After Stephen Colbert challenged viewers last month to make Edan Lepucki’s debut novel, California, a New York Times bestseller by shopping online at Powell’s Books or by clicking on a bookseller, it has become one of Little, Brown’s top pre-ordered debut novels of all time. Now the book seems to be at the center of an interesting kind of retail battle, as chains and indies alike look to claim the book as one they can turn into a bestseller.
The book, which goes on sale July 8, is a fall Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection and has, according to publicist Carrie Neill, gone back to press three times already, for a total of 60,000 copies. As of mid-June, Powell’s had pre-orders for 6,400 copies and the title has ranked, consistently, at #1 on the mini-chain's bestsellers chart. This week the novel’s Amazon ranking dropped below 1.5 million, but Amazon is not accepting preorders for it, as the book is published by a Hachette imprint.
That doesn’t mean that Amazon isn’t getting in on the California love. Earlier this week the e-tailer named the novel a Best Book of the Month selection.
Amazon spokesperson Sarah Gelman said the honor has nothing to do with the ongoing Amazon-Hachette dispute. “Amazon’s editorial team chooses their book recommendations independent of other teams,” she noted. “California will be available for customers to order on its publisher designated on-sale date.”
Still, Lepucki is planning to reward readers who pre-ordered from indies by signing as many copies bought from those stores as she can, including those for Powell’s. Lepucki will kick off her tour at her former workplace, Sky Light Books in Los Angeles, and will do a signing the next day for Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, where she also worked. Her New York launch, complete with temporary California tattoos, will take place at WORD in Brooklyn.
Before the Colbert show, Lepucki had an extensive tour. Since then Little, Brown has added 10 more dates, and she will appear at 18 indie bookstores. Although she won’t be at Book Soup, where she met her husband, Patrick Brown (now with GoodReads), the store will do a window for her on Sunset Boulevard over July and August.
"I’m completely head over heels in love with her," says Allison Hill, president of Vroman’s and Book Soup, who wrote one of the first letters to booksellers championing the author. Hill asked her colleagues to read California because it's "great" but also because "Edan is one of us."
The Colbert bump extends to bookstores not known for their online ordering, like Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kans. Although the momentum has died down some since the TV host mentioned the store on air, co-owner Vivien Jennings thinks some traffic continues to stream in thanks to the plug.
Jennings thinks the Colbert show touting California has created something of a "ripple effect" for independents. She talked about the show and the book in a recent store newsletter and plans to display California with a sign indicating that it is the book Colbert directed his audience to buy. "We want to show the power of bricks-and-mortar bookstores," says Jennings, who had two women tell her earlier this week that they’re not ordering from Amazon again.
At Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tenn., another store in the TV spotlight, customers are placing preorders in person, over the phone, and online. “We will definitely have it up on the front entry table for new releases, and in the window,” said co-owner Karen Hayes, who is looking forward to hosting Lepucki later this month.
The indie effect or the the power of Colbert? Either way Lepucki and California benefit. Although the book is not an Indies Next pick, Hill predicts that it will be an indies bestseller.