A St. Paul debut author got the “Colbert bump” Monday night when comedian Stephen Colbert asked viewers to buy Stephan Eirik Clark’s forthcoming novel, “Sweetness No. 9,” from independent bookstores.
The first book that Colbert bumped, Edan Lepucki’s obscure debut novel, “California,” became an instant bestseller.
This has put Clark, an Augsburg College professor, in the middle of Colbert’s crusade against Amazon, which is locked in a dispute about e-book pricing with the Hachette group of publishers. Authors and customers have become pawns in the dispute, as Amazon has made it almost impossible to buy Hachette books — which includes Colbert’s books — on its website.
Clark, 43, said Tuesday that when he heard that his book would be mentioned on the TV talk show, he was left uncharacteristically speechless. “I just didn’t have anything to say,” he said. “It was too good for words.”
The problems between Hachette and Amazon spring from a 2012 lawsuit that accused publishers of colluding on the pricing of e-books. The suit was settled, and a judge ordered publishers to negotiate prices with retailers. The Hachette group was first up and has so far failed to come to an agreement with Amazon.
In response, Amazon has made Hachette books — which includes publishers Little Brown, Grand Central, Hyperion, and others, as well as authors J.K. Rowling, Kate Atkinson and David Baldacci — difficult to purchase. Forthcoming Hachette books, such as Clark’s, are listed on Amazon’s website as “currently unavailable,” with no option for preordering. Most other Hachette books face shipping delays ranging from one to six weeks, though “California” is readily available.
Amazon has not commented publicly on the dispute other than to post a statement on its website, which says, “These changes are related to the contract and terms between Hachette and Amazon. … If you do need one of the affected titles quickly, we regret the inconvenience and encourage you to purchase a new or used version from one of our third-party sellers or from one of our competitors.”
Colbert began his campaign in June, when he asked viewers to pre-order “California,” from indie booksellers. Viewers responded with enthusiasm, and the novel debuted at No. 3 on the New York Times bestseller list. The initial print run of 12,000 was increased to 60,000.
Lepucki appeared on the show Monday night and Colbert asked her if she had another Hachette recommendation for viewers. “I’m reading Stephan Eirik Clark’s ‘Sweetness No 9,’ which is sooo good,” she said. (She later said on Twitter that the book is “funny, moving, like DeLillo crossed with A.M. Homes.”)
Overnight, Clark’s book shot up from being unlisted on Powell’s Books bestseller list to number three.
Nicole Dewey of Little Brown said Clark’s initial print run is 15,000, but they are going back to press. The new print number is not yet available.
“Sweetness No. 9” is a comic novel about a flavorist who invents a sweetener that causes severe side effects in lab rats but goes on to become the most popular sweetener in the country. The book took Clark 13 years to write. In the meantime, he published “Vladimir’s Mustache,” a collection of short stories that was a finalist for a Minnesota Book Award.
“Going with a small press for my collection, I didn’t expect to find readers,” he said Tuesday. “I’ve experienced the absence of readers, and so it’s encouraging to think that this one might find a readership, and I’m extremely grateful.”