Bestsellers come in many forms. In each book there is a mixture of elements present in other bestsellers, yet it is the composition of this mixture that makes each novel its own entity. In Sidney Sheldon's Memories of Midnight, the author employs characteristics found in other bestsellers to produce a novel that molds these categories into one story line, creating one popular book that exemplifies each of these components. Memories of Midnight is an example of four types of bestsellers: books that are popular and sell well due to the author's name, "beach reads" or "airplane books," novels that explore the David and Goliath theme, in which a subordinate overcomes a more powerful adversary, and finally, sequels to books that are themselves bestsellers. However, the first three of these categories are not employed solely in Memories of Midnight. Sheldon consistently uses a familiar pattern when constructing a novel in which the same mixture is repeated to produce popular books time and time again. Thus, many of Sheldon's best-selling works have a similar construction: a young heroine struggling against a powerful nemesis, emerging victorious. Like Sheldon, other authors not only write works that can be placed in the same categories, but also follow prescribed patterns in their novels, such as John Grisham, whose best-selling books have for the most part conformed to a legal theme, focused on a segment of an attorney's life. Memories of Midnight, Sheldon's 1990 best-selling novel, is one which proves to be an example of several types of bestsellers. In addition, it is a part of Sheldon's repertoire of novels that combines these types repeatedly to produce popular fiction that the public is looking to buy.
Memories of Midnight was published in 1990, the tenth book written during Sidney Sheldon's successful career. All of Sheldon's previous nine books had reached the number one position on The New York Times Bestseller List. Therefore, Sheldon's name was one associated with books that had sold well in the past, and consequently with the assumption that his past books were popular with the readers that bought them. In addition, due to the wide circulation of his previous books, as well as the fact that so many were bought, Sheldon had built up a fan base. These fans enjoyed his work and looked forward to the next book he was about to publish. In this way, the recognition of Sheldon's name and his reputation became a major selling point for Memories of Midnight. One critic of the novel, Jill Sidoti, writing for Booklist, deemed Memories of Midnight "vintage Sheldon and guaranteed to draw the reader in." By her designation, the critic assumes that readers will understand what "vintage Sheldon" means when applied to a book and will have an awareness of the work before ever picking up the book, due to the author's name. Upon the dust cover of the first edition, Sheldon's name appears prominently, in fact, it is larger than the actual title and is placed above it. As this presentation suggests, it seems that the publishers marketing Memories of Midnight understood the importance of Sheldon's selling power and the reader's and book buyer's response to his name. Thus, the mere mention of Sidney Sheldon in connection with his new novel aided it sales.
Sheldon is not alone in his ability to benefit the selling of his book with his name and past success. Other authors and moviemakers have also profited by this phenomenon. One popular example is John Grisham. Since he began writing novels, many of his books have become bestsellers for a variety of reasons. Yet, one factor remains the same, the popularity of his novels has given his name resonance in the ears of book buyers. Therefore, they are lead to believe in the familiarity of his works and to count on the fact that the past success of his books will translate into a good buy this time around. Similarly, Danielle Steel, another popular novelist, has been able to craft many bestsellers. Although their sales are not completely dependent upon the value of Steel's name, her authorship does in fact attract past readers, as well as those who are familiar with the type of novel she produces. Therefore, her name is so well known that it is associated with the genre of easy-to-read romance and can persuade a shopper to select her work over another's based on the impact of her name on the cover. The same tactic can be employed successfully in other media as well. However, instead of the author's name having resonance, a starring actor's name on billboards and on movie advertisements is often enough to rope in viewers. On such star is actress Julia Roberts. Although she does movies with differing plot lines, her audience is often the same, filled with those who are attracted to any movie with which she is associated. Thus, a producer can expect high ticket sales by the exposure of her name and face on ads before and during the picture's run at the box office. Consequently, when a novelist or artist's name becomes recognizable, a familiarity and comfort comes to book buyers and moviegoers upon confronting their works. Consumers assume they know what they are getting when purchasing a novel by a well-known author or seeing a movie including their beloved star. However, despite the immediate popularity of the novel or movie due partially to the author or star's name power, the book or movie tends to sell well directly following publication or release, tapering off as the advertisement dies and the shelf life lengthens. Therefore, the name of an author or star persuades readers or movie viewers to spend money on their product because it leads them to expect they will be as pleased as they were when reading previous works or viewing the star's last movie. Additionally, they many also presume that the success of this author or actor is due to a popular style of writing or portrayal of a character that will satisfy them as it did others.
