Not the Dagger!

TV Land

Eliza. Charles. Kelsey. Diana.

If these names ring a bell, then it’s likely that you’re a fan of the hit TV Land show Younger. The show’s protagonist Eliza gets a job as a marketing assistant at book publisher Empirical Press by posing as a 20-something, but she’s really 40 and had been out of the workforce for years raising her daughter.

As someone who has worked in book publishing for almost a decade, I can find a lot of humor in this lighthearted show (which just hit Season 6!), but the writers also take a lot of liberties to create entertaining storylines.

For example, the characters have acquired books that hit bookshelves within weeks. A book about an unknown dog dispensing advice became a New York Times bestseller. And one of the main characters just became the publisher of the company – at 26!

And in a recent episode, the storyline revolved around THE DAGGER. If you’ve ever looked at the New York Times bestseller list, particularly the category of Advice, How-To, and Misc, you may notice that there are a handful of books with a small, black dagger. In the book publishing world, this dagger tends to mean that there were a variety of bulk sales that contributed to a large number of books being sold in order to hit the list.

Now, just because a book has a dagger next to it does not mean that there were definitely bulk sales involved. I’ve worked on campaigns that hit this category with no bulk sales, but the Times still placed a dagger next to the title. And for some titles, bulk sales can be a contributing factor, usually coordinated for an author’s speaking engagements where they coordinated a bulk purchase in place of accepting their typical speaking fee.

In the publishing world, depending on the title, we’ll discuss the fact there’s a dagger next to a book. But it’s very rare for the public to wage a discussion about the daggers, or to try to take a book down because there were bulk sales involved.

In the Younger episode “The Unusual Suspect,” an Empirical author get her book onto the bestseller list with bulk sales. During the episode, she appears on a panel and during the audience Q&A, has to start fielding questions about the dagger that’s been associated with her bestseller status. The main point of this plotline is to highlight the increasings tensions between the author and Kelsey, the newly appointed publisher, as they’re forced to go on the defensive even though they’re not seeing eye-to-eye on the book’s “success.” This all makes for great TV, but not likely to happen in a real world setting.

But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been real bestseller scandals. One Young Adult novel actually lost its status after the Times found it there were fake sales reported.

If you haven’t been watching the show, but do start watching, be sure to check out the novel that the show’s based on – plus the show spawned off its own novel Marriage Vacation after viewers expressed interest in reading a book that Empirical published. Now that’s a great example of listening to the fans and giving them what they want!

And while on the topic of the New York Times list, if you’re an aspiring author or have written books before, you might be wondering about what’s the number of books that you need to sell to make the list. Quantity alone isn’t a determining factor to hit the list. But there are a few different strategies you can implement to increase your odds. I’ll share more in an upcoming post!