George R.R. Martin Interview

7 July 2016
George R.R. Martin talks about the Game of Thrones series that’s sold 58 million copies.  (He owns Robby the Robot!)

Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel

4 July 2016
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Margaret Mitchell wrote one book, Gone With the Wind, the bestselling novel of all time.  This is a documentary about her life.



Truman Capote, Groucho Marx and Dick Cavett

3 July 2016

On writers and writing.

Diana Gabaldon on Writing

2 July 2016

Bestselling author of the Outlander series, Diana Gabaldon reveals her personal writing habits and how she came to be a novelist.

J.K. Rowling’s chair sells for $394K

8 April 2016

From Page Six:

The humble chair J.K. Rowling sat on while writing the first two books of the Harry Potter series was auctioned in New York City on Wednesday for $394,000.

An anonymous private collector made the winning bid, Heritage Auctions said.

The chair is one of four mismatched chairs given to the then little-known writer for her flat in Edinburgh, Scotland, and which she used while writing “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.”

. . . .

The unassuming 1930s-era oak chair with a replacement burlap seat decorated with a red thistle sat in front of Rowling’s typewriter when she was “writing two of the most important books of the modern era,” said James Gannon, director of rare books at Heritage.

. . . .

Before Rowling donated the chair to the “Chair-rish a Child” auction in support of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in 2002, she painted the words “You may not/find me pretty/but don’t judge/on what you see” on the stiles and splats. She also signed the backrest in gold and rose colors and wrote “I wrote/Harry Potter/while sitting/on this chair” on the seat.

The word “Gryffindor,” the Hogwarts house of Harry, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, is spelled out on a cross stretcher.

The chair is accompanied by an original typed and signed letter Rowling wrote prior to the first auction.

It reads: “Dear new-owner-of-my-chair. I was given four mismatched dining room chairs in 1995 and this was the comfiest one, which is why it ended up stationed permanently in front of my typewriter, supporting me while I typed out ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ and ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’. My nostalgic side is quite sad to see it go, but my back isn’t. J. K. Rowling.”

Link to the rest at Page Six

Amazon Sales Rank: Taming the Algorithm

8 April 2016

From How-to for Authors:

We’re all familiar with Amazon’s sales rank, those tantalizing numbers that have driven authors to obsessively revisit their pages over and over in hopes of seeing their book climb through the ranks.

Yet, as a closely guarded secret, Amazon’s sales rank remains a perpetual source of confusion and myth.

“Why did my sales rank go down when I sold more books this week?”
“Why did my sales rank go up when I didn’t sell anything?!”
“How did the sales rank of this book leapfrog over mine when I’ve sold ten times as many books?”

Amazon won’t disclose their proprietary algorithms, but thanks to some clever analysis by indie authors, that formula has been reverse engineered. And once you understand that formula, the quirks of sales rank make much more sense, and you can use them to your advantage.

Amazon’s sales rank algorithm is surprisingly simple…

1. Each sale or download of a product counts as one point toward a hypothetical “rank score”.
2. Each day, the preceding day’s score decreases by half, and is added to today’s points.
3. For each category on Amazon, books are ranked based on their current scores.

. . . .

Sales rank is relative to other books.

A book does not exist in a vacuum. As your book rises in sales rank, it will displace other books. As other books rise through the ranks, your book may be pushed downwards. The constant churn in placement leads to the phenomenon where a book that hasn’t sold any copies rises in sales rank: the score of one or more books above it have declined at a faster rate, pushing the other books upwards in the rankings.

. . . .

Because the formula weights sales by recency, the effect of a sales spike quickly fades. The algorithm favors steady sales over a dramatic surge.

. . . .

High sales rank does not guarantee high placement in search results.

Sales rank plays a very minor role in determining the order of Amazon search results. Other factors such as relevance, keywords, sales history, product listing quality, and available inventory may influence Amazon’s algorithms. Therefore, a book with high sales rank may appear later in search results than lower-ranked books.

. . . .

Pre-orders are counted immediately.

Pre-orders are counted on the day the book is ordered, rather than on the date of the book’s release. This explains how books that have not yet been released may have a high sales rank, a common source of confusion.

Sales momentum is a key factor in the algorithm. The early boost from pre-orders have the potential to propel a title onto the Amazon charts faster and for a longer period of time than a launch day blitz alone would.

