Many novels from the yearly bestseller lists indicate one particular similarity-the power of name recognition. Louis L'Amour's Jubal Sackett clearly falls into this category, as the novel was published late in the extensive, successful career of its author. In fact, Jubal Sackett reveals much concerning the reasons behind the success of popular, long-standing authors. Often times, these novels are not literary masterpieces but are still successful for a number of other reasons. Although this book is unique from the novels of some other popular "name recognition" authors, many considerations for the success of the novel are the same. Thus, it is useful to compare L'Amour and this particular book with authors such as Tom Clancy, Agatha Christie, and John Grisham. Ultimately, Jubal Sackett and several other novels by these authors demonstrate that bestsellers may succeed through such factors as accessibility and name recognition rather than literary complexity or originality.
One of the most obvious aspects of L'Amour's literature, including Jubal Sackett, is its lack of stylistic sophistication. His novels are not intended to be difficult for reading or understanding. In fact, his literary style propels the pace of reading to move more quickly than many other books. L'Amour has always insisted that he is merely a storyteller, and this description fits well the familiar stylistic manner of narration in Jubal Sackett. He does not recognize himself to be a master in the art of creating literary masterpieces, but a master at capturing an audience and relating a good, understandable story. As a writer in one article concerning L'Amour concisely states, "Perhaps L'Amour should be allowed the last word on the importance of literary quality in the work of a popular writer" (DLB Yearbook). Not only is the reading normally simplistic, but the editing is also sometimes lacking. For instance, L'Amour contradicts himself in Jubal Sackett by first stating that his character Keokotah has never seen a gun but then a few pages later claiming that he has seen Spanish men with guns. However, despite this obvious lack of stylistic superiority and superb editing, L'Amour's readers are satisfied and his book is a bestseller.
The critics are unafraid to recognize these lacking qualities in Jubal Sackett. In fact, the reviews that I discovered almost uniformly mention the lower quality of style and language of this novel when compared with other more critically acclaimed novels. But at the same time the critics are forgiving and maintain that despite its shortcomings, Jubal Sackett will be a success. As one typical critic wrote, "This is an absorbing story filled with adventure, romance, a hint of occult, and information about Indian tribes and life in the mountains in the 17th century. Although the plot is predictable, the story will please L'Amour fans who have been following the lives of the Sackett clan"(Library Journal). Another critic wrote, "If you're looking for a novel that packs a wallop and you're not too persnickety about style, if you can't abide adulterers or pantywaists-both abhorred by Louis L'Amour-then his latest, 'Jubal Sackett,' may be the book for you this summer" (New York Times Book Review). Both of these quotes indicate the pervasive attitude among critics concerning Jubal Sackett. They all pointed to his inferior quality of literature but understood the success that would nonetheless follow. Some of the reasons for this success will be mentioned later, but one very important reason is the accessibility of the novel. The lack of literary complexity in this novel makes it a much more accessible book to mass audiences. In order to do well, bestsellers must often accomplish this accessibility in some shape or form. L'Amour accomplishes accessibility several ways, but one of the most prominent methods is this simplistic style of writing.
Another manner through which L'Amour achieves accessibility is his adherence to a particular formula that repeats itself in most of his novels. The typical L'Amour novel was established earlier in his career with such paramount successes as Hondo, and he has chosen to not veer from the formula in most instances. Jubal Sackett demonstrates that once popular audiences enjoy a particular formula or subject narrative, an author does not necessarily have to change that formula. This novel was the last in a long line of Sackett novels, and does not diverge from the typical L'Amour style or the typical Sackett story line. Not only does Jubal Sackett adhere to L'Amour's tested formula of an adventure novel, but it is also a member of the larger "western" genre. Fitting into that category creates a small but loyal and immediate audience of readers who follow the western genre. The blurbs describing the book seem to highlight its stereotypical western genre aspects, such as good and bad guys, romance and adventure. Thus, L'Amour is able to attract those who are eager to read any novel fitting that broad description. Yet within this realm, L'Amour is still able to distinguish his novel enough that it is not boringly similar to other books of the western adventure genre. He discovers a nice medium of belonging to the American western genre but also maintaining originality. Even with his individual flair, the advantages of belonging to a genre are clear. Not only does the author have a proven novel formula, but he also has the advantage of belonging to a particular genre.
