I've Got The Royalty Statement Blues

It's an election year.

A couple of brown girls are heading to the White House.

I promoted as hard as I could (even hiring a publicist for the first time).

Reviewers said the books were "fast and funny" and sure to "grab teen readers," described Sameera as "savvy and appealing," and even compared them to the The Princess Diaries series.

My blog buddies did their best to get the buzz going, and readers still send me the nicest fan mail.

So here's my question for my Fire Escape visitors (okay, it's a bit of a whine): WHY AREN'T MY FIRST DAUGHTER BOOKS SELLING MORE COPIES?
  1. They're okay, but honestly? Not your best books.

  2. The covers sent out a "multicultural" vibe, not a "chick lit" vibe, which (I hate to say it) might have hurt sales.

  3. You shouldn't have made Sparrow's Dad a Republican. What were you thinking?

  4. The timing of release was wrong -- June 2007 was way too early for book one.

  5. They should have been released in paperback from the start, the hardcovers were too expensive.

  6. That's the way the baby bounces these days, sweetie. Suck it up and move on.
With the inauguration coming up, I'm wondering if I can gather my energies to give the books one last promotional push, or if it's just not worth it. Unfortunately, if the paperback of EXTREME AMERICAN MAKEOVER doesn't sell well, the paperback of WHITE HOUSE RULES will never see the light of day.

Please be harsh and straight if you answer via comments, because I'd like to understand the mysteries of this industry. My skin is thick from years of being in this profession, and I don't even care if you've never heard of the books. Just vote. If you prefer an anonymous quiz, here you go, please pick the answer you think fits best, and guess if you've never read them.


Sara Z. said…
I voted that they should have been paperback originals, but usually I don't know what I'm talking about when it comes to business stuff.

On a personal note, I know that the kind of teen reader I was and the kind of reader I still am would not be inclined to pick up the books because they look super happy. They kind of say Disney and tween to me? Whereas your other covers tell me there's a complex story of the type I'm generally drawn to. So, basically...I'm judging a book by its cover!

But all that is personal taste stuff, and I WOULD THINK that the time is exactly right for these books. So I'm guessing that the current low sales could be a shelf-position-at-chains issue?
Mitali Perkins said…
Hey, I forgot that option! These were "tween" books, not "teen" books, so they were marketed to the wrong audience. Hmmmmm....

Yep, no sign of them at the chains.
Sara Z. said…
See, in theory it seems to me that these could potentially be huge, with Disney-channel tie-ins and everything. But if they're marketed to teens (or maybe the character is too old for tweens?), I don't know.

Also, the lack of them at the chains can pretty much account for the royalty blues, I'd think.
katherine tillotson said…

How do you know your numbers so quickly? My statements seem to lag 6 - 9 months.

I see you have lots of online presence. There is a site for the book, one for Sparrow, Facebook, My Space... Impressive.

I wish I knew the answer to your question. It seems to me that the reasons that books take off have to do with a unique chemistry that combines many factors. There is not one reason.

The conundrum continues to be - how much time to spend promoting the books on the shelf and how soon to turn to the next story.

Best wishes,
AC Gaughen said…
Well, here's the thing. You're a writer. First and foremost, that's what you are. And yes, I know how much it kills you that your books aren't getting the circulation they innately deserve. My advice would be to simply keep writing, keep publishing books and let your name and presence build up with each title you produce. It's the first rule of writing...just keep going.

Although Sara raises a really interesting point about Tween v Teen audiences. I wonder if that does play a significant role? Though it seems like so many publishers now are looking for MG books.

I say lets stick to the writing. ;-) Happy Thanksgiving, Mitali!
Mitali Perkins said…
The first book came out in 2007, so I have the numbers, Katherine. I do wish we had better access to how well our books are selling, and where. It would help us to promote them, so why don't publishers give us better information?

Creatively, I've moved on to the next stories, but of all the books I've written, I thought these might have a shot at that chemistry. Sigh.
Mitali Perkins said…
Thanks, AC! I really do have thick skin, so this is more a question to try and get some insight into the mysterious industry of publishing.
Sara Z. said…
Definitely the writing is the first job, but it's very smart for writers to pay attention to these things and try to figure out how to help our books...I know sometimes it can feel like "I don't want to dirty my hands with this stuff - I'm an artist." But you have do dirty your hands a little if you want to continue to have an audience. "Wise as serpents, innocent as doves" applies here - think like a marketer, be smart about our books...but then don't let that touch the creative process.
Sarah Rettger said…
I tried to vote for the "should have been a paperback" issue in the poll, but every time I clicked the "vote" button, it changed my selection on me! So if your poll shows a disproportionate number of "suck it up" responses, you have a reason to ignore them now.

But I think Sara got it absolutely right with the teen/tween issue - normally, I put a book with a high school protagonist in the YA section, but that wasn't your intended audience.

Now that I think about it, a Disney Channel tie-in would have been a great way to promote the book this fall. Why did it take this long for someone to figure it out? :-)
I totally agree that these covers look more tween than teen (the cover model on the first one totally looks like she could fit on the Clique novels, even in her positioning).

And, though I'll admit I haven't read these yet (though they're on my TBR list), I wonder if the covers are focused too strongly on the main character. It seems to me that the common ground for all readers (i.e., the entry point for the book) is the idea of an average girl (a girl just like me) becoming first daughter, and that the fact she's from a very specific cultural background is what gives it unique flavor. With that in mind, I think it might have been more approachable if the cover had focused more on the teen version of the presidential look, and add a more subtle (but still noticeable) Indian flair to it. Something that says "culture clash."

