My Life

About My Book Hitting the New York Times Bestselling List, What Didn’t Happen and What Happens Now

Ok, so we got to talk about my book. 11 months ago, on September 13, 2016, I became an author. After getting an agent, writing a proposal, selling it and then getting to the work. My first book I’m Judging You: The Do Better Manual made its’ debut into the world, published by Henry Holt & Co. (an imprint of Macmillan) and I was thrilled!

Me on launch day!

And from the get go, my goal for this book was for it to hit the New York Times Bestseller list, because I knew that my book could not fail. If me, with this big online audience, can’t get people to buy my book, that’s going to speak to a bigger theme than just me not being able to get people to buy my book. It would mean it would be that much harder for black women to walk into a publishing house to say, “Yes, give me a book deal”, because they would have to argue against my failure. So I put the pressure on myself that my book had to be massive. It had to be a running success so somebody else who looks like me could walk into these publishing houses and be able to get a book deal and have their dreams come true too.

But first, I wanted to write something amazing that I was proud of. I wanted to write something that was the best of what I’ve done. Where people would read it and be like “Man, Luvvie is at her best with this book”. So I set out to write this manifesto of my life basically. If you read I’M JUDGING YOU, you’ll know who I am.

Leading up to the book coming out, I worked my ass off! I called all types of favors in with my networks. I was like “Y’all I need your help to make this book soar. I need your help to make sure this book doesn’t fail. I need your help to make sure that there can be another Luvvie one day making her dream come true with her first book.” And you answered my call, showing up and telling people to buy my book. You bought multiple copies. You bought multiple forms: the audiobook, the eBook, the physical book. You bought people my book for Christmas. You added it to book club lists (and are still adding it to lists).

Basically, my community showed up for me and really made sure that they pushed this book. And when my book came out September 13, I did a whole lotta press and I was everywhere!

I barely slept but it was for the greater good! I was on NPR, WGN News, News One, Good Morning Washington, and more. I even did some Canadian press. I was in all types of magazines: Essence, Good Housekeeping, Marie Claire. I was in newspapers. I did 50-eleben podcasts. People took to social media, using the hashtag #ImJudgingYou to share that they had gotten my book. In fact, if you click it in Instagram, you’ll see all the judgey love. I WAS EVERYWHERE pushing this drug book.

It paid off. The week after my book came out, when the New York Times bestseller’s list was announced on September 21, 2016, my book was #5 in the paperback nonfiction category! Huge! HUGE. I even beat David Brooks from the New York Times himself. Yo. Dream come true! I was geeked! I was at ADCOLOR in Florida getting a Rockstar Award that day too so it was an amazing day. But mission: accomplished!

It felt incredible.

Fun fact: before my book even came out it had already gone to second print as in the number of books they had already printed was not enough before my book even came out. Like they had to go back to print before my book even came out. So when I hit the NY Times list, at that point we were on print 3. Only week one and we’re already on print 3.

So I got my dream right. Yes, Yes I did! The day after, on September 22nd, my publisher sends me the new version of my book cover that would have the New York Times best-selling burst on the cover. I was super impressed by how quick they got me the redesign. And wrapped around JudgeyPop would be Shonda Rhimes’ blurb of my book. I was like “Sweet! I’m looking forward to the day when I see it in person”.

Old cover

New cover

I’ve been on the road basically since my book came out, doing book signings, speaking engagements and the like. I always look out to see if I’ll see a book with the NYTimes seal on the cover.

My book has been selling consistently since it came out too. Usually, books will like do well for two weeks, do well for a month, do well for two months, and then drop all the way off. There was a point where I was still selling a thousand copies of my book per week. There was a time a few months ago where I sold a thousand copies in a day after I randomly mentioned it on Facebook, because a lot of people still don’t realize that I have this book out, funny enough. PLUS, I’m Judging You got optioned by Shondaland to be turned into a cable series. AND it’s gotten a bunch of awards! For a debut book, it’s pretty solid.

Anywho so last week, on August 9, 2017, almost exactly 11 months after my book came out, I find out it’s on its 9th print. NINE. As in, they printed one original, and they’ve had to go back to the printers 8 times to get more copies of my book. Keeping track? Word. Throughout this whole thing, whenever y’all buy books, especially my books you will upload pictures and be like “Hey I finally got Luvvie’s book.” And every single time I check to see if that copy of my book has the New York Times Bestselling seal on it and every time, it’s a no. And sometimes I’ll randomly order my own book just to see, because it’s been a long time and I still haven’t seen an actual physical version of my book that has the cover with the burst on it.

So my girl, Samantha Irby’s book, We Are Never Meeting in Real Life just came out. GO BUY IT because she is everything good in life. Sam’s book came out in May and instantly hit the New York Times list because of course and she’s BAE and she’s everything and it’s supposed to do that. Last week, Sam posted a picture of her book with her New York Times Bestselling thing on the top and I was like, “Wait a minute, Samantha’s came out in May and already has her seal, and I still haven’t seen my book with this seal on it.”

BUY. THIS. BOOK.

So I brought it back up to my publishers. I ring the alarm and tell them “Hey, I haven’t seen any copies of my book with the New York Times seal. Have you? Can you send me a copy?”

And this is when I got confirmation. They never printed copies of my book with the New York Times seal on it. Not one copy of my book exists out of probably 50,000 that are floating in this world that says New York Times Bestseller on it. And it’s been 11 months since my book came out and it’s gone back to print 9 times.

What happened? I was told it’s a mistake, it was an oversight. The cover of the book that was redesigned after I hit The List somehow never made it to the production floor for printing. Even though, it’s gone to print at least 6 times since. And no, there wasn’t an excess of covers laying around that they had to use. And no one flagged it.

And I basically had a mini breakdown because I didn’t know how to deal with that. I got on FB Live to talk it through and legit cried on there.

Folks might not understand how hard I worked for this, and it hurt like hell for something that I earned to still not be there. I used to go into bookstores myself and convince the owners to stock it. I would stop in bookstores at every airport I found myself during my tour or any trips that I had and say “Hey, I’m Luvvie. I wrote this amazing book, do you have it in stock?” and they’ll so “No we don’t have it” and I’d pull it out and I’d tell them that it was a New York Times Bestseller and they’ll be like “Oh” and they’d look it up and like “oh cool”. I used to be the person in the bookstores myself advocating for this book to be in bookstores. It was to the point where Hudson News, which is in every airport, picked my book as one of the featured ones for December for holiday travel.

There’s literally nothing more I could’ve done myself. I trusted people to do their jobs. I can’t do production myself. I did everything else I was supposed to do. I wrote an amazing book. I hired an external publicist to help me push this book. I even coordinated and funded a whole 15 city tour myself, minus 3 stops that was handled by Holt. I tried to find international publishers for myself so that my book can be available for my readers in Kenya and South Africa and Nigeria. My book just got to Nigeria because of a bookstore (hey Roving Heights) that insisted that they were going to make sure that they stocked my book. They ordered my book from the US to make sure that it was in Nigeria because they wanted to make sure that my book was there.

Nigerians, order from http://rhbooks.com.ng

I have gone above and beyond as the person who wrote this book. I went above and beyond to make this book a success and I found out this happened. I cried. I literally cried over it, because it felt like a gut punch. This book has sold well but can you imagine how much better it could’ve sold in stores if it got that proper credit and people who randomly walk into bookstores saw that seal on it?

I have had to work four times as hard.

And why does it matter to be a New York Times bestseller? It’s not just bragging rights. Books that are New York Times Bestsellers, and indicate it on the cover are treated differently.

  1. It makes stores want to stock it more because they know that people gravitate towards those books.
  2. People who don’t know me will see that seal and pick it up just for the fact that it has it on it.
  3. It makes a difference, in terms of earnings. It allows you to instantly command more money for your work. This oversight lost me AND them money we could have made.

