Events are a growing part of publishers' author strategies, but do they always result in a move up the bestseller lists?
Speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival last week, Clare Balding, whose memoir My Animals and Other Family was recently published, said she's gunning to be number one in the charts this Christmas—specifically the Sunday Times' non-fiction chart which does not include cookbooks and thereby removes the threat of Penguin stablemate Jamie Oliver.
For Balding's dream to come true, she'll have to beat memoirs by Cheryl Cole, Rod Stewart, and The Terminator. The fact she has a packed events schedule will help, but as Clare has no doubt discovered, there is a slight caveat…
Balding said she's become an expert in how bestseller lists are compiled and has been making sure that sales at off-site events (festivals, horse trials, literary lunches) are included in the official stats. Are they? Well… official sales body Nielsen has incredibly robust procedures in place to make sure bulk sales in the EPOS data it receives from booksellers are 100% legitimate—from an event and not the result of, say, an IT cock-up or a fat-fingered bookseller. But there is one way in which sales from an event won't be included in the official data: the bookseller handling the event in question isn't a member of Nielsen's Total Consumer Market panel.
Nielsen will only accept data from panel members—bonafide, approved, sanctioned booksellers who share their own sales data with Nielsen and get back a huge amount of total-market sales stats in return. And rightly so. Nielsen's policy might appear strange but it has to have such a strict policy for a very good reason—to prevent any old Tom, Dick or Harry from manipulating the bestseller lists. If Nielsen didn't have such a policy, anyone could call Nielsen up and claim they'd sold tons of copies of their book to friends and family, and expect to appear in the charts.
Of course, a sale is a sale whether it appears in the official Nielsen data or not, but if like Clare Balding you're going after the number one spot, do the radio interviews, do the TV spots, do the Twitter thing. But for the love of God, if you're doing a 100-date book tour, be sure to check that the booksellers handing your events are members of Nielsen's Total Consumer Market panel. And if they aren't, ask them the hell why not.
Philip Stone is The Bookseller's charts editor.