Friday, September 16, 2011

What Makes A Bestseller?

What makes a bestseller? The Don and I want to know.

The Don on a fact-finding mission
(We do a lot of whispering in his ear)

I started pondering this question after my 5-year-old steered me into the book section of Fred Meyer (a store in the Kroger stable for those of you not in the Pacific Northwest.)

"Freddy's" prides itself on being a "one-stop shopping" kind of place. Most of the square footage is taken up by groceries, but there's also an Electronics section, toys, and clothing. As for books, it features the kind of books that make the New York Times bestseller list (as well as books about Superman, Toy Story, and Thomas the Tank Engine--which were on the shelves my youngest was casing.)

While youngest tried to convince me to buy him a Toy Story Goldenbook, I did a quick perusal of the MG/YA shelves. The Freddy's book buyer must love The Ranger's Apprentice, because there were a number of those in stock. Also something by James Patterson (I believe he's cloned himself and now writes several books a day.) Then, to my delight, I saw my recently reviewed Turtle in Paradise, by Jennifer L. Holm. As well as Moon Over Manifest (which I haven't read yet, but I bet is at Freddy's because it won some little prize, like the Newbery.)

Then there was this novel which has lately been getting a lot of press:

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. Here's the process by which it has sailed into my consciousness:

a) On the front page of Kids' Next, Summer '11 (Inspired Recommendations for Kids from Indie Booksellers)

b) Mentioned in Kristin Nelson's Pub Rants blog. (The author is a client of a friend of Ms. Nelson's.)

c) And now on the shelf at Freddy's.

How is it getting all this "air play?" Perhaps all my bookseller/librarian readers can chime in? (Joanne Fritz? Ms. Yingling? Are you out there?) How is it that some books become the talk of the town and others (which seem just as groovy) languish? I mean, just looking at it, it has a great title, a cool cover, and the author's name--Ransom Riggs--is stellar. (Perhaps I should change mine to Hansom Higgs?)

One last thing: I bet it has a compelling story, with characters we come to care about. Isn't that, in the end, the "magic" that made Harry Potter and Twilight so successful?

If you've read Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, what did you think? What makes it a New York Times bestseller? Any other ideas about what makes a novel "break out"?


  1. I haven't read this -- yet. I'll chime in on MOON OVER MANIFEST though. It's on my list of favorites (I cannot choose one favorite, probably even impossible if The Godfather himself had a henchman holding a gun to my head). Anyway....what made MANIFEST so beautiful to me (and the winner of that tiny award) and so popular - is voice mixed with a unique twist on a fantastic story. For me, it comes down to voice and story. Always.

  2. I would say Fred Meyer is more like Target or Walmart than Kroger. And speaking of Fred Meyer, man I miss the PNW!

    Also, I really want that book.

  3. I don't know, but you've given me a book to check out:)

  4. I haven't read this yet either, but one of my fellow booksellers (also a writer) DID read it and loved it. She admitted, though, that there are flaws (the time travel bit apparently makes no sense). But we agreed that the main reason this book is flying off the shelves is the creepy photos. And the premise. Ransom Riggs had a brilliant idea (and he thought of it before we did, dang it all!).

    We shelve it in young adult. Probably due to the dark nature of the story and some mature language.

  5. I saw this book referenced somewhere (can't remember where) and although I hate to admit it, the cover of the book is what caught my attention and made me remember it-we live in a visual age after all. (Maybe I shoudl read it, but I have a lot on my reading plate right now. My son and I are finishing up book seven of the Narnia Chronicles, and are also starting The Hobbit.)


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