My mother loves to read Nora Roberts and Danielle Steel novels. They’re all pretty much the same in terms of plot and I’m not entirely sure how she keeps track of which ones she’s read as opposed to which ones she hasn’t. But every time I’m with her in a bookstore, she always picks up the latest one and scans the jacket before claiming that it sounds good.
Authors such as Roberts and Steel—not to mention bestseller list mainstays like Stephen King and James Patterson—have made a pretty good living churning out books that sell millions of copies, almost despite what their content matter is. People flock to booksellers to pick up the latest novel by their favorite author often before they even know what the book is about.
And it’s not just contemporary adult authors either. I’ll be the first to admit that I’d read anything J.K. Rowling writes, even if it was on a subject I wasn’t terribly interested in. She, like King, Patterson, Steel, and others, has become more of a brand than a writer. She will sell books solely because of her name.
Sure, these authors are brands for a reason: people enjoy their work enough to keep coming back for more. And while this is true in other forms of entertainment, it seems to be more pronounced with books. The New York Times bestsellers list often looks the same from week to week, with the same names always appearing, even with different titles attached. Readers find an author—or brand—that they like, and they stick with him or her no matter what, the same way people have their favorite brand of shampoo or coffee.
Just like the movie industry needs big-name stars for their feature films, the publishing industry needs these brand-name authors for their bestselling books. After all, how are we supposed to have the great debate over who will be the next J.K. Rowling if there is no J.K. Rowling in the first place?