It's said that the root of human suffering is in our resistance to the fact that things change. Last year, the upheaval that change brings could not have been more apparent. After the unparalleled bull market of the mid-'90s, the "new economy" was definitely old news by 2001. "Whether or not we acknowledged we were in a recession, there was one," observed Random House publisher Ann Godoff. "By the beginning of last year, we were seeing a marked softening in the sell-in and more wariness from booksellers."

Some pockets of the country felt it earlier than others. "Here in Silicon Valley, we were definitely in a recession well before September 11," reported Karen Pennington of Kepler's Books and Magazines in Menlo Park, Calif. "You could see it in customers' resistance to the price of hardcover fiction."

Still, no one could anticipate the emotional and economic impact of jets slamming into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. "The events of September 11th knocked everything else off the front page, the economy tipped into chaos, and nothing felt secure," Pennington recalled. "Suddenly, customers weren't coming out at night; Saturday was still our biggest day, but that was only compared to the other days, which were also slowing down."

By the end of the year, commented publicity manager Kristin Schaefer Mariani, "in bookselling, as in other areas of life, we saw things returning to 'normal' faster than we expected they would. People found ways to deal with their grief while reestablishing their normal lives, and book sales reflected that."

This annual PW feature is a look at publishers' best-laid plans and how they measured up to market realities in 2001. In a year when, according to AAP figures, overall industry returns increased by only 1.3%, despite the turmoil of the major selling season of the fall, success was more often weighed against expectations created by the level of advance paid. If this review holds tales of suffering, it also underscores the eternal verities of book publishing: that cooler heads rarely prevail at big auctions; that there's safety in a diverse list, where not every title's success is contingent on media coverage; and that pushing the backlist is of extreme importance.

No More Politics as Usual

The 2000 presidential election never seemed to end, nor did the stream of books documenting its tactical and legal turns. Among the books that were rushed out within the following six months, Alan Dershowitz's Supreme Injustice (OUP, June) was the clear winner, with more than 100,000 copies sold. But as Ingram senior product manager Nancy Stewart explained, overall, "the election wasn't a particularly successful area for instant books. Everyone was waiting for the later, more considered books."

Perhaps the most highly anticipated book among those timed to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the election was Jeffrey Toobin's Too Close to Call (Random, Sept.), which had an announced first printing of 150,000 copies. Having cut his teeth on the O.J. and the Clinton impeachment trials, Toobin headed for Florida as soon as it became clear the runoff would drag on for weeks, reporting from there for the New Yorker and ABC News. "Everyone was expecting great things from him," said Margaret Maupin, frontlist buyer at Denver's Tattered Cover. "He's a legitimate writer and thoughtful; it looked like his book was going to be the one people would want to read." But by the time it landed on September 19, "it seemed unpatriotic to even question that election." Though Godoff, Toobin's publisher, admitted the book's sales fell well below expectation, she emphasized that Random didn't back away from supporting it. "Toobin appeared on the Today Show, and we did send him on the road. It was good for the accounts to meet him and it led to some interesting discussions."

If booksellers wound up with dismal sales on the Toobin book, many sold even fewer of David Kaplan's The Accidental President (Morrow, Oct.). "We published straight into the maw of September 11," recalled HarperCollins group publisher Cathy Hemming. "The book was on the cover of the September 10 issue of Newsweek. I remember coming into work on the morning of the 11th having heard the phrase "the accidental president" on the radio and thinking it may have entered the vernacular. Then the bottom fell out and it was completely forgotten. It's a shame. Kaplan's smart and a great promoter, and he wrote a funny book, but it just was not going to happen."

After the Bubble Burst

As the economy slowed in 2001, so did sales across the entire business book category, leading to much speculation about the prospects for the year's big money book, Jack Welch's Jack: Straight from the Gut (Sept.), which Warner bought for a $7.1 million advance for North American rights. But for many retailers, Welch's book became the exception in a depressed category.

"Despite being published on September 11, it was a topseller from the beginning and finished the year as's 4th nonfiction bestseller in 2001," reported bestsellers editor Tim Appelo. Though Ingram's Stewart felt that the book "never quite got the play it was supposed to" and didn't measure up to Ingram's expectations for Christmas, she acknowledged that "it still has legs and holds potential for Fathers' Day this year." In 2001, the book finished with a net of nearly 725,000 copies, well short of the million copies Warner was aiming for, but solid considering the retail chaos of the fall.

