About My Book Hitting the New York Times Bestselling List, What Didn’t Happen and What Happens Now
Ok, so we got to talk about my book. 11 months ago, on September 13, 2016, I became an author. After getting an agent, writing a proposal, selling it and then getting to the work. My first book I’m Judging You: The Do Better Manual made its’ debut into the world, published by Henry Holt & Co. (an imprint of Macmillan) and I was thrilled!
And from the get go, my goal for this book was for it to hit the New York Times Bestseller list, because I knew that my book could not fail. If me, with this big online audience, can’t get people to buy my book, that’s going to speak to a bigger theme than just me not being able to get people to buy my book. It would mean it would be that much harder for black women to walk into a publishing house to say, “Yes, give me a book deal”, because they would have to argue against my failure. So I put the pressure on myself that my book had to be massive. It had to be a running success so somebody else who looks like me could walk into these publishing houses and be able to get a book deal and have their dreams come true too.
But first, I wanted to write something amazing that I was proud of. I wanted to write something that was the best of what I’ve done. Where people would read it and be like “Man, Luvvie is at her best with this book”. So I set out to write this manifesto of my life basically. If you read I’M JUDGING YOU, you’ll know who I am.
Leading up to the book coming out, I worked my ass off! I called all types of favors in with my networks. I was like “Y’all I need your help to make this book soar. I need your help to make sure this book doesn’t fail. I need your help to make sure that there can be another Luvvie one day making her dream come true with her first book.” And you answered my call, showing up and telling people to buy my book. You bought multiple copies. You bought multiple forms: the audiobook, the eBook, the physical book. You bought people my book for Christmas. You added it to book club lists (and are still adding it to lists).
Basically, my community showed up for me and really made sure that they pushed this book. And when my book came out September 13, I did a whole lotta press and I was everywhere!
I barely slept but it was for the greater good! I was on NPR, WGN News, News One, Good Morning Washington, and more. I even did some Canadian press. I was in all types of magazines: Essence, Good Housekeeping, Marie Claire. I was in newspapers. I did 50-eleben podcasts. People took to social media, using the hashtag #ImJudgingYou to share that they had gotten my book. In fact, if you click it in Instagram, you’ll see all the judgey love. I WAS EVERYWHERE pushing this
It paid off. The week after my book came out, when the New York Times bestseller’s list was announced on September 21, 2016, my book was #5 in the paperback nonfiction category! Huge! HUGE. I even beat David Brooks from the New York Times himself. Yo. Dream come true! I was geeked! I was at ADCOLOR in Florida getting a Rockstar Award that day too so it was an amazing day. But mission: accomplished!
It felt incredible.
Fun fact: before my book even came out it had already gone to second print as in the number of books they had already printed was not enough before my book even came out. Like they had to go back to print before my book even came out. So when I hit the NY Times list, at that point we were on print 3. Only week one and we’re already on print 3.
So I got my dream right. Yes, Yes I did! The day after, on September 22nd, my publisher sends me the new version of my book cover that would have the New York Times best-selling burst on the cover. I was super impressed by how quick they got me the redesign. And wrapped around JudgeyPop would be Shonda Rhimes’ blurb of my book. I was like “Sweet! I’m looking forward to the day when I see it in person”.
I’ve been on the road basically since my book came out, doing book signings, speaking engagements and the like. I always look out to see if I’ll see a book with the NYTimes seal on the cover.
My book has been selling consistently since it came out too. Usually, books will like do well for two weeks, do well for a month, do well for two months, and then drop all the way off. There was a point where I was still selling a thousand copies of my book per week. There was a time a few months ago where I sold a thousand copies in a day after I randomly mentioned it on Facebook, because a lot of people still don’t realize that I have this book out, funny enough. PLUS, I’m Judging You got optioned by Shondaland to be turned into a cable series. AND it’s gotten a bunch of awards! For a debut book, it’s pretty solid.
Anywho so last week, on August 9, 2017, almost exactly 11 months after my book came out, I find out it’s on its 9th print. NINE. As in, they printed one original, and they’ve had to go back to the printers 8 times to get more copies of my book. Keeping track? Word. Throughout this whole thing, whenever y’all buy books, especially my books you will upload pictures and be like “Hey I finally got Luvvie’s book.” And every single time I check to see if that copy of my book has the New York Times Bestselling seal on it and every time, it’s a no. And sometimes I’ll randomly order my own book just to see, because it’s been a long time and I still haven’t seen an actual physical version of my book that has the cover with the burst on it.
So my girl, Samantha Irby’s book, We Are Never Meeting in Real Life just came out. GO BUY IT because she is everything good in life. Sam’s book came out in May and instantly hit the New York Times list because of course and she’s BAE and she’s everything and it’s supposed to do that. Last week, Sam posted a picture of her book with her New York Times Bestselling thing on the top and I was like, “Wait a minute, Samantha’s came out in May and already has her seal, and I still haven’t seen my book with this seal on it.”
So I brought it back up to my publishers. I ring the alarm and tell them “Hey, I haven’t seen any copies of my book with the New York Times seal. Have you? Can you send me a copy?”
And this is when I got confirmation. They never printed copies of my book with the New York Times seal on it. Not one copy of my book exists out of probably 50,000 that are floating in this world that says New York Times Bestseller on it. And it’s been 11 months since my book came out and it’s gone back to print 9 times.
