Hello, I hope you’re doing well! I just love this time of year, when the colder weather gives me a good excuse to guzzle giant mugs of hot cocoa with homemade whipped cream…YUM.
Before I get to the main topic of this post (“How Do Bestsellers Happen?!”), here are some very cool updates.
GOLDEN POPPY AWARDS – ROSA’S SONG
Rosa’s Song was selected as a Finalist for the 2022 CALIBA’s Golden Poppy book awards!
CALIBA is the California Independent Bookseller’s Association, and I’m so honored that the booksellers of my home state voted for Rosa’s Song! Thank you!! A total of five books were selected as finalists in the picture book category, and the full list of selected books across all genres and age groups is here.
I always feel at home in communities with thriving independent bookstores and public libraries, because book-filled spaces usually signal that people with expansive minds & hearts are nearby. If you want to better your community, please do support these types of businesses and organizations by purchasing merchandise, buying/borrowing books, donating, etc!
If you’re shopping for presents this season, remember that books make excellent gifts! You’re not just giving an object, but an entire experience, an entire new world.
Check out the excellent gift guide of picture books by LA-ist (part of Southern California Public Radio, KPCC).
THE PAPER KINGDOM – NUTMEG AWARD NOMINEE
The Paper Kingdom continues its amazing journey! The state of Connecticut contacted me a few months ago with news that The Paper Kingdom was nominated for the 2023 Nutmeg Book Award!! The full list of nominees is here.
Connecticut is another state that I absolutely love – I spent four years there for college, and the state is breathtaking. Beauty abounds. The best fall leaves EVER!!
You can listen to my short podcast interview with Nutmeg Book Drops here:
SORA’S SEASHELLS – COMING IN 2023 (available for pre-order)!
I’m so in love with the watercolor images in my upcoming book, Sora’s Seashells (2023), that I framed some of the pages from the proof copy (AKA review copy) for an upstairs room. The book is available for pre-order now, and I think that once you hold a copy in your hands, you’ll agree with me that it’s a true work of art. The artists Stella Lim and Ji-Hyuk Kim have created some incredibly luminous watercolor spreads.
NEW BOOK DEAL – THE NO-SHOES HOME
I have a new book deal!! I announced this on social media a few months ago, but in case you missed it, here’s the announcement for The No-Shoes Home.
The No-Shoes Home is a story about learning to treasure family traditions. As a kid, I got annoyed sometimes about having to remove my shoes before entering my home. I was also embarrassed when I had to introduce my non-Asian friends to our no-shoes rule, which my mother upheld religiously, even when the plumber or handyman stopped by The publication date is a few years away, but I can’t wait for you to meet Mina and her hilarious friends!
The illustrator, Myo Yim, is based in Australia, and her work is incredibly charming and whimsical. And boy oh boy, what a treat to work with my lovely editor Maria and the team at Random House Studio on another book!
STORYBOOK WONDERS – ART SHOW IN NYC!
If you’ll be in Manhattan this month, Storybook Wonders is a cool art show to check out! My lovely friend & talented artist Colleen Kong-Savage and other children’s books illustrators will be showcasing their amazing artwork through January 6, 2023. Ohhh I wish I could attend the reception on December 7th to see/meet everyone!
AN EXCELLENT PODCAST – BLOOD, SWEAT & ROCKETS
My friend and author/professor/aerospace expert MG Lord hosts a phenomenal new podcast by LAist (Southern California radio), entitled Blood, Sweat & Rockets. You’ll get a lot of interesting (and scandalous) info for your next cocktail party! The podcast delves into the tumultuous history of Pasadena’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and even weaves in some details about a murder and “sex magic”! Here’s an intriguing teaser.
MAIN TOPIC – HOW DO BESTSELLERS HAPPEN??!
Now, on to the main topic. A lovely reader Elizabeth wrote an email to me: “How does a book become a bestseller?” She wondered if some writers might have inside connections to the publishing industry.
This is a great question, and one that I certainly would love to know the answer to! What’s the secret sauce to making a bestseller?! Tell me, TELL ME!!!
Elizabeth is absolutely right that in some instances, certain books/authors receive a huge push from inside the publishing industry. For example, if a debut novel is represented by a bigshot agent and sells at auction to a Big 5 publisher, you can bet that the publisher will put an enormous amount of marketing/publicity muscle into that book – this usually involves massive spotlights, such as getting the book on the Today show, on huge influencers’ lists (like Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine), etc.
In most cases, the book probably deserves all the hoopla – it’s likely a captivating or important read. But in certain instances, you just scratch your head and wonder, “Why did this ‘meh’ book hit the NY Times Bestseller list, instead of the amazing book I read three weeks ago?”
The New York Times recently published an article that touches upon this very topic. Some authors had A LOT to say about this article. Especially regarding the fact that the publishing experience covered in the article is far more exciting than the norm.
