Tuesday, October 07, 2014

I'm on the New York Times Bestsellers List ...Seven Years Later.

A few months ago, when it was announced that the New York Times would be expanding their bestsellers lists to include monthly specialized lists including one for books about animals, I thought: "I wish they'd had that a few years ago." Because a few years ago I published several books--I'm a Good Dog in 2012 and The Dogs Who Found Me in 2006-- that did quite well, appeared on regional lists and certainly would have ended up on the new Times list if such a thing had existed. I also wondered at the factors that went into the decision to expand the lists: was it a way to market their lists to wider distribution, to encourage readers to find titles that might never make it onto the master lists? And I also wondered whether appearing on the list would make any difference beyond fulfilling an arbitrary childhood goal of becoming a "New York Times bestselling author."

The face of a bestseller
But none of this was on my mind late last night when something inspired me to go and look at the new list that had been posted for October. There, at #5, was...me. My book, Dogs I Have Met and the People They Found, was published in October of 2007--but here it was, the #5 animal title in October 2014. Naturally, I immediately posted the news on Facebook. Then I went back to check that I wasn't hallucinating or having some kind of dream.

How did I end up on the list seven years late? Last month, Amazon promoted the ebook edition of the title as a $1.99 deal for just one day. I found out about the offering when a number of Twitter handles began tweeting a link to the book and tagging me in the post, but the day was nearly over by the time I also began to spread the news. Still, the book rose into the top 100 in sales and stayed there, even after the price leapt back up to nine dollars and change. And thus, a bestseller was born.

Back in the 90s, when I worked in publishing, appearing on the list was big news. Champagne bottles were uncorked, bonuses were paid, followup deals were hastily offered. But this isn't the 90s. In fact, I have no connection to anyone working at the publishing house--Globe Pequot/Lyons Press--who published Dogs I Have Met. Everyone has been fired or moved on, and the company itself was sold to another distributor who, quite kindly, recently reached out to tell me that they owe me royalties. But Dogs I Have Met was the followup to my biggest selling book, my memoir, The Dogs Who Found Me. That book sold, I have to say, far more copies that many bestsellers rack up. After the first week on sale, they fired my editor. Then they scrambled to keep up with the unexpected demand, created, in part, because of grassroots support following Katrina, sincere passion of people who owned pit bulls as pets, and my having hired Meryl Moss to help with publicity. But while the book was popping onto regional lists as I toured, other parts of the country were without any copies at all, so it sold long and steady, but never all at once.

In spite of their blunders, and their firing my editor, it was decided that I should do a followup. I thought I followup
The horror!
wasn't a great idea. It was too soon. But I needed the money, which was very slight, so I agreed. The concept was this: I would share stories that I had heard from other people's experiences with stray dogs, gleaned from emails and conversations as I had traveled the country. The previous book had featured my pit bull Sula on the cover. Before I knew anything, they had created a cover for the new book with a birthday-card cute beagle puppy. I was mortified. The only beagle I had experience with was one that had bitten me in a park in NYC, so I immediately composed a chapter titled "The Beagle Who Bit Me." I sent a professional photo of Brando, my first dog, who had more fan mail that I did, and suggested they use it. Somehow they agreed, but later, when it was too late, they said that they had been unable to approach Barnes and Noble about carrying the book because they found the dog on the cover too terrifying. They brought me to BEA to sign galleys that year, and after a whirlwind 90 minutes of signing hundreds of copies for librarians and booksellers, I opened the galley for the first time to find that the formatting had run all of the chapters together without a break. It was gibberish. And the entire publication experience continued in that way, including the firing of my new editor just before publication. The new book sold about 20% of what the previous one had managed.

And now it is a New York Times bestseller.

Later today I'll go to work at Starbucks like any other day. I'll put on the green apron and black hat and try to get there early to ask my manager about the hours that were missing from my last paycheck and the hours that were dropped from my schedule. On my break I'll try to contact Verizon about my overdue cell phone bill and the parking garage about my pass. And when I get home exhausted after closing, I will feed the dogs and take them out and then maybe, if I don't fall asleep, I'll finish that proposal I've been almost done with, for a new book that maybe, I think now, someone might actually publish.

But I think what matters most to me is that Brando is on the cover of a New York Times Bestseller.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Check out these amazing shots from our Lilly the Deer project




This weekend I'll be working on the text for our Lilly the Deer book project, so I thought I'd send out these preview images from my project partner, photographer Traer Scott.  Lilly and her family are pretty private folks, so we weren't sure how things would work out once we got there.  Would she be camera shy?  Or bored? Lilly and Traer quickly bonded, and I was left on the sidelines.  Story of my life. But look at these great photos--just a hint at what was captured over a weekend last month.  (And if you'd like to own a limited edition signed archival print, they are available with a $250 donation to our project.)  


At one point, we decided to open a window and see what Lilly thought of looking out from the safety of her house: 

Lilly is gorgeous, and her story is moving.  I hope I can do it justice with my prose.  

We're still a little short of our budget as we get ready to go to press, so if you'd like to make a donation--even a small one--it will help us print up the complimentary copies we'll be distributing at the end of the month.  We also have some awesome rewards for donations, including an acknowledgement in the book if you donate by Monday October 6th via our Fundly page. 

Thanks,

Ken