Bestsellers are not always books that can be classified as great literature. In some cases, the pure ability to entertain is a component contributing to the novel's success. Often readers want to be gratified without feeling intellectually challenged. For this reason, books classified as "beach reads" or "airplane books" have done well in sales. Readers on vacation or taking a flight want to find a world to slip into for a brief time; however, they do not want to struggle with the text, they want to easily glide through it. Therefore, this type of fiction often uses simple or easily understood language, singular and uncomplicated plot line, one time frame to follow, with few, if any, flash backs or forwards, and stock characters that are easily grasped. In addition, it is often easy to recognize a "beach read" by its cover art. Most books in this category eventually come in paperback and are produced in a manner that implies that they are not being produced for an educational purpose or for the intelligencia of society. Many times, the cover is raised, often picturing a racy artistic rendering, and the inner pages are made from a lower quality paper. Memories of Midnight is an example of such a "fast beach read or airplane book, which the author's many fans should love" (Booklist). Books with similar characteristics to Memories of Midnight and also fall into this category please readers due to their ability to entertain without mental strain. In addition, they take the reader to another place while immersed in activities that do not need much attention: lying on the beach, sitting in an airplane, or waiting at the doctor's office. Therefore, Memories of Midnight's sales figures were aided by the fact that this book was seen by readers and promoted by its marketers as an easy-to-read pleasure, a book well suited for shoreline and plane ride alike.
The category containing these entertainment based books bound for travelers and beach dwellers constitute their own genre. Also included in this collection of bestsellers are books written by authors such as Danielle Steel and Barbara Taylor Bradford. In each novel, the reader knows that they will find an engaging story without the trappings of an intellectual book that taxes the mind. Steel consistently pens novels that gratify readers, yet critics or consumers rarely regard these books as noteworthy literature. Instead, Steel produces stories that place the characters within a difficult situation from which they find a way to better their lives and selves, ending the novel on a positive note. Two books that exemplify these traits are Fine Things and Wings. In Fine Things, a man left with two young children after the death of his wife must find a way to go on with life and succeed. Likewise, in Steel's Wings, her heroine, Cassie, a pilot, must fight the bonds of "unthinking male prejudice" emanating from her husband and father, in the end finding true love with another (amazon.com). In Bradford's A Woman of Substance, a young store owner pulls herself up by her own bootstraps and succeeds in founding her own chain of department stores. Thus, the plots in "beach reads" are exciting and engaging, yet not difficult to predict or overly upsetting to one's emotions. The books usually end well, without too much heartache or deep thinking. These books for travelers and those on vacation are perfect for the mind in repose searching for a little entertainment on the road. Therefore, this type of novel will never be without a steady consumer base due to the readers on whom they rely.
When one reads a book, one tends to place oneself in the position of the characters, to identify with someone portrayed within the text. For this reason, books that adopt the David and Goliath theme often resonate with readers. Readers tend to identify with David, the underdog, the solitary man who tackles a large, powerful rival and succeeds. Though this does not happen too often in everyday life, these novels make it appear that it is possible for one person to make a change, to end the dastardly deeds of a greater, more commanding individual, industry, or corporation. In Memories of Midnight, Sheldon's heroine, Catherine Douglas must conquer the man who is trying to end her life, Constanin Demiris. Demiris, a rich and influential Greek ship owner, plays with Catherine as if she were a puppet, for her amnesia permits him to toy with her life. Yet, in the end, Catherine escapes his murderous plan, and another rival Demiris procured earlier in the novel causes his demise. Thus, Sheldon turns the David and Goliath biblical tale into a modern day story, allowing his reader to become Catherine, if only for a short while, conquering those more powerful than she.
