As written in "Newsmakers 1999," "The reigning queen of romance novels since the late 1970's, Danielle Steel has become an institution with her constant stream of bestsellers." While these bestsellers may not be deemed the Steel's best works or may be reviewed as awful pieces of literature, they continue to top the charts of bestseller lists. Numerous factors can be taken into account, when considering why romance novels written by Danielle Steel, like "Heartbeat," go on to become bestsellers regardless of their bad reviews. "Heartbeat" tells us that characteristics of Danielle Steel novels include the focus on successful women, the soap opera like subject matters, the happy and inspirational endings, in addition to the marketing techniques that play off of Steel's name notoriety. Characteristics like these have made Steel novels and the novels of writers before her successful in the market. Thus, Steel didn't necessarily create the blueprint for a bestseller, but she definitely has a good idea of what it takes to make one. In making her novels successes, Danielle Steel uses techniques that have made her previous novels and the works of other authors successes.
First and foremost, regardless of what techniques Danielle Steel uses to make her novels bestsellers, one thing novels like "Heartbeat" tell us about bestsellers is that they do not have to be favorites of the critics. Over the years, Steel has been criticized for "bad writing, shallow characterization, preposterous plot twists, unconvincing dialogue, rigid adherence to the 'poor little rich girl' formula, being unrealistic, and sloppy prose style" (Encyclopedia of World Biography). However, Steel novels like "Heartbeat" have been criticized for having these so-called flaws, but have continued to sell millions of copies for many reasons. "Changes" was another Steel novel that was criticized for having the same flaws as "Heartbeat." However, in critiquing it the "Chicago Tribune Book World critic L.J. Davis claims that Changes is written 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'" (Encyclopedia of World Biography). Thus, it can be proven that Steel's novels and other bestsellers of this type serve some useful purposes for its reader's regardless of what critics say. Additionally, while they may critique Steel's work as bad literature, they too can see the characteristics that make them bestsellers and must acknowledge them. As the Encyclopedia of World Biography states, "Despite their low appraisals of Steel's talents as a writer, critics concede that her tear-jerking tragedies and happy endings meet some need in her millions of readers, be it a desire for satisfying diversion or for emotional catharsis."
While critics have attacked Steel's focus on successful women in modern day times because it's unrealistic, it has proven to work for her. In creating her empire of romance bestsellers, Steel transformed the traditional bodice ripper into contemporary romance novels, making it easier for her present-day readers to relate. Newsmakers 1999 states that, "Unlike the traditional gothic bodice-rippers set in historical venues, Steel's characters usually function in contemporary society, and her heroines often lead glamorous lives or retain historical positions of power. The reoccurring theme is having to choose priorities in life-love versus career is the most common dilemma and her stories generally reward readers with happy endings." "Heartbeat" follows this pattern as she presents her readers with the lives of its characters. Adrian Townsend is a successful woman who works in the area of news production and is married to a handsome marketing executive named Steven. Meanwhile, the novel's other main character is the creator of daytime's number one soap opera, "A Life Worth Living." While Adrian goes through a period in which see must make a life decision, a baby or her husband; her successful life is never too far from the center of the plot. These two characters come together, after both of their lives go through a period of downs, as they enjoy their posh lives of nice cars, condominiums, expensive restaurants, celebrity acquaintances, parties in Beverly Hills, and other luxuries in the Los Angles area. Novels like "Heartbeat" show us that, "The typical focus on a glamorous, well-to-do heroine proves that women can 'have it all': love, family and career" (Encyclopedia of World Biography). While some of Steel's readers enjoy her books for entertainment purposes only, a great number of her successful middle age women readers find re-affirmation in themselves through her works.