Link to the rest at How-to for Authors and thanks to Miguel for the tip.

Local John Grisham thinks his new book is so important he’s giving it away for free

24 February 2016

From The Washington Post:

There are no lawyers or courtrooms in John Grisham’s new thriller. There is not even a single bad guy.

The protagonist is Paul, a 35-year-old suburbanite with a pretty wife, three beautiful children, and a tumor quietly swelling in his brain. One day his wife hears a loud thump in the bathroom.

“She finds him on the floor,” Grisham writes, “shaking in a full-blown grand mal seizure.”

And so begins “The Tumor,” one of the stranger literary digressions in recent memory. Against the wishes of his agent, editor and publisher, the author famous for (and rich from) legal thrillers, from “The Firm” to “The Rogue Lawyer,” just published a free book whose hero is a medical device called focused ultrasound.

Grisham says it’s the most important book of his career.

. . . .

Focused ultrasound is a non-invasive treatment in development for cancer and other diseases that uses energy beams to destroy diseased tissues.

. . . .

Grisham, 61, lives near Charlottesville, not far from Neal Kassell, a prominent University of Virginia neurosurgeon who founded the Focused Ultrasound Foundation in 2006. They became friends, inhabiting the same social circle and wine tastings. Grisham calls Kassell his “personal brain surgeon,” although he has not needed his services.

About eight years ago, Kassell asked Grisham to join the foundation’s board.

. . . .

Grisham, despite his Southern charm and good-natured humor, wasn’t interested in pleading for cash.

“I’m not good at raising money,” Grisham said. “I don’t like to raise money. It’s been my experience that when I ask someone for money it’s not long before they return the favor.”

A few years ago, Grisham said he had a better, more organic way to employ his fame — by writing a book about the technology.

“I couldn’t think of a better way, in one fell swoop, to create awareness for this technology,” Kassell said.

But Grisham’s publishing industrial complex in New York was worried.

. . . .

The book is short, only 49 pages, and is available to download on Amazon or the foundation’s website. It includes illustrations, graphics and copies of brain scans, much like a promotional pamphlet at a doctor’s office.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

The Truth Behind Bestseller Lists

8 February 2016


It’s been just eight years since I worked on my first book launch campaign, but since that time I’ve worked with hundreds of authors in just about every marketing capacity you can imagine. I’ve played the role of publicist, community organizer, web developer, social media expert, and on and on.

In my various roles, I’ve bumped into The New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists many times.

I’ve helped launch two No. 1 New York Times bestsellers, and several top-five bestsellers. At one point, five of my clients had books on the NYT list at the same time. While I haven’t tracked The Wall Street Journal list as closely, I’ve had quite a few hits on that list as well.

. . . .

It’s true, bestseller lists are becoming obsolete. There are plenty of books that, despite never gracing the pages of WSJ or NYT, go on to sell thousands of copies, and have a great fanbase. However, the fact remains that having a New York Times or Wall Street Journal bestseller can greatly enhance your career.

Since the publishing industry still shows great deference to these lists, finding your name on them significantly impacts the advance on your next book contract.

If you’re a nonfiction author, and particularly if you write business books, bestseller lists mean more speaking gigs, higher consulting rates, higher visibility, and an enhanced reputation. They also mean more sales. If your book is a bestseller, it all of a sudden gets more copies on bookstore shelves and other promotions. It’s a self-feeding system.

Bestseller lists also mean more appearances in the media. NYT bestsellers get phone calls and emails from the media. And let’s face it: It matters because it’s pretty damn cool to be a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author. But the bottom line, especially if you have anything to do with the traditional publishing industry, is this: WSJ or NYT bestseller = more money for authors, publishers and agents.


If you ask a typical person this question—someone who has never descended into the muck of the behind-the-scenes reality of the bestseller lists—they’ll of course answer something like, “It’s a book that has sold tens of thousands of copies,” or, “It’s the book that has sold the most copies.”

How naive.

. . . .

WSJ builds its list based on the sales figures it gets from Nielson’s BookScan. In general, if you sell the most books in a category as reported by BookScan, you will hit No. 1 in that category on The Wall Street Journal bestseller list. Makes sense, right? Except that BookScan doesn’t track all purchases. It doesn’t include sales made through some big-box stores, such as Walmart and Sam’s Club, which doesn’t affect most of us. However, it also doesn’t include sales from CreateSpace and other self-publishing platforms, which affects thousands of authors.

