OK, this one's going to burn. I've been reviewing in-depth marketing information for Chameleon and to me, the lessons are clear. Especially when one views the NY Times bestseller lists.
Here's what we have from this week.
First up: David Baldacci's The Target. Just in time for summer.
Lawyer David Baldacci's first novel Absolute Power was published in 1996. He has over 110 million copies in print. Read this excerpt from one of Baldacci's books for younger readers to get an idea of his ear. All lawyers believe they have one or more books in them; authors like Baldacci and John Grisham (whom Baldacci is currently stomping ... bestseller-wise) are the source of these beliefs.
Next up: Greg Iles. I'll quote his Wikipedia: "Greg Isles is an American novelist who lives in Mississippi. Iles was born in Stuttgart, Germany, where his physician father ran the U.S. Embassy Medical Clinic." Rough, tough stuff. He's also a member of Stephen King's rock band, the Rock Bottom Remainders. Judging by his vintage online photo, he needs a haircut. His first bestseller was Spandau Phoenix, published in 1993. According to his website, "Greg broke the formula adhered to by most commercial novelists when he began to write in a variety of genres." He has "female protagonists" advertised on his website. Dead Sleep, one of these, features "a series of unsettling paintings in which the nude female subjects appear to be not asleep, but dead." You know what? When I go to think of writing about a "female protagonist," the very first thing that comes to my mind is the burning desire to solve crimes connected to nude paintings in which the female subject appears to be dead. And one of them looks like my twin sister.
Donna Tartt, #3, is like Greg Isles, from Mississippi. This is a major plus; both authors have Faulkner references associated with them. This bestseller and Pulitzer Prize winner went to Bennington (not in Mississippi ... in Vermont) where she associated with fellow literary luminaries Bret Easton Ellis, Jill Eisenstadt and Jonathan Lethem. Here is the plot of The Goldfinch: "A young boy in New York City, Theo Decker, miraculously survives an accident that takes the life of his mother. Alone and determined to avoid being taken in by the city as an orphan, Theo scrambles between nights in friends’ apartments and on the city streets." Donna had 11 years between her 2nd and 3rd novels, and her bio mentions an involvement with Bret Easton Ellis ... this is the "career pause" known to most women. Anyway, this baby The Goldfinch is about art. And set in Manhattan. About an orphan boy.
As to #4, I got nothing but respect for Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb. Nora singlehandedly is responsible for a great number of the female-written bestsellers on the NY Times and Amazon bestsellers over the past 15 years. Nora was blasted by unwarranted plagiarism by another romance writer. Art must be hot, because The Collector's plot is "A writer travels the world of affluent art collectors to learn the truth about what appears to be a murder/suicide."
Maeve Binchy, #5, is one of the charming Irish authors whose voice and gift fueled the sales of more than 40 million books worldwide. When she died in 2012, she was remembered as "Ireland's best-loved and most recognizable writer." Chestnut Street is a collection of some of her best-loved stories set in Ireland. They call it the "gift of gab," and the "luck of the Irish." When Irish eyes are smiling ...
#6, Sue Monk Kidd, has written The Invention of Wings, and the description sets my teeth on edge. "The relationship between a wealthy Charleston girl, Sarah Grimké, who will grow up to become a prominent abolitionist, and the slave she is given for her 11th birthday." Author of The Secret Life of Bees, Kidd hails from Georgia (which is an acceptable substitute for Mississippi, apparently). Sue's got Oprah sponsorship and I guess I'm glad this book is doing well. I'm just so damn tired of books by white people about issues related to people of color. Would rather read a book by a person of color about it. Sue is a nurse and came by her work honestly.
#7 Mary Higgins Clark ... began writing to support her family after a divorce, and made it! But she doesn't any longer write the books published under her name - or so I am told by those who know. She's a "house name" like Betty Crocker. She's been doing this roughly since time began.
#8 Funny, funny Christopher Moore has written another one ... "A farcical mash-up of 'Merchant of Venice,' 'Othello' and 'The Cask of Amontillado.'" In the absence of anything else, this would not be an issue. In the presence of everything else ... is there NOTHING NEW?
Lisa Scottoline, #9, is another lawyer. She is a more recent generation of women to begin writing from home after leaving her law practice in Philadelphia. With a long career, Scottoline is a good writer. She's one of the women who's achieved success in a very crowded male field.
#10 is a James Patterson farm team title, NYPD Red 2 (with Marshall Karp). Patterson's "above the title" status owes to his background in advertising and knowledge of "what people want." In his own way, Patterson has supported other writers ... by developing his stable of writers and package of products. "Detective Zach Jordan is called in when the body of a woman is discovered in Central Park." I hope the originality of setting can be seen from this list as well. If there's any more women's bodies discovered in Central Park, they'll have to start an estrogen garden.
#11 I'm going to cover, because it's Iris Johansen, whom I am also told is a form of "house name" at this point. I actually know people whose favorite author is Iris Johansen. I have had students whose favorite author is Iris Johansen. In 1991 she started writing bestsellers and hasn't looked back. It's comforting in a vague way that Iris' Wikipedia says it's "not notable," just like mine. HEY Wiki-folk, uh, yeah. House name or not, she's sold probably as many books as Baldacci. I'm going to give Iris this - this is by far the most unusual story concept/setting on the list: "The C.I.A. operative Catherine Ling must spearhead the rescue of an American journalist kidnapped in Tibet." Iris. Finger on the pulse of America.
Everything I've said here means: old, tired, last decade's news. "Nobody reads any longer." Well you can sort of see why, can't you? And it's not "their fault."