Grisham, Crichton Books Serve as a Boarding Pass

Article excerpt

IT could have been a commercial.

That's what Steven Rubin, the president of Doubleday, thought when he looked around the beach at Key West earlier this summer. "Everyone was reading something by John Grisham," recounts the ecstatic publisher of Mr. Grisham's bestsellers.

Ditto, for Michael Crichton.

Grisham-and-Crichton mania hit the United States this summer. Together, the prolific authors have seven of the top nine slots on the Publishers Weekly paperback bestseller chart for the week of Aug. 23, plus two books on the hardcover list. "It's staggering, I don't think it's ever happened before," says Alice Martell, a New York literary agent.

The charts don't really reveal the scope of the craze. As of Aug. 16, including hardcover sales, Grisham had 30,195,690 books in print. Mr. Crichton's total, as of Aug. 9, was 23,524,000.

The two authors have more books in print than the total number of volumes on the shelves of the Library of Congress plus the public libraries of Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles County, and San Diego. In fact, if all those libraries were stocked with Grisham and Crichton books, 11 million copies would still be left over, nearly enough to fill a second Library of Congress.

Syndicated columnist Dave Barry jokes that it is a new Federal Aviation Administration rule that all boarding passengers must have a Grisham novel in their hands.

Reading the unpublished galley proofs of Grisham's latest novel, "The Client," Doubleday's Mr. Rubin recalls being accosted by a flight attendant. "Where did you get that from?" she demanded.

The books are picking up a lot of energy from the recently released movies "Jurassic Park" and "Rising Sun," in Crichton's case, and "The Firm," based on Grisham's book.

About a month before movie openings, the publishers reissue the books with a "movie cover," such as a photo of Tom Cruise, the star of "The Firm," and the line, "Soon to be a major motion picture."

"As the publicity is generated, we get people to read the book before the film comes out, and then they debate whether the book or film is better," says Matthew Shear, senior vice president of Ballantine Books, Crichton's publisher.

The success of the Grisham books is also due to savvy marketing, says Albert Greco, director of publishing studies at New York University. He says Dell (sister company to Doubleday and publisher of the Grisham paperbacks) sent copies of the galley proofs of "The Firm" to bookstores to let proprietors know the book was an "easy read."

"Once the word got out and the chain stores heard about the book and saw it was moving, they made it into a blockbuster," Mr. …