"We were enormously concerned about it after 9/11, when we put his tour on hiatus for a month," admitted Warner publisher Jamie Raab. "It really helped when he went back on the road and started barnstorming, going to a lot of cities with GE operations, as well as major bookstore accounts. He had his own plane, so he could hit two or three cities in a day when a lot of other authors were stranded. He was indefatigable, and we've wound up with an 80% sell-through--much higher than we anticipated. We're looking for continued sales and definitely see another Christmas season for the hardcover."

In a year when customers tended to pass over new business books in favor of bestsellers from 2000 or even earlier, such as Who Moved My Cheese?, Fish! and First, Break all the Rules, the year's opportunistic business books met with mixed success. Back in January, the story of the Microsoft trial was still unfolding when Ken Auletta's postmortem, World War 3.0 (Random), landed. "It was a disappointment that even someone as influential and well-connected as Ken Auletta couldn't pull it off. The book felt dated and the trial wasn't even over when the book came out," said bookseller Pennington. "So many of the really interested readers have already followed the news very closely. They don't want a quick book, they want to look back when it's clear what really happened, based on inside information."

Though many retailers noted that the investment and financial planning category was especially tough in 2001, HarperCollins managed to buck the trend with an instant book by Ric Edelman, who appears regularly on Oprah as a financial expert. When Edelman mentioned in passing that he was making an audio for a seminar on investing in a bear market, publisher Cathy Hemming jumped at the idea: "We were clearly in a recession at that point; everyone was talking about their mutual funds dissolving before eyes." The result was Financial Security in Troubled Times (HarperBusiness, Oct.), which netted 140,000 copies. "We're probably going to get some returns back on it," Hemming commented. "I was amazed it wasn't an instant bestseller--especially with such a terrific price, $14.95--but we're staying on top of it."

Not Much Spark in Adventure Books

No adventure book last year had more advance hype than the two rival accounts of the 1993 eruption of Colombia's Galeras volcano, which killed nine people. First to be signed up was Surviving Galeras (Houghton, Apr.) by the volcanologist who led an expedition that year, Stanley Williams, with collaborator Fen Montaigne. It was soon followed by a substantial six-figure world rights deal for No Apparent Danger (HarperCollins, Mar.), in which NASA geologist Victoria Bruce charged that Williams's negligence led to loss of life on his geological team.

Though both publishers noted that advance orders were strong, Stewart said both books "did modestly" at Ingram. "The publishers tried to recreate the excitement that surrounded the various accounts of the Everest debacle a few years back, but it wasn't effective. People need to be more familiar with a place before they can get worked up about it." For Houghton sales director Bridget Marmion, "It was a classic case of two books on the same subject getting reviewed together and canceling each other out. Interestingly, in the U.K. and Germany, where our book didn't have the same competition, it's doing very well."

Another highly anticipated book that registered as a disappointment to booksellers was Sebastian Junger's Fire (Norton, Sept.). Through the journalism collection succeeded in drawing media attention in the aftermath of September 11 because it included the last interview granted by Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud before his death, sales were uneven. "Publishers keep pitching the next great adventure book but it is rather tough going generally," explained Daniel Goldin, buyer at the Wisconsin-based Harry Schwartz Bookshops. "Fire in particular was a disappointment. I was unsure of whether a collection of pieces would resonate with [Junger's] market. But it didn't even matter because Junger cut off publicity to go to Afghanistan [as a correspondent for CBS News]." Added Karen Pennington, "It sold well out of gate, then declined, though it came back in December," when Junger returned to the U.S. and picked up his promotion again.

Okay, You're Crazy

Even in the best of times, celebrity books can attract publicity galore and scant sales. With a softening economy and "a real lack of interest in books not perceived as serious or meaningful" after September 11, according to Ingram's Nancy Stewart, few of them lived up to expectations this year, especially in the last quarter of the year.

Booksellers were quick to point to Anne Heche's Call Me Crazy as a particularly egregious publication. After announcing a first print of 250,000, Scribner shipped about 80,000 copies in early September. "It was an attempt to spin an extremely unfortunate section of her life and was a little mordant in its conception," said Pennington. "There was a lot of talk about it, but low sales. And after September 11, people had moved on."

Even celebrity authors with bestselling track records found it difficult to attract media attention after the attacks. Despite the success of Don't Block the Blessings (Riverhead) and a cookbook, Labelle Cuisine (Broadway), Patti Labelle's compilation of inspirational maxims, Patti's Pearls (Warner, Oct.), was hamstrung. "It didn't perform the way we wanted," said Jamie Raab, who struck a seven figure deal for the book, Labelle's first with Warner. "Her signings were good, but the national media was off. Though it was pithy and wonderful, it was a thin book, and people may have been deterred by the price and size."

