Sarah’s Story: Keeping Up with an Instant Bestseller
by Kent Sturgis
It was a wild ride, starting the day John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate. The only biography in print about the young governor is the one we published in April. I had watched a small army of bloggers tout her for months, but in my wildest dreams I never thought she would be chosen.
Within minutes of the announcement on August 29, the phone began ringing off the hook at our office in Kenmore, WA. The first call was Barnes & Noble wanting to order 15,000 copies of Sarah: How a Hockey Mom Turned Alaska’s Political Establishment Upside Down, by Kaylene Johnson. The volume of incoming calls was so large that the bookkeeper, Eydie Carlson, and marketing assistant Josie DiBernardo had trouble making calls. Every time they hung up, the phone rang.
Scores of journalists called too, looking for the author, who lives in Palin’s hometown of Wasilla, AK. Johnson gave about 25 media interviews the first day. I suspect a bunch of information-hungry reporters who were caught flat-footed by McCain’s announcement all Googled the governor and found our book. Everyone wanted to talk to her.
Putting it mildly, it was an interesting and exhilarating Labor Day weekend at Epicenter Press.
On the day of the announcement, about 3,000 copies of the $19.95 hardcover edition of Sarah remained in Epicenter’s warehouse and in the Ingram system from two printings that had totaled 10,000 copies last spring. All were sold out within an hour of the Palin announcement.
The AP, New York Times, Washington Post, L.A. Times, Wall Street Journal, and broadcast and Internet media mentioned the book in their McCain-Palin coverage in the first 48 hours, with some including links to the Epicenter Web site.
We sold more than 200 hardcover copies in three days from our Web site.
The hardcover edition rose to as high as #7 in Amazon’s ratings during the weekend.
I and my partners—Lael Morgan, Dan Levant, and Victoria Michael—decided to release a new $15.95 trade paperback edition immediately and quickly arranged for a digital printing of 40,000 copies over the weekend with support from Epicenter’s distributor, Graphic Arts Center Publishing Co., and from Ingram Publisher Services and Lightning Source. When the paperback began shipping on September 3, advance orders for the new edition totaled about 72,000, and we planned to move to an offset printer to handle subsequent reprints, as needed.
Lightning Source sent a news release to the trade media promoting what might have been a new record. Finished copies were coming off the POD production line within about 15 hours after McCain’s announcement and less than six hours after we announced our new edition. .
Kaylene Johnson appeared on the McNeil-Lehrer Report and NPR and was scheduled to appear on Nightline and Good Morning America as this article was being written, with other bookings in the offing.
By the third day, the international press was calling, excerpts were sold to The Times of London, e-book editions were created for five platforms, and several other subsidiary rights deals, including an audio edition, were in the works.
As I write on September 4, wholesale orders are closing in on 100,000; IPS has shipped about 40,000 copies; we printed another 11,000 POD; and with print-brokering assistance by Lightning Source, we ordered our first offset reprint of 25,000 with a five-day turnaround. So far we’ve done five printings.Needless to say, there is a lot of discussion about the best strategy to minimize returns. We will get our first look at the sell-through numbers next week.
Yesterday morning I was interviewed for 12 minutes for a feature about the publishing phenom that will air on BBC’s Outlook. Epicenter Press got mentioned twice in The New York Times this week. I feel as if I am a character in a movie about an eccentric book publisher who copes (happily) with an overnight bestseller, which I guess I am. Working with the Ingram companies—Ingram, IPS, and Lightning Source—has been a great experience. These folks are a book-publishing SWAT team! I will keep you posted.
Kent Sturgis, formerly president of the PMA board, heads Epicenter Press, which specializes in nonfiction books about Alaska.