Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Surprise! Stephen King Has a New Post-Apocalyptic Book Out…

No, really. Surprised?

No, not about it being post-apocalyptic. This is Stephen King so that was kind of duh.

I’m talking about the fact that he has an actual book out. I have to admit that when I first heard about it, I asked, “Didn’t he retire?” but I said the same thing when the Colorado Kid came out and that book with Stewart O’Nan. Maybe those didn’t count because they were different then say, The Stand. You know, the one about a post-apocalyptic world where good and evil square off and people search for a common ground with those who are left.

Not to be confused with this post-apocalyptic book, which is called The Cell and totally different.

I kid, I kid. Not about them being different—they are—but about needling King. I like the guy. I like his monthly columns in Entertainment Weekly. I like his legions of fans who spend their money at my bookstore so they can have the Dark Tower Series in all the same size because they MUST BE THE SAME SIZE ON THE BOOKSHELF, DAMN IT, OR IT DOESN’T LOOK RIGHT.

Gee, you think I hear that often?

The same size, by the way, is most often trade (the size in which they bought the first four Dark Tower books), but they also have to own them in hardback because they just can’t wait for the books to transition to trade...which means more money for me.

I love, love King’s fans—I’m such a book whore—and I love their enthusiasm, but I’ve never seen a more surprised group of people when I put this new novel out today.

Why?

Because they hadn’t heard about it.

Seriously, where was the advertising on this? I went to King’s website and there’s a nice blurb telling about how Scribner, Amazon.com, and Entertainment Weekly are doing these amazing promotions, and all I could think was, “Really? Where?”

Sure enough, there’s a cool clip you can watch on Amazon (it’s on the opening page and on the book page) where Bill Maher interviews King, but I don’t remember seeing it yesterday when I was browsing the book selection.

And there’s an excerpt of the book on EW Online, and in the magazine (apparently the first time they’ve ever included a fiction excerpt, which seems appropriate given that King’s a living sponge for pop culture) this last week, but you’d only know that if you picked up EW regularly.

Oh, and the Scribner stuff? Well, I haven’t seen it and neither have the other managers in my company. Our District Manager had to make us signage (lovingly photoshopped) to try to drum up reservations. There were no posters, or flyers, or even bookmarks (and y’all know how I feel about bookmarks, but in this case I would have taken them).

I mean it’s not like I’m asking for an Advanced Reader Copy here, people, just a little help from the Publishing Powers that Be at Scribners to help with the drumming up of sales.

‘Cause today? I sold two copies of King’s new book.

That’s right: two.

Wanna know how many copies of J.D. Robb’s newest book I’d sold by the end of my eight hour shift?

Eight and that was just me. Other people were ringing customers too.

This is not because I have more Robb than King readers. Oh no, this is because people knew about the Robb book. There had been advertising, a media campaign, a freakin’ sign up in my store telling customers the arrival date. Anticipation was built months in advance.

I didn’t have a whole group of her readers standing around going, “Wait a minute, J.D. Robb has a new book out? Why didn’t I hear about this?”

In the case of King’s book, I must ask, “Why indeed?”

Customers, as I’ve said before, need reassurance. They need to be told, “This is a great book and everyone is going to be buying it because it’s everywhere, Man!”

When they don’t hear anything they get skittish. They hesitate.

They don’t buy.

Again and again today I watched it happen. They came in, saw King’s name, picked up the book and frowned. Then they put it back. Some came to the counter and asked me if I’d heard anything about it.

“PW seemed to like it,” I would respond—I didn’t yet know about the Amazon interview or the Entertainment Weekly excerpt (my copies for the week never got delivered).

“Oh,” they would say, biting their lip, or frowning, or fill in your sign of distress here. “I’ll have to think about it then.”

Very few came back with the book to buy. So for King—in my store—it was a very slow first day.

I’m not claiming my store is typical and this is happening everywhere—maybe my state was left off the advertising map (though who knows why because they LOVE King around here)—but from what I’ve heard from my other managers, the customers seem to be confused.

“There’s a new King novel out? Why haven’t I heard about this?”

I just don’t know.

Maybe the publishing house thought the branding of a “Stephen King” book would sell itself, no help needed.

Maybe they just wanted to have more publicity focused around the actual release date?

Maybe Jupiter aligned with Mars and there really has been an apocalyptic event caused by cell phones that affected the publicity and I just don’t know it because I hate my cell phone with an everlovin’ passion.

Who knows? But what the hell am I going to tell my customers when they do what I did and ask, “A new book? Why didn’t I hear about this? Didn’t he retire?”

Somehow I think, “Don’t ask me, kids. I’m just here to take your money,” won’t cut it, and they might look at me a little funny if I blame the apocalypse.

Thoughts?

10 comments:

jmc said...

I'm not a Stephen King fan, so I don't seek out information about new releases, but I still usually know when new books are coming from major authors. I wouldn't have known about the release, but for the fact that I was fiddling around with my library's online catalog on Monday. The library recently added the release date to the catalog records of books on order so that when a user puts the book on reserve prior to the release, they know when the book will be made available to them. Being an avid Robb reader but presently impecunious, I've got Memory in Death on reserve. When I clicked on the new link in the record, it showed me all of the books in the library's catalog that were being released yesterday, namely the Robb book and Stephen King.