Lightning Rarely Strikes Twice

Coming off phenomenal trade paperback sales of well over a million copies for their first novels, Tracy Chevalier and Anita Diamant both faced Sisyphean journeys back to such heights. Published in the immediate aftermath of September 11 and encountering mixed reviews, their second novels finished the year with respectable--but not stellar--hardcover sales. Netting fewer than 128,000 copies, Chevalier's Falling Angels (Dutton, Oct.) fell about 6,000 copies short of Girl with a Pearl Earring; it spent only three weeks on PW's bestseller list last year vs. seven weeks for her debut. Though Diamant didn't hit PW's list, she marked more of a gain for Good Harbor (Scribner, Oct), selling nearly 170,000 hardcovers vs. 33,000 for The Red Tent, which took off in paperback when Diamant committed herself to touring bookstores and meeting with reading groups on her own steam.

Why didn't these authors' extraordinary paperback success catapult them onto the hardcover bestseller lists for longer stays? "Many general fiction readers don't know authors," said Maupin. "That's the slippery slope that many Oprah books also go down: a customer will remember a recommendation about a particular story, but they don't connect with the author's name. People are just so bombarded with information." For Cathy Keibler, corporate inventory manager for the two Hawley-Cook bookstores in Louisville, Ky., the format was also a factor: "Quality paperback is just about perfect--it's affordable, portable and accessible. With the economy taking a turn for the worse, folks weren't willing to invest in any but the biggest names, which in most cases they were buying as gifts for others." And at, where reader reviews can sway customers before they buy, senior buyer Marilyn Dahl observed, "Both Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Red Tent were so unique they were difficult to match. To quote one of our customers who posted a review for Good Harbor, 'When you are the renowned author of The Red Tent, how do you top yourself?" Still, this story isn't over until the paperbacks have run their course.

Joining the growing list of Oprah book club alumni whose subsequent books have met with lackluster sales was Melinda Hayes. Though her Mother of Pearl was a 1999 pick, last year's Chalktown (Hyperion, May) barely made a dent. "I didn't even see the sales I would on a good literary title with buzz from a no-name writer," said Harry Schwartz's Daniel Goldin.

Meanwhile, Anita Shreve proved the apparent rule that authors who have built a pre-Oprah following come out ahead on subsequent books. In hardcover, Shreve jumped from 35,000 hardcovers in print for her sixth novel, The Pilot's Wife (1998), which was chosen by Oprah in paperback, to 275,000 copies for Fortune's Rocks (1999) and 295,000 copies last year's The Last Time They Met. "With several successful titles, Shreve has achieved a formula for success and didn't suffer as much with her subsequent books as others have," said Nancy Stewart, who compared her to Barbara Kingsolver in that respect. "Good media coverage, a New York Times review and Book Sense support also helped," added Pennington.

We'll have to wait a few years to find out what happens to the next book from Jonathan Franzen, who was so notoriously disowned by Oprah last year. But for the moment it's clear that her kiss-off didn't hurt The Corrections (FSG, Sept.). "It was our biggest book last year after John Grisham," said Daniel Goldin. "We sell Oprah titles pretty well, and we also sell to the anti-Oprah people and The Corrections had all the bases covered. Plus, it was a great book."

One first novel that rode out its early buzz and began to realize its potential early in the year, with the help of some old-fashioned elbow grease from the publisher and booksellers, was The Death of Vishnu by Manil Suri (Jan.). Norton won U.S. rights to the book for $250,000 at one of the hardest-fought auctions of 2000. By the spring, it was becoming a bookseller favorite and almost made the PW list, creating a solid base for a planned trilogy that will include The Life of Shiva and The Birth of Brahma. Ingram's Nancy Stewart attributes its success to the publisher's passion: "Norton had their heart in this one, and they did everything to promote it." While several booksellers quibbled with the book's positioning, they had no trouble getting behind it. "I found it a wonderfully arch comedy of manners, more like Jane Austen than anything else, though it wasn't billed that way," said Pennington. "The cover was beautiful and very sellable, though it gave the wrong impression about the book," added Maupin. "The Norton rep really pushed it, and it turned out to be wonderfully rich."

In the worst of times, that's a combination that still works. Let's hope for better times from here on out.