So, I was cruising the forums at Backspace, and stumbled upon this fabulous blog entry by best-selling author, Tess Gerritsen, in which she talks about the impact of print runs and what they mean for making the best-seller list. It's funny: before my book came out, all of my friends were like, "Oh, I can't wait to see you on the NY Times list!," and I'd just snicker because I knew it was such an impossibility. And as her blog indicates, yeah, it pretty much is. To make the best-seller list, you have to sell thousands per week. (I believe that 2k in hardcover is what I've read, though I might be wrong - correct me if so.)
From what I understand about print runs, which, btw, means how many books the publisher prints of your book (I know that's basic info, but some people might not know), the initial print run is basically based on how many pre-orders they have from their sales team. So - if the sales team has gone out there and sold the hell out of it, and Barnes and Noble wanted, say, 50,000 - your print run will sizeable. And this, when it comes to best-seller lists or really, even for your book to do well at all, is a tricky situation, sort of a self-fulfilling prophesy, if you will. Because if your print run is, say, 100,000, your book is going to be well-stocked in stores, so people will gravitate to it, simply because it will land in their hands, and because publishers will have a bigger incentive to buy co-op space, advertising, etc for it. But if, for some reason, the sales team screws the pooch, well, your book is screwed too because no matter how much promotion you do or if the buzz spreads like wildfire, if it's not in stores, it's simply not going to sell, much less reach the best-seller list. So the books with huge print runs are already given a huge leg up.
But - and this is where it gets interesting - these BIG books also have a lot more to lose, both for the author and the publisher. As Gerritsen notes on her blog, the books that have enormous print runs might have poor sell-throughs (the number of books sold compared the number of books printed), even though in total, they might have sold more than a book with a smaller run. Following? For example: a book with a 100,000 print run might sell 50,000, which is an okay sell-through, but a book with a 25,000 print run might sell 20,000, which is a much better return on the publisher's investment.
It's an interesting situation, and I don't know which I'd prefer. Probably the shot to at least make the best-seller list, but with these huge print runs comes a lot of pressure, and even though you have the machine of the publishing house behind you (which, incidentally, you really MUST have to reach the upper echelons of sales...I can't think of any book, barring perhaps, Sara Gruen's Water For Elephants, that took off without a HUGE publisher push and gobs of marketing/co-op money), you can certainly fall flat on your face. And the downside to that is that no one is going to give you a big advance again. In this industry, you don't get a lot of chances to prove yourself.
So which would you rather: start small and work your way up or start with a bang and hope to soar?