Bestsellers tend to share many similar characteristics, regardless of their genre. Many bestsellers have been part of a Book of the Month club, generating readership through the club's programs. Also, most bestsellers are written by authors who have previously appeared on the bestseller lists. Novels released by such authors as John Grisham, Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton tend to dominate the bestseller list partially owing to the fame of the author. Authors can follow no set formula to ensure a best-selling novel because different characteristics are found in these novels as a whole. Danielle Steel's novel, The Gift, exemplifies the stereotype of a bestseller by a blockbuster author. Steel is a world-renowned novelist, often publishing several books in a year's time. Both readers and reviewers expect certain things from her works, and they are usually not let down. Steel's popularity as an author, the expectations of her readers, the issues examined in the novel, and the aesthetic value of the book explain why The Gift quickly rose to the top of the bestseller's list and why many such novels accomplish this feat.
Blockbuster authors, like Danielle Steel, tend to write novel after novel, with each one reaching the top of the bestseller list. Such authors attract a following of readers who immediately purchase the novelist's new work when it is released. A great portion of The Gift's popularity can be attributed to Steel's fame as an author. Those readers who eagerly await the latest novel by Steel will buy the book when it is available, regardless of the content.
When authors like Steel and Grisham have such fans that will purchase their novels despite the topic, their books are more capable of reaching the top of the bestseller list. Steel is not only famous here in the United States, but worldwide, appealing to a wide variety of readers. Her fame as a writer enables her books to be viewed automatically as having more potential to reach the bestseller list than the books of an unknown author. When a person is walking into a book store and notices the new releases, he or she is more apt to purchase a novel written by an author like Steel or Grisham, than by an author who's name is not recognized. Simple name recognition can be a key component towards the success of a book and thus those authors who have previously released a successful novel have an edge over other writers in reaching the top of the list.
Since Steel is such a familiar author, readers seem to expect certain things from her works. Her readers sit down and anticipate finding a novel that is both heart warming and easy to read. They do not want to concentrate and constantly analyze the events in order to gain an understanding of the novel. For many readers, Steel's books are like a vacation from the real world, even if only for a few hours. Much of Steel's popularity as a novelist stems from these expectations. Her readers want to escape into the lives of other people, into places where everyone ends up living "happily ever after", probably unlike the world in which her fans live. If, for instance, Steel's newest novel was to weave a complex plot where there were many underlying themes necessary for understanding the meaning of the book, her original readers would quickly lose interest in her works. These readers come to her with a desire to relax and unwind, and she is capable of providing this escape for them. A Steel reader from South Carolina says, "This is the kind of book that, in spite of its simplicity and quiet plot, you just can't put down. I found myself drawn to it at every available moment." Authors who can provide his or her readers with a retreat from the world they currently live in, entice these consumers to purchase more of the author's works.
Steel's book, The Gift, reinforces her appeal to readers as an author. Even though The Gift still shows very little literary merit, her readers are not concerned, nor do they even expect difficult language. Seemingly only critics are concerned that a blockbuster author like Steel writes in such a simplistic fashion. In one part of The Gift, Steel writes, "He was a good boy, and he did everything he was supposed to do, he did well in school, was loving to them, and still there was enough mischief in him to reassure them that he was normal. He was by no means the perfect child, but he was a good boy." Even though a critic from The San Francisco Chronicle stated that this quote is just an example of how "redundancy is considered high art in Steel novels", fans apparently do not agree with this assessment. The simplicity of Steel's writing is one of the most appealing factors to her readers because of the relaxation it brings them. A 1994 review in Booklist states, "Not great art, perhaps, but in its own way almost perfect." Thus, regardless of the views of the critics, Steel's readers appreciate the language and style that she uses in writing her novels.
The Gift remained on the bestseller list for several months until Steel's newest novel was released. Avid Steel fans look forward to her newest works, usually published every couple of months. Once her new book is issued, readers tend to begin purchasing that novel, knocking the older one off the bestseller list. Thus, because of the large amount of books written by Steel over the course of a year, it is difficult for any of her works to remain at the top of the charts after she has released a newer book. Many of her fans view her novels as a group, purchasing another whenever they have the leisure time to read.
