You have to have a certain mind to get Elmore, like for jazz.
Or punk or anything genuine. I’m looking for the right word, here.
It’s pretty much impossible to get sales figures that actually mean anything - publishing is as bad as the movies now. Even something like the New York Times bestseller list doesn’t tell you how many books were sold, just which ones sold the most that week. A book that’s number one in August or February may not even make the list in the run-up to Christmas or in the spring.
I remember that publicity of the early eighties (there was an article in the Montreal Gazette, where I was living), that’s when I first started reading the books. A few were published in paperback with similar covers; Unknown Man #89, Swag, City Primeval, 52 Pick-Up. (probably some more).
Strange as it sounds, sometimes the critics get it right.
But what I really like is that Elmore Leonard never repeats himself. He said in an interview that another writer (John D. MacDonald?) told him not to write books with the same main character. Whatever the reason, most of those “bestseller superstars” write “series” books about the same character, over and over. And publishes love that, they love being able to put some kind of subtitle, “a ____ mystery.” A lot of writers complain that after a while their publishers don’t even want to see books that don’t have the same character. It’s likely that publishers wanted EL to write books about the same character.
The “business” of publishing is as secretive and complicated as any other business, so we’ll never know enough about it to really talk about. All we really know about are the finished books we get to read.