When a novel becomes a bestseller it is sometimes as much of a mystery to the publisher as it is to the author. While some books have a strong clear push from the powers that be, occasionally a book catches the wind in its sails and makes its ascent for reasons unknown.
I asked a collection of bestselling authors to select their best selling novel, and try (if possible) to account for the success of the book. I had hoped to find clear (reproducible) patterns, but not only were the answers varied, the authors often qualified their replies with disclaimers about being unsure. Here, in no particular order, are their responses.
ORPHAN TRAIN, Christina Baker Kline
- It’s a little-known but significant story about American history that has been hidden in plain sight.
- It parallels an interesting historical moment with a current-day story that is both surprisingly similar and different in significant ways — lots to talk about.
- It’s an emotionally charged story, but the prose style is spare and unsentimental.
THE ILLUSION OF SEPARATENESS, Simon Van Booy
- Radio and Blog Coverage, thanks to my publicist
- Word of Mouth
- A solid relationship with bookstores and libraries
THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS, Ariel Lawhon
- It has a strong premise based on a well-known mystery (the disappearance of Judge Crater.)
- It was reviewed well in most of the major outlets (NY Times, People, AP, etc.)
- The novel centers on three strong, unique female characters that readers (primarily book clubs) enjoyed discussing.
A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME, Wiley Cash
- It got a lot of support from independent booksellers, especially bookstores in the South.
- My publicist was aggressive with national print and my book was reviewed widely in national newspapers and glossy magazines.
- I went on a book tour in support of both the hardcover and the paperback, and I think that meeting with readers and book club members had a word-of-mouth effect, the kind you can’t get from print or online.
RODIN’S LOVER, Heather Webb
- It takes place during a popular era set in Paris—the Belle Epoque Era.
- The subject matter—the politics of the art world, the fine line between obsession and madness, and the tumultuous but passionate affair between the protagonists—makes for good discussion for book clubs.
- Nice media coverage: Cosmopolitan magazine, France Magazine, several newspapers, Reuters News, and national starred reviews
SAVING CEECEE HONEYCUTT, Beth Hoffman
- The story examines the heartbreak and hilarity of a damaged family through the eyes of a child.
- The juxtaposition of small-town Ohio to the grandeur of historic Savannah in combination with issues of mental illness, death, and emotional healing appeals to a wide readership.
- Pre-pub advertising was strong. The book was among “Pennie’s Picks” and received a starred review from Library Journal.
THE KOMMANDANT’S GIRL, Pam Jenoff
- It is set during World War II, an era which remains very popular, and was released in trade paperback, making it accessible for book clubs.
- It received early recognition, including a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and IndieNext Summer List, and was a finalist for the Quill Awards and the ALA Sophie Brody Prize.
- It was well received by the major chains: B&N made it a book club pick and Sam’s Club supported it well.
- It had good exposure at the independent conferences such as the Winter Institute and the regionals as well as the ALA conference.
THE EDGE OF LOST, Kristina McMorris
- Unique hook: features a widely known setting (Alcatraz) with a fresh, factual twist (children who secretly befriended inmates)
- Wide target audience: story is told solely from a male point of view, totals fewer than 350 pages, and offers a YA crossover
- Cover art: eye catching, non-gender specific design, and could easily appeal to fans of a similarly “dressed” successful novel
The bottom line: keep writing your passion, pushing for support from the powers that be, and hoping the magic touches you.
How about you? Why do you think your best selling book is a bestseller? Did you notice any interesting trends?