The David and Goliath story line is not unique to Memories of Midnight. Due to its popularity among readers, many movies have been made and books written about this particular theme. One writer who has tackled this subject is John Grisham. Two of his recent novels, The Firm and The Rainmaker, have explored the need for one man to stand up to an entity that is larger than he in order to protect either his rights or those of a group in peril. In The Firm, a young lawyer must escape the dangerous clutches of the law firm for whom he works, due to the fact that they are threatening his very existence. In addition, Grisham's The Rainmaker, portrays a lawyer who must help a devastated family tackle a corrupt insurance company, gaining victory for the oppressed. Likewise, two movies have come out within the last three years that have, by their popularity in the theaters, proved the successful nature of the David and Goliath plot when it is marketed to the public. A Civil Action, based on Jonathan Harr's popular novel of the same title and directed by Steven Zaillian, was released in 1997. The main character is an attorney who must aid the town of Woburn, Massachusetts and eight leukemia-stricken families who reside in the town. The lawyer assists them in their legal suit against a local food processing plant for the cancer-causing solvents that they have been responsible for implanting into the city's water table, nobly succeeding in the end. Similarly, Julia Robert's latest role as the title character in Erin Brockovich, directed by Steven Soderbergh, is one in which she portrays a down-on-her-luck single mother who begins working with an attorney. In her new position, she aids a town in their attempts to sue a chemical plant that has poisoned their water supply causing the population to develop cancer and other life threatening diseases, finally winning the town residents a large sum of money and a sense of retribution. According to the movie's website advertisement, "[Brockovich] brought a small town to its feet and a huge company to its knees" (www.erinbrockovichmovie.com). In each of these popular book and movies, the reader or audience member has the opportunity to see big business or a powerful nemesis fall due to the diligence and resolute nature of an individual. This individual is one they can imaginatively replace with an image of themself, a single person conquering a stronger and more influential entity for the improvement of all involved. In this way, the David and Goliath theme attracts viewers and readers due to its ability to empower them with the idea that they too can succeed in a contest with one who has more resources and better opportunity, increasing the sales of books and movies based on this subject.
Although Memories of Midnight was a novel popular in its own right, its sales and customer appreciation were assisted by the fact that it was a sequel to The Other Side of Midnight, a bestseller sixteen years earlier. The prequel established a fan base, as well as a ready set of consumers poised to purchase Memories of Midnight upon its release. By creating a second novel to tie together loose ends left by the preceding book, Sheldon resurrected characters well received by his readers and provided them with a final conclusion in which the protagonist, Catherine Douglas, achieves freedom and Demiris, her evil adversary, meets his ruin. Therefore, readers are supplied with a satisfying end to the plot line begun in The Other Side of Midnight, calling them back for one more jaunt with the characters they left at the end of the prequel.
The capacity of a prequel to help the sales of a subsequent novel is a documented effect due to the success of movie and book sequels in the history of literature and filmmaking. Likewise the phenomenon is evident in literary and film series, in which readers return to the same characters in each novel and movie and are attracted to the subsequent story by the plot of the last book or motion picture in the sequence. One such series is the collection of Nancy Drew mysteries by Carolyn M. Keene. In each novel, Keene revives her ingenious heroine and places her in the middle of a new suspenseful detective case. Due to the return of the familiar and popular character and the pleasure of the last book in the series, readers continue to buy Keene's books due to their experiences with her previous works. In the same way, the incredibly popular movie Star Wars, directed by George Lucas, created a sensation that translated into fans that returned for each subsequent movie that followed in the series. Therefore, the ticket sales for Return of the Jedi and The Empire Strikes Back were benefited by the previous success of the original Star Wars. The continuation of characters and the finalizing of plot twists and turns in each episodic film kept the audiences returning to theaters to buy tickets to the sequels. This same pattern occurs with literary sequels such as Pollyanna Grows Up, the novel following the bestseller Pollyanna, and Scarlett, the sequel to Gone with the Wind. With the introduction of Pollyanna to American audiences in the novel bearing her name, readers fell in love with the endlessly optimistic and cheery young girl and her "glad game." Thus, when the sequel to the best-selling original, Pollyanna, was published, the prequel's readers also purchased the following novel, Pollyanna Grows Up. Audiences were anxious to catch up with the character they had come to love in the original and looked to find a similar emotional experience in the sequel, leading them to acquire a copy of Pollyanna Grows Up. In a similar fashion, the success of Margaret Mitchell's classic, Gone with the Wind, induced readers to desire a copy of the book's sequel, Scarlett, written by a separate author, Alexandra Ripley. Like Memories of Midnight, Scarlett was not reviewed well by critics. However, Scarlett's readers were dissatisfied with the novel as well. Plagued by the love fans of Gone with the Wind had for the first novel, Scarlett was unable to please readers who felt they truly knew the characters from their encounter with them in the prequel. Memories of Midnight profited not only from the success of its prequel, but also due to its ability to please readers. However all three novels, Pollyanna Grows Up, Scarlett and Memories of Midnight achieved higher sales figures on account of the great success of their prequels.
