Jackie Collins' best-selling novel Lady Boss published by Simon & Schuster in 1990 is a book that displays many of the same qualities that Collins' other books have. Lady Boss is the third offering from the writer in a series based on the Mafia and Hollywood lifestyles. This book remained on the bestsellers' list for several weeks and is still read by many today. I actually started reading the series on my own a couple years ago when I was intrigued by the television mini-series that the her novels spawned. However, when asking myself "What does Lady Boss teach us about bestsellers?" I am left with some obvious answers and some subliminal ones. At the end of the eighties and early nineties, a time filled with reckless habits, Lady Boss provided stability to many women still searching for the heroine in themselves. Lucky Santangelo, the main character, is a woman who can provide things for herself and her family. With feminism in full swing at this time, Lucky was a woman that many women could identify with or possibly envy. Therefore, the time period in which Lady Boss was written plays a substantial role in its rise to the bestseller list. Also, the subject matter of her novel, the Mob and Hollywood scandal are subjects that have intrigued audiences for years. Collins became another author to tap into celebrity and scandal selling more books because of it.
Bestsellers have no exact formula to their success. Some have been written by authors who have tried many years for a best-selling novel, first time authors who did well immediately have written others. And yet, an author who has for many years seen her novels successfully reach the status of BESTSELLER writes Lady Boss! After reading Lady Boss, I was severely unimpressed by the novel. Though entertaining, the novel lacked any real depth. However, although subliminal, the novel came at a perfect time for its type. Firstly, as stated by The Bowker Annual 36th edition,
"Whether one counts 1990 as the end of a decade marked by reckless growth and spending or the beginning of a more sobering decade, the residual effects of some of the high-powered marketing, publishing, and selling techniques of past years were still evident at the end of the year when the year's bestsellers were being assessed (Bowker, 566).
The 1990's were a time where the era of "big spending" had just left. The lifestyles of celebrities were beginning to become more immortalized, but in a down to earth way. Whereas before many celebrities seemed to be untouchable, the 90's brought these celebrities to a more reachable level. Part of this stemmed from the constant bashing of celebrities in the press and the newly media obsessed American public. In this era, anyone from an MTV VJ to the President of the United States was considered news worthy and important to the public. Even many authors such as Danielle Steel and Jackie Collins were considered popular celebrities, not just boring writers. Collins, whose sister Joan is also a celebrity, was able to tap into this world with her novels and has continued to have success doing so.
Since the world of the celebrity shifted into a new era in the early 90's, the need for some sort of scandal or even role models was upon many Americans. Housewives enjoyed reading novels to tap into lifestyles totally different from their own and career women need novels to escape from the daily grind. Although the Lucky Santangelo novels first appeared in the early 80's, the main character was now much stronger. Her days of youth and recklessness were also behind her. Like many women, Lucky now looked to the future that included owning her own business and providing stability for her family and herself.
The first two novels in the series told of Lucky's rise to the point that she is at in Lady Boss. She is now a married woman with a child and, by the end of the novel, another on the way. To the average new modern woman, Lucky is able to bring home the bacon, nurture her husband, look beautiful and take care of her children all without much stress. She is also is able to own one of the biggest studios in Hollywood which is a big feat for a woman, even now. In other words, Lucky is the woman that every woman wants to be and every man wants to have. So what does all of this mean? It means that Lady Boss is automatically a bestseller. Although the story, in my opinion, is not the best, readers read this novel out of curiosity alone. How does she do it all? What other obstacles are going to come her way? How will she handle them? On the same line as comic books are to a kid these novels are that way to many adult readers. Not even to mention the hot sex scenes that Collins' characters always seems to be involved in. Lucky's name alone creates high expectations of the character.
The best selling success of Lady Boss is not strictly based on women and their need for a heroine. It is also based on the similarities to the Mafia. The Santangelo family is a Mafia family similar to the Corleone's in The Godfather. Although the bulk of the mob story is featured in Chances, the first novel in the series, many of the mob families and rivals resurface in Lady Boss. Collins' presents her mob family centering with Gino Santangelo, who is the head of the family. From the beginning of the series, the reader set up to like the Santangelo family even though Gino commits many crimes. Collins intentionally makes his character strong to depict the strength that Lucky has built her strength on. As shown in Jennifer Crist's The Godfather entry, Mario Puzo tried to give the same appeal to Don Corleone. This appeal makes for a more likeable and realistic character. The audience tends to like characters that possess a more realistic feel.