My work as a writer, and as a person, is not tied to this accolade. I was proud of what I created, with or without that stamp. However, as a business person who doesn’t like her money to be played with, this heated me up! My book has sold really well in spite of the fact that it has never gotten the credit on the actual physical book. Just how hard do I have to work to get the credit that I’ve earned? I could not have worked any harder on pushing this book.

My book has outsold a lot of books that got 10x as many resources. So this one thing that could also make it soar some more isn’t even on it! FROM 11 MONTHS AGO. I can’t understand how 11 months after a book hits the New York Times Bestselling list, there are no covers that exist that indicate that. It’s a mistake that was out of my control, and I surely tried to handle as much as I could. I even asked about this back in February, and everyone dropped the ball. I’ve been wondering where these books are that have New York Times Bestseller on it. That’s because they didn’t exist. They did not exist, they haven’t existed.

Being public about my frustration with this situation is difficult, and speaking up about this is hard. I know I’m putting myself in the line of fire. However, people see a lot of the glory, but not the struggles.

People think that whenever you publish a book and it does well, all of a sudden you are GOOD. I remember when reading something that was written when my book came out and announcement about it being optioned by Shonda dropped. They said I was a millionaire now. Nah yo. That ain’t how it works for most people in publishing, unless you’re J.K. Rowling.

Just know the grind is real and know that all that glitters is not gold especially when it comes to publishing. Speaking out like this is hard, because this is an industry that is shrouded in mystery. How things work is left behind a veil so here’s a peek into it. I wasn’t going into this process thinking I was going to write this book and things would magically happen. I am not immune to hard work, but I sure was thinking things would get easier for me and I wouldn’t have to hit so many walls once I hit that golden mark. Twice as hard. Half as far.

This felt like a “Moonlight” moment. Even when we win, we don’t fully win.

My publishers didn’t try to come up with excuses and they’ve apologized profusely to me. I felt let down completely, and they understood. They are trying to make sure something like this never happens again. So, on to what will happen next.

Stickers

Thousands of gold stickers that say “New York Times bestseller” have been created. They will be placed on inventory of my books that my publishers have, before being sent out to retailers and bookstores.

People who already have my book can request a sticker to place on it by going to THIS SITE. It will be shipped to you to stick on the book.

IJY sticker request 2

10th print

My book has now gone to 10th print and THOSE copies will have the correct cover it should have had since September 22, 2016. They will be ready in a few weeks. I’ll let y’all know when they are ready.

We’re also working on something else. Will announce that once I can.

All in all, this has been a major learning experience. My biggest lessons:

  • You always have to be your own biggest advocate. No one can fight for you like you can.
  • You have less control than you think. And shit happens. STILL. Don’t try to do everything yourself.
  • Cry about it for a bit. But get to fixing.

My hope from this is that my experience makes someone else’s go smoother, because they can learn from the landmines I’ve stepped on. I did something I am very proud of. And I will get the credit I am due.

I wanna take this time to thank my audience, once again. I give you props in making sure this book was the success it is. Y’all ride for a G, and put money where your love it and for that, I really appreciate you. Thank you!

If you haven’t yet? BUY MY BOOK!

The work continues.

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40 Comments

  1. August 18, 2017 at 11:18 am

    Requested my sticker and will be looking in the bookstores in order to buy myself another copy! Thanks, babes!

  2. August 18, 2017 at 11:18 am

    Requested my sticker and will be looking in the bookstores in order to buy myself another copy! Thanks, babes!

  3. Teneysia Perry
    August 18, 2017 at 11:20 am

    Glad you finally got it straight. Fyi, the September 17th date referring to the 10th print says 2017.

  4. Julia Zegarra
    August 18, 2017 at 11:24 am

    I ordered a sticker because I snortlaughed over so much of your book and I’m pissed off on your behalf that you didn’t get the proper cover for your book.

