Stabenow, the NYT, and what it means for Minotaur

So the word’s gotten out that Dana Stabenow’s BLINDFOLD GAME will appear on the New York Times’ Extended List for January 29 at #23. The news itself is certainly welcome, but most interesting is that this is evidently the first time — ever — a book published by St. Martin’s Minotaur imprint has cracked the NYT list in any way, shape or form.

At first blush, this seems rather surprising since Minotaur was created in September 1999 — and how many other publishers would let 5 years elapse before one of their books cracked the NYT list (which isn’t to say that SMP books haven’t appeared on other bestseller lists previously, but for better or for worse, the NYT is the glamor list.) With P&Ls and expectations being what they are, not having tangible indications of success might be seen as disappointing.

But a closer look demands some perspective. SMP, being a mystery imprint, can usually only cater to a limited audience — those that are passionate about mysteries. And while passion and word of mouth obviously inspire sales and recognition, the mystery world alone isn’t enough to create a bestseller. But a niche audience means defining success differently, with library sales, independents and ardent fans factoring in a big way. And ultimately, as long as the author is seen as earning out, then the publisher has accomplished what it wants.

Of course, niche only goes so far, and that’s why there’s the ever-present clamoring for the “breakout” novel. Which is why the already-cliched adage of a writer building up an audience base with a series turning to a standalone thriller is just that — because once again, it’s proven to be true. Stabenow has an extensive backlist, with 4 Liam Campbell novels and 14 Kate Shugak novels, but it took her maiden foray into standalone territory to make it to bestsellerdom. And for an imprint that was evidently leery about its authors making a jump like that, this will likely be a harbinger of things to come.

And in a way, it already is. Just in terms of what’s being pushed, Minotaur is already making changes. The spring catalog is touting books like John Hart’s KING OF LIES (May) and Daniel Judson’s THE DARKEST PLACE (June), both of which are standalones. Marcus Sakey’s already much-buzzed about debut, THE BLADE ITSELF (January ’07) is a standalone to be followed by another standalone the year after. What else is to come? Hard to know at this stage, but something tells me that Minotaur might be working harder to get more of their books on the bestseller lists…