Sometimes on this blog I make mention of Jay Winik (right) and the commercial success of his book April 1865: the Month that Saved America.
Since 2001, Winik has been passing unnoticed over the ACW publishing landscape at quite a high altitude. Two years after his book debuted, at which time I started tracking it, the hardback sold roughly 2,000 copies (estimated using my Ingram sales count, as are all figures on this page). That's a good third-year hardcover showing for a first Civil War nonfiction effort by an unkown "buff."
The trade paperback edition was issued in April 2002, and I have figured the 2003 sales figures at about 15,700. In that year, Oxford sold about 3,300 paperback editions of Battle Cry of Freedom and Knopf sold slightly fewer number of Shelby Foote's multivolume Civil War.
I hope, therefore, that you would agree that Winik is a phenomenon. No one had ever heard of him (or knows him now, except by word of mouth) and his content was offbeat. It showed the war shutting down in April 1865 not through the mechanism of an Appomattox surrender but through a series of individual decisions made by key Confederates opting not to continue the fight. It went against the grain of reader expectation arguing, "You don't understand how or why the Civil War ended."
Winik offers us "new thinking" wrapped in a sales breakthrough and the importance of that should be obvious.
Some gas is escaping Winik's balloon, albeit slowly. Perennial sold 8,730 or so of his paperbacks last year and this year (so far) I count 4,410 sold - with Christmas sales to come later in 2005. It is possible that Winik may not be far off reaching last year's levels. Those are solid commercial sales, even in decline. So Winik remains the sales leader in new ACW thinking.
Unfortunately, that recalls the saying about the one-eyed man being king of the blind.
Consider that April 1865 appeared as number 68 in a Barnes & Noble search on the keyword "Civil War" sorted by "best seller." His was the very first ACW nonfiction to appear on the list that was not a bargain book or on clearance (Foote's Civil War excepted).
So Winik is not only the sales champ for new thinking but for all ACW thinking, and at #68 that does not paint an pretty picture for potential Civil War book publishers. Worse, Winik's slight sales dip earthward in 2005 belies violent movements downward across the board among authors known and unkown, more on which tomorrow.
Previously in this series: