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Reading the unpublished galley proofs of Grisham's latest novel,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
"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
"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. …