But overall, BookScan is the most accurate data source, and reports about 75 percent to 85 percent of book sales, depending on who you ask.

. . . .

A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, as the saying goes.

NYT keeps a tight lid on its process for selecting bestsellers. It is known that NYT samples its own list of certain booksellers across the country—though which ones make the cut are a tightly guarded secret—then look at the data with wise NYTbrains, and decide whom they think should be on the list.

It’s said that this is done to keep people from gaming the system, which is partially true. But it’s also done so that The New York Times can have a say about which books get the extra credibility of being named a bestseller.

I’m certainly not the only one who sees potential problems with this system.

Remember: NYT and WSJ list = more money.

So a small group of people look at highly selective data to decide whom they deem important enough to be called a “New York Times bestseller.” At this point, we’ve come pretty far from “the books that sell the most copies.” We’ve laid some groundwork, so now I can share the really weird stuff.

. . . .

A friend of mine has access to the weekly Nielson BookScan numbers—that organization that tracks 75 percent to 85 percent of book sales. Last year, he decided to go back and compare BookScan numbers to the NYT bestseller list to see if he could find anything interesting.

Since NYT does its own secret reporting and choosing, he wanted to see if he could find any signs of bias.

Here are two conclusions he gathered from his own personal research, comparing real BookScan sales figures to the books deemed by NYT staff to be bestsellers:

  1. If you happen to work for The New York Times and have a book out, your book is more likely to stay on the list longer and have a higher ranking than books not written by New York Times employees.
  2. If you happen to have written a conservative-political-leaning book, you’re more likely to be ranked lower and drop off the list faster than those books with a more liberal political slant.

And another point:

Why the separate lists for digital and print copies? 

From an author’s standpoint, this is maddening. I’ve been involved with book launches that have sold more than enough copies to hit the bestseller lists, but because the numbers were split between digital and print, they didn’t make it. How arcane, and antiquated. In what world does it make sense that it matters whether I buy the book in paper or in digital format? I still bought the book. I still thought it was worth the money. But for some reason, the NYT and WSJ lists think paper counts as a sale more than digital.

Arcane and antiquated are the only nice words that can be used here. Readers aren’t concerned about modality, so why are bestseller lists?

. . . .

I think we can all agree that while we want the bestseller lists to reflect the bestselling books, we don’t want people to be able to buy their way onto the lists either, right? So the bestseller lists try to put some checks and balances in place to make sure people can’t do this.

So what happens? Book launderers start popping up. And how does book laundering work?

Let me explain:

Step 1. Find a book laundering firm. There’s a handful of them out there. ResultSource is the most well-known.

Step 2. Write them a check to cover their fee. They don’t work for free, after all.

Step 3. Write them another check—for your books. This check is to buy copies of your book. It depends on the campaign, but it’ll always number in the thousands. We’re trying to hit the bestseller lists here, after all.

Step 4. The firm launders the sales. It hires people all over the country to buy books through various retailers one at a time, using different credit cards, shipping addresses and billing addresses. This allows the sales to go through and show up as individual sales, instead of bulk purchases. These sales then get reported to Nielson BookScan.

Step 5. Pop the champagne corks. You’re now a bestseller.

. . . .

The New York Times samples different stores across the country and weighs book sales based on where they are purchased.

What does this mean?

It means that a hardcover copy of your book purchased on is counted differently than the same hardcover book purchased at indie bookstore X.

Link to the rest at and thanks to Barry for the tip.

This National Best Seller List Ignored 20k Book Sales

7 February 2016

From author Autumn Kalquist:

I’ve tried to research the best seller lists before, and finding numbers and real information was difficult. There were articles about the New York Times famously “snubbing” a few high-profile non-fiction authors and a few articles claiming the New York Times Best Seller list was corrupt. But there was nothing concrete that would apply to an average author like me.

When fiction authors discuss being “snubbed” and share how many sales it takes to actually hit the NYT lists, it is usually done quietly and in private, so that the world never knows. Despite being snubbed again and again, many writers still want to attach “New York Times Bestselling Author” to their name. I completely understand that; It’s an achievement that the traditional publishing industry rewards monetarily, and it’s a title that still garners respect.

