Grisham's Latest Hits Shelves

Article excerpt

Wednesday is Independence Day for the book community. That is, it's Grisham Day, which means that 2.5 million hardcover copies of John Grisham's latest novel go on sale in every bookstore in the United States and Canada, large and small, independent and chain, as well as every retail outlet that sells books, and every supermarket and airport and record-store bookstall.

And that means joy, without a blush and almost beatific, for every store owner or manager.

Overly dramatic? Not by much. A Grisham novel will generally have a net sale of well over 2 million copies in hardcover, with a first printing of 2.8 million copies, and 3 or 4 million more in paperback. And he is a seamless sell. "There's always a Grisham starting or ending," said Phil Ollia, vice president for merchandising at Borders Books and Music and Waldenbooks. "The cloth ends, the paper begins; the paper ends, the cloth begins." The paper Grisham that is now metaphorically ending this cycle was last year's cloth best seller, The Partner, which remains at No. 1 Sunday on the New York Times paperback fiction best-seller list. Wednesday, this year's cloth begins with the sale of The Street Lawyer, the ninth Grisham novel in nine years. Book publishing does have its other celebrations, when, for instance, the latest by Tom Clancy or Stephen King or Michael Crichton or Danielle Steel or Mary Higgins Clark goes on sale. But Grisham is the Garth Brooks of popular literature. Is it possible for the writer to even top the country singer? The potential is there, at least. According to the Census Bureau, nearly 134 million Americans have been certified by some high school or college as being able to read. So if a goodly number of those really can read, then there is a colossal number of people who could but don't read Grisham. The Grisham glass ceiling has been about 6 million copies, although The Firm eventually sold about 14 million copies. Grisham's publishers, Doubleday in hardcover now and Dell (in paperback next year), are going to try once again to break through -- by offering everyone in the world with an e-mail address a copy of the first chapter of The Street Lawyer. Jacqueline Everly, associate publisher and executive director of marketing for Doubleday, said the strategy was based on the wistful belief that the first chapter is so compelling that vast numbers of its readers will immediately dash out and buy the book. (The first chapter starts with the usual Grisham hero, the young white male lawyer, meeting up in an elevator with an apparent homeless bum of pungent odor who is armed with a gun and 12 sticks of what is seemingly dynamite strapped to his waist under a bulky gray cardigan and who halfway through the chapter takes nine white male lawyers hostage. …