I can only speculate what led to the story, but I imagine he looked at the explosion of fads and trends – changing rapidly and unpredictably – and perhaps he was wondering why his books received critical acclaim but seldom registered on the best seller scales. If one thinks about it, it's very hard to understand why some things take off and others – superficially better in every respect – vanish without trace. The premise of his story is that there is actually a person – one man – who starts the trends. He doesn’t know anything about what he does or how he does it. One day he just starts wearing cut-off jeans because he feels like it. Pretty soon every teenager is doing the same. The action is around Madison Avenue’s attempts to track him down for their own obvious advantage. The story has always stuck in my mind because the basic question is so fascinating. What are the sources of the Nile?
I’m interested in what generates the phenomenal success that the books enjoy. I’m not talking about plot, characters, writing. That can make success. I’m talking about the super-star one-in-a-million success that these books enjoy.
A few days ago I was chatting to a friend who doesn’t read mystery novels at all and I mentioned the Larson phenomenon. “Oh, yes,” he said. “Three of my friends have told me they’re absolutely brilliant!” Had the friends read the books and come to that conclusion for themselves, or had they heard it from three other friends in a sort of inverse pyramid scheme? One thing’s clear. If my friend is going on a long flight and decides to try a mystery book, I can tell you which one it’s going to be.
Marketing? Well, our experience is that marketing ramps up after the book becomes successful. So it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Anyone seen any billboards along the lines of “Unknown author’s brilliant debut novel will thrill you. Rush to get your copy while they last”? I didn’t think so.
Michael – Thursday.