Years ago the lending libraries showed early signs of what books were going to be big sellers. Women were particularly addicted to lending libraries. My own mother went to a lending library two or three times a week until the drink killed her.
The lending libraries and the public libraries at that time guaranteed a certain number of books (more that 2,000) would be bought.
When Boots closed its lending library there were hard times for authors. They used to get their novels published sure of a reasonable level of sales, but after the closure publishers couldn’t afford to take a chance on them. Public libraries used to buy 2,000 books; now it has fallen to 800. Instead they keep closing, or filling the space with noisy kids playing computer games.
In Britain, for some mysterious reason, novels were made into bestsellers by being bought by the women of Scotland. In America there was a small bookshop off Wall Street which produced the bestsellers. That is, people would start buying the book in this shop and lo and behold the public started to buy it everywhere. Back in the 1920s the publishers first knew Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises was going to be big when 20 copies were sold in the Wall Street shop.
There must still be some particular readers like the Scottish ladies who can decide what will be a bestseller. I have been out of the book business for some time and I’m not up to date.
Anyway now there is something new and more modern to predict mass sales. These are the chat shows. Richard and Judy (don’t that sound a hundred years ago?) had only to mention a novel on their TV programme for it to start selling.
And in America, Oprah Winfrey could make an author an overnight millionaire by just saying she liked a novel.
I’ve had no such luck with Murder In a Cold Climate. But for some unknown reason it has been doing well in Bath. I wonder if Bath is now full of Scottish ladies. Murder In a Cold Climate has nothing to do with Bath or any town that is like Bath. It is set, like all my classic works of American crime fiction, in a small town in rural New England.
Come to think of it the town has no public library; I must give it one.