There’s a reason no one speaks up. If the New York Times truly snubs authors and devises a fake Best Seller list, then publicly questioning their integrity would likely land you on their blacklist, jeopardizing your future chances to find a spot on their coveted (and curated) list. Which might lead you to wonder why I’m crazy enough to post this in the first place.

. . . .

So I’m sharing in the hope my experience will illuminate the way the Best Seller lists really work and be helpful to other authors and readers in some way. And maybe someday “All the News That’s Fit to Print” will include the truth.

. . . .

 Finally, in February 2014, I borrowed $750.00 from the family checking account in order to pay my editor and cover designer so I could publish my first book, Legacy Code. With a young child at home and my husband starting a new career, the money seemed a dangerous amount to gamble on a fiction book.

Every week we asked whether we could stand eating more beans so we could keep the electricity on, and every month we wondered how we’d ever pay off the accumulating late fees on every bill. When I called the creditors to work out a different payment plan, they turned me down after determining we had no money left over at all. I’d shown them our budget, which I’d already chopped to the bone. My husband and I had a five-year plan that was more like blind faith. In five years, he would be well-settled in his career, I would be making money from my writing, and we would finally be able to pay all our bills on time.

This was the worst possible time to borrow $750.00 from the checking account. But I was deeply passionate about my series and the story I needed to tell. I’d written a longer book in the same series first, but I knew there was no way we could afford to pay to have it professionally edited. So I went back and wrote a prequel story that could be contained in fewer pages.

The story took on a life of its own, words bleeding out of me onto the page. I wrote quickly, waking up at dawn and racing the clock every afternoon until naptime ended.

. . . .

I started down my path, connecting with one reader at a time. I also learned about the industry and studied what the big publishers did to get books in the hands of readers. I earned back the money we’d invested, and I dedicated myself to finishing Paragon, the book’s sequel.

It took months of writing, but I got Paragon written. Every extra dime I’d saved from my sales of Legacy Code went to paying for the cover, editing, and my other overhead costs. In a few months, I had sold enough copies of Paragon and made enough money to qualify for membership in the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, so I proudly joined.

. . . .

When I finally released a prequel novella to Legacy Code called Better World in June 2015, things began to really pick up. I’d sold well over ten thousand copies of the first two books by then and had given away more than 50,000 copies during free promotions, but having three books available made things snowball.

Within the next eight months, I had thousands of reviews across the 3 books and 2 short stories in my series and my newsletter had ballooned to over 16,000 subscribers. I finally had the funds to pour my heart and soul into one big promotion—for an omnibus collection of my first three short books. I wanted to do something that could help me reach more readers than ever before.

. . . .

 Last week (January 24th – January 31st), friends, readers, and book deal sites shared my Fractured Era Bundle. I dreamed of selling enough copies to possibly hit the USA TODAY best seller list. I knew I needed at least 500 sales on Nook for my sales to be taken seriously by the national lists, so I was nervous. (Many authors, including me, sell something like 10 e-books on Amazon for every 1 or 2 e-books we sell on the other vendors.)

I barely slept as the bundle rose to the top of the e-book best seller charts. In eight days, I had more than 1,000 US sales through Barnes & Noble and nearly 1,000 US sales through Apple and hit the goal. I sold most of my books through, bringing the total to more than 20,000 US sales. The USA TODAY reporting week runs from Monday through Sunday, and I’d had ~19,400 sales for that week. The New York Times Best Seller list had only ever been a distant possibility for me, but I’d sold nearly 20,000 copies during their reporting week, which runs Sunday through Saturday.

Other New York Times bestselling authors (independent authors like me) thought I had a real chance for both lists with 20,000 sales. But they warned me: the USA TODAY list reported based on straight sales and was a reflection of true national sales for the week. The New York Times “curates” their list, and had snubbed self-published authors in the past. I was told it was possible they’d “curate” me off the list no matter how much I’d sold.

. . . .

The day the USA TODAY Best Seller list refreshed, I couldn’t look at it. At 3:55pm, I left my office and did everything I could to avoid seeing where I’d ranked. After showering, dressing, and running through every possible superstitious-writer behavior I have, (Candle, check. Music, check. Special writing rings, check.) I finally felt brave enough at 4:38pm to go back to my computer. The first page of the USA TODAY list had refreshed, so I kept clicking.