Both of the above points also emphasize the previous assertion that Jubal Sackett is a very accessible book. Readers are comfortable with L'Amour because they either know the genre or they know the L'Amour formula. Even people with little reading history do not have to look far to find a movie or a television series based on one of L'Amour's novels. In the years 1953 to 1970, thirty movies were made based on his novels, including the wildly successful "Hondo" starring John Wayne. As one writer states, "Critics say that L'Amour took the distinctively American genre of the Western novel to an audience unprecedented in size. Vivid in detail, his works drew on a wealth of personal experience and indefatigable research" (CLC Yearbook). Clearly the accessibility of the novel was only heightened by the L'Amour formula and the American western genre.
L'Amour is not the only author to employ this method of attaining accessibility. Many other best-selling authors found a genre and a particular formula through which they could churn out successful stories. Writers like Tom Clancy, Danielle Steel, and Agatha Christie found success in similar repetition. Whether it is a focus on government thrillers, Hollywood lives, or murder mysteries, all of these authors have tapped into the resources which allow success within an applied formula. Perhaps L'Amour has aligned more clearly to one single type of story line, but his success is undeniable despite the repetition. All of these authors, plus many more, found that they were able to market a formula and bank on a base of readers that were guaranteed to devour the novel in mass quantities, despite its possible lack of literary merit. Jubal Sackett simply further asserts this idea and demonstrates that bestsellers do not necessarily have to be abounding in originality to attain successful status.
Louis L'Amour himself as the author adds an entirely new dimension to the novel and its success. In the marketing of this novel, the author's name is more prominently focused upon than the title of the book. Even on the cover art, his name is highlighted in bolder colors and is centered at the most visible place on the page. One article alludes to the success of the L'Amour name: "Bantam publishes about three L'Amour novels a year. Ever-present in airport bookstores and at paperback counters, the books appeal to a wide range of readers" (CLC Yearbook). Because his novels are in airports and every other imaginable place where paperbacks are sold, the L'Amour name is bankable and is often more reliable than a title. L'Amour already possesses an established fan base, as clearly works hand in hand with his unaltered formula for successful novels. This sheer focus on the author's name over the book title is used in marketing techniques over and over. Looking at any bookshelf, one first perceives the large "John Grisham" and "Tom Clancy" names that overshadow any titles. Publishers know that if a reader has read one book by an author and enjoyed it, then that reader will quite possibly pick another book by the same author with little knowledge of the actual content of the book. Therefore, as is the case in many other bestsellers, the marketing of Jubal Sackett was much more focused on the author himself rather than the title of the new book.
Another aspect of Jubal Sackett that must be accounted for is the simple fact that it belongs to a long-established series. In fact, this novel is the last book in a series of 18 Sackett novels (although at the time it was not assumed to be the last Sackett novel). The recognition of the name Sackett in the title alludes to other titles with the same last name, and gives those readers who have read any other Sackett family novel an immediate background to this novel. This knowledge is attractive to many readers and can demonstrate that bestsellers do sometimes come out of an established series. In almost every genre, authors exploit the series novel that draws the same audience over and over again. Everyone from Nancy Drew to Dirk Pitt has pulled readers into their continuous adventures and created massive, reliable reading audiences. Another author with that advantage is Agatha Christie. Most of her murder novels involve the same detective, and she employs the audience's previous knowledge of the detective to gain further incentive and more accessibility. Another example is Tom Clancy, who achieves the same feat through reasserting his character Jack Ryan. He grants his audience increasing enticement to continue purchasing his books through banking on their long-established connection with this one character. Even though L'Amour focuses on a family instead of a particular character, he still achieves the same familiar fan base. Therefore, Jubal Sackett is advantageous not only in the recognition of its author, but also in the recognition of the characters and their previous literary history.
