Selling Wallace

Part of what makes the Irving Wallace collection so fascinating is the view it affords of the publishing world of the 1960s-1970s. Wallace's books were big business for his publisher, Simon & Schuster, as evidenced by the million-dollar advances which they regularly gave him. Simply put, by the time of the The Word's publication in 1972, Simon & Schuster knew that Wallace books would sell--and sell and sell. And like any popular product in which a company stakes its money and its name, Simon & Schuster released The Word with a focused and aggressive advertising campaign.

Thanks to documentary evidence in the Wallace collection, we have a clear picture of how The Word was sold to a broad reading public. The publisher dedicated $100,000 to a promotional campaign which included prodigious radio and newspaper buys, as well as what now sound like delightfully quaint ways of selling books: counter and floor displays (see below), mobiles, and streamers. The Word was serialized in at least one magazine (Ladies' Home Journal), and surely benefitted from the near-universal attention it received from critics in national and regional newspapers.

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It is difficult to imagine such resources being devoted to selling a single book nowadays. I have a sense--despite the continued success of the Stephen Kings and James Pattersons of the publishing world--that we are a much more fragmented reading society today than we were in 1972, when your local bookstore was likely to have an Irving Wallace floor display in the window.