Bestsellers without buzz

Here’s an interesting article at Publisher’s Weekly: The Accidental Bestseller — Editors tell us the stories behind their sleeper hits

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.

Well, that’s a charming story. I mean, Because of Winn-Dixie and also this tidbit about its acquisition. Let’s see what other titles editors pick out as their favorite surprise bestsellers:

The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker … well, that’s certainly a cute title. I hear Goodnight Moon practically drives parents batty because their tots want it read to them every single night. Maybe those tots could be persuaded to mix it up with this one?

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead … yes, actually, this one is on my TBR pile.

Crank by Ellen Hopkins … sounds dark dark dark. It’s about a girl addicted to meth. Also, this cover:

I mean, dark.

There are seven others listed, including the cute spy school YA title I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter, which I have read, and this one, which sounds truly intriguing:

Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation by M.T. Anderson

The editor says: “So when Tobin got up to the podium and read these words: “I was raised in a gaunt house with a garden; my earliest recollections are of floating lights in the apple-trees,” I was filled with a mixture of emotions, but mostly terror. There were at least two words in the first hundred that were completely unknown to me….I had thought before that evening that Feed would be the highlight of my editorial career. And yet here was Tobin, confounding expectations and moving from the dystopian future into the heart of American history—and again overturning conventional thinking, this time about the Revolutionary War.”

First, what could the two words be? Using the Look Inside feature at Amazon, I propose that Pentateuch might have been one. I can’t guess about the other.

Second, the prose is quite something. So is the novel’s whole conception. Here’s the book description from Amazon:

It sounds like a fairy tale: He is a boy dressed in silks and white wigs and given the finest of classical educations. Raised by a group of rational philosophers known only by numbers, the boy and his mother — a princess in exile from a faraway land — are the only persons in their household assigned names. As the boy’s regal mother, Cassiopeia, entertains the house scholars with her beauty and wit, young Octavian begins to question the purpose behind his guardians’ fanatical studies. Only after he dares to open a forbidden door does he learn the hideous nature of their experiments — and his own chilling role in them. … this deeply provocative novel reimagines the past as an eerie place that has startling resonance for readers today.

Hard to quite imagine. I picked up a sample.

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9 thoughts on “Bestsellers without buzz”

  1. The Octavian Nothing books have been on my list of books to read ever since I saw the books at my college library. That was, uh, at least 11 years ago. I should probably move them up the list at some point…

  2. I should go through my TBR pile and either read or give away anything that’s been on it for more than a decade. I’m sure several books have. Maybe quite a few by this time.

  3. When You Reach Me is really charming – and sort of ties in with Wrinkle in Time, so it’d be fun to read when everyone is excited about the movie.

    There are much better books out there these days than good night moon. Paper Bag Princess and Baby Loves Quarks are a couple of our favorite board books.

  4. The Paper Bag Princess! I used to love that when I was a kid. Thanks for reminding me of it, Sarahz.

  5. It’s a great science board book – starts with “baby likes to build a tower with blocks…nature builds with quarks”. The science is solid, my 2 year old loves reading it, the art is good – it’s great. It’s part of a series. They’ve also got thermodynamics, aerospace engineering, and quantum physics, but quarks is the best.

  6. “asked to read every night”. That takes me way, way back. For me it was Millions of Cats, by Wanda Gàg.

  7. I would definitely have asked over and over for a book called “Millions of Cats!” That sounds perfect for me when I was a child.

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