Oh, is there anything sadder than a shelf filled with copies of last year’s bestseller? Was it Carl Sandburg or Chad Oliver who wrote that haunting episode of the astronaut on a distant planet who finds one page left from the bygone civilization, and all it says on the page is that millions of people had read the book and that millions of people would read the book. And then the last page crumbles in the astronaut’s hand, and blows away.
It’s a problem in the used book trade, too. “This is a First Edition of a Bestseller!” “So it is. Did you know that was a Bestseller because the publisher printed seven million copies of the First Edition?”:
With the rare Bestseller that becomes a Cultural Phenomenon, something that not only sells millions but winds up on the cover of Time, Newsweek, and People, there is a definite progression by which a Bestseller becomes a Book Fair book.
1. We don’t have it. (Do you have any copies of King Kong Meets Spider-Man? Well save me one if you get one in.)
2. We get two copies, pristine and unread. (Somebody got extra copies for their birthday.
3. We get about ten copies, all hardcover. (This means the paperback is out, and someone is making space.)
4. We get a lot of very nice copies in both hardcover and paperback. (This mans King Kong Meets Spider-Man II has just come out.)
5. We get copies of the hardcover without the dustjacket, and airplane ticket stubs as bookmarks. (Bought it, read, moving on. “I hear King Kong Meets Spider-Man III is coming out in July instead of April. Author must be running out of ideas.”)
6. We get forty-five copies in two weeks, hardcover and paperback. Most of these are accompanied by copies of the sequel. (People bought the sequel because they heard about the fuss, picked up a copy of the original, and decided they couldn’t see what the fuss was about.)
7. We get five copies of King Kong Mets Spider-Man III in one week, and the book’s only been out for a month. The fad is over.
8. Until we start getting the movie tie-in version, of course.
There is a ninth step, of course, but I hardly like to mention it, since it is a source of tragedy to author, publisher, and Book Fair Manager alike. This is when you have a whole shelf of the book out for sale in July for five days AND YOU DO NOT SELL A SINGLE COPY. (I hope his next book’s a hit. Not for his sake: for the sake of those poor old shelves.)