"She has written 25 novels, each one a best-seller, and is in the Guinness Book of Records for being represented on The New York Times' best-seller list for 381 consecutive weeks with one or more of her books, more than 130 million copies of which are in print" (Hanauer 1). It is just assumed that each of this publishing phenomenon's novels will hit the top of the best-seller lists before the books are even put out on the shelves. Thus, it might seem difficult to pick any one of Steel's works out as her ?best' best seller. However, the figures reveal that Steel's Fine Things is her followings' favorite, as it was her longest running New York Times Bestseller ever, residing for nine weeks at number one, and staying on the list for a total of 26 weeks ("Danielle Steel: Critical Reviews").
There are several factors that I believe to contribute to the all-time bestseller-ship of Fine Things in particular. In terms of the overall competition in the book market, the Steel novels always sell because they are considered ?a sure thing.' Previous satisfaction and familiarity of the Steel name is comforting to book buyers, much like popular brand names you trust when buying new products at the supermarket. The subject matter of Fine Things helps the book to sell because it deals with the contemporaneous issue of cancer. In the 80s, when the book was published, cancer was a much more threatening disease than it is considered to be today. However, Steel's ability to tie timeless, universal issues into her novels ensures that her books will never become dated. Readers of all ages relate to Fine Things' timeless issues of losing a loved one and rebuilding one's life after a loss. All of Steel's novels seem to use this approach, which forces us to examine even closer why Fine Things in particular stands above the rest of Steel's novels. Two things happened for the first time in Fine Things. One, Steel used a male voice as the main protagonist for the first time ever. Quite possibly, this drew male readers into her lure, and women interested in looking at things from a male point of view. Also, for the first time, the large print edition was simultaneously staggered with the first edition printing. Publishers knew that the large print edition would expand Steel's readership base to the elderly and vision impaired. This demographic group always had to wait for a couple of years for the large print edition, and so they could not share in the excitement of a new Steel novel hitting the shelves of their favorite bookstore.
"The writer is a commodity in today's celebrity-driven media. Publishers expect their star writers not only to produce but also to promote. But Steel sells without promotion. She doesn't have to do anything she doesn't want to" (Hanauer 6). Yes, simply seeing the Steel name on the cover of a new book is promotion enough for this writer. Fans of Steel's novels snatch up her latest works without having heard its subject matter or a recommendation from a friend. They buy the book because there is little or no risk involved in the purchase. Steel fans know that they will like whatever it is she has produced. And so, every Steel piece is a bestseller. "Steel's publisher knows that her trademark predictability creates predictable results" (Slewinski 1). The name ?Steel' has brand equity much like Dove Soap or Kellogg's. Consumers are much more likely to buy a new deodorant made by Dove than one made by an unknown company. The previous success that the consumer has had with Dove products encourages them to stick with the company. One fan refers to "Danielle Steel" as "the magical name. You keep [reading] them because the last one was so good. I recall ?Zoya.' Oh, I was just blown away by that" (Slewinski 2). The book-buying consumer finds a similar level of trust and comfort in the Steel name. Thus, all Steel novels are going to sell; the test for her is more a matter of internal competition. Which one will become an all-time best seller?
The subject matter of Fine Things was instantly appealing in 1987 because it dealt with a very modern and relevant problem: cancer. Because almost everyone knows someone who has struggled with chemotherapy and cancer, the content of the novel becomes easy to empathize with. Further, the easy-to-follow story line almost tricks the reader into learning about cancer. Steel uses professional researchers to detail the information and make it an educational experience for the reader. A Rapport reviewer comments of Steel's subject matter, "In addition to her trademark romances, Steel also confronts serious issues in her books . . . [They are] not only well written but extremely well researched" ("Danielle Steel" 5). By "well written," critics do not mean grammatically correct or worthy of the Booker Prize. "Well-written" in the science of best-selling books means that people will find the books easy and enjoyable to read. Steel's books are 'beach reads,' not labors of intensive academic study. Chicago Tribune Book World critic L. J. Davis says that Steel writes in "the sort of basilisk prose that makes it impossible to tear your eyes from the page even as your brain is slowly [turning] to stone" ("Danielle Steel" 5). Other reviewers, such as a Detroit News writer describes Steel's writing and subject matter as "fun reading. The topic [of which] is timely and socially relevant" ("Danielle Steel" 5). Steel's researcher, Nancy Eisenbarth, finds the hard facts on Steel's chosen topic?which is cancer in Fine Things?and Steel weaves an easy-to-read story out of the background information. "Steel insists that every detail be correct, down to the perfume a historical figure might have worn or the name of a club where he or she might have gone," says Eisenbarth (Edwards 2). With lovable characters and gripping story lines behind the intricate passages of medical jargon in Fine Things, readers are able to easily learn about issues that their own friends and family are grappling with. Thus, in Steel's work, it is not surprising to find run-on sentences and fragments followed by intricate passages like: "I think a bone scan may tell us more of what we want to know.' He explained the procedure to them, and he had already made arrangements for her at the hospital. It was a simple test, involving an injection of radioactive isotopes to show lesions in the skeleton" (Steel 168). Steel's Fine Things makes cancer more understandable?almost like a ?Cancer for Idiots.' Steel turns highbrow information into layman's material.