Here’s another NY Times article, about best-selling author Colleen Hoover and her meteoric rise. I read her novel “It Ends with Us” at the start of the pandemic (mostly out of curiosity), and recently devoured her psychological thriller, “Verity.” Boy, am I humbled. As an English major, I was trained to favor literary fiction with beautiful language, and to cast a sneering, condescending eye towards commercial fiction. But while reading Colleen Hoover, I realized yet again that anyone who wants to become a traditionally-published author nowadays should absolutely read commercial bestsellers: I’m floored by the lightning pace, relatable characters, the overall readability. These are entertaining books with characters who seem to be simply conversing with you (no high-falutin language, no “innovative” structural elements that wow the critics, no pretense about being something they’re not). These books will never win illustrious awards, but they entertain, they move, they inspire.
So while some books land on bestseller lists by virtue of being authored by an industry giant (hello, Stephen King, Colleen Hoover, James Patterson!), some buzzy debut books often soar for one or two weeks. And then drop off as other buzzy debuts get released. (Side note: if you’re an aspiring author interested in building a lifelong writing career, it’s far better to write books that will have a long shelf life and will sell over years in a slow and steady kind of a way, rather than a splashy book that will die out after the hype. I know of writers who are all about the publicity, sales, and the attention, rather than the craft of storytelling – and those books tend to get an enormous amount of attention prior to release, and then the interest level sharply declines as people discover that it was all just a bunch of noise for a book that doesn’t resonate.)
My favorite type of bestseller is what’s known as the “sleeper hit”: a book that doesn’t necessarily land on bestseller lists right out of the gate, but eventually makes it there due to phenomenal word-of-mouth among readers. Case in point: the Young Adult (YA) novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (eventually made into the adorable movie, “Love Simon”).
Long before Simon became a movie, the book’s popularity began to crescendo among readers, surprising everyone in the publishing industry. I heard somewhere that the author received a small advance because nobody (apart from the acquiring editor and some early fans) expected the book to do so well. But it kept soaring because readers simply fell IN LOVE! I love stories like that, because that’s when you know a book is truly striking a chord with readers!
I had a tiny, fleeting taste of bestseller mania with The Paper Kingdom. In its first week of release, it hit #1 on the Indie Bestseller list, a list that represents sales at independent bookstores across the country. I still pinch myself whenever I see the list below!
And I know exactly why this happened: the NPR interview that I did with Pascal Campion. After that interview aired, I received a ton of emails from strangers who’d heard the segment. This made me curious about the impact of this phenomenal publicity on book sales, and sure enough, thanks to that single radio interview, copies sold out across the country within that week!
HOWEVER. Shortly afterwards, things took a turn. This all took place in late February/ early March 2020…and we know what happened in the world right at that time. THE PANDEMIC!! That’s right — everything started shutting down. My book events in SF, NY, and SD were cancelled, production timelines were delayed, publicity events were “indefinitely postponed.” The book remained out of stock due to emerging supply chain issues across the globe, and online retailers and brick-and-mortar bookstores couldn’t replenish their inventory of the book for several weeks. And – this part kind of breaks my heart – I was supposed to go on a national program to talk about The Paper Kingdom (even got instructions for getting to the studio and my own makeup room!), but that got completely scrapped as the pandemic raged on. Everyone was suddenly focused on the pandemic and what it meant. Book releases at that time were (understandably) NOT AT ALL a priority.
A part of me wonders what might’ve happened with The Paper Kingdom if the pandemic hadn’t happened right at the time of the book’s release, if the rising momentum of the book had gathered speed and copies were quickly replenished to meet demand. Oh well. Such is life. I try to live with gratitude despite setbacks. The good news is that even with all the production delays, event and publicity cancellations, etc., so many wonderful things happened along the book’s journey. It’s truly has had a life of its own, and I continually hear from readers from around the world, thanks to that book. In fact, I just received this amazing note from a lovely reader Andrea via Instagram the other day:
Anyway, you can imagine that if a book has a publicity blitz in its first few weeks of release (highlighted on NPR and other radio programs, the national news, national talk shows like the Today Show and Good Morning America, The New York Times, etc.) and all the stars align, it will land on all kinds of bestseller lists. And if it’s a book of quality and resonance, then it will live on and on, and enjoy “evergreen” status. My hope is to write and publish for as long as I can, so my goal is to write books that stand the test of time. But writing is HARD WORK, so we shall see!
Thanks to you and other readers of The Paper Kingdom, I was granted a really cool glimpse into how it feels to be “a bestseller” (especially when Hollywood came knocking on my door!), and I hope that someday, one of my books will grant me even greater insight into how a book becomes a bestseller. You can be sure I’ll give you the inside scoop if that ever happens!
Enjoy the holidays, and I’ll be back in a few months with some exciting updates. If you have suggestions for topics, please do email me at email@example.com (I was recently in Turkey & France…anyone interested in learning about some favorite spots in Paris or travel tips for Turkey? Or about a different topic related to writing/publishing? Anyone? Anyone???).
Oh! I can’t leave without mentioning a huge congrats to French author Annie Ernaux for winning the Nobel Prize in Literature! My dear friend Claude gifted me this book by Ms. Ernaux:
Be well, stay safe, and remember…books make fabulous gifts!