“Main Selection” is a very good thing.

Some of you may have noticed this phrase printed in an ad for a new book, or 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.  I once overheard a writer say sneeringly, about another author: “So she sold book club rights.  Big deal.  All it means is they’ll print up cheap copies of her book, and she won’t get royalties for them.”

That sneering author was clueless.  Because selling book club rights is a Big Deal.  And being chosen as a “Main Selection” at a major book club is a Very Big Deal.

Book clubs promote and sell books directly to their members, through the mail.  They can offer books at much lower prices because the copies they ship are printed on thinner paper, in a slightly smaller hardcover format.  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.  Also, the title selection is limited to what the club offers in its catalogue, but they do carry thousands of titles.  About 17 times a year, a catalogue gets mailed out to members, who can choose from the latest selections.  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 .  But they’ll somtimes also offer a worthy literary novel, or a new and unknown author whom they believe has the potential to grow. 

So what’s it mean for the author, when her book is chosen by a book club?

First: money.  Sometimes, a lot of it.  It may be upwards of six figures, if your book is chosen as a main selection.  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.  That’s one reason the Sneering Author was clueless; six figures isn’t  something to sneer at.

Second: readership.  Just look at the sizes of the major book clubs.  The largest, Doubleday Book Club, has 1.2 million members.  Literary Guild has 1 million members.  Book of the Month Club has 400,000 members.  If your book is a Main Selection, that means it’s the club’s default choice for the month.  If the member doesn’t mail in the selection card in time, then that member automatically gets sent the Main Selection.   Your book will get shipped to thousands and thousands of households, exposing your name to readers who may never before have heard of you.

This is a really good thing.  Countless readers have told me that they discovered me only because they’d forgotten to send in their monthly selection card.  And so my book turned up in their mailbox.

Finally, there’s the prestige.  The book clubs have selection committees who must choose from all the new releases the publishers send them.  But the committee chooses only one or two Main Selections each month.  Think about that.  Think about how many books are published every month.  Then think about being 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.  John Grisham and Patricia Cornwell are guaranteed their month’s slots.  But every so often, the selection committee will choose someone you’ve never heard of, someone who’s brand new to the publishing world.  It’s their way of saying: “this is an important book.”

That’s what happened to THE LOVELY BONES.  When Book of the Month Club selected it, it was a signal to the publishing world: “Pay attention.  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.  Back then, I was unknown to booksellers, just a former paperback romance author.  But when the Literary Guild chooses your novel as a Main Selection, the publishing world takes notice.  Suddenly, you’re not just another new hardcover author; you’re the writer of that month’s Big Book. 

So, what’s the down side to being a book club pick?  Well, there is the possibility that it may dent your sales in the brick-and-mortar stores, because so many readers are receiving your book in the mail instead.  And book club sales aren’t applied to any bestseller lists.  A million book club readers may have chosen to receive your book, but it won’t get you on the New York Times list. 

Still, the real secret to building a bestselling career is word of mouth.  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.


15 replies
  1. emilythewise21
    emilythewise21 says:

    That is exactly how I discovered you less than a year ago. Now, you are one of my favorites. After reading Vanish I was like “WOW, that was very good!”. I then bought The Surgeon, The Apprentice, The Sinner, Body Double, Bloodstream, Harvest, Life Support, and Gravity. I read them all and then passed them on to my mom, who also loved them. So, I would say Main Selection is a very good thing! I can’t wait for the next book!

  2. Millenia Black
    Millenia Black says:

    Yes, it is a very good thing. My debut was a Main Selection with Black Expressions book club (though there are no black characters), and one of the arguments for why the characters of my second book couldn’t be white was that BE “won’t buy it”. Hmm…

    And mind you, BE has half as many members of both Doubleday & Literary Guild…and neither ever picks up debut novels stamped “African-American Literature”. In light of your point about potential readership…ouch.

  3. writeforlove
    writeforlove says:

    I belong to Doubleday bookclub and I have found new authors through the main selection feature. However, I found you through a friend who let me borrow “The Sinner”, and I was immediately hooked. Now, I’m first in line at the bookstore awaiting your new releases.

