Sunday, May 12, 2013

Great Awards Don't Mean Great Sales

Did you read the surprising and somewhat depressing article in the Christian Science Monitor this week about Pulitzer Prize (PP) winning books? Due to low sales, one of this year’s winners, Devil in the Grove, (a nonfiction work) was scheduled for liquidation by HarperCollins. In fact, the book was already remaindered by the time the winners were announced. However, as the article points out, winning a Pulitzer Prize doesn’t necessarily mean the book will start generating lots of sales.

Two weeks after the 2013 winners were announced, all five books had increased sales, but you won’t believe the numbers. Embers of War by Fredik Logevall had sold 40 copies before the nominations. His sales jumped to 353 afterward. The Black Count by Tom Reiss went from 135 copies to 501, and Sharon Old’s Stag Leap went from 51 copies to 492. Are you getting the grim picture here? Apparently, all of these books received terrific reviews, while a runaway bestseller like Fifty Shades of Gray didn’t.

I don’t know if this is a growing trend, or whether Pulitzer nominees have traditionally sold poorly. Perhaps nominated books used to do much better, but the rising popularity of genre work has changed the public’s reading tastes. Whatever the reason, it’s an interesting commentary on the publishing industry, buying trends, and the usefulness awards to a writer’s income. I wonder if award winners in mystery, thriller, and fantasy categories have also experienced a less than dazzling spike in sales after they’ve won. To read the article, go to

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