What happened? I was told it’s a mistake, it was an oversight. The cover of the book that was redesigned after I hit The List somehow never made it to the production floor for printing. Even though, it’s gone to print at least 6 times since. And no, there wasn’t an excess of covers laying around that they had to use. And no one flagged it.
And I basically had a mini breakdown because I didn’t know how to deal with that. I got on FB Live to talk it through and legit cried on there.
Folks might not understand how hard I worked for this, and it hurt like hell for something that I earned to still not be there. I used to go into bookstores myself and convince the owners to stock it. I would stop in bookstores at every airport I found myself during my tour or any trips that I had and say “Hey, I’m Luvvie. I wrote this amazing book, do you have it in stock?” and they’ll so “No we don’t have it” and I’d pull it out and I’d tell them that it was a New York Times Bestseller and they’ll be like “Oh” and they’d look it up and like “oh cool”. I used to be the person in the bookstores myself advocating for this book to be in bookstores. It was to the point where Hudson News, which is in every airport, picked my book as one of the featured ones for December for holiday travel.
There’s literally nothing more I could’ve done myself. I trusted people to do their jobs. I can’t do production myself. I did everything else I was supposed to do. I wrote an amazing book. I hired an external publicist to help me push this book. I even coordinated and funded a whole 15 city tour myself, minus 3 stops that was handled by Holt. I tried to find international publishers for myself so that my book can be available for my readers in Kenya and South Africa and Nigeria. My book just got to Nigeria because of a bookstore (hey Roving Heights) that insisted that they were going to make sure that they stocked my book. They ordered my book from the US to make sure that it was in Nigeria because they wanted to make sure that my book was there.
I have gone above and beyond as the person who wrote this book. I went above and beyond to make this book a success and I found out this happened. I cried. I literally cried over it, because it felt like a gut punch. This book has sold well but can you imagine how much better it could’ve sold in stores if it got that proper credit and people who randomly walk into bookstores saw that seal on it?
I have had to work four times as hard.
And why does it matter to be a New York Times bestseller? It’s not just bragging rights. Books that are New York Times Bestsellers, and indicate it on the cover are treated differently.
- It makes stores want to stock it more because they know that people gravitate towards those books.
- People who don’t know me will see that seal and pick it up just for the fact that it has it on it.
- It makes a difference, in terms of earnings. It allows you to instantly command more money for your work. This oversight lost me AND them money we could have made.
My work as a writer, and as a person, is not tied to this accolade. I was proud of what I created, with or without that stamp. However, as a business person who doesn’t like her money to be played with, this heated me up! My book has sold really well in spite of the fact that it has never gotten the credit on the actual physical book. Just how hard do I have to work to get the credit that I’ve earned? I could not have worked any harder on pushing this book.
My book has outsold a lot of books that got 10x as many resources. So this one thing that could also make it soar some more isn’t even on it! FROM 11 MONTHS AGO. I can’t understand how 11 months after a book hits the New York Times Bestselling list, there are no covers that exist that indicate that. It’s a mistake that was out of my control, and I surely tried to handle as much as I could. I even asked about this back in February, and everyone dropped the ball. I’ve been wondering where these books are that have New York Times Bestseller on it. That’s because they didn’t exist. They did not exist, they haven’t existed.
Being public about my frustration with this situation is difficult, and speaking up about this is hard. I know I’m putting myself in the line of fire. However, people see a lot of the glory, but not the struggles.
People think that whenever you publish a book and it does well, all of a sudden you are GOOD. I remember when reading something that was written when my book came out and announcement about it being optioned by Shonda dropped. They said I was a millionaire now. Nah yo. That ain’t how it works for most people in publishing, unless you’re J.K. Rowling.
Just know the grind is real and know that all that glitters is not gold especially when it comes to publishing. Speaking out like this is hard, because this is an industry that is shrouded in mystery. How things work is left behind a veil so here’s a peek into it. I wasn’t going into this process thinking I was going to write this book and things would magically happen. I am not immune to hard work, but I sure was thinking things would get easier for me and I wouldn’t have to hit so many walls once I hit that golden mark. Twice as hard. Half as far.
This felt like a “Moonlight” moment. Even when we win, we don’t fully win.
My publishers didn’t try to come up with excuses and they’ve apologized profusely to me. I felt let down completely, and they understood. They are trying to make sure something like this never happens again. So, on to what will happen next.
Thousands of gold stickers that say “New York Times bestseller” have been created. They will be placed on inventory of my books that my publishers have, before being sent out to retailers and bookstores.
People who already have my book can request a sticker to place on it by going to THIS SITE. It will be shipped to you to stick on the book.
My book has now gone to 10th print and THOSE copies will have the correct cover it should have had since September 22, 2016. They will be ready in a few weeks. I’ll let y’all know when they are ready.
We’re also working on something else. Will announce that once I can.
All in all, this has been a major learning experience. My biggest lessons:
- You always have to be your own biggest advocate. No one can fight for you like you can.
- You have less control than you think. And shit happens. STILL. Don’t try to do everything yourself.
- Cry about it for a bit. But get to fixing.
My hope from this is that my experience makes someone else’s go smoother, because they can learn from the landmines I’ve stepped on. I did something I am very proud of. And I will get the credit I am due.
I wanna take this time to thank my audience, once again. I give you props in making sure this book was the success it is. Y’all ride for a G, and put money where your love it and for that, I really appreciate you. Thank you!
If you haven’t yet? BUY MY BOOK!
The work continues.