    In all honesty, there’s only a few authors that I splurge on the hardcovers for, and you’re one of them 🙂 The rest come through Amazon or paperback.

  4. ebenezerearl
    ebenezerearl says:

    I do want to point out that from a reader’s viewpoint, there is one downside to buying a bookclub edition. Because of the nature of bookclub editions, they end up having little intrinsic value afterward. In contrast, a “First Edition, First Printing” regular edition will maintain some value and, in some cases, may increase in value with time. That’s what a serious collector will be looking for. Having the book signed will further increase its potential value.

  5. Jaye Patrick
    Jaye Patrick says:

    As I’ve previously mentioned: I’ve been a reader of yours since your romance writing days, so this is no surprise to me; good authors will always do well, great authors will exceed the good, every time.

    Actually, I’ve never liked John Grisham’s books, and Patricia Cornwall seems to be taking a vacation from writing exciting books; but your novels continue to enthrall me.

    When I saw Harvest, I immediately picked it up, knew it was going to be a good read because of your previous work.

    I’m thrilled you’ve been selected, congratulations and I can’t wait for your next book that will keep me up all night reading.

  6. Tess
    Tess says:

    ebenezerearl, it’s very true that serious book collectors turn up their noses at book club editions. The standard for book collectors is the autographed first edition, first printing. I suspect that at least several thousand copies of any new hardcover mystery novel are actually purchased by collectors — who then never read them, but keep them protected to preserve their value.

    thanks to everyone for the nice comments!

  7. Allison Brennan
    Allison Brennan says:

    My mom was a member of the Mystery Guild for years and that’s where we discovered most of our favorite authors. Otherwise, it was the library . . . my mom was a single mom and getting a new book was a Big Deal . . . She’d buy me Stephen King’s latest hardcover for Christmas every year from the age of 12 until I left college.

    I rejoined Mystery Guild when my books were selected (not as main selections! Someday . . . ) . . . and I’ve already picked up one new favorite author I’d heard good things about but hadn’t read. Now I can add her to my bn.com auto-buy list.

  8. Tom Young
    Tom Young says:

    Yes, it sounds like a very good thing, and to think I had to listen to Coast to Coast AM before I found your work.

    I have one question, What is the value of a book that’s never read? Books are to be read by their nature, yes they might “look pretty” sitting on a table or on a shelf. The real beauty of a book is in the words of the writer.

  9. Tess
    Tess says:

    book collectors hold onto signed first editions with the idea that, somewhere down the line, that book will be worth a lot more. Especially if the author becomes famous. Even more if that author dies. A signed first-edition John Grisham (A TIME TO KILL) is worth thousands, now. And worth more if it’s in pristine condition.

    When my first hardcover HARVEST came out, a bookseller told me that one customer came in and bought all the copies off the store display “because he thought this author was going to be big someday.” I doubt he even read them. They’re probably sitting in his attic or something.

  10. Eileen
    Eileen says:

    Maybe it is just nerves as I wait for my first book to come out.. but I can’t fathom looking down at any sale. “Oh they bought it through a bookclub, how pedestrian.” Heck buy a crate and built a bookshelf out em, just buy. I would think any thing that brings you to a reader is a good thing.

  11. Kris
    Kris says:


    I knew book clubs were great exposure to potential new readers, but I didn’t think about this part of book club sales. Very good to know. I’ll always have a special fondness for Doubleday Book Club. Some years ago, they sponsored a contest for unpublished romance writers, and my entry won. Needless to say, I’ll be a member for life. Great blog, thanks for sharing.

  12. Kris
    Kris says:

    Oops, lost part of the post. The missing first paragraph was clipped from your blog text. “but that money is credited toward your advance, so you start earning royalties sooner.”

  13. MysteryGuild.com
    MysteryGuild.com says:

    From the folks at MysteryGuild.com:

    Thanks for pointing the “Main Selection” labeling of your books! For those interested, we have interviews and trailers for Tess’ books online at MysteryGuild.com and DoubledayBookClub.com. Feel free to comment on mysteries, suspense, thrillers, and more on our blog at http://thebookblogger.com/mysteryguild/.

    Keep the books coming Tess!

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply