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Likely Stories

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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007 3:06 pm
The Heir of Dickens?
Posted by: Keir Graff

It’s been a busy week behind the scenes, and I’m falling behind. But I liked this article in Sunday’s Guardian (“The great unknown,” by Louise France), about “one of those authors of whom literary editors have never heard, and readers can’t get enough.”

The result is a narrative which might not be elegant or literary; prose which can be clumsy and sentimental. Yet these stories are impossible to put down, and stayed in my mind long after I’d finished them. I was reminded of what Nick Hornby, another commercial author, says is the mark of a really good book: it makes you walk into lampposts because you can’t stop reading it when you’re walking down the street.

Interestingly, Picoult sees herself as a modern Dickens. And if literary editors, as alleged, haven’t heard of her, she believes she provides something edgier than is usually found on the bestseller lists:

To begin with, the novels were by no means an overnight success. ‘Marketing departments struggled with them,’ says Gross. ‘They said they were too clever for the commercial market but weren’t literary fiction either.’ Jodi agrees. ‘Most people in America want an easy read. I call it McFiction – books which pass right through you without you even digesting them. I don’t mean a book that has two-syllable words. I mean chapters you can read in a toilet break. Happy endings. We are more of a TV culture, and that is a hard thing to go up against for any writer.’

Joel Rickett, deputy editor of The Bookseller, seems to see her more as a James Patterson who does all her own writing:

He also points to the fact that British publisher Hodder & Stoughton has been able to market her much like Procter & Gamble would flog toothpaste – Picoult spends three months a year on publicity tours. Big publishers can afford lucrative space at the front of the bookshop and include her in three-for-two deals. They can also offer discounts to supermarkets. By plundering her back-list, they’ve published a new book every four months, each one with a huge ad campaign. ‘They’ve created a brand,’ says Rickett, ‘which is the Holy Grail in book publishing. It’s all about continuity. Who can they sell who will last? If you can find an author who represents a set of values and expectations and can deliver every time, you’ve taken all the uncertainty out of publishing. Jodi Picoult has done just that.’

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