Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Terms to Know: Lead Title

All books are created equal.

Some books are more equal than others.

When publishers talk about a lead title, they're referring to a book (often, but certainly not always, by a d├ębut author) that they believe has the potential to blow out in terms of sales. These aren't the books by established hot shots or memoirs/self help books by celebrities; these are those front-of-store, gotta-read titles that seem to erupt out of nowhere. But nay! They do not appear ex nihilo, cats and kittens, but rather, they are built and designed: they receive six-figure marketing budgets, co-op dollars, aggressive publicity, additional sales materials. In short: the works.

Now, to be fair, it's not possible to engineer a bestselling title without the reading public's participation. A Big Six publisher could throw millions into marketing and co-op and not come anywhere close to breaking even if the consumer doesn't participate (i.e., purchase the book). That said, we all (as consumers, anyway) are much more easily manipulated than we would like to believe, and there is a direct correlation between the amount of money, time, and energy that a publisher puts into a book—a lead title—and that title's performance in the market.

Some lead titles flop terribly. Most, I think, break even, depending on the amount of money sunk into the endeavor. A few (far more than the average for books in general, but still not a huge number) become major bestsellers, and I'm inclined to believe they wouldn't have had they not had the big budgets and know-how of a large publishing operation. When the publisher pays for those big stacks of books at the front of Borders or Barnes & Noble, lines up interview after interview with major media, and advertises in magazines and locations you're likely to read and frequent, aren't you going to pick up that book and at least read the dust jacket? That's half the battle, friends: getting you to pick up the book. The publisher believes the content is enough to win the second half of the battle (getting you to bring the book to the register), but first they have to spend enough money to make it easy for you to find.

Not all major titles are/were lead titles (Harry Potter—the early books, anyway—being a good example), but classifying a book as such is a way of allocating funds and marking which books are believed to be wildly successful before they even ship out to stores. Is it fair? No. Is it practical in this industry? Absolutely. And by no means are the non-lead titles of the world doomed to failure—they are, as I said, "equal"—but they're not as equal as the titles that receive substantially larger investments of time, money, and effort, and the odds of their doing as well sales-wise is very slim indeed.

18 comments:

  1. And if your publisher targets the library market, without the "right" reviews, you're toast.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Do publishers go through phases where certain types of books are more likely to be treated as Lead Titles than others? Is there a "profile" out there right now that is especially promising to publishers?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Your equal but not equal has caused the mathematical part of my brain to have a seizure. :P

    ReplyDelete
  4. Excellent and insightful post. Very sad, disheartening, and depressing, but true, nonetheless.

    I am most interested in the response to the comment made by Sara. I've heard the next big thing in fiction will be zombies. I don't like zombies, I don't like zombie books, so I guess I'll just have to bide my time until science fiction makes a comeback.

    ReplyDelete
  5. It makes sense to spend more (money, time, etc.) on a title that you think is going to do well. My quession is that if a title from a debut author is picked as a lead title and then doesn't perform fantastically, does that author have a harder time selling book #2 than if they hadn't been picked as a lead title in the first place? Thanks for your insight.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Eric,

    So how are these titles picked? Is it just based on the gut feeling of major editors? Is there some pre-marketing to survey a book's potential success?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Whoever said, money isn't everything?"

    How are these lead books chosen?

    Interesting post, good one, as usual.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Interesting! I suppose I hadn't noticed that a lot of lead titles are from debut authors, but thinking back on it, yeah, every time I go in a bookstore, at least half those books in the front are from authors with only one or two books out. I imagine quite a bit of time goes into analyzing market trends and the like to determine which books should be leads.

    ReplyDelete
  9. So what makes a publisher decide to make Book X a lead title?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thank you. This is exactly the point I was trying to make on Agent Nathan's blog a while back when he said bestsellers couldn't be "made." My point was that, even with all the marketing $$$, there is no guarantee that a book will hit The List, but without the marketing $$$, you can pretty much guarantee a book WON'T (with VERY few exceptions).

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hi Sara, J.L.:

    Yes, more or less. The profile right now (for fiction, anyway) seems to be Scandinavian thriller/mysteries or The Your-Name-Here Wife-style women's fiction. This won't necessarily be the same case this time next year.


    Hi Akashina/Terry/Francis:

    Publishers and editors make these decisions based on market trends and the strength of the story. Lead titles often come into being after several houses go bananas in an auction, thereby driving the advance way up; the house has to make the title blow out in order for it to earn out.


    All best & thanks for reading,

    E

    ReplyDelete
  12. Or rather, The Adjective Wife (as opposed to The Your-Name-Here Daughter). It confuses even me sometimes.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I'm confused.

    How is the current method of identifying lead titles "absolutely" "practical in this industry" if some flop terribly, most break even, and only a few become best-sellers? That's sounds hit-or-miss at best, stunningly impractical at worst.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hi Ligan,

    Because the bestsellers make more than enough money to offset the losses of those that don't break even.


    E

    ReplyDelete
  15. The real question is, How do you *get* to be a lead title?

    ReplyDelete
  16. Eric,

    The profits from all best-sellers or only those that were also promoted as lead titles?

    ReplyDelete
  17. Do you mind if I quote a couple of your articles as long as I provide credit and sources back to your blog? My blog is in the very same area of interest as yours and my users would certainly benefit from some of the information you provide here. Please let me know if this alright with you. Thanks a lot!
    capecoralcomputercenter.com |

    businessriskinsight |

    http://www.costaricasolarhomes.com |

    www.computerrepaireagle.com |

    cleantechcalender.com |

    ReplyDelete
  18. Today I said goodbye to my first Hospice patient. She would have been 100 in December. They work hard to match up volunteers with patients, and they did a fantastic job with us. We bonded quickly and talked about everything, from how short Tom Cruise is to how worried her five-year-old self was that her
    http://www.georgiagrouptours.com |

    www.capecoralcomputercenter.com |

    applusautointernational.com |

    streamingforbusiness.com |

    loire-forez-tourism |

    ReplyDelete