Although the Mafia story line adds a sensational edge to Lady Boss, the other main backdrop for the novel is Hollywood. The Hollywood story line introduces the reader to new characters and displays a unique appeal. This appeal is symbolized by the crossing of the real and false. Jackie has stated many times and in several interviews regarding Lady Boss and subsequent novels that Lady Boss was written after observing many of the big players in Hollywood. Much of the novel deals with Lucky buying a movie studio. Within the studio, there are many scandals and dirty dealings that include sex and drugs. This made my book a bestseller because many people in the American public rushed out to find out some inside Hollywood scandal. This also appealed to the elite of Hollywood because they wanted to see if they had been written about, expose style.
Collins wrote at the perfect time because most of Hollywood and the American public were starting to become aware of the hard drugs and over the top lifestyles of many actors, actresses and Hollywood executives. This topic had become a popular subject. As The Bowker Annual states in its few telling points, "The three leading nonfiction sellers all had TV tie-ins of some sort, and celebrity status - on the entertainment, sports, political, or journalistic fronts- was highly visible among the books that did score." As is evident by that quick fact, this celebrity phenomena crosses genre, ethnic groups and political standing. There is something appealing about scandal that all venues of media tap into. Collins was not an anomaly to this procedure. Collins became so successful at finding out information and putting it into her novels that in her most recent novel, Dangerous Kiss, she highlighted an infamous President who has also recently been in the news. This type of writing makes the American public
want to read more. This fact is thoroughly proven by the sales in tabloids and in novels of this sort.
As an author, it is an honor to have your novel created into a movie. Through this visual venue, an audience can see the same characters they are used to envisioning, come to life. This is true especially for television mini-series. Although the movie, Lady Boss, did not come out until after the novel was on the bestseller list, the prequel movie, Lucky/Chances, had a subsequent impact of the novel. As stated earlier, part of the new financial success of best selling novels was the great marketing and advertising tactics used. The invention of the miniseries has helped many novels including the sequel to Gone With the Wind, Scarlett and the sequel to Alex Haley's Roots, Queen. Danielle Steel is also another author who has had many of her books made into television miniseries. The miniseries Lucky/Chances introduced the American public and the world (that does not read) to the great heroine Lucky Santangelo. Although the movie did not receive critical acclaim, it was viewed by many and had many big name (or soon to be) actors and actresses, including Sandra Bullock in it.
Through this miniseries, viewers who did like the movie wanted to see a sequel or continuation. I can personally remember watching the miniseries and loving it. The two novels the movie was based on were also bestsellers. By the time Lady Boss came out, the viewing audience was primed to find out, "What happened next?" The order of the series also has a lot to do with its bestseller status. The novel is the third in a series of five. This novel has two sequels and two prequels. As Jackie Collins states in one of her interviews, the Lucky Santangelo series is one of her personal favorites and the one she gets asked about the most. Since the novel is third in the series many readers believed in the first two novels enough to make a commitment to reading another one. In between novels Jackie appeared on many shows and made several appearances to advertise and market the novel. Showing that the novel is the third in a series depicts longevity. Also since it is the third in the series and among many other novels of Collins that have reached bestseller status, bestseller lists can act as an advertisement for Lady Boss's success. The novel after this one, Vendetta, did not do as well or sell as many copies due to some nasty criticism about Lady Boss and the television miniseries with the same name.
So what does this entire mean, again? It means that the content of the book does not dictate what will be a bestseller and what won't be. In the context of Jackie Collins, her best-selling status, according to my argument, could be just because of her name alone. She is a celebrity herself who possesses many of the qualities that her central character Lucky does. Collins even stated in an interview that she modeled the character of Lucky somewhat after herself. Or, some bestsellers can reach that status just by having an intriguing cover. Whatever the case, Lady Boss shows us that with the right ingredients any novel can become a bestseller. Lady Boss received negative reviews from professional critics and even some amazon.com reviewers. But whatever the case, the novel is still in paperback production and still being read. This basically means that the critics don't count as much as they think they do and the American public wants to form there own opinion. It is my prediction that Collins will continue to have best-selling success as long as she sticks to the formula that has always worked for her. That formula includes continuing to observe her celebrity peers, writing from the heart, and staying informed through the media. As a wise person once said, "Sometimes art depicts reality," and Collins knows how to use this to her advantage. Lady Boss is just the artistic visual of her reality.
The Bowker Annual, 1991 36th edition
Crist, Jennifer www.engl.virginia.edu:8000/courses/bestsellers