Some of you may have noticed thisÂ phrase printed inÂ an ad for a new book, orÂ on the book’s back cover:
“A Main Selection of the Doubleday Book Club” (or the Literary Guild or the Book of the Month Club.)
Maybe you don’t know exactly what that means, or whether you should even care.Â I once overheard a writer say sneeringly, about another author: “So she sold book club rights.Â Big deal.Â Â All it means is they’ll print up cheap copies ofÂ her book, and she won’t get royalties for them.”
That sneering author wasÂ clueless.Â Because selling book club rights is a Big Deal.Â And being chosen as a “Main Selection” at a major book club is a Very Big Deal.
Book clubs promote and sellÂ books directlyÂ to their members, through the mail.Â They can offer books at much lower prices because the copies they ship are printed on thinner paper, in a slightly smaller hardcover format.Â These are not condensed books; they have exactly the same text you’ll find in a regular book, but the books are produced more cheaply.Â Also, theÂ title selection is limited to what the clubÂ offers inÂ its catalogue, but they do carry thousands of titles. Â About 17 times a year,Â a catalogue gets mailed out to members, who can choose from the latest selections.Â The book clubs offer books they believe are most likely to have a substantial readership, so the selections include a lot of blockbusters and popular authors .Â But they’ll somtimes also offer a worthy literary novel, or a new and unknown author whom they believe has the potential to grow.Â
So what’s it mean for the author, when her book is chosen by a book club?
First: money.Â Sometimes, a lot of it.Â Â It may be upwards of six figures, if your book is chosen as a main selection.Â True, the money is most likely paid directly to your publisher (who probably retains book club rights) but that money is credited toward your advance, so you start earning royalties sooner.Â That’s one reason the Sneering Author was clueless; six figures isn’tÂ something to sneer at.
Second: readership.Â Just look at the sizes of the major book clubs.Â The largest, Doubleday Book Club, has 1.2 million members.Â Literary Guild has 1 million members.Â Book of the Month Club has 400,000 members.Â If your book is a Main Selection, that means it’sÂ theÂ club’s default choice for the month.Â If the member doesn’t mail in the selection card in time, then that memberÂ automatically gets sent the Main Selection.Â Â Your book will get shipped to thousands and thousands of households,Â exposing your name to readers who may never before have heard of you.
This is a really good thing.Â Â CountlessÂ readers have told me that they discovered me only because they’d forgotten to send in their monthly selection card.Â And so my book turned up in their mailbox.
Finally, there’s theÂ prestige.Â Â The book clubs have selection committees whoÂ must choose fromÂ all the new releases the publishers send them.Â But the committee chooses only one or twoÂ Main Selections each month.Â Think about that.Â Think about how many books are published every month.Â Then think about beingÂ selected as THE BOOK, above all those other titles.
Since the book clubs go for titles they think will be popular with their members, naturally you’ll see a lot of familiar authors turn up as Main Selections.Â John Grisham and Patricia Cornwell are guaranteed their month’s slots.Â But every so often, the selection committee will choose someone you’ve never heard of, someone who’s brand new to the publishing world.Â It’s their way of saying: “this is an important book.”
That’s what happened to THE LOVELY BONES.Â When Book of the Month Club selected it, it was a signal to the publishing world: “Pay attention.Â This one’s special.”
It’s what happened to me, back in 1996, when my very first hardcover, HARVEST, was a Literary Guild Main Selection.Â Back then, I wasÂ unknown to booksellers, justÂ a former paperback romance author.Â But when the Literary Guild chooses your novel as a Main Selection, the publishing worldÂ takes notice.Â Suddenly, you’re not just another new hardcover author; you’re the writer of that month’s Big Book.Â
So, what’s the down sideÂ to being a book club pick?Â Well, there is the possibility that it may dentÂ your sales in the brick-and-mortar stores, because so many readers are receiving your book in the mail instead.Â And book club sales aren’t applied to any bestseller lists.Â A million book club readers may have chosenÂ to receive your book, butÂ it won’t get you on the New York Times list.Â
Still,Â the real secret to building a bestselling career is word of mouth.Â And when hundreds of thousands of book club members are reading your book and talking about it, you can bet that will boost your sales in bookstores as well.