Sep 11, 2009

Best Sellers

The news in publishing is all about Best Sellers right now because Dan Brown is due to release his next novel.

It is very easy to dismiss the literary merit of such best sellers. A friend of mine once wrote, “[Wilton Barnhardt’s] Gospel made me want to use The Da Vinci Code for hamster-cage litter.” Some best sellers carry great literary weight, but they are the exceptions, like Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, which reportedly has sold 200 million copies. (How do people know this?)

Here are some pulp numbers. Jackie Collins has sold more than 400 million books. Nora Roberts, 280 million. Danielle Steel, 550 million. The Da Vinci Code, 80 million.

What is it that drives so many people to these books? Because certainly these books are offering something that a lot of people want.

A best seller doesn’t have to be especially well written. It has to be predictable but not too predictable. Familiar might be a better word. It has to engage the brain, but not tax it. Like a drivers license in the U.S., it has to be accessible to a large number of people. But above all else, best sellers have to tell a good story.