Although Sheldon has only written one sequel in his career, he has composed many bestsellers. To facilitate the writing process, Sheldon has invented a formula for success, a way of constructing novels with similar components and differing details that please readers every time. As in Memories of Midnight, Sheldon uses a blueprint in several other novels. The blueprint guiding the creation of his novels is made up of a female protagonist struggling against a more powerful enemy, over whom she emerges victorious. Three of Sheldon's best-selling books are part of his body of work that follows this prescribed pattern: Rage of Angels, A Stranger in the Mirror, and Master of the Game. Like Memories of Midnight's Catherine Douglas, Rage of Angels focuses on the character Jennifer Parker, an intelligent young lawyer, who must fight against the forces of organized crime within the courtroom. Similarly, in A Stranger in the Mirror, a beautiful young actress struggles against a controlling superstar actor in the midst of their love affair. Finally, Sheldon's Master of the Game follows the actions of protagonist Kate McGregor as she attempts to encourage the growth of the business that she has inherited from her father, "[stopping] at nothing to preserve" it against all odds (amazon.com). Thus, Sheldon, finding categories that have proved a successful combination in his novels, continually adds new characters and details according to a set pattern, thus producing bestsellers. The formula has been established as a good prediction of consumer desire due to the fact that novels following the blueprint have reached bestseller lists consistently.
Sheldon is not the sole author to have profited from the use of a formula when writing a novel. Another modern day popular fiction author, John Grisham, has composed many best-selling novels by standing by his perpetually successful legal theme. Most of Grisham's books focus on an attorney's life and trials during an important court case or during a time of strife. Novels that are part of this pattern are works such as The Firm, The Rainmaker, The Client, and A Time to Kill. All rely on Grisham's previously planned recipe for success, basing their plot on a skeletal framework employed in several of his works. Similarly, Tom Clancy has produced several bestsellers concentrating on political issues, secret government agencies, such as the CIA, and the actions of one man who attempts to follow the right path, battling evils such as the international drug trade and terrorism. Three of Clancy's novels are examples of his use of this concentration on certain aspects, constituting a best-selling framework: Clear and Present Danger, Patriot Games, and Debt of Honor. All three deal with the aforementioned themes, looking for increased sales figures based on the previous success of Clancy's pattern. In this way, Sheldon, Grisham, and Clancy use their knowledge of the type of book readers are looking for to construct novels that follow set guidelines, repeatedly producing bestsellers.
Despite the fact that most authors sentimentally regard their best-selling novels as individual compositions in their own right, these books do have characteristics similar to other works. These affinities are based upon the fact that bestsellers constitute categories of popular works. In the case of Memories of Midnight by Sidney Sheldon, the author combined categories, creating a novel that is essentially an amalgam of successful groupings of novels that sold well to the public. These categories include books that are successful due to the author's name recognition, "beach reads," and novels centering on the David and Goliath theme. In addition, this was not the first time Sheldon employed this recipe. In several other books by the author, a similar framework can be seen underlying the differences in detail, setting, and character construction. Sheldon's young heroines always find a way to conquer their more commanding enemies, prevailing in the end. From examining Sheldon's body of work, one can see that bestsellers, while spanning many different settings, styles, and assemblages of characters, can be gathered into coherent groupings. These groupings are signs of the parts of novels that please book buyers and send them to bookstores searching to purchase a new work. The categories into which Memories of Midnight fall are only a sampling of the many types of bestsellers on the market. However, it is through the study of these categories that one discovers what makes a book sell well, as well as what made Memories of Midnight reach the number one position on The New York Times Bestseller List.
Sources: (Works Consulted)
www.erinbrockovich.com (Cast and characters)
www.amazon.com: (synopsis of:) Wings, Fine Things, Rage of Angels, Stranger in the Mirror, Master of the Game, Clear and Present Danger, Patriot Games, Debt of Honor, A Woman of Substance, The Rainmaker, and A Civil Action
The Bestseller Database (at www.engl.virginia.edu:8000/courses/bestsellers/): Wings entry by Erika Karnaszewski, Fine Things entry by Robyn Galbavy, and Nothing Lasts Forever entry by Carol Zurawski
Sheldon, Sidney. Memories of Midnight. New York: William Morrow and Company,
Sidoti, Jill. "Memories of Midnight." Booklist July 1990: 2042.