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The Accidental Bestseller

4 December 2017

From Publishers Weekly:

Some books arrive labeled “can’t miss,” or have such a hefty advance that publishers do everything they can to assure that they won’t miss. But what about the sleepers? Those books that worked their way through the publishing pipeline quietly, launch with little buzz, and somehow find their way to bestseller lists anyway? Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie had been abandoned unread in a box when an editor went on maternity leave and decided not to return. Dusted off and published by her replacement, it has sold 8.8 million copies. Jeff Kinney’s now international bestseller Diary of a Wimpy Kid initially met resistance at Abrams, where some wondered whether kids would buy a book that they could already read for free online at the Poptropica site. Random House acquired Wonder by R.J. Palacio, a first novel published under a pseudonym, for a modest advance. Even those with the highest hopes for that book didn’t dream it would sell two million copies, spend 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and spawn a movement about the importance of being kind.

Nobody loves a good story more than an editor, so we asked editors to tell us how they came to publish their favorite buzzless bestsellers.

. . . .

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site
by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
(Chronicle, 2011)

I found Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site buried in our bin of unsolicited manuscripts and I was immediately taken with the concept, the sweetness of the text, and the pitch-perfect title (which never changed). I also responded to the author’s story about how the book came to be. In her cover letter, she described a nighttime routine in which she helped her sons settle down by saying good night to all the things they loved—which, for one of her boys, always included trucks. I thought this was a brilliant approach to bedtime and could see how it would benefit moms and dads of truck-obsessed kids everywhere.

My second thought, though, was that the concept of a bedtime book about trucks was so natural and smart, that a similar book must exist already. I jumped online, but happily found no books that could come close to competing. I called Sherri to share my enthusiasm and make sure she hadn’t sold the book elsewhere. She was lovely to talk to—so excited about the opportunity and ready to collaborate and work hard. Now I didn’t just want to work on the book, I wanted the opportunity to work with this delightful and talented debut author. I took the manuscript to our acquisitions meeting with no doubt that it would pass—which it did, quite quickly and easily. Soon after, the designer, Amelia May Mack, and I were lucky enough to find the perfect illustrator in Tom Lichtenheld. I had the chance to see the book through from acquisition to publication, but I was living out of the country when it first hit the bestseller list. I was over-the-moon thrilled, but not really surprised. I only wished I could be home to celebrate with Sherri, Tom, and the wonderful creative team at Chronicle. —Mary Colgan

● Rinker sold Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site to Chronicle for a $4,000 advance. The title has been on the New York Times list for three years, with more than 850,000 copies in print and rights sold into 23 territories.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to Dave for the tip.

PG will note that Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site is a big favorite with the posterity of Mrs. PG and PG.

Big Publishing, Children's Books

One Comments to “The Accidental Bestseller”

  1. Lyle Blake Smythers

    “I was immediately taken with the concept … a nighttime routine in which she helped her sons settle down by saying good night to all the things they loved …”

    Has no one else made the connection to the extremely famous Goodnight Moon? Published in 1947, for God’s sake. There’s nothing wrong with doing a variation on a preexisting work, but the editor talks as if this kind of thing has never been done before. Oh, this one is with TRUCKS. Makes all the difference. Hope I don’t sound too cynical.

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