Proper Care and Marketing of Meg Gardiner

By Carmen Comment

Thanks to Stephen King‘s lavish praise, both on his website and on the back page of the February 16 issue of Entertainment Weekly, it’s pretty damn difficult to find a copy of any of Meg Gardiner‘s books – which, of course, have to be imported from the UK or Canada. And so the buzz is building, and her agent, Jonny Pegg at Curtis Brown UK, told Publishers Lunch that “some ten publishers are in the frame — we should have news by end of next week or some time in the following week.” With Britt Carlson of Gelfman Schneider handling subrights, no doubt some serious money (of the seven-figure variety) could be thrown around.

But remember Ron McLarty? He was the last unpublished beneficiary of King’s lavish praise, and while THE MEMORY OF RUNNING got him the obligatory mega-deal and did all right, the followup, THE TRAVELER, came out “with the same fanfare as a pillow fart,” as one publishing insider commented to us. And since I’d like to see Gardiner really get her American due (as a fan of CHINA LAKE who promised herself ages ago to read the rest of the series, but hadn’t gotten around to it) here are a few points to consider for any publisher making the deal:

  • Hardcover vs. paperback. Since Gardner’s backlist numbers five books, and the buzz is already building, a traditional book-a-year hard/soft deal seems like a waste of time. Better to get those sales figures up quickly and build her name with paperbacks right away, and if sales go according to plan, break her out in hardcover with the fourth or fifth book that will catch her up to her UK publisher, Hodder & Stoughton.
  • Mass market vs. trade. The former, all the way. While Gardiner’s books are heavy on character and have enough flourish that goes way beyond cookie-cutter thriller status, they are plot driven and action packed – and thus a better fit for mass market.
  • Frequency. One trend that’s worked to break out Kay Hooper, Alison Brennan and way back in the day, Josie Litton (before her sales started dropping), is to introduce a new author in mass market paperback with three books in succession. Avon is about to try this again with Jordan Dane in April, May and June of 2008. Bantam did so with Morag Joss before going hardcover with HALF-BROKEN THINGS, but the results seem to have been more mixed. Still, it’s about name recognition, and with the books already long available in the UK, it seems best to publish fast and build instead of waiting forever – especially with all manners Amazon and Abebooks just a click away.
  • Target market. Gardiner’s books appeal to men and women, but the latter gender’s going to have to get on board first. They aren’t really romantic suspense novels, but they can appeal to that crowd while also appealing to the crime fiction community. Target both, and Gardiner’s blog (with its hilarious “Semana Snarka” now completed) will no doubt help.
  • Advances. While I can’t go so far as to call Ron McLarty a cautionary tale, it is an example, perhaps, of publishers going overboard to reward an author based on one glowing recommendation. If all five of Gardiner’s books are bought at the same time, I could see the advance being quite substantive, but if the terms work out to two successive three-book deals, the dollar value may decrease. Remember, too, that in all likelihood it’s just North American rights on the table, which makes the likelihood of earning out that much smaller. A six figure deal on the low end of the spectrum would announce that the publisher is willing to pay out – but that there’s also room to grow.

Of course, we’ll see what happens when (if?) the deal closes as Pegg states (he hadn’t answered email queries about the deal in progress) and if – as I expect – Gardiner ends up with a decidedly commercial American publishing house…