So, earlier this week Oprah's latest book club selection hit bookstores and the homes of ABC viewers via the large e-tailer-which-shall-not-be-named. Her selection? The multi-million copy selling The Pillars of the Earth by hugely popular writer Ken Follett.
In the New York Times Book Review for this same week, there was this boastful anecdote from Follett regarding a conversation he had with one of his friends, novelist and playwright Hanif Kureishi:
"We were talking about what the readers like," Follett says. "He said, 'I never think about the readers.' I told him, 'That's why you are a great writer, and that's why I am a rich writer.' "
Speaking of a rich Ken Follett, within a year of the original publication of Pillars, Follett signed with Dell Publishing for a $12.3 million two-book deal. All of his books have been bestsellers and several have been made into movies, and just announced in Publishers Weekly is a new $50 million deal for an epic trilogy by Mr. Follett.
Ken Follett is not undeserved of his reputation nor is it a bad thing for his book to be introduced to a cadre of new readers. My beef is not with Ken Follett or his skill in writing suspenseful tomes of historical fictition.
My beef here is with Oprah Winfrey and her book club. Clearly, based solely on the numbers of books he sells, the money he makes, or his own admission of writing for money, Ken Follett does not need any help in gaining readers. I also do not have a problem with writers hitting the gold coin jackpot, I just wish more of them could be making those big bucks.
Why not use the famed Oprah power of thrusting new books into readers hands that are by writers who have yet to find their fame anywhere beyond small literary circles of fandom? She has done so a handful of times and I do wish she would do it every time. Imagine what could be done for reading and emerging writers if Oprah championed these floating gems and diamonds in the rough.
Independent booksellers across the nation have catapulted books to bestseller-dom simply by the fine old art of handselling. Recent examples: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Ms. Winfrey can even be thanked for featuring Ms. Gilbert on her show and assisting indie booksellers in thrusting this writer into newfound and well-deserved fame. Seeing what booksellers and Oprah can do for readers and writers, why not expand that power to the book club itself? We can even offer Ms. Winfrey a list of suggestions - should she need them.
Ken Follett is Latest Oprah Winfrey Pick, AP
Follett Cashes In On 'Century', PW
Homepage for Ken Follett