“Sleeper hit.” A term used across the publishing business for a book that hasn’t yet taken off but is showing signs of doing so. It’s a common phenomenon in the Western genre, and something I was reading about this morning. I was sent an article by a friend of mine that disputed the validity of the “sleeper” hit. In this blogger’s mind, the “sleeper” hit was nothing more than an excuse publishing companies use to cover the fact that a book isn’t selling. The fact of the matter is that over the course of a year, you will see a variety of Western books take off and sell in many different ways. Some just come running out of the box and ride their way up the charts. Others are sleeper hits. These books do gentle business for a few months and then start making headway. The sleeper, which does in fact exist, actually is the preferred way for a hit to unfold—a slow, steady climb followed by a satisfying stay at the top of the charts.
An example of a “sleeper” hit comes to my mind as I type this blog article. Mark Baugher. Mark has been releasing books consistently and has been selling consistently, but several months ago his sleeper hit woke up. Suddenly his books started racing up the chart with unprecedented speed. These steady sellers suddenly became hot properties. Why did this happen? Well, during those “sleeping” months, he had been pulling in consistent reader numbers, he had been writing new material, he worked hard, turned out quality books and kept growing his readership. Each of his books has now become a major hit.
One sleeper hit created six successful sequels and a box set.
Another example is Robert Hanlon with his very successful “Timber: United States Marshal” series. The first book came out and did around 250,000 pages read over three months. In the fourth month, he did one million pages read, and the sequels did about a million each. It took the release of three books and a build-up of about three months for him to have his “overnight” success.
There are more examples of “sleeper” hits—but the bottom line is—having a book that takes its time taking off is not a bad thing. Having those extra products on the market before a book takes off is not a bad thing either. Those lucky authors who get “sleeper” hits are the ones who, in many cases, hang around and become bigger sellers. Look at Paul L. Thompson. It took twenty-six sleeper hits with steady-to-middling sales before he finally caught on and became one of the biggest sellers of the moment.
If your book is doing steady business, if your book is pulling in new readers each month, if your book is gently growing, then my advice would be—let it. Let it “sleep” its way to success. Not everyone is going to have a hit straight out of the box. Remember, today’s bestseller is often tomorrow’s forgotten book. Aim for slow and steady success today and have patience for your sleeper to wake up tomorrow.