  5. Gwensday
    August 18, 2017 at 11:51 am

    SO glad they finally got this straightened out and my heart ached for you as I have been watching this all unfold over the past year. UI can totally relate when you said you were hesitant to speak out, but I am glad you did. Following your journey has inspired me in so many ways and for that I am grateful. Thank you for speaking your truth. Representation matters!!

  6. August 18, 2017 at 11:58 am

    So sorry this happened, Luvvie! I hope your agent was able to help too…

  7. Robin
    August 18, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    Congrats! Luvvie glad they finally got it straight.

  8. Deekiemack
    August 18, 2017 at 12:38 pm

    Congrats on fighting for yourself, Luvvie! So happy there’s a path forward!

  9. Starr
    August 18, 2017 at 12:41 pm

    Sticker requested! Thanks for sharing your story. So many things I didn’t know.

  10. August 18, 2017 at 12:55 pm

    Sticker request — done. Glad things are back on track. Your ambition and tenacity are a thing of beauty! 🙂

  11. Quiana
    August 18, 2017 at 1:01 pm

    Sticker requested! Keep shining Queen!

  12. August 18, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    A heartbreaking punch in the gut. People in the publishing industry don’t need to be coddled for their mistakes. This is indefensible. But you’ve handled it much more fairly than they deserve. This information is appreciated. Deeply. And I’m sorry that they didn’t take care of you #like #they #should #have. (I know how much u luvvvv hashtags.) ^_^

  13. fuschia
    August 18, 2017 at 1:37 pm

    Got it!!! I will be so proud to put that sticker on my book! Hang tough Luvvie! It’s all good.

  14. Cassy
    August 18, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    Just ordered my sticker to be sent to me in the UK!

  15. notconvincedgranny
    August 18, 2017 at 3:46 pm

    Sticker request: ON

    (that cat on Ms. Irby’s book represents my current state of mind. FRFR)

  16. Mary
    August 18, 2017 at 4:30 pm

    Requested mine!

  17. Lisa Stone
    August 18, 2017 at 5:10 pm

    BRAVA! You’re a boss, Luvvie. Respect.

    I signed up for my sticker.

  18. Radia
    August 18, 2017 at 7:33 pm

    I bought the audible book (which was FANTASTIC to listen to in your own voice!) so the cover wasn’t something I paid close attention but when the correct cover version comes out of the physical book I will be buying that to display prominently as one of your biggest fans..

  19. Esquire
    August 18, 2017 at 10:12 pm

    Put your own reps in check. Your agent or manager needs to earn their money. I really can’t believe no one on your team is checking your book at retail from time to time just to see if it’s in stock among other reasons. You do business with the publisher, they don’t work for you. Your reps dropped the ball by letting the publisher drop the ball. Based on this negligence, you need to do an audit of your $$$ RIGHT NOW.

    • Leslie Bailey
      August 19, 2017 at 12:20 pm

      Agreed.

      • Sonya
        August 19, 2017 at 3:01 pm

        Double agreed. Hell, triple agreed. I am sorry this happened to you Luvvie. I bought my copy through Kindle but when they correct this s#!+ (((AND THEY BETTER DO IT QUICK FAST AND IN A HURRY!!!))), I will buy a physical copy because I support you and this journey you’re on. Salute!

    • Mgold
      August 19, 2017 at 5:39 pm

      This stuff can happen when you work with your own publicist, but make them get in touch with your publisher! “NYT bestseller” should be printed on the covers of all future editions.

  20. Joan Wairimu
    August 19, 2017 at 1:05 am

    Hey Luvvie, good work. How can I get it in Kenya?

    • Saitonne
      August 19, 2017 at 12:22 pm

      Hey Joan,
      Text book center in Nairobi are selling it. Try the one at Sarit.

  21. Shirley A Malone
    August 19, 2017 at 12:57 pm

    I ordered the book from amazon yesterday. It got here today without a sticker. I have ordered the sticker.

  22. Mgold
    August 19, 2017 at 5:37 pm

    I worked in publishing a long time ago and can see how this could happen but it still disappoints me. However, I am so happy they’re printing those stickers and can’t wait to buy a copy of your book. You are doing GREAT things for all of humankind, thank you!!!

