"People think publishing is a business, but it's a casino."

The NYT's Sunday Business section asked, "What makes a best-seller?" and this three-page musing is their version of an answer. No real revelations, per se. What I found most fascinating was Shira Boss's interwoven explanation of what might have made Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep such a runaway hit:

When Ms. Sittenfeld was writing the novel, she recalled, colleagues said, “The boarding school book has already been written. Why are you doing it again?”

But after it became a best seller, Ms. Sittenfeld said, she heard the opposite: “Of course it did well! It’s a boarding school book!”

The publisher of “Prep” attributes the success, in addition to the story, to a catchy title and book cover and creative marketing and publicity. A team of four publicists made belts that matched the cover for giveaways, and sent splashy gift bags (holding pink and green flip-flops, the belt, notebooks, lip gloss) with the galleys to magazines. The pitch letter included photocopies of the publicists’ own high school yearbook photos.

So it goes like this, then? Free stuff x cute packaging + (decent story + marketable author) = best-seller.

Too bad my galley of Katherine Taylor's Rules for Saying Goodbye didn't come with a cocktail shaker! FS&G, you may have dropped the ball on that one. Jury's still out on whether that will effect the tempermental BookScan numbers...

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