Bantam president/publisher Irwyn Applebaum notes that Dean Koontz is "one of the strongest-selling authors out there. And the fact that he d s it with such regularity and without a lot of posturing, makes him in some ways a kind of quiet bestseller."
"Quiet" is a curious adjective to use for a writer who has been on the scene for about 30 years, having published nearly 80 books with aggregate sales of more than 200 million units worldwide in 33 countries. Each year, Koontz's frontlist and backlist combined sell about 17 million copies worldwide. Unlike Tom Clancy, John Grisham and other veteran listmakers, Koontz was not a seemingly overnight success flush from another profession. Applebaum, in fact, compares Koontz to Louis L'Amour, who sold millions of copies of scores of titles before publishers began doing serious promotion.
No matter the numbers, the distinction of becoming a bonafide "bestseller" involves more than just big sales; it requires that a book actually land on the national bestseller charts. Koontz's first appearance on a PW list was back in 1979 with The Key to Midnight, written pseudonymously as Leigh Nichols and published by Pocket Books. In those days, PW's mass market list had only 10 titles, but the book was among the top 15 mass market sellers for three weeks in a row. The following year, Funhouse, written under the name Owen West and published by Jove, made three appearances on our list.
The first PW hardcover landing was in 1986 with Strangers from Putnam, this time under the name of Koontz; it had a two-week run. A year later, Putnam's Watchers by Dean Koontz enjoyed an eight-week run on the PW charts, opening at #13 and going as high as #8. In 1988, Lightning was on the list for 11 weeks; the highest position, #4.
Koontz made it to the coveted top slot in 1989 with Putnam's Midnight, which settled in for a 14-week run. For the next several years, the author's hardcover bestsellers and most of his paperback reissues enjoyed top rankings, including The Bad Place, Cold Fire, Hideaway and Dragon Tears. His last hardcover from Putnam, 1993's Mr. Murder, had a 13-week run but never got a shot at #1 (that was the year in which Robert James Waller's The Bridges of Madison County dominated the lead spot on the national charts). Koontz's next three bestsellers -- Dark Rivers of the Heart, Intensity and Sole Survivor -- were published by Knopf. Intensity had the longest run (13 weeks), and both it and Sole Survivor reached the top of the charts.
Total U.S. hardcover sales during the first year of publication for Koontz have ranged from about 300,000+ (for Sole Survivor) to about 600,000 (Dark Rivers of the Heart). First-year paperback sales range from about 1.6 million to 2.4 million. From 1990 through 1995, virtually all mass market sales for the first year were over the two million mark. In 1996 and 1997, sales for six mass market bestsellers ranged from about 1.5 to 1.9 million -- the slight downturn more a reflection of distributor consolidation than a softening of Koontz's readership.
Current publisher Bantam launched Fear Nothing earlier this year with a 400,000-copy first printing, followed by a 100,000 second printing. It had a nine-week run and got as high as #2; this time it was an Oprah book club pick -- Paradise by Toni Morrison -- that knocked took away any shot at #1. A second opportunity will be coming up shortly when Bantam lays down Seize the Night on December 29 with another 400,000-copy first printing. Helping to spark sales will be the 1.8 million-copy first printing of the mass market edition of Fear Nothing, which shipped December 1.
While Fear and Seize are books one and two of the Christopher Snow trilogy, Bantam's promotional efforts will not explicitly note that fact. Bantam's creative marketing v-p Elizabeth Hulsebosch says that none of the print advertising or point-of-sale items will "state or even imply that Seize the Night is the sequel to Fear Nothing. We will represent it as by the astonishing bestselling author of Fear Nothing, but we will not make them necessarily dependent on one another. We don't think that serves the book." Fans will figure it out, says Hulsebosch, as the covers echo one another. "It's the same character, Snow's face in some sort of guise with sunglasses that are distinctive. Also the flap copy will note that this book is the continuing adventure of Christopher Snow and his friends."
Bantam is aiming for the #1 slot and is counting on Fear Nothing's mass market performance to be the sales catalyst for Seize. In Hulsebosch's words, "We feel confident that it's going to be a blockbuster pre-Christmas and post-Christmas." Plans also include on-line teasers, including a first chapter and a consumer contest on Bantam's Web site for Koontz (www.fearnothing.com until December 29; www.seizethenight.com thereafter). Koontz is also involved with all aspects of the advertising plans; for the TV ads, he even cast the dog who will play Orson.
A challenge publicity faces with Koontz is that he d s not take airplanes. Says Barb Burg, v-p and director of publicity, "We get requests from literally every single bookstore in the country." One store that d s get a visit each time there is a new Koontz hardcover is Book Carnival in Orange, Calif., which specializes in detective fiction, mysteries and dark fantasy. Owner Ed Thomas called the author back in 1986 when Strangers was first published. "We had to beg him to come because Dean didn't believe anyone would show." The store quickly sold 80 copies. A year later with Watchers, the number shot up to 400. Thomas now averages sales of about 1200-1500 autographed books, with several hundred shipped to fans across the country. ("I do a mailing about four weeks before Koontz is scheduled," Thomas explains.) He has had customers queue up hours before the event - for Seize it will be January 3 -- with people coming from as far away as Alaska. "One year, four people in Las Vegas reading the announcement of Koontz's appearance in my ad in the Los Angeles Times hopped the plane and showed up for the autographing and returned to the gambling capital on the same day."
An advertising slogan in the works is "To save the day, you've got to seize the night." Sounds like Bantam -- and Koontz himself -- are seizing all that and more.