I'm a surprised that so little advance publicity has gone into the release. I keep hearing that blockbuster authors are no longer guaranteed to be money makers, but how can a publishing house expect a lot of buying if they don't encourange any buzz?

Bookseller Chick said...

Apparently there was some sort of cell phone spamming going on (I hear this from Diana Peterfund--I hope I spelled her name right), but only to people who approved it? I'm trying to get a link to the story. Maybe this is a sign of a failed marketing plan, good in theory but bad in practice. Maybe they just thought they could exist on the King name and publicity already in place.

It used to be that blockbuster authors got all the publicity and the midlisters were left in the dust, but these days publicity seems pretty hit or miss. Or maybe it's that publicity people aren't keeping up with the market. Last year Patterson fired his whole publicity group (although that might be because they made him look like a sad turtle looking for luuuurve in the personals in all of his pictures, I kid you not), and now he's blitzing us--I get ARCs, bags, posters, everything.

Blockbuster authors are no longer guaranteed money-makers if the author doesn't put out a good book (people value what their friends are saying), or if their books go through an outragous price change (to the thirty dollar hardback from the $24.95 hardback). Still people listen to people and if their friends are all doing it then they will at least think about it. Look at the Da Vinci Code. I remember reading once that the publisher blitzed bookstores and reviewers with ARCs, hitting everyone and creating a viral word of mouth.

Was it a great story with great writing? No.

But did it capture the imagination enough and make you keep reading because of the accelerated pace caused by the short chapter format? Heck, yeah. And then if you liked it you told a friend...who told a friend...who told a friend, and so on.

With the Stephen King thing I feel like we missed that step, but maybe it's been delayed. Maybe when people read their EW or click onto Amazon they'll see what they are missing. Who knows.

I'll see what happens today.

MaryJanice Davidson said...

I love this blog. It's my favorite blog on the web. I'm a writer (Undead and Unwed, Hello Gorgeous, etc.) and it is just so fascinating to read about this business from the bookseller's point of view. I check your blog all the time and learn something new every time. Please never stop! :-)

jmc said...

Clearly, the publicity in conjunction with the topic/style/whatever people like about The DaVinci Code worked. I think I'm the last person left in the world who has not read it...and who has no plan to do so, even after the mmp release. I pimp books to a lot of my friends who don't read that much; DVC is the one book that they've all read and they always want to talk to me about it. They get these perplexed looks on their faces when I say I haven't read it, as if they heard the words but don't comprehend them.

Bookseller Chick said...

Maryjanice, hi! Thanks. I don't plan on stopping anytime soon. I'm glad that you like the blog, and your fans always amuse me because they are much more informed about you than I am (and they're not afraid to tell me). So thanks for the informative fans, and let me know if there's any area that you want to know about.

jmc, to tell you the truth I probably wouldn't have read the Da Vinci Code if I hadn't read it way, waaaaay back before many others had. I get very picky when people get in my face and claim that I "must read this!!!!" (with possibly even more exclamation points than I used). Are you missing anything by not reading it? In my professional (a term I use loosely) opinion? No. The only thing you are missing is being able to talk about it with your friends and being able to make your opinion on the book that took over America. Remind your friends that the world will not end, you do not need become enlightened on Jesus's "true" life (something that has been debated for so long but only became a hot topic because of Dan Brown, oh how that erks me) to be fulfilled, nor is the DVC the be all end all of literature. It's a book. A work of fiction. Popularity be damned.

If it makes you feel any better I'm apparently the last person on earth who has NOT read Tuesdays with Morrie, and ooooh how the customers lecture.

jmc said...

Um, if you are the last person who has NOT read Tuesdays with Morrie, then I'm the second to last. Except my reason for not reading is more specific than with DVC: in this case, I dislike Mitch Albom's reporting (and writing) style.

MaryJanice said...

I haven't read TwM either, but I did pick up CELL and the new J.D. Robb, both on Tuesday. I knew about the King book because I saw it on Amazon. Interestingly, though I write in the genre, I had no idea Robb had a new book out until I saw it on the shelf. This means something! I just don't know what.

lady t said...

I'm on the Simon & Schuster e-mail list and they sent a Cell promo out on Tuesday(with a link to their website where
you can hear a "phone message" from Stephen King). Maybe it's due to King's changing publishers,the lack of publicity
push. Then again,I started working at a bookstore after he switched(I think)-when S&S first got him,they sent out
quite a few ARCS and interesting promos like the magnetic first chapter except from Bag of Bones.

Oh,and you can add me to the non TWM reading list and I confess to having not read the following:DaVinci Code,Midnight
in the Garden of Good and Evil,Poisonwood Bible and the Kite Runner.

Allison Brennan said...

Very interesting! I bought both Robb and King first week out . . . but I'm a book whore, too. I did hear about King's book, but only because of the PW review which I read weekly. And I saw that it was the top pre-seller on bn.com.

Thanks for a thought-provoking post . . . I'm bookmarking this blog, didn't know about it until someone sent me the link!

Jason said...

When the Cell came out, were any of you having Stephen King sightings? Let me know, cause with Lisey's out, I'm seeing him everywhere and I think it might be a marketing campaign.