2013: Big Names, Even Bigger Sales

Booksellers closed out 2013 on a high note, with sales the last two weeks of the year up 10.6% from 2012. According to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks about 80% of print book sales, outlets in the retail & club channel (which does not include Walmart) reported total unit sales of 38.7 million for the two-week period ending December 29, up from just shy of 35 million the year before. The biggest selling book in the country for the period, Jeff Kinney’s Hard Luck, the latest entry in the Wimpy Kid series, saw sales surge 31% in the week leading up to Christmas. Close on its heels were a flock of other big-name authors, like Bill O’Reilly (with Martin Dugard), whose Killing Jesus cracked the one million sales mark, and John Grisham and Veronica Roth, whose novels Sycamore Row and Divergent, respectively, also saw sales increases of 50% the same week. Sales slowed after the holiday, though these and the other big books of the season— Charles Krauthammer’s Things That Matter, all of the Duck Dynasty books (which were themselves helped by some recent Robertson-family controversy), Tom Clancy’s posthumous Command Authority, the other books in the Divergent trilogy, and Mitch Albom’s The First Phone Call from Heaven— outperformed their counterparts from 2012. Tellingly, Kinney and O’Reilly topped the charts at the end of last year with their previous books, The Third Wheel and Killing Kennedy, which together ended the year with combined total sales of 2,263,038. This year, Hard Luck and Killing Jesus racked up print unit sales of 2,937,202.—Jonathan Segura

An Officer’s Solitary War

One of the most extraordinary stories of bravery to emerge from the war in Afghanistan took place in June 2005, when a four-man Navy SEAL team found themselves badly outnumbered in a long and vicious firefight. Their mission was to capture or kill a notorious al Qaeda leader known to be ensconced in a Taliban stronghold surrounded by a small but heavily armed force. Less than 24 hours later, only one of those Navy SEALs remained alive. That was Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell, a sniper and team medic, who wasn’t sure he was going to survive. He was badly wounded and didn’t know anyone was trying to rescue him. In a 60 Minutes interview on December 8, Luttrell told Anderson Cooper, “My back was broke, I had frag laying everywhere. I just crawled into this rock embankment, started taking dirt and putting it in all my wounds so I wouldn’t bleed to death.” Luttrell ultimately turned his harrowing story into Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10. Little, Brown’s 2007 hardcover edition became an immediate bestseller, rose to #1 and spent 39 weeks on the New York Times list. Back Bay’s 2008 trade paper edition likewise became a bestseller, and has appeared on the list every year since 2008, and is now in its 87th week on the Times’s list. On our Trade Paperback list this week, Lone Survivor lands at #4, with Nielsen sales of 13,227 for the week. The 60 Minutes appearance is no doubt driving readers toward the book, but the paperback is also benefiting from the recent (Nov. 19) publication of the movie tie-in editions. Director Peter Berg, who famously helmed the film Friday Night Lights in 2004, two years later developed the script into an award-winning NBC TV series. The Lone Survivor movie version—starring Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, Eric Bana, Mark Wahlberg, and Taylor Kitsch—got limited release (for Oscar consideration) in New York and L.A. on Christmas Day; it opens nationwide on January 10. According to the Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy, “The film is rugged, skilled, relentless, determined, narrow-minded and focused, everything that a soldier must be when his life is on the line.”—Dick Donahue

Playground Smarts Leads to Bestseller for Sky Pony

Looms for weaving jewelry and other objects out of colorful rubber bands proved to be some of the hottest toys this past holiday season, and Sky Pony Press, Skyhorse’s children’s imprint, caught wind of the craze early from a reliable source: the playground. “Our publisher, Tony Lyons, was at a playground with his daughter Elsa, and her friends were all doing rubber band crafts,” said Bill Wolfsthal, associate publisher, and director of sales and marketing at Skyhorse. “When he asked Elsa what they were all doing, a mother sitting next to him on the park bench asked, in a slightly condescending way, ‘You don’t know about Rainbow Loom?’ ”Not long after that, Sky Pony acquired Loom Magic! by John McCann and Becky Thomas, which debuted this week at #20 on our Children’s Picture Books list. The publisher was stocking books in the warehouse less than four weeks after the deal was inked in October. Loom Magic! was released in November, and Sky Pony has since gone back to press seven times, with 250,000 copies now in print. The publisher is following up with Loom Magic XTreme!, slated for release on January 28, with an announced print run of 100,000, and Loom Magic Creatures!, to be published in March.—Clare Swanson

Dan Brown’s ‘Inferno’ Remains Hot

Mysteries and the brave souls who solve them are universal crowd pleasers, and just when it seems there is nothing new under the sun, some lucky author nails it, like Dan Brown, whose fourth novel, The Da Vinci Code, opened up a whole genre and spawned infinite imitators. And Brown’s combination of an intelligent and educated protagonist, his Harvard art historian and symbology expert, Robert Langdon, esoteric codes and riddles, intriguing locations, and a short time span in which to solve the puzzle, has proven irresistible to readers. With Inferno, Brown’s fourth novel featuring Langdon, the sales just keep coming. For 2013, Inferno leads the pack of bestsellers currently on our Hardcover Fiction list, with 1.4 million copies sold, and just this week jumps to #10 from #12 last week. The book pubbed in May and has sat on the list for a total of 33 weeks. Brown knows his way around bestseller lists. At one point, after the thunderous success of 2003’s Da Vinci Code, all four of his novels were on the New York Times bestseller list in the same week in 2004. With Inferno, Brown goes back to Italy, and this time, the secrets and mysteries are hidden in Dante’s The Divine Comedy (Langdon is from Harvard, after all) and the chase is on. The question is always with blockbuster authors: Can it keep up? Can you top your personal best? John Grisham, who made the legal profession sexy, is #1 on the list this week with Sycamore Row, and in only 10 weeks has racked up 700,000 in sales. And then there’s Khalid Hosseini, who has won hearts and minds with simple family dramas by setting his stories in exotic and mysterious Afghanistan. His latest, And the Mountains Echoed, another May pub, sits at #14 with sales to date of 561,000 copies. Whoever wins the race, for sure these are no one-trick ponies.—Louisa Ermelino

Top 10 Overall

Rank Title Author Imprint This Week Units
1 Hard Luck Jeff Kinney Abrams/Amulet 121,334
2 Divergent Veronica Roth HarperCollins/Tegen 75,649
3 Killing Jesus O’Reilly/Dugard Henry Holt 70,566
4 Things That Matter Charles Krauthammer Crown Forum 65,933
5 Sycamore Row John Grisham Doubleday 54,434
6 Allegiant Veronica Roth HarperCollins/Tegen 52,233
7 Insurgent Veronica Roth HarperCollins/Tegen 40,981
8 Cross My Heart James Patterson Little, Brown 40,592
9 Guinness World Records 2014 Guinness World Records Guinness World Records 40,386
10 David and Goliath Malcolm Gladwell Little, Brown 39,773