An Unconventional Way to Sell Books


“President Jack Ryan--Now More Than Ever.”

So goes the pitch for “Executive Orders,” Tom Clancy’s new thriller about his longtime hero Ryan, who rises from vice president to president after an assault on Washington kills off just about everybody else in power.

As part of an $800,000 marketing campaign, the Ryan-for-prez pitch appears in TV commercials, on buttons distributed to bookstore clerks, on bus posters in the convention cities of San Diego and Chicago and in full-page ads placed in convention issues of the Hill, the Washington political tabloid.

Indeed, rather than reschedule “Executive Orders” outside the media-intensive convention period, the publisher, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, held to its tradition of releasing Clancy’s books in August and sought to take advantage of the book’s presidential hook.


“We thought we had an appropriate venue--in the conventions--in which to promote the book,” said Dan Harvey, Putnam’s director of marketing. “It’s also good to have a sense of humor about these things.”

In the early returns, Ryan is doing well. On Aug. 13, the first day of sale, the Barnes & Noble chain sold more than 13,000 copies.

“I’ve done it before, so it’s not that big a deal,” Clancy said, en route to a book signing in New London, Conn., that would draw 1,000 people. “This is what I do for a living.”

Barnes & Noble’s first-week sales totaled 56,000. The Waldenbooks chain added 40,000; Ingram Book Co., a leading wholesaler, reported 21,000 and another 88,000 were sold at the discount stores, such as Price Club. As a result, “Executive Orders” was expected to bow soon on national bestseller lists at No. 1.

And if Clancy’s ninth novel follows the pattern that has made him (like John Grisham and Stephen King) a giant of commercial fiction, his book will sell steadily through the Christmas season. Confident of that, Putnam called for a first printing of 2.1 million copies.

“We were right to go out that big,” said Phyllis E. Grann, chairman and chief executive officer of The Putnam Berkley Group Inc., Putnam’s parent company. “I’m a happy woman.”

Like political campaigns, bringing Clancy’s latest to market came with its own challenges.

Clancy had been turning in computer discs of his story to Putnam Editor in Chief Neil Nyren throughout his work on the book, allowing pages to be edited and set in type as he continued writing . . . and writing. After all, Ryan has to grapple with about a half-dozen major threats to the United States.

His final piece of the novel came in on June 24. Copy editors and proofreaders jumped in to speed production. A concern that “Executive Orders” might run too long for the book jacket, designed to accommodate a spine no wider than 2 inches, was allayed when the compositor determined that Clancy’s longest novel would span 874 pages. Translation: slightly less than 2 inches of spine.

The printing of 2.1 million copies, times 3.5 pounds per book, brought this Clancy shipment to 36,750 tons.


Delayed Launch: Conde Nast Publications has pushed back to the fall of 1997 (from spring 1997) the planned kickoff of Conde Nast Sports for Women, apparently so that the mag won’t have to weather the slow summer ad months during its infancy.

* Paul D. Colford is a columnist for Newsday. His column is published on Thursdays.