  23. August 20, 2017 at 7:34 am

    I love you sis, proud that you continue to speak truth even when difficult.I will request sticker and but another copy when the 10 print comes out with the ligit New York Times bestseller on it because it is not everyday your sissy book makes it to that list. It is unfortunate we have to work double hard. Black success is hard. I know it first hand but see God, He keeps is winning big. So super proud of you.

  24. LaRita
    August 20, 2017 at 8:08 pm

    That sucks and I’m saddened to hear it. I am reaaallly amazed about Shonda using it. That does not happen to even the New York Times bestsellers. Carry On. It will work itself out on the front end.

  25. Kourtni
    August 21, 2017 at 10:12 am

    Sticker requested!! Thank you for being transparent and showing us how we must FIGHT for our own success, regardless of those working with and for us. More success is coming your way. You’ve earned it, and it shows. Love and light to you.

  26. Danypooh80
    August 21, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    Ordered my sticker. Props to you for your success!

  27. […] 99. Luvvie talks about her experience on the NYT’s best seller list. […]

  28. Kimberly
    August 23, 2017 at 11:08 am

    I almost cried reading this! I ordered my sticker. I pre-ordered the book before it was released and it’s going to be our next book club read. I wish I could have ordered a sticker for my entire book club but I’ll make sure they have the link.

  29. […] Fantastic story about success and perseverance from Luvvie Ajayi: Being a best-selling author doesn’t mean you can just cruise. […]

  30. Sony Loren
    August 25, 2017 at 11:55 am

    Don’t forget that quite a few of us only use Kindle or buy books via Amazon for Kindle. Your book should have the gold sticker via those platforms as well. #justsaying

  31. nalani
    August 27, 2017 at 8:20 am

    Thanks for sharing this. All of your victories and disappointments are lessons for you. But it’s when you write, and so honestly, about these experiences, you illuminate the path for others. LUVVIE!!!

  32. PurpleShoesLA
    August 27, 2017 at 5:09 pm

    SMDH….I’m glad you pushed for and got solutions in place Luvvie. Being on the receiving end of others’ incompetence is so gd infuriating! Sticker ordered for my copy and I will hound my Mom, sister in law and niece to order their stickers as well since your book was my early Christmas gift to each of them last year. I wish I could order a roll of these stickers, I’d be at every Barnes and Nobles in my neck of the woods, stickers in hand!!! 🙂
    Onward & Upward

  33. Rebekah
    August 29, 2017 at 6:30 am

    Sticker request submitted… and I’ll be buying another hard copy with the Best Seller redesign. I’ve also purchased an eBook version and several more hard copies for friends and family. I am disgusted and so sorry this happened, but I applaud your resilience and determination to be your own advocate! The fact that in the midst of your anger and grief…you STILL gave an honest and heartfelt shout out to another author is a testament to your sincere desire for ALL of us to eat from the table of plenty! #JustKeepSwimming…. and punch adversity in the gawtdamb throat!

  34. YummmY
    August 29, 2017 at 6:31 am

    Sticker request submitted… and I’ll be buying another hard copy with the Best Seller redesign. I’ve also purchased an eBook version and several more hard copies for friends and family. I am disgusted and so sorry this happened, but I applaud your resilience and determination to be your own advocate! The fact that in the midst of your anger and grief…you STILL gave an honest and heartfelt shout out to another author is a testament to your sincere desire for ALL of us to eat from the table of plenty! #JustKeepSwimming…. and punch adversity in the gawtdamb throat!

  35. August 30, 2017 at 1:53 pm

    Well we got gotchu covered sis, at least virtually: https://aalbc.com/books/bookinfo.php?isbn13=9781627796064

  36. Tara B
    September 13, 2017 at 9:47 pm

    I bought my book from Overstock.com after your email went out the new shipment with the seal but I guess they still had copies that didn’t have the NY Times Best Seller on them. So I will be waiting on my Gold sticker to come so I can place it on my book!