Saturday, December 11, 2010

My Love / Hate Relationship with Nicholas Sparks

Man unknown, books unread, I’ve hated Nicholas Sparks ever since I read his contribution to a book called The Making of a Bestseller.  I grabbed an Advanced Readers Copy off the freebie shelf because one chapter featured our owner, Mitchell Kaplan.  I was new to Books & Books, and unfamiliar with his cache in the bookselling world.
Anyway, Sparks didn’t set out to be a writer; he set out to be a bestseller.  He researched bestselling novels and determined that there are only three household name authors in any subcategory of fiction.  You might have dozens of mystery authors, but when you’re searching for Medical Thrillers, you’ve got Robin Cook, Tess Gerritsen, Michael Crichton, and a bunch of talented midlist folks nipping at their heels.
Sparks wasn’t inspired to write The Notebook, he saw that the sub-genre of romantic fiction was “wide open” and crafted a book whose sole purpose was to make him a bestselling author.
Do I hate him because his formula worked?  For being so unabashedly commercial about an artistic enterprise?  Probably a bit of both, but I also hate him because I work from inspiration, and I labor under the delusion that if I love what I’m writing, enough other people will so that I’ll make a living one day.

Cut to Nicholas Sparks’ signing at Books & Books.   We have bestselling authors all the time, but celebrity authors are rare.   Books-into-box office aside, he'd just made the Forbes list of top ten highest-paid authors.  I suggested we order two thousand copies of Safe Haven.  I was given the irksome directive to "wait and see," as in wait and see how everyone in Miami procrastinates until the last minute so it looks like there's no interest, wait and see if the publisher runs out of books by the time we’re ready to order, wait and see until only ungodly rush charges will get us the books in time.
Mitchell choose a number much lower than my suggestion.  The Marketing and Events Coordinator and I yessir’d him, then we decided on a quantity somewhere in the middle.  
Mitchell was worried about turnout.  To hear Sparks tell it, he’d had a signing at Books & Books in 1996 and spoke to five people.  One of them was Mitchell Kaplan, who stayed the whole night.  Sparks said it was Mitchell’s hospitality which brought him back. 
Hundreds and hundreds of screaming fans lined up around the block later, Becky and I used her Barnes & Noble Club Member discount card to empty their shelves (another Books & Books secret: for successful events we’ve underestimated, B&N becomes our fourth wholesaler!).  Running through the alleys of Coral Gables to avoid the crowds, madly ripping B&N stickers off, Becky toppled to the pavement, losing skin, four bags of books, and the toe off a pair of five-inch heels.  Mitchell drove me to Borders (the fifth wholesaler!) to empty their shelves and come back to the store for more back-alley, sticker-ripping fun. 
We made it by the skin of our teeth - seven copies to spare.  

When I heard he'd left without signing some stock, I ran out and stopped the car Sparks was leaving in to get them signed.  It was a gross intrusion I only had the gall to perform because I’d run all over Miami to get the damned things, and he was going to sign every last one of them.  He handled my intrusion graciously, so I can't hate him any longer.  
I love Nicholas Sparks for the same reason I love Ricky Martin, Tori Spelling, Hillary Duff, and most recently (and especially) George W. Bush.  Whatever I think about their celebrity or their books, they sell.  They sell tons, and we all get to eat that week.
Just don’t ask me to read any of their books.


  1. Ha - you've made me smile this morning with a great image of the pair of you hurtling through the streets loaded like a couple of cart-horses, a lanky indian and a tiny tearaway whooping at the success of their raid on the opposition.


  2. That was about it. Usually when we resort to shopping at B&N, we're lucky to get 5 copies, and 10 is a banner night.

    In this case, after clearing out the top shelf of their bestseller bay, their new release table, and a display by their information desk, we made off with over 50 copies. The cashier even gave me a credit card so he could get a signed copy.

    10 copies per bag, 2 bags per hand (I got the extra). We were giggling, sweating, trying not to bounce the bags off our knees as we ran, high off the glow which only comes from a successful event.

    I did wonder if that B&N reports their sales; if so, Sparks got credit when we bought them, then again when we sold them.