Random House Makes a Big Bet on Janet Evanovich


For Janet Evanovich, author of the No.1 bestselling series featuring the romantically challenged bounty hunter and Jersey girl Stephanie Plum, this has been a summer of doing away with the old and in with the new. Out is her longtime publisher St. Martin's Press, with whom she has worked since the late-1990s. In is the Ballantine Bantam Dell imprint of Random House, which will continue the series with two installments and publish two books in a separate series over the next two years.

The Evanovich deal would seem to be a big coup for Random House, which secures another blockbuster author on a list that already includes bestsellers Lee Child, Justin Cronin and Tess Gerritsen. The timing seems perfect, what with the next Plum adventure coinciding with the release of the film version of the first book, One For the Money, with Katherine Heigl playing Stephanie. But look a little deeper and Evanovich's switch appears a lot riskier -- for both the author and her new publisher.

Backlist Economics

While financial terms were not disclosed, Evanovich reportedly earned $40 million dollars from her previous four-year deal with St. Martin's and, per Deadline.com, wanted $50 million for the next four books. If Random House paid even a bit north of $40 million, they must sell approximately 1.25 million copies of the next Stephanie Plum book, according to Publishers Weekly. Fearless Fifteen sold about 977,000 copies, and Sizzling Sixteen, published last month, appears to be on track to hit a similar sales figure, but a big part of Evanovich's sales come from her extensive backlist, something Random House does not yet have. So if hardcover sales decline, there is no revenue from earlier titles that Random House can use as a buffer. Meanwhile St. Martin's still reaps backlist revenue without having to worry about spending money acquiring and marketing new books.

And what of the other two books in the deal? They are for the next installments of "The Unmentionables," a paranormal-tinged series spun off from the Plum books that launches in September. St. Martin's has set the first printing for Wicked Appetite at approximately 600,000 copies, but even Evanovich's dedicated fan base may not rush out to buy it. An earlier series featuring NASCAR-crazy heroine Alexandra Barnaby did mediocre business with HarperCollins several years ago, and it took a switch in format to graphic novels with a different publisher, Dark Horse Comics, to continue the series. Not to mention that there's less incentive for St. Martin's to push this new series, as iit won't continue there.

And there's yet more risk in this move. Consider the less-than-wonderful reader response to the most recent Plum book, and the gamble that a film version will boost sales of the books (a publishing source told DailyFinance that authors are likely to get an added readership in the high five figures, a mere blip in Evanovich's case), and increasing digital book sales that may cannibalize precious hardcover sales. Suddenly, to use Wall Street language, Evanovich's stock has dropped from buy to neutral. Random House will certainly use all their marketing might to change the terms, but it's hard to shake off the feeling that St. Martin's won't miss the massively popular author too terribly much.