Does placement on the New York Times best-seller list promise more sales and fans for black authors? Responses from industry experts range from an emphatic "yes" to "not really, but the exposure doesn't hurt."
"It matters," says Dawn Davis, vice president and editorial director of Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins publishing. "First, you get added exposure and better placement in the chains [booksellers Barnes & Noble, Borders and Waldenbooks, plus retailers like Wal-Mart and Costco].
"Second, they put your books up front in the store [once they make "the list"] and they get discounted, which gives consumers further incentives to buy," she adds.
Tavis Smiley's The Covenant With Black America zoomed to the top spot on The Times nonfiction paperback list because "he really hawked that book," says Janet Hill, vice president and executive editor with Doubleday. "He was on C-SPAN and visiting churches.
Reaching Critical Mass
"They [Smiley and publisher Third World Press] built the groundswell. Older church people may not appear to be New York Times Book Review readers; however, other people heard about The Covenant and came to the party as well," says Hill.
As of June 18, Smiley's The Covenant had been on The Times list 13 weeks with some time at No. 1; Perry's Don't Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings had been on the nonfiction hardcover list eight weeks with a week at No. 1; and Harris placed high at No. 3 in his opening week, on May 21. "The fact that it kept going up and up was an indication that there were other readers, a wider audience other than African Americans, buying the book," says Hill.
The New York Times Book Review says its editors calculate book sales this way: Weekly rankings reflect sales at almost 4,000 bookstores, plus wholesalers serving 50,000 other retailers, statistically weighted to represent all such outlets nationwide. Black-owned Karibu Books, operator of several stores in the Washington, D.C., area, has been among the reporting stores for at least four years, says Lee McDonald, marketing director/events coordinator for Karibu. "The publicists always ask if we report to the New York Time," she added. Third World Press, publishers of The Covenant, says it has sold about 400,000 copies.
"The New York Times list was nice, but most of the publicity [that drove a lot of sales] was on urban radio," says Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambail, of The Literary in Philadelphia and Smiley's publicist. "Tavis went to places off the...