Oprah’s word can reverse years of bad luck for any writer or publisher.
Question: How has Oprah changed Americans’ reading habits?
Alane Salierno Mason: I’m a biased commentator because Oprah made a huge difference for an author I really love, Andre Dubus III, when she selected “House of Sand and Fog;” that was a book that I really believed had a mass audience.
It went through a real roller coaster on publication. It had been turned down by 22 publishers before I signed it up, which I didn’t know at that time, but I had a real struggle in-house to get it signed up.
Then, everything had started to go right. Booksellers loved it. The first reviews were spectacular and three days after publication the author’s father died, Andre Dubus Senior, also a wonderful writer, very highly regarded. At that time a physical publicity tour was the most important thing in getting a book to potentially get on the bestseller list, and Andre had to cancel his, so the book stopped in terms of its momentum.
Then, some months later, it was nominated for the National Book Award and there was a spike again, a lot of excitement, there were 80,000 copies provisionally ordered waiting for the announcement of the National Book Award Winner. If he won, the printing was all set to go. Of course, he didn’t win. He was very happy to be at the National Book Award dinner—I don’t think he really cared if he won or not, he probably was privileged to be there—but his agents and I were devastated, totally devastated, because we knew that there were 80,000 copies not being printed.
So the book came out in paperback. It started to do well with some reading group attention, but still, I think it had sold maybe 100,000 copies or something in paperback—excellent, but nothing like the two and a half million copies that it sold after Oprah shown her very strong spotlight on it.
It is the case with many books: you know that there is a huge audience for that book, but there has to be a very bright spotlight shown on it, and often that doesn’t happen. So, I’m very glad that she had that great big star-making spotlight to shine. It meant that a lot of readers who were not necessarily Oprah watchers ended up finding out about the book and reading it because it became number one on the paperback bestseller list as other people were reading it.
Recorded on: June 5, 2009