McClatchy Newspapers

Jaycee Lee Dugard’s memoir, “A Stolen Life,” has been zipping off bookstore shelves since its release in mid-July.

Orders for new copies from are taking up to two months to fill. If that wait is too long, resellers at the website will sell you the tell-all for nearly twice the price.

That’s right, used.

That blockbuster of a book, along with George R.R. Martin’s “A Dance With Dragons,” has energized summer sales in an industry beset by upheaval.


Just last week, Borders announced the liquidation of its big-box stores. Amazon is resisting having to charge its California customers the state sales tax. Ironically, independent bookstores are holding their own in this morphing landscape, despite predictions to the contrary.

Though not exactly “beach reads,” with their dark and complex premises, the Dugard and Martin books have transcended expectations for how they would sell and be read and by whom.

They have seemingly little in common, besides their July 12 release date and their status as the top best-sellers nationwide.

“A Stolen Life” (Simon & Schuster, $24.99, 288 pages) is the harrowing account of the 18 years the author spent in captivity and the abuses she endured.

“A Dance With Dragons” (Bantam, $35, 1,040 pages) is the long-awaited fifth part of a fantasy series called “A Song of Ice and Fire.” Its narrators are many and its conflicts all too unreal.

Retailers and publishing veterans say the books have attracted readers who wouldn’t normally gravitate to those genres or to any book whatsoever.


Jean Pomeroy, a former English teacher from Carmichael, said the HBO miniseries “Game of Thrones,” which earned 13 Emmy nominations this year, drew her to the Martin books.

“As a 53-year-old female, I don’t exactly fit the target demographic for a likely fan,” Pomeroy said.

More than 4,000 pages into the series, Pomeroy said, she remains impressed with the diverse and lifelike characters. She also has to deal with “a load of kidding from my adult kids that I’ve become a ‘total nerd.”‘

The crossover appeal for “A Stolen Life” also owes itself to a promotional blitz on TV and other media. The week before its release, People magazine ran an excerpt, the ABC network aired an interview with Dugard, and her kidnappers were sentenced.

Tracey Guest, publicity director for Simon & Schuster, said “A Stolen Life” sold 175,000 copies its first day out, while also setting a company record for one-day e-book sales.

“Simon & Schuster is reprinting and shipping at the fastest pace possible to meet high demand for the book,” Guest wrote in an email.


However, vendors reported difficulty keeping the book in stock. Alzada Knickerbocker, owner of the Avid Reader in Sacramento, said interest in “A Stolen Life” extends beyond her regular clientele.

“A lot of people call or come in saying they’d like to help (Dugard) financially,” she said.

(The proceeds from Dugard’s book will apparently go toward her namesake foundation as will part of a $20 million settlement awarded to her by the state of California.)

In addition to managing Rakestraw Books in Danville, Michael Barnard serves as president of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, an advocacy group that keeps a regional list of best-sellers similar to the New York Times’ national list.

Barnard guessed that “A Stolen Life” may have outperformed expectations because it resonates so broadly with the public’s sympathies.

“Buyers have a sense that they’re supporting (Dugard) and helping her gain closure,” he said.


However, Barnard pointed out that most titles are not “natural best-sellers” at the outset, like Dugard’s or Martin’s (which sold 280,000 copies on July 12 alone).

He sees independent bookstores as essential for creating grassroots buzz and elevating unknown authors from the “midlist.”

“Publishers are increasingly looking for the independents to get that word of mouth started,” Barnard said.

Judith Rosen, a bookselling editor for Publishers Weekly magazine, said independent merchandisers “continue to be an important backbone of the industry.”

Compared with chain retailers such as the soon-to-be-defunct Borders, she said, they have more flexibility to take a chance on books without a major advertising campaign behind them.

“Independent bookstores serve not only as a showcase for books, but they offer something an algorithm cannot,” Rosen said.

Back in 1996, when his series debuted, Martin received much-needed fanfare from Kepler’s in Menlo Park and other independent bookstores.

He thanked Kepler’s in a July 4 blog post, and appeared at a recent event hosted by the store.

Scott Shannon, senior vice president of digital content for Random House (the parent company of Bantam), said Martin is “a huge supporter of independents and always makes sure we get a number of them on his tours.”

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