Steel feels compelled to live up to her fan's expectations of her works. In an interview with Random House, Steel says that knowing how much her readers care about her and her writing keeps her fueled to publish more novels. Whenever she gets discouraged, Steel simply thinks of her readers and works harder to live up to their expectations. In order to create such top-selling novels like Steel has been able to do in the past, an author must have the drive and the willingness to create stories that appeal to his or her readers.
The Gift demonstrates Steel's ability to provide her readers with exactly the kind of story for which they are searching. It contains a very simple plot, with few characters and a storyline that is easy to understand. A reporter from Rapport states that the most impressive part of this novel is "the affirmation of the grand design of tragedy and its transcendent message of purpose". In The Gift, Steel focuses on both adoption and the troubles facing an unmarried female preparing to give birth without the help of her family. Since these problems were of issue in 1994 when the novel was published, and still are today, readers can relate to the topics presented. When readers can empathize with the topics in any work, they are more likely to understand the context, and in turn have a higher opinion of the book itself.
Though Steel has published over thirty novels, there are still readers who have yet to read any of her works. When a consumer is faced with the daunting task of choosing a novel to select, The Gift presents one main characteristic which sets it apart from other choices. Readers who have not read Steel's books before may be inclined to pick up The Gift because of its cover. This novel is a change aesthetically from earlier books that she has written. The book itself is much smaller, with a more conservative cover. Previously, Steel's novels were released in a large hardcover edition with gold embossed lettering stating her name and the novel's title in flashy print with a small symbol in the center. With this novel, she reduced the size as well as the prominence of the title and her own name. Many critics believe that this change in appearance owes to the success of Robert James Waller's novel, The Bridges of Madison County. His blockbuster book was also a small hardcover novel that remained on the bestseller list for a long period of time. Critics think that Steel is trying to ride on the coattails of Waller's successful novel, especially as far as the cover itself is concerned. Readers who enjoyed Bridges of Madison County could be more inclined to purchase The Gift simply because of the similarity of the cover to Waller's bestseller. A reader who is looking at Steel's novel as a whole would notice how The Gift stands apart from the rest of her works, making the reader more likely to pick up The Gift instead of a wide array of other choices written by Steel. Even those readers who have read a Steel novel previously, but did not enjoy her writing, may be inclined to purchase this novel. Simply because of the style of the cover, these readers may think that Steel has broached a new type of writing. Even those consumers who enjoy Steel's books on a consistent basis would be intrigued by The Gift just as much as those readers who have not previously liked her works. The aesthetic differences alone could interest her readers enough to make them purchase this novel, when they might otherwise have simply checked it out at their local library.
Since blockbuster authors write so many novels, many of their works begin to be generalized. Until The Gift, Steel's novels could be categorized based simply on the appearance of her other thirty novels. Similarly, works by authors such as Grisham and Clancy share physical characteristics that enable them to be grouped together by their covers. When a blockbuster author, like Steel, makes such a change in a trait that has remained consistent for seemingly all of her works, as she does in The Gift, readers in general are more likely to consider it for purchase than any other book that remains similar to the rest.
Steel's popularity as an author, the expectations of her readers, the issues examined in the novel, and the aesthetic value of the book explain why The Gift quickly rose to the top of the bestseller's list and why many such novels accomplish this feat. The Gift helps to show how blockbuster authors are able to create such a following of fans. Readers begin to form expectations concerning the writing of an author of such fame, and successful writers are able to fulfill the desires of these readers. By examining issues in a novel that readers can relate to and understand, readers begin to better appreciate the author's work, in turn, making them more willing to buy successive novels. But, such blockbuster authors must realize and be willing to make small changes if they want to create growth in the types of people who are reading their novels.
Amazon.com. Http://www.amazon.com (reviews from readers of The Gift)
Steel, Danielle. The Gift. New York: Delacorte Press, 1994.
Holt, Patricia. "Steel's 'Gift' Comes Wrapped in Cliches." The San Francisco Chronicle
22 July 1994.
Whitwell, Stuart. Booklist. Rev. of The Gift by Danielle Steel. 1 May
Gale Literary Databases. http://www.galenet.com.
Random House. http://www.randomhouse.com