My Favorite Mistake

Article excerpt

Byline: John Griisham

On his $6 million screw-up.

this goes back to my first novel, A Time to Kill. It was published in 1989. Of course, I was unknown then. My publisher was unknown, a small house in New York that went bankrupt the following year. When A Time to Kill was published, they printed 5,000 hardback copies and I bought a thousand of those. At the time, there was not a good bookstore in my small hometown. My idea was, I'd buy a thousand books, have a big book party at the local library, and all my friends would come. I'd sell all these books and it'd be easy. I could buy the books at wholesale, sell them at retail, and make a few bucks. That was my grand plan.

One day, in front of my tiny law office, a tractor-trailer pulled up and they unloaded the books. The publisher had sent me not a thousand, but 1,500 copies of A Time to Kill. There was no room to store them, so we stacked them in the reception area, around my secretary's desk, in the hallways, in my office. We couldn't move but for all of the copies of A Time to Kill. I called the publisher and said, 'Look, you screwed up. I only wanted a thousand, I'm only going to pay you for a thousand.' We went back and forth and then I shipped back 500.

Then I took all the books down to the local library and we had a big book party. When the party was over, I still owned 882 copies of A Time to Kill. I had this invoice that was due to pay for them wholesale, so I started giving books away. We took them back to my office and packed them in the reception area. …