South Dakota Historical Society Press can’t print copies fast enough of Pioneer Girl, the annotated edition of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 1930 autobiography, edited by Pamela Smith Hill. The press released Pioneer Girl in hardcover format last November with a 15,000-copy print run; less than three months later, Pioneer Girl is in its third print run – of 45,000 copies – so that 75,000 copies will be in print by late February. The last remaining copies in the second print run were shipped last week to accounts and are shipping this week to individuals.
“Everything about this book has been a terrific surprise,” SDHSP director Nancy Tystad Koupal told PW, recalling that when the press acquired the manuscript in 2010, she “hoped it would find an audience” and calculated that a 5,000-copy print run should suffice. “It’s a big book with over 800 annotations,” she said. The volume clocks in at 472 pages and retails for $40. It is printed by Friesen’s in Manitoba. “It’s an academic book that we worked hard to keep reader-friendly and accessible to fans. We certainly succeeded with this one.”
In fact, she says, the majority of sales have been to bookstores and directly to individuals, rather than to schools and libraries. SDHSP sold 2,000 copies of the first print run directly to individuals, Koupal said, adding, “I don’t see huge numbers of institutional buyers.”
Koupal said that although SDHSP promoted Pioneer Girl at BEA with giveaways of blads and totebags, it didn’t make a huge splash. “We didn’t take names or orders,” she said. The book began to pick up momentum in August, when ARCs were sent out to media at the same time that PW ran a story on its long road to publication and the Associated Press ran a story on the differences between the life Laura Ingalls Wilder portrayed in the Little House on the Prairie television series and the darker reality. “That’s when it all started; everything snowballed and it went viral,” Koupal said. Based upon the publicity and 7,000-8,000 pre-orders, the print run was upped from 5,000 to 15,000.
Typically, first print runs for SDHSP releases range between 1,000-5,000 copies. SDHSP publishes five to seven books each year, and its bestseller, other than Pioneer Girl, is Tatanka and the Lakota People by Donald F. Montileaux, with 15,000 copies sold. The second top-seller, Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life by Hill, Pioneer Girl’s editor, has sold 12,000 copies since its publication in 2007.
“Twelve thousand copies in eight years didn’t really prepare us for the kind of interest that [Wilder's] name on a book would bring,” Koupal said, disclosing that Pioneer Girl went into a second printing a week before Thanksgiving. But another 15,000 copies weren’t enough, as Ingram doubled its outstanding order on January 3, and Amazon also placed a large order after the holidays. Koupal would not disclose how many copies Amazon ordered but declared that 30,000 copies (as reported in Slate) was “overblown.” Friesen’s will drop-ship copies in the 45,000-copy third printing directly to accounts, Koupal says, rather than to SDHSP for re-packaging.
The seven staff members at SDHSP are taking a breather by cutting back elsewhere this year, and reducing the number of books being released in 2015 to three or four titles, down from five to seven. “We’re dealing with so many issues relating to this book, including foreign rights,” Koupal said.