The birth of bestsellers 3
Also in today's blog
The Boy Who Loved Books
Continuing his chapter "Bestsellers – Born or Made?", George Greenfield writes
"Which brings us on to the third way in which a novel may become a bestseller – by 'hype'. In a later chapter 'The Crunch', I suggest that the British agent who felt he had a big bestseller in the making would probably take the script, or a detailed treatment and a few specimen chapters, to auction in New York before repeating the process in London. Arthur Hugh Clough was a prophet as well as a poet when he wrote, 'But westward look, the land is bright!'"
Greenfield continues, "The 'hypable' novel is usually by a newcomer (or an experienced author working under a pen-name). The reason is simple. Publishing nowadays deals in 'futures', rather like the Stock Exchange. The new is exciting; it has no track record to quantify hope. Publishers know from long and hard experience that it is virtually impossible to shift a novelist who has brought out six or more novels above the sales record he has established in the trade. However much advertising or publicity is devoted to his new book, the sharp edge of the battle is at the point where the representative goes into a bookshop soliciting orders. He may well say – and indeed believe – that 'this is X's best novel by far' but the seasoned bookseller will usually shrug and reply, 'I've heard that one before. Let's see, I took half a dozen of the last one – put me down for another six this time.' It is so much easier to wax lyrical when there are no previous results to measure the book against.' "
"The novel to be hyped often turns out to be aimed at women readers, who provide some 60 per cent of the general readership…It usually includes some esoteric (more than erotic) sex passages. Recent examples are Destiny by Sally Beauman and Shirley Conran's Lace."
"This third method of entry into bestsellerdom is the only one that supports Mr Sutherland's contention that bestsellers are 'made', not 'born'. Claud Cockburn, who in 1972 published a book with an almost identical title, Bestseller, took the opposite view. His book concentrated on novels published between the turn of the century and the outbreak of war in 1939."
The rest of the chapter, and indeed the whole book, is well worth reading if your public library has it, or you can find a second-hand copy.
The 'Mr Sutherland' referred to is now Professor John Sutherland whose memoir, The Boy Who Loved Books, was hardbacked by John Murray last month.
Details of his books about bestsellers are to be found at this page at Amazon UK.
There was a long comment on yesterday's blog by Kit Berry, creator of Stonewylde, but she didn't give a link to her website. Worth a look if you enjoy fantasy.