One might worry that advances in cancer research and displacement of fear unto AIDS of the 90s might take away from 90s and millennium readers' ability to empathize with the content of Fine Things. However, the expertise of Steel's craft is that she safeguards against the possibility of this happening. Whether the life-threatening force is the bubonic plague, cancer, AIDS or famine, the pain of losing a loved one is universal. Executive Producer of Steel's movie version of Fine Things commented that "Her appeal also is that her themes and plots deal with such basics. They deal with birth, marriage, death, falling in love and out of love. The problems are so universal that they work everywhere and the people in her books are not all rich and glitzy. This isn't Jackie Collins or Judith Krantz and the audience isn't getting ?Dynasty' again" (Hanauer 2). These timeless issues ensure that Steel's novels will not become dated. Ironically, Steel is quite Shakespeare-esque in her ability to maintain contemporary pertinence across the boards, between fads and passing decades. It is often this ability to handle these issues of life and death so eloquently that salvages Steel's efforts from harsh critics. Regarding Fine Things, Publisher's Weekly concluded: "credibility's ebbing fast when the book is salvaged by passages depicting Bernie and Jane's convincing, true-to-life feelings about the death of a loved one" ("Fine Things" 86). In Fine Things, Steel relates the pains that Bernie and Jane share over the death of Liz with remarkable compassion. The scene in which Bernie tells his mother that Liz has died is particularly remarkable: "'Good . . . good . . . I . . .'" He didn't know how to handle it, what one said, what one did . . . he wanted to cry and scream, and kick his feet and bring her back, and she would never come back to him again. Never. ?I can't . . .' But he could. He had to. He had to. He had two children to think about now. And he was alone. They were all he had now" (Steel 217). Thus, while critics might jab at Steel's inappropriate grammatical use of ellipses here, Steel trades this in for an excellent conveyance of Bernie's breathlessness, shock, and torment. Steel gets to the root of human nature and frailty of the human condition in passages like these. So, while her older novels might not contain subject material quite so pertinent to the day, the basic human emotions that she illustrates so vividly are pertinent to any time period or audience. Readers of Fine Things in particular are able to relate to the timeless issues of losing a loved one and rebuilding one's life after a loss.
However, there is one remarkable difference between Steel's Fine Things and her other novels. For the first time, Steel uses a male as the main protagonist. In the past, her readers were limited to mainly all-female audiences. For example, NBC regularly airs Danielle Steel movies when other stations are showing sporting events, because they know that their viewers would be an all-female constituency anyway: "The Peacock Network has regularly introduced viewers to Steel's storytelling, using the female-friendly films to counter-program sporting events on the other networks. The plan worked phenomenally well" (Slewinski 1). The use of the male main protagonist, Bernie Fine, in Fine Things gives a remote hope to Steel's novels opening up to a larger audience?one that includes males. John Traina, Steel's husband, has "encouraged her to write more about men in order to lure in male readers" (Troy 5). Passages in Fine Things come off as more masculine and identifiable to men: "Bernard never lost sight of the fact that Paul had given him his career. He had encouraged him to go to business school, and opened countless doors at Wolff's to him. More than that, he had trusted him, and given him a vote of confidence at times when no one else would have dared attempt some of Bernie's schemes, and it was no secret that, with no sons of his own, he had been grooming Bernie to be number one for years. He offered Bernie a cigar as the younger man waited to hear what he had to say" (Steel 31). This new, male approach entices women readers who may have not liked Steel's previous, all-female approach. Also, it draws in male readers who more easily identify with the male condition.
On the publishing side, another exceptional circumstance occurred during the initial publishing of Fine Things. In the old days, it took a year or two for a title to come out in large print," says Arlene Chan, branch head of Metropolitan Toronto Library's Traveling Branch. "Now, a handful are done simultaneously" (Kucherawy 1). In 1987, however, Bantam Doubleday Dell published Fine Things in large print at the same time as the first edition. The large print edition sold between 15,000 and 20,000 copies. "Historically, we sold separate rights. But we realized this was an enormous and growing market in libraries. In retail, it was slow, but growing steadily" (Kucherawy 2). In 1990, Bantam Doubleday Dell began an official program to start releasing large print editions simultaneously with their first editions (Kucherawy 2). Thus, Fine Things is a historical book in the publishing industry, as it led the way towards what is now an important factor in the publishing marketplace. As the graying of America begins, and computers become a more pivotal part of everyday life, large print books will see an increase in demand. "But the elderly and visually impaired are not the only market for large-print books. Isabel Geffner of Bantam, Doubleday, Dell says young people with good vision who may spend all day working in front of a computer screen find that large print books are easier to read" (Kucherawy 2). Thus, along with possibly an inclusion of male readers, Fine Things was and is more accessible to the elderly, visually impaired, and frequent computer users. All of these industry-side factors contribute to the bestseller-ship of Fine Things, along with the Steel name, the contemporaneous content matter, and Steel's timeless compassion.
Danielle Steel is an especially interesting bestseller to analyze because of the sheer volume of her novel production. Sometimes turning out 2 novels a year, it is amazing that any one book might stand out as her all-time bestseller. Fine Things, however, had all of the ingredients to rise to number one. Fine Things provides Steel with a benchmark?a barometer?against which she may constantly measure the success of her ensuing novels.
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