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How Tana French Hit the Bestseller List 3 Months Later Than Expected

In these fractious publishing times, normally publishers espouse the belief that if a book doesn’t hit the list within at least the first two weeks of its initial publication, it never will. It’s not an absolute, of course – nothing is – but more and more, publishing resembles the movies in terms of books “opening big” on bestseller lists thanks to pre-orders, co-op and other machinery in place months before publication.

So imagine my surprise at checking the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list dated September 2nd and seeing Irish crime writer Tana French‘s debut novel IN THE WOODS sneak in just under the wire, landing at #35 on the extended list. The book was published by Viking on May 17. It had, at least to the best of my knowledge, not been given extra co-op nor garnered some major media attention. Could this be a case of pure word-of-mouth, where readers who genuinely liked the book recommended it enthusiastically to their friends in chain-reaction fashion propelled a first novel to the bestseller lists months after its release date?

Yes and no, as French’s editor Kendra Harpster said in an email late yesterday afternoon. ” I do think that word of mouth has played a part here,” she said. “Nearly everyone I mention the book to, even non-publishing people, have heard something about it, which is definitely unusual for a first novel by a non-American.” But Harpster also pointed to a recent mention on NPR by Librarian to the Stars Nancy Pearl and more importantly, to the book’s selection by Barnes & Noble for its Discover New Voices program, which put it into their store promotions beginning early August and running through the end of October. So in the end, media and co-op did play a major role for IN THE WOODS, but that can happen to many books – and still not enough copies will sell to get that “NYT bestseller” tag.

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