantine back-to-back-to-back model has been really successful in general. Allison Brennan and Tracy Ann Warren both did very well for them. I think it is hard to overestimate the impact strong publisher support and a high print run can have on launching a new author. Print runs for debut authors are as low as 20,000 in mass market (I have heard); Ballantine gives these debut authors a print run of 200,000+, and they promote the books, too. Just think how many more people can find a book if the print run is 200,000 than if it’s only 20,000 (or even 40,000, which is considered pretty good for a brand new author).

  11. Anji
    Sep 26, 2007 @ 22:46:22

    Ann Bruce said:
    To be honest, when I saw McCarty, I thought of Sarah McCarty. Could other readers be making the same mistake?

    Me too! But I now I’ve gotten curious about Monica McCarty’s books, and I added her most recent to my TBR pile. Does anyone know how connected the books in the series are – do you have to have read the other two books in the series in order to really appreciate the third book?

  12. Anne H
    Sep 27, 2007 @ 00:53:36

    I’ve read an email that Ward issued to her MB members requesting them not to buy the book before the street date. I’ve also read that some hardcore Ward fans feel guilty enough that they have done so that they intend to buy them again during the street date. I don’t know how true this is.

  13. RfP
    Sep 27, 2007 @ 03:42:33

    I've also read that some hardcore Ward fans feel guilty enough that they have done so that they intend to buy them again during the street date. I don't know how true this is.

    I’m sure it’s true. Hardcore fans will do things like that.

    I think a fan club can make a difference in those crucial first couple weeks that determine whether a book makes a “list”. (The way those lists are created and calculated is ridiculous, but that’s another topic.)

    However, I doubt that a fan club makes much difference in the longer run–which is what matters more to the author’s career. A book can be hot for two weeks but not meet the publisher’s expectations for total sales.

  14. Jackie L.
    Sep 27, 2007 @ 14:42:25

    Christine Feehan asked her fans to buy her first hardbound on the release date so she could hit NYT Bestseller list. I think it topped at number 3. As a reader, I am more interested in the NYT list than USA Today, because my favorite authors all say, “NYT Bestselling author.” I am probably not alone. So I would say asking fans to buy to help numbers can impact the author’s career.

  15. Julie Leto
    Sep 27, 2007 @ 14:53:03

    To get the entire Bookscan list, which is much more comprehensive, it costs $5K a year, I believe. I was able, when my agent did a trial membership, to see not only how many books I sold at which retailers, but also in which cities. It was interesting.

    From what I understand and I could be wrong, NYTimes is based on orders and USA Today is based on actual sales. Does anyone know if this is a publishing urban legend?

  16. Jane
    Sep 27, 2007 @ 15:52:55

    According to the research I did (alot of it from Dr. Alan Sorensen’s papers for Stanford), the NYT is based alot on presales (which I guess would be orders). The booksellers get a list of books that NYT perceives to be bestsellers and then the booksellers are allowed to rank them. There is a space for them to write in any books that are not on the list but are moving.

    USAToday says that it is a statistical sampling of reported sales but I think that they get numbers from distributors too.

  17. CM
    Oct 03, 2007 @ 09:13:20

    I thought, when I first saw this, that I would be absolutely shocked if J.R. Ward didn’t make the NYT list, let alone the USA Today list, after her official release date. Now I really wish I had posted at the time. :)

    On Thursday, I went to get Lover Unbound. My local Borders–which is reputed to be one of the NYT-reporting Borders, and so gets wonderful attention–had already sold out.

    And I just checked–J.R. Ward’s Bookscan numbers for the week ending 9/30 are . . . high. Extraordinarily so. Wow.

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