Other novels by Steel, like "Changes (1983)," have followed the same format and have succeed in becoming bestsellers. In "Changes" the main characters "are forced to choose the priorities in their lives. Thus in Changes a New York anchorwomen who weds a Beverly Hill's surgeon must decide whether her career means more to her than her long distance marriage does" (Encyclopedia of World Biography). Early novels like "Changes" helped to show Steel what her audience wanted and while she received poor reviews from some critics for it, just as she did with "Heartbeat," others praised her work. "Changes" received reviews that praised it as" timely and socially relevant" because, as "Heartbeat" does, it deals with modern issues. From the sales of novels like "Heartbeat" and "Changes," it can be assumed that being timely and socially relevant is a characteristic found in many 20th century bestsellers. Additionally, they prove that issues like illegitimacy, marital decision, and issues such as infertility, which Steel tackles in "Mixed Blessings," are real to her readers. With "Mixed Blessings," Steel's audience gets an "exciting plot, intriguing characters, and an opportunity to learn about both the emotions and medical procedures associated with infertility, ?a sense of appreciation for both the joys and sorrows that life offers" (Stellute). The issue of infertility between the characters in this novel, is definitely realistic and it is a popular social issue of today.
Aside from the story of a prominent woman, Steel often offers a plot with many twists and turns like a soap opera. While critics have deemed her plots trashy and bad writing, others find that Steel has a "flair for spinning colorful and textured plots out of raw material" (Encyclopedia of World Biography). These rich and dramatic plots often satisfy the wants of Steel's audience with scandalous topics, as do many bestsellers. "Heartbeat," for example, satisfies the needs of Steel's audience for soap opera-like scandal in that it starts you off with the lives of two well-to-do individuals whose lives seem to be going perfect. However, unexpectedly the plot takes another route and Adrian finds herself pregnant. For any normal couple, this may seem like a blessing; however, Adrian's husband is against having children and divorces her as soon as she decides to keep the child. Adrian finds herself alone and pregnant, with one friend in the world, Bill Thigpen, the successful creator of daytime's number one drama. Ironically enough, following the idea of the daytime drama that he writes, Bill finds himself in love with Adrian. Meanwhile, the reader knows she is carrying her ex-husband's child and Adrian keeps it a secret until it is accidentally found out. Adrian heroically rescues Bill's son on a camping trip and is taken to the hospital, just so the staff can assume that Bill is her husband and the child is his. Therefore, he gets some shocking news when they tell him that his baby is alright. At the end there is a happy ending. Bill wants Adrian and her child too. Adrian finds strength in the fact that she survived the whole ordeal with a happy ending. While this doesn't seem to be the typical love story, it is a love story that keeps its audience's attention with all the unusual circumstances. Just like it would be with a soap opera, Steel's audience finds themselves anticipating the moment that Bill finds out she pregnant. Will he leave her or will he keep her, no one knows and they stay tuned until the end in order to find out. Novels like "Heartbeat" show us that in the 20th century, readers want works full of scandal, plot twists and unfavorable topics.
Similar to "Heartbeat," "Mixed Blessings," another Danielle Steel novel, finds its success in its topic. While "Heartbeat" tackles the issue of illegitimacy, "Mixed Blessings" takes the opposite approach to its reader's attention by focusing on infertility. Both topics can be viewed as scandalous in that people are looked upon unfavorably for either having or being an illegitimate child, meanwhile at the time of "Mixed Blessings," infertility was not a topic discussed much in novels read for entertainment purposes. Both novels proved that these unpopular topics weren't necessarily bad and that in the end there could be a positive turnout. In critiquing "Mixed Blessings" one critic asserts that, "Steel has done her homework here, and it shows. The deep pain some couples feel about childlessness-albeit laid on with a trowel by Steel-and the seeming salvation of medical technology provide for the perfect soap-opera tension, but Steel goes deeper. With maturity and control she has not shown in her other novels, she deftly weaves three complicated stories into a single bold message about choice and destiny in modern life" (Stellute). Although such topics and plot turns in relations to these topics may have been unfavorable to some critics, imagine the impact that such novels could have on the hope of women in these positions. The receptions of bestsellers like "Heartbeat" and "Mixed Blessings" by the public, show that these novels do touch some of their readers, which is what Steel intends in writing them. As "Steel once said in Publisher's Weekly 'I think I have an instinctive sense for the feelings of others and that is what seems to hold the reader. What I write touches people" (Authors and Artists). It must be true that novels by Steel and other authors, who write about controversial topics with soap opera-like plots, present something valuable about real life to their readers as.