Fractured Era was #16th on the list.

The list was a total ranking of every book, every genre, every format – print and e-book… and my omnibus had been the 16th bestselling book in the country.

. . . .

 The New York Times had two lists I could qualify for – their Combined Print & E-Book List (with 20 slots) and their Fiction E-Book list (with 15 slots). Since only adult fiction could qualify for those lists, I quickly counted down the USA TODAY list – Fractured Era was the 12th most sold adult fiction book in the country. I had a chance. A good one.

. . . .

The New York Times privately releases the forthcoming week’s list the same day as USA TODAY refreshes at 5pm, and someone managed to get me screenshots of both lists I should have qualified for: the Combined Print & E-Book Best Seller List and the E-Book Best Seller List.

Fractured Era was missing.

“Sorry,” my author friends said. “You got snubbed… They don’t want you on there, but take heart, because this has happened to others before you. Maybe it’s because you have a bundle or because you sold it for $0.99.”

In response, I showed my friends screenshots of a recent mystery bundle that had hit NYT on January 24th at #19 and #11 on both lists. It was self-published, had no paperback version or ISBN, and had sold for $0.99. Clearly a three book “bundle” at $0.99 qualified. And Hugh Howey’s Wool Omnibus, which is a collection of shorter works in one book, had also hit when it was still self-published. As had many other single author and multi-author $0.99 book bundles in the past.

. . . .

 So I did more digging. I made spreadsheets, and I cross-checked my data to be sure what I was seeing was correct. According to USA TODAY, Fractured Era had outsold 10 of the 21 books chosen by the New York Times. And there was proof it had definitively outsold at least 3 of them during the New York Times reporting week. If the New York Times was ranking E-Books accurately, it meant Fractured Era had outsold eight of the fifteen books ranked on their E-book list.

. . . .

I wrote to the New York Times to make sure they’d received my sales numbers and to give them a chance to clear up the confusion. I shared all my research. All of it. I didn’t want to claim they’d “snubbed” me if they simply hadn’t seen my sales. I still couldn’t believe they’d purposely skip a book that sold 20,000 copies. I knew what it took to hit the fiction lists most weeks, and the number could be as few as 6,000 copies below what I had sold.

The Senior Editor of the Best Seller lists replied the next day with vague statements about their methodology, repeating all the things written on the New York Times website, and ignoring every single valid concern I’d raised. She said they rechecked the sales data and were confident they’d made the right choices. I was free to try again next week. (Read the Senior Editor’s reply at the bottom of the page.)

I was forced to face the reality: they had seen my sales, they’d read through my data, yet they’d still decided to exclude my book.

Link to the rest at Autumn Kalquist and thanks to Anthea and others for the tip.

Here’s a link to Autumn Kalquist’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

The Impact of Goodreads Choice Awards for Authors and Publishers

14 December 2015

From Goodreads:

For authors, winning a Goodreads Choice Award—the only major book awards chosen by readers—represents a tremendous achievement. But the impact can be far greater than most people realize.

Winning a Goodreads Choice Award can boost a book—even a bestselling book—into higher levels of awareness and drive more sales. Case in point: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, which won Best Historical Fiction in this year’s Goodreads Choice Awards.


Before its win, about 475 people were adding The Nightingale to their shelves each day. Compared to most other books, this is impressive (especially for a book published nine months earlier) and enough to make the book a bestseller. Additionally, the book has really resonated with readers, boasting an almost-unheard-of 4.53 average rating based on more than 83,000 ratings. (The more people rate a book, the harder it is to maintain a very high average rating as no book is the perfect fit for every single reader.)

But the Goodreads Choice Awards was about to take it even further. On the day it was announced as the winner for Best Historical Fiction, about 9,300 people added it. That’s more than an 1800% increase!

. . . .

For a book like The Nightingale, winning the Goodreads Choice Award is especially important. As Kristin Hannah herself said in a recent post on Facebook, “Most year’s best lists are compiled by critics who don’t even consider commercial fiction (especially novels by, for, and/or about women), so it is so important—and meaningful—to hear what real readers love.”

Link to the rest at Goodreads and thanks to Suzanne for the tip.

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