Sunday, May 11, 2008

Like life, book sales are unpredictable

Patty here…

I was a featured author this past weekend at the Literary Guild of Orange County’s 15th Annual Festival of Women Authors, founded by Mystery Writers of America Raven Award winner, the indefatigable Joan Hansen. Each year, a panel of judges reads books, books, and more books and then taps eight diverse women writers to appear at the event. The 2008 authors were:

Maria Amparo Escandon’s novel, Esperanza’s Box of Saints, was translated into 21 languages and is available in 89 countries. She also wrote the screenplay for the film, which John Sayles produced.

Debby Applegate has a Ph.D. from Yale. In 2006, The Most Famous Man in America, her biography of preacher Henry Beecher Stowe (Harriet’s brother) was a finalist for the National Book Award. In 2007, the Pulitzer committee awarded the book a Pulitzer Prize for biography.

Not only was Christine Conrad an editor for Bantam and Warner Books, she also writes non fiction books as well as screenplays, including Junior, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Di Vito. She recently released her debut novel called Mademoiselle Benoir.

Nicole Mones was an entrepreneur in 1970’s China before young American women were allowed to do such things. She speaks fluent Chinese and has written three acclaimed novels based on her experiences: Lost in Translation (not the movie), A Cup of Light, and The Last Chinese Chef.

Mim Eichler Rivas is a biographer, ghostwriter, and spokesperson for animal welfare, non-violence, civil rights, and literacy. She co-wrote the film The Pursuit of Happyness, starring Will Smith and the bestselling book Finding Fish, the story of screenwriter Antwone Fisher.

Ann Stalcup is the author of ten children’s books. She has also published numerous other books and articles about her travels around the world.

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has a Ph.D. from Berkeley and writes novels about the clash between Indian and American values. She is a winner of the Allen Ginsburg Poetry Prize and many other awards. Her novels include Sister of My Heart, The Mistress of Spices, and The Vine of Desire.

All are smart, talented, and amusing women.

And then there was me.


At the author dinner, we each had to give a 5-minute talk about our accomplishments. I listened to my fellow writers, and when it was my turn, I cleared my throat.

“It’s such an honor to be here but something has been bothering me all evening and I just have to clear the air…Um, you know I’m not Jane Smiley. Right?

That got a big laugh, but I was only half joking. There is only one mystery writer selected each year and many of the previous authors have gone on to become the crème de la crème of crime fiction, including our very own Jacqueline Winspear, who was a featured author in 2005.

My fourth book is due out June 3, but because 600 readers, educators, and librarians were coming together to honor women writers and raise money for literary scholarships, my publisher allowed the Guild to sell COOL CACHE before the official release date.

On Saturday, I walked into the book room and saw towering stacks of each of my four books, casting long shadows on the carpet. Having just driven 250 miles the previous weekend to sell only one book, my heart sank as I imagined all of those novels flying back to New York unwanted and unsold.

It was my first look at COOL, so I bought one copy for my mother for Mother’s Day. I dedicated the book to her and to my dad who died before he saw any of novels in print. The cover is beautiful. My name is in LARGE print. He would have been so proud. I held the tome in my arms like a new baby, loving it more than I imagined I would.

“I’ll buy any books that are left over,” I said to the bookseller, apologetically, hoping my charge card wouldn’t explode when the register uttered its final ka-chink.

At ten o’clock, the bookseller found me in the ballroom and whispered in my ear. “Your books are selling like hotcakes. Do you have any more in the trunk of your car?”

I’m a writer. Of course, I have books in the trunk of my car. Do I ever have occasion to loan them to a bookseller? Rarely. But I didn't have any copies of COOL CACHE except the one I bought for my mother. I dashed out to the parking lot and lugged my box into the bookstore. By 10:30, readers were telling me my books were sold out. Did I have any more?

"I'm sure there's some mistake," I replied. "Check again."

By the time my breakout session began at 11:00 a.m., I was told that every single book was gone. Sold.

I was stunned. It’s not that my books haven’t sold out at previous signings, but not in such large quantities and not in such a short amount of time. It’s not even that my books haven’t sold in triple digits at a single event, but truthfully, that happens mostly when my mother goes through the line forty times in forty different disguises. So what happened? Was it something I said? Or was it just a group of superwomen supporting a good cause? Regardless, it was just about the most fun I've ever had at a book event.

Have you ever been happily or unhappily blindsided by expectatations? Dish, babies.

Happy Monday!


  1. How wonderful!

    This makes my booksellers' heart rejoice!

    Love the image of all the books taking flight - and I just love the cover. Can't wait to read it.

    Kathy Sweeney

  2. A good sign of what's to come.

    well deserved.


  3. Aw, thanks you guys. Even if it only happens once in my career, I'll always have fond memories...

  4. Punch in the air for Patty!!! Yayy, girl!

    Not only did they all sell, but you didn't have to break yourself buying the imagined leftovers, let alone haul their shiny bulk home with you. :-D Oh frabjous joy, Patty. I'm so happy for you I could burst.

    Vindication is not dead...


  5. I was just picturing your charge card sighing a huge sigh of relief...

    Nice to know that the attendees of the Festival of Women Authors had such exquisite taste! 600 copies of each?

    You realize, of course, this means that Cornelia will be the featured author of 2010? At least forewarned, she'll be prepared. A larger trunk, for instance!

  6. I am not surprised at all on the run on your books! First, I've heard you speak, and you are eloquent and funny. Second, I've read all your books (halfway through COOL CACHE) and love them.

    Bask in the glow, Patty!

  7. You go, Go-Lo......

    cream always rises to the top.


  8. Absolutely wonderful, Patty, and so well-deserved! Congratulations.


  9. Dear Jane Smiley,

    Congratulations on your move into genre fiction. Like Michael Chabon's venture into mysteries, I'm sure your work will be well rewarded. This weekend's success is proof positive.



  10. PATTY!!! YOU GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I am so so so so so happy for you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Congrats, Patty!

    Fabulous news.....

  12. Congratulations! What a wonderful memory to have.

    I loved the visual of your mom going through the line 40 times in different costumes. That is such a mom thing to do.


  13. I took our official limited edition bookmarks to the event because our very own Paulie was one of the Men of Mystery, which Joan also organizes. Yes. Cornelia next. And she was asking about James O, too. A Naked sweep?

  14. Oh, how you underestimate yourself, my dear Miss P! Of course your books flew off the tables, and of course the audience wanted more - you are a creme de la creme, so get used to it! And I love the image of you hugging your book to you. That's how we should all be, cradling gently the new book - only the author knows the trials and tribulations that brought it into the world. Richly deserved accolades, Our Patty - we're so proud of you!

    I have been to several events in Orange County, and those readers are one very literary bunch, so of course they enjoy a good mystery - more power to them!

  15. Do you supposed James Patterson still hugs each new book?

  16. Of course he does!! :-D


  17. Marianne, have I told you lately how delightful you are? Consider yourself told.

  18. Aww. Big hug back at you, too, Patty. :-D

    Ta. *blush*

    Be aware that if/when/ever I get Dragonshead into print, I'll be hugging the bejeezus out of it, then I'll send a bright shiny new copy to my parents as well as the few people in my life who keep me sane. :-D

    Writing and research are dancing along hand in hand. All going well. I have a self-imposed deadline because I may just have two heavy writing contracts crystalize in the next few months which will wipe out the following ten months. Urk. Write, write, write...


  19. Or as Paulie always says: Type. Type. Type. ZZZZ. Type. Type. Type.