January 26, 2015

Small publisher struggles to keep up with bestseller


Laura Ingalls Wilder's annotated autobiography has been a surprise bestseller.

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s annotated autobiography has been a surprise bestseller.

A small press in South Dakota has found itself caught off-guard  by the runaway success of a Laura Ingalls Wilder book, and is now racing to keep up with demand for it, Claire Kirch reports for Publishers Weekly.

South Dakota Historical Society Press published Pioneer Girl, an annotated version of Wilder’s autobiography, in November, with the expectation that—partly because it clocks in at 472 pages with over 800 annotations—it would appeal most to an academic audience. SDHSP president Nancy Tystad Koupal says that while they “worked hard to keep reader-friendly and accessible to fans,” expectations were fairly modest, so they initially went with a print run of 5,000 copies.

Despite some promotion of the book at BEA in May, interest in the book really started to ramp up in August. That’s when PW ran a story about the book’s long road to publication, and the Associated Press reported on the differences between Pioneer Girl and the life that Wilder describes in her hugely popular Little House series. Koupal says that August is when “everything snowballed and it went viral,” and SDHSP decided to up its print run to 15,000.

Even with a couple months notice, that quantity is far beyond what SDHSP is used to. A book by Pioneer Girl editor Pamela Smith HillLaura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life, was previously the publisher’s second-highest seller, with 12,000 copies sold since it was published in 2007. “Twelve thousand copies in eight years didn’t really prepare us for the kind of interest that [Wilder’s] name on a book would bring,” Koupal tells PW. She adds that they went into a second printing around Thanksgiving, but when Ingram and Amazon placed larger orders after the holidays, the small publisher had to order a third printing of the book, with 45,000 copies drop shipping directly to accounts.

The tiny SDHSP—the press only has seven staff members—has been overwhelmed by demand for the book, and will trim their 2015 list from five to seven titles, down to three or four, in order to concentrate their efforts on making Pioneer Girl a success.


Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.