Getting to the Top of the Best Seller List

Written in October, 1996 for WWA Essay Round Robin

Less than ubiquitous writer, but voracious reader that I am, I’ve always watched the ups and downs of the latest books on the various best seller lists and wondered how they got there, what made them stay there for so long and why some didn’t get there at all. But the latest way to get to the top of the New York Times Best Seller list was both surprising and disturbing.

For years I’d watched with interest, the writing career of Jacqueline Mitchard who writes a column for the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel. Among other things, she’d earned a living at writing for many years in Milwaukee and Madison publications. Being a local writer I often pulled for her and was happy to see her byline show up more often and in a wider variety of places. I felt sorrow when she wrote of her husband’s death and understood when she wrote of the trials and triumphs of being left to carry on with several small children.

So I was quite delighted to read that her first fictional effort had been picked up by a major publishing house and the reviews were promising. Each week I checked the Sunday paper and watched for it to appear on the New York Times Best Seller List. I read a short blurb that the book was up to number sixteen, or maybe it was twelve. Good show, Jacqueline!

Then I read that it would be declared number one the week of October 6. Wow! Then I heard why. Seems Oprah Winfrey loved the book so much she picked it to be the first one featured on a monthly televised book discussion segment of her daily talk show.

And yes that is great. Oprah is a class act. Not only has she reached her goal in the fitness and weight category, she has also restyled her show to address positive issues. Recently, she was disturbed to find out that fewer and fewer young people are reading, so she decided to do something about it.

Hence, the once a month book discussion segment of her show; and Jacqueline Mitchard’s book, “Deep End of the Ocean” was her choice as the book to discuss. Once that announcement was made, the book which had started to decline on the best seller list, quickly shot up to number one.

I couldn’t help but wonder what Jacqueline Mitchard was thinking and feeling. It must be absolutely wonderful to have a book published. Fabulous to have your book show up anywhere on the New York Times Best Seller List.

But I couldn’t help but wonder if this took a bit of the joy out of it to know that a plug by someone is what really took it to the top rather than the book itself. I can’t help but think this must take the wind out of her sails a bit.

Not only did it make me feel a bit sad for the writer, but it also made me wonder generally about who we listen to and why. I have no qualms about listening to Oprah Winfrey. She is sensible, kind and wise. But where will this end!

While I’m happy that someone is having a positive influence by prompting people to read more, I also worry when a celebrity can wield so much power over what we do and why.

Meantime, I, who never buy hard cover books and seldom read best sellers until long after they have dropped off the lists, plan to go out right now and buy the book so I can be ready for the Oprah book discussion show later in October. In this case, I think I know a good thing when I see it.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Diana Schramer
    Oct 27, 2014 @ 21:46:06

    I think having a book plugged by a celebrity is great press and an even greater opportunity, especially for an unknown author. What a way for people to get to know your name and your book! Of course, whether this might be a good or bad thing depends on who the celebrity is. But no publicity is bad publicity, or so they say. Hmm … I’m not too sure about that.

    Deep End of the Ocean was made into a movie, too, starring Michelle Pfeiffer and one of my celebrity crushes, Jonathan Jackson. I wonder if Oprah’s endorsement helped make that happen? It certainly couldn’t have hurt.

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