Indie Push Keeps A Gentleman in Moscow in Demand

Ten months after its release in September 2016, Amor Towles's second novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, is still going strong. The story of a deposed Russian count sentenced to house arrest in a Moscow hotel in 1922, the book was #3 on the Indie Bestseller List for the week ended July 16; #8 on the New York Times hardcover fiction list for the week ended July 8; and at #1 on five regional indie bestseller lists. It has been on the NYT bestseller list for 33 consecutive weeks and recently passed 500,000 copies sold; according to Viking, the paperback edition has been postponed indefinitely due to strong and consistent demand for the hardcover. Since publication, support from independent booksellers and word of mouth have been critical factors to A Gentleman in Moscow's success.

"For us as a publisher, it was a huge priority to reconnect Amor with so many indie booksellers who were huge champions of Rules of Civility [Towles's debut novel]," said Lindsay Prevette, Viking's director of publicity. Towles's pre-pub appearances included four cocktail parties hosted in cities around the country, where he got to meet booksellers, librarians and members of the media, and an appearance at NEIBA's All About the Books luncheon. And in the months since publication, he's done more than 70 events in 25 states and has 20 more scheduled through February 2018.

Remarked Prevette: "He said for Rules he was doing events and bookclub chats for two years, and he was ready to do it all again."

Between its two locations in Manchester Center, Vt., and Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Northshire Bookstore has sold upward of 350 copies. Rules of Civility was popular at both stores and, according to buyer Stan Hynds, Gentleman was an easy handsell for anyone who had read Towles's debut. Many of Northshire's staff have also read Gentleman; it's consistently had bookseller recommendation tags attached to it and has been featured in the store's bestseller section for a long time. And though Hynds noted that Gentleman started out strong last September, it began to dip a bit before seeing a remarkable resurgence in May.

"That I don't know how to account for," said Hynds. "It sold double in May what it did in April and it sold even more in June."

On Nantucket Island, Nantucket Bookworks and Mitchell's Book Corner recently had a visit from Towles for the Nantucket Book Festival in June. Tim Ehrenberg, who handles public relations for the sister stores, reported that while Gentleman was initially popular, it was during the winter on Nantucket Island that the book reached a new level of demand. Starting in January and taking off in February, Mitchell's and Bookworks could hardly keep the book in stock, and during that time Gentleman also had the longest wait list of any book at the Nantucket library. Ehrenberg suggested that around that time, the stores reached a sort of critical mass of enough staff members having read and loved the book, while Nantucket's all-year residents were looking for something to occupy their time.

"We were really starting to talk about it," recalled Ehrenberg. "The owner loved it, and it trickled down from there."

At Wellesley Books in Wellesley, Mass., sales of A Gentleman in Moscow are approaching 600 copies, already outpacing combined hardcover and paperback sales for Rules of Civility. Bookseller Betty Sudarsky attributed the success to a variety of factors: Rules was quite popular at Wellesley, selling 400-plus copies, and customers were interested in a followup; Towles did an event at the store very soon after publication that brought in more than 80 people; and almost all of Wellesley's staff have read and loved the book.

Sudarsky reflected: "I guess the magic here is that a book that has some weight to it, an unusual premise and some very strong writing hit just at the right moment." --Alex Mutter

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