March 29, 2016

In wake of runaway success of Laura Ingalls Wilder book, small press readies another Laura Ingalls Wilder book


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

Let’s try it again!

One of the greatest small press success stories of 2014 was that of Pioneer Girl, the annotated autobiography of little-house-resident Laura Ingalls Wilder (who may or may not have been neighbors with a family of serial killers.) The tiny South Dakota State Historical Society Press (SDSHSP) soon found themselves barely keeping up with unprecedented consumer demand for Pioneer Girl, which according to Nielsen has sold over 115,000 copies.

Now, it looks like the SDSHSP is hoping lighting will strike twice—they just announced that another Wilder book is in the works. Jonathan Ellis at the Argus Leader reports:

The book will be a scholarly work on the famed author who wrote the Little House series, the fictionalized account of Wilder’s life growing up as a pioneer on the American frontier, including Dakota Territory.

“We’re about discovering the back story – more about discovering the history of South Dakota,” said Nancy Tystad Koupal, the director of the press.

From a publishing standpoint, this is a savvy move. Past successes, even fluke successes, are one of the most important metrics by which every press’s frontlist is judged. While Pioneer Girl carried the cachet of a brand-name author’s unpublished memoir, which arguably led to its unexpected splash in the marketplace, it’s doubtful that the SDSHSP anticipates this new book will find the same success. However, Pioneer Girl’s sales record indicates a current national interest in Wilder to which the press, and the reps selling this title into the marketplace, can point.

Also, a big success doesn’t necessarily put a small press, even one owned by the state, on easy street. Most small publishers are stretched thin already, and having to coordinate and print a national bestseller stretches their internal resources and budgets even further.

Tystad Koupal said she didn’t know how much money the press had made off [Pioneer Girl], but she added that “it’s not as much as you might think.”

It took about four years to get the book ready for publication. The press also pays royalties. The Little House Heritage Trust, which administers Wilder’s estate, had the rights to the book. And royalties will be an ongoing expense, Tystad Koupal said.

“We had quite a bit of equity in it,” she said.

The profits, she said, will be used to underwrite future projects, including the release of the next book on Wilder.

Further details on the new book are set to be released in a month or so.




Liam O’Brien is the Senior Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.