When Dan’s book, Sons of Wichita, came out in May, he received a flood of good press, from Vanity Fair to the Financial Times. The Washington Post called it a “riveting biography… fair-minded and inquisitive.” The New York Times ran a positive review and then selected it as an “editor’s choice.” Dan was asked to come on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, one of the most important media bookings in publishing, and then showed up on various TV and radio shows. Then after all of the good media, he got invited to the show that most authors dream of getting on: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
Dan’s book debuted at number 16 on the New York Times bestseller nonfiction hardcover list, not bad considering his book was released at exactly the same time Hachette and Amazon began their battle with each other. Amazon refused to discount Dan’s book from its $30 list price and told customers on his book page that it would take three to four weeks for delivery, even though there were thousands of books available in the warehouse. Amazon made sure its customers knew that the Kindle version of the book was available for immediate download for only $14.99. (Dan’s royalty rate for an ebook book is nearly half the royalty rate for his hardcover.) Luckily, there were plenty of physical books available at Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores around the country, thanks to Hachette’s sales and distribution network.
Months later, Dana’s book, The Teacher Wars, came out just in time for the back-to-school market. She, too, was able to get an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, but the real game-changer for her success was a glowing Sunday New York Times book review right before book release and then, the very next day, an equally glowing review in the New York Times' Monday edition. After the opening week, Dana’s book hit number eight on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list, behind celebrity books like Phil Robertson's unPHILtered and a memoir by Joan Rivers, who’d passed away that week.
Dan and Dana: Two New York Times bestselling authors who needed the skills of an entire team of publishing professionals to help them on their publishing journey. Today Dana’s book is in its fifth printing. And Dan’s book continues to sell well despite Hachette’s continued fight with Amazon.
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People always seem surprised when I tell them the publishing business is doing just fine. They expect me to share tales of woe and misery—and incompetence. I remain optimistic. For every forgettable snarky Facebook rant, for every counterintuitive, impermanent let-me-explain-the-world-to-you thought piece, for every formulaic superhero movie or sitcom, there grows a place in the hearts of thoughtful readers out there for works by writers like Dan and Dana.
Our culture will continue to churn out ephemera online (including, ironically, this piece), and we old schoolers in publishing will continue to chug along at our own slow pace. That’s because we know that no matter what else is out there, readers still want deep, meaningful work that can take years to produce. Isn’t it telling that two of the most successful novels this year, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Goldfinch, and the National Book Award Finalist All the Light We Cannot See, took ten years for the authors to finish?
For the Amazon proselytizers, the publishing revolution is here. In the meantime, Dan and I will continue to meet for beers or whiskey to talk about his next book idea. And I’ll have lunch with Dana when the time is right to talk about hers. Maybe it’ll be in a month. Maybe it’ll take another year. We’ll be around.