The first cover especially doesn't immediately tell me that this is a book about a presidential first daughter. My first interpretation would be that it's about an Indian girl trying to look more American, and dealing with cultural conflicts of being the first (i.e. eldest) daughter of the family. Perhaps because that's kind of what readers expect a multi-culti book to be about.

As with Ellen Emerson White's books, I think teens are always interested in what it's like to be THE first daughter (regardless of background), and I think readers would have been more likely to pick this up if it had been more obvious from the cover that that was a major plot point.

Hindsight, eh?
Mitali Perkins said…
I have a dreadful sinking feeling that a lot of our books are doomed before pub date because of co-op advertising with the chains, and an in-house publicity push for only a few books -- "these three titles will be our winners of the season so let's cut our losses on all the other ones."


Anyone got any contacts at Disney Channel :)?
Vivian said…
It's not over until it's over. There is plenty of time before January. Too bad the new first daughters will be too young to read your books, otherwise, I'd suggest you to send them copies.

I interviewed Melissa Walker for the WBBT, and asked her about the paperback vs. hardcover. She also gave a few tips on how to make a pitch to magazines. Maybe write up an article about your book and include other books that deal with first daughters?

Perhaps send the books to Republicans with huge media coverage that would hold your book in a photo shoot?

Not sure if any of this helps. Good luck!
anniedc said…
Don't stop now! Everyone was focused on the election now's the time for the transition. You've laid the groundwork (of advertising them) so keep at it.

You've gotten a lot of good reviews. I'm sure you feel that's payment enough, but it would be nice if money follows (to pay bills). Have you sent it to Al or Oprah? Is that even possible? Best of luck and congratulations on all your accomplishments.
Roger Sutton said…
Teen or tween, do you know just how many light-ish, contemporary books and series are being published for and about 10-13 year-old girls? It's a stampede! (Cue hordes of screaming tweens ;-) I'm guessing that's the problem more than anything.

I'm also guessing that lots of writers would be happy to get the numbers you do, so there should be comfort in that.
Mitali Perkins said…
Thanks, everybody, for the encouragement and comfort and suggestions. Very helpful.

Roger, I know there are bundles of fun teen books but how many are about dark-skinned First Daughters? It's the missed opportunity that slays me. Ah, well. On to revising BAMBOO PEOPLE!
Anonymous said…
I'm a Republican, and I think it is perfectly fine for her dad to be a Republican. That tiny fact shouldn't make someone not buy a book. If so, that would be prejudice. (Or racist. Which, the definition doesn't just have to do with someone's skin color.)
Anonymous said…
Brilliant suggestion to send a copy to the Obama girls. The oldest girl is probably old enough. Plus it's just a nice gesture and a kind of a prescient book, that I think would please the Obamas.

Also, a copy off to Oprah. Sure the odds are ridiculous, but you can't win if you don't play. Because you're right it is perfect timing.
Susan said…
Speaking as a 12 year old, I have to say that these are definitely tween books. Monsoon Summer is teen, the Sparrow books are tween. Not that that's a bad thing!!! If I'm rereading your books, I check out MS and FD, to balance each other out.
Varian Johnson said…
Hey Mitali,

I voted for the "multi-cultural" vibe, but I'll admit, I'm pretty biased about that. If I hadn't voted for that, I would have voted for tween/teen marketing...
Leslie said…
The fact that he was a Republican was unique in today's political culture. And he was a good representation of the kind of Republicans we need now! Thank you for developing them into well-rounded characters, not stereotypes.

I agree that they might need to be marketed to tweens. My daughter's 11-year old Mother/Daughter bookclub chose it and really liked it. Teen books now are so edgy (I'm currently in a YA lit class) and I think some teen readers have come to expect this. As a librarian-in-training and a mother of three, I however, want more things out there for teens that do not have drugs, alcohol, sex, etc. The industry seems to shun all things wholesome and this disturbs me. I thank you for offering something that is not trying to be edgy for the sake of being edgy.

leanne said…

You're not the only one out there wondering why your books won't sell. It's not a problem of "this isn't good writing," I don't think. I haven't read your First Daughter books yet, but I don't think they're horrible at all.

With the economy crashing around us, and "Twilight" being the new obsession for teen - and tween - readers nowadays, it's a terrible time for other authors.

I just think you should keep writing - I know someone else mentioned that - and soon, you'll get bigger sales. Keep working at it, and one day you'll be selling tons of copies.

I did notice something about your books, though - what if you tried a different cover option, without a girl on the front?

Also, as much as I respect your American and Indian ties, what if you tried one book without the Indian theme in it? Just for fun, maybe...because I've noticed that books that are mostly American tend to be highly popular.

Best wishes.
Anonymous said…
These books are simply to "nice" for the teen market. By that, I don't mean they're not 'edgy' enough. Believe me, I'm all for clean teen reads. But Sparrow isn't an exceptionally complex character, and all her problems end happily. Please don't take this the wrong way, as I really don't mean to be rude, and the books are very well written. Just the wrong age group.
meghannyc said…
Unfortunately, Mitali, I think it's all entirely random. I also had some _very_ timely books released this year--and have no sense whatsoever that they are flying off the shelves. (to put it mildly)

It will sound glib to say this, but I'm actually serious. If Sparrow had been dating a vampire, the sales probably would have quintupled.

And, how stupid is _that_? But, true, I'm afraid.

Ellen Emerson White