L'Amour as a person also holds to several attributes that certainly aid his popularity and teach us more about bestsellers. L'Amour did not publish his first western novel until his 40s, and even at that time he published under the pseudonym Tex Burns. This later beginning made L'Amour's ascent into the literary world even more difficult. But from this vast period of not writing western novels, L'Amour obtained a plethora of knowledge based on the amazingly diverse and interesting jobs he held. He was at one time everything from a circus member to a ranch hand. He traveled for years and years, allowing himself experiences and education that most only dream of. All of these experiences directly contributed to his own writing skills. At one time or another, he was a lumberjack, a miner, a boxer, a fruit picker, a flume builder, a longshoreman and a soldier in World War I (to name a few!). The exposure he received was invaluable. Specifically, this knowledge combined with his continuous personal research contributed to the vast amounts of historical information in many of his books, including Jubal Sackett. In most of his novels, L'Amour incorporates many historically correct situations that teach the reader while also entertaining the reader. He speaks of the money, the customs, and the lifestyles of the early settlers and Indians in detail and with accuracy. This background not only contributed to L'Amour's knowledge for later books, but also contributed to his popular persona as an experienced adventurer and trusted friend. Audiences were attracted to the comfortable and accessible, yet still exciting and different personality that L'Amour exuded. He was perceived by the public as a kindly, interesting man with time to narrate uncountable western stories. Just as L'Amour has shared several previous traits with other long-standing authors of bestsellers, he too shares this aspect of success. Many of the afore mentioned writers attained more respect and widespread interest through their previous occupations and their public persona. John Grisham was a lawyer before becoming an author, which gave him certain clout as one with inside knowledge on the occupation. Tom Clancy was an oddly intriguing author who spurned much media attention, but maintained a mysterious aura as a confidant to several governmental agencies (see essay on Tom Clancy's Red Storm Rising). All of these writers and many more insinuate that the success of a novel and its rise to bestseller status may be affected by the public perceptions of the author's background and his personality.
L'Amour in particular held an added advantage in this field of public persona. Amidst the celebrity-crazed decade of the 1980s, he became associated with such men as President Reagan. Many articles were quick to point to Reagan's like for L'Amour's novels and some even mentioned that Reagan read Jubal Sackett while in the hospital recovering from surgery. At that period in history, Reagan was the prototype of the all-American good guy-accessible and comfortable, yet at the same time dashing and intriguing. The association of L'Amour and also specifically Jubal Sackett with the president in his prime was clearly a positive market force. Not only did Reagan like L'Amour's books but he also awarded him the Congressional National Gold Medal for lifetime literary achievement in 1983 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1984. L'Amour received both of these awards in the two years before Jubal Sackett was published in 1985, and he likely attained a boosted public perception of himself as a hero and as a role model. As one critic quoted, "The president had once hailed Mr. L'Amour for 'having brought the West to the people of the East and to people everywhere?' "(CLC Yearbook). Thus, L'Amour not only demanded intrigue and respect for his own background, but he also held the prestigious honor of gaining much public praise from the president who was also believed to embody these traits of adventurous excitement combined with accessible friendliness. L'Amour and Jubal Sackett demonstrate that celebrity associations and public perceptions may affect sales and may increase public appeal, leading to bestseller status.
Jubal Sackett teaches us several important factors concerning bestsellers. Along with other very recognizable names in writing, L'Amour has succeeding through maintaining one formula of writing and style, and much of the time even holding to one set of characters. L'Amour gains accessibility through numerous methods, including that adherence to one formula, and Jubal Sackett demonstrates that success is not dependent on originality or complexity. Certainly bestsellers need a certain flair or particular angle to attract an audience, but the masses do not seem to need such originality as is often praised in the literary world. Instead, L'Amour learned that the sheer accessibility of his books combined with a previously established fan base created an atmosphere ripe for bestsellers from every genre and every type. Jubal Sackett indicates that often bestsellers are bestsellers simply because they possess the accessibility and the name recognition to transcend literary flaws or originality.
Dixon, Chris. Critical Essay on Tom Clancy's Red Storm Rising
"Jubal Sackett" Library Journal (1 June 1985): 144
"Jubal Sackett" New York Times Book Review (2 June 1985): 7,22
"Louis L'Amour" Contemporary Literary Criticism Yearbook (1988): 307, 309
"Louis L'Amour" Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook (1980): 245