While many of the topics that bestseller of today cover seem to sell because they are modern, that isn't necessarily the case. Author's like Steel see what have worked in the past, just as scandal aided in the production of bestseller books years before Steel even started writing. In the 1950's Grace Metalious made "Peyton Place" a bestseller by writing a book that was basically "a soap opera about affairs, murders, rapes, and illegitimate offspring in a cozy New England town" (Stellute). Novels like "Peyton Place" and "Heartbeat" put issues in places where they do not seem to belong. No one would expect illegitimacy to be an issue with a young yuppie couple living in Los Angles, just as no one would expect the quiet town of "Peyton Place" to have all the scandal that it actually does. However, they do. In "Heartbeat," Adrian deals with illegitimacy in the early 90s and in "Peyton Place" Constance McKenzie hides the fact that she was never married to her daughter Allison's father because of the shame associated with having an illegitimate child. "Peyton Place" undoubtedly was a bestseller in 1956 because Metalious introduced scandalous topics unfamiliar to literature of the time, which produced a lot of press of the book. However, rape, incest, and illegitimacy where occurring in the lives of people. Metalious' novel was criticized as being trash because it presented unfavorable, yet real topics, to a society that wasn't familiar with reading about such occurrences. Today, people are familiar with reading about such topics because Grace Metalious not only helped to pave the way for these types of novels, but she also paved the way for the soap operas that millions of viewers watch today. Thus, novels like "Peyton Place" and "Heartbeat" show us that many bestsellers maintain the interest of its readers through plots that produce scandal. It seems that readers of the 20th century are no longer interested in reading the typical love story, where everything goes well and all the characters are morally perfect.
Works by Danielle Steel, like "Heartbeat" and other authors that write romance bestsellers, have proven that the plot, characters, and reality of novels play a large role in a book's success, however there is something else that has nothing to do with what is in the books, that sells books. Name notoriety places a huge role in the book industry and in the 20th century many books that have become bestsellers have been marketed off of name notoriety. Danielle Steel and other popular 20th century authors have made names for themselves in the book industry, which in some way attributes to the success of their books. If you pick up any article on Danielle Steel or any of her books, they usually mention that "she has been almost a permanent fixture on the New York Times hardcover, trade, paperback, and mass market bestsellers lists, and has produced almost 340 million books in print. Many of her novels have been adapted for television, and in 1981[at the beginning of her career] Steel was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for having for having one of her books on the New York Times bestseller lists for 381 weeks" (Authors and Artists). Publishing companies play off of the name notoriety of established authors, like Steel, and all to often, you will find a book written by best-selling authors in which their name takes up more space on the cover of the book than does the title. Thus, they are looking to attract the public to these books by putting the name of a well-known best-selling writer on a book so big that no one in the bookstore can miss it. Books like Danielle Steel's "Heartbeat" and Stephan King's "It," which both went on to be bestsellers, show that the author's name is important in the marketing technique used by the publishing company. By using more space to print the name of the author than the name of the book, the companies are playing off of the fact that the author's names are well known.
Such characteristics as name notoriety, scandal, reality, well-to-do characters, and unfavorable reviews seem to come hand in hand with bestsellers, as Steel's 1991 bestseller "Heartbeat" shows us. While many of the characteristics that make a bestseller successful seem to be unfavorable to critics of all kinds, the authors of these works must be doing something right. They are entertaining their readers, maintaining strong followings and selling millions of books, regardless of their so-called faulty writing.
Authors and Artists for Young Adults. Vols. 7-26. Gale Research, 1992-99.
Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd Edition. 18 vols. Gale Research 1998.
Galenet, Biography Resource Center- www.galenet.com
Jones, Dara. Assignment #5. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/courses/bestsellers/ (2/2/00).
Newsmakers 1999, Issue 2. Gale Group, 1999.
Stellute, Selena. Assignment #5. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/courses/bestsellers/ (2/2/00).