Fall has always been the busy season in publishing, with its inevitable crush of titles scrambling for attention and a toehold in bookstores, but at no time in recent memory has there been such a traffic jam of big-name authors unleashing top-drawer books.
Already, the October best-seller lists read like a who's who: Mitch Albom, Bob Woodward, Frank Rich, John Grisham, Michael Connelly, John le Carre, Cormac McCarthy, Charles Frazier and Janet Evanovich.
In coming weeks, they are likely to be joined by literary rock stars like Stephen King, Michael Crichton, Richard Ford, Thomas Harris and Thomas Pynchon.
To the great delight of retailers, autumn is packed with big-budget, name-brand writers, and winners have already begun to emerge, though there have been some crackups as well, and the climate has made it a particularly difficult season for lesser-known writers. The nonfiction star of the season, Woodward's State of Denial, has moved 309,000 copies since it went on sale Sept. 30, according to Nielsen BookScan, and stores are having trouble keeping the book in stock. “Right now, it's like printing money,” said Gerry Donaghy, a purchasing supervisor at Powell Books, an independent bookstore in Portland, Ore.
Last week, Grisham came out with The Innocent Man, his first work of nonfiction, a book that has inspired so much confidence in his publisher, Doubleday, that it has already printed 2.8 million copies.
The latest Bill O'Reilly book, Culture Warrior, made its debut at No. 1 on the best-seller list of The New York Times and has sold roughly 121,000 copies since it was published Sept. 15.
Among the casualties of the season have been The Interpretation of Murder, by Jed Rubenfeld, a literary murder mystery starring a fictionalized Sigmund Freud that has fallen well short of its publisher's expectations. Also falling short has been The Meaning of Night: A Confession, by Michael Cox, published by W.W. Norton on Sept. 18. A Spot of Bother, by Mark Haddon, appeared briefly on the Times' expanded best-seller list but then dropped off completely, a disappointment for an author whose last book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, spent 58 weeks on the paperback list.
Publishers and retailers are hoping for an industry-wide lift during this high season, when holiday gift giving pushes up bookstore traffic. It may also be a respite for booksellers, who have been grumbling for several years about sluggish sales and a dearth of dependable blockbuster fiction.
“This is one of the best fall seasons for fiction that we've seen in a long, long time,” said Stan Hynds, a book buyer at Northshire Bookstore, an independent bookseller in Manchester Center, Vermont. “The category has been hurting for a few years because political books have been so dominant, so it's nice that it's going to bounce back this season.”
The lineup of writers this season includes many who have large and loyal fan bases, the kind of customers who will buy anything a favorite author writes. One of those authors, Albom, has a new book, For One More Day, to yank at his readers' heartstrings; it has sold roughly 319,000 copies, according to BookScan. The much-anticipated Thirteen Moons, Frazier's follow-up to his hit novel, Cold Mountain, has been closely watched since its debut on Oct. 3. So far, 74,000 copies have been sold, according to BookScan, a sizable number for a literary novel, but hardly Albom territory.