The big news last week was the revelation by the Sunday Times of London that "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling admitted to publishing a "debut" crime novel under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith. "The Cuckoo's Calling" appeared in April (Mulholland, $26, 464 pages).
Rowling explained: "I had hoped to keep this secret a little longer because it has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation."
Perhaps ironically, the mega-best-selling writer's manuscript was turned down "by at least one editor," who was quoted after the story came to light, "I thought it was well-written but quiet."
The book was a mediocre seller that became an instant best-seller once the truth was revealed and is in the midst of a second printing of 300,000. A second book is due next summer in what appears to be a series.
Clearly, the "Rowling" name is the key factor in "Cuckoo's" success, but what about "ordinary" bestsellerdom? How do prestige publications such as the New York Times and Publishers Weekly determine which titles make it to their best-seller lists?
Book sales count, of course, along with cross-marketing, timing and good reviews. But "even in this digital age, the best sales tool remains word of mouth," said Stuart Applebaum, spokesman for Random House. "Nothing trumps that."
"Everybody has a formula (for lists) and everybody's list is different," said Dick Donahue, features editor of Publishers Weekly, the bible of the publishing industry.
Last year, E.J. James' "Fifty Shades of Grey" and Suzanne Collins' "Hunger Games" dominated the nation's lists (E.L. James is the pseudonym for British TV executive Erika Leonard.)
So far this year, it's been Dan Brown's "Inferno." Check out the other top best-sellers for 2013, as reported by Nielsen BookScan (for print) and Amazon (for its Kindle):
1. "Inferno" by Dan Brown
2. "Proof of Heaven" by Eben Alexander
3. "The Third Wheel" by Jeff Kinney
4. "Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg
5. "Jesus Calling" by Sarah Young
6. "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald
7. "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" by Dr. Seuss
8. "Fifty Shades of Grey" by E.L. James
9. "And the Mountains Echoed" by Khaled Hosseini
10. "Happy, Happy, Happy" by Phil Robertson
Digital books on Amazon Kindle:
1. "Inferno" by Dan Brown
2. "Safe Haven" by Nicholas Sparks
3. "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn
4. "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald
5. "Hopeless" by Colleen Hoover
6. "The Hit" by David Baldacci
7. "Wait for Me" by Elisabeth Naughton
8. "Alex Cross, Run" by James Patterson
9. "Entwined With You" by Sylvia Day
10. "Damaged" by H.M. Ward
Another reader shares the list of books she's read or plans to read over the summer.
"I read before bed and on the weekends," said Gray Pard Ponti of Rancho Cordova. "I like to ride my bike on the American River Parkway, and I carry a book in my fanny pack. When I'm done with the ride, I'll stop at one of the picnic tables and read."
"Lincoln and Whitman" by Daniel Mark Epstein
"The River Why" by David James Duncan
"A Rumor of War" by Philip Caputo
"Naked" by David Sedaris
"The Stand" by Stephen King
Poets laureate gather
Past and present poets laureate of cities, towns and counties from around California will gather at noon Aug. 4 for a free reading-and-greeting. The public is invited to listen and participate by writing their own poems onsite. Attendees are encouraged to share the contents of their picnic baskets with other picnickers.
Among the poets laureate will be Lois Requist, Joel Fallon and Robert Shelby (Benicia); Juanita Martin (Fairfield); David Swanger (Santa Cruz County); Debee Loyd and Gillian Wegener (Modesto); Alegra Silberstein (Davis); Mary Rudge (Alameda); Russell Gonzaga (Lake County); Juanita Martin (Fairfield); and Gary Silva (Napa).
The festival will be in the park at the corner of First Street and Military West in Benicia. Information: Lois Requist, (707) 280-0588.
Upcoming author appearances
Christina Beck for "Shards of an Angel," 1 p.m. Saturday at the Market Place, 1325 Riley St., Folsom; (916) 984-4220.
American River College English professor Christian Kiefer for "The Infinite Tides," 11 a.m. next Sunday at Face in a Book, 4359 Town Center Blvd., El Dorado Hills; (916) 941-9401.
More Brain Quest titles
One long-lived icon on the literary front is Brain Quest, the series of flashcards that quiz children (and adults, but don't let that out) on numerous subjects (www.brainquest.com).
Workman Publishing recently released its revised and expanded editions of its three best-selling titles "Presidents," "America" and "For the Car" ($11.95 each).
"Content for these special editions is drawn from first- through sixth-grade curricula," says the company. How hard can the questions be? Try this sampling and find out:
Q: Who became America's first lady in 1789?
A:"Martha Washington, wife of George Washington, America's first president.
Q: Which president called his wife 'the Duchess'?
A: Warren G. Harding; his wife was Florence Kling Harding.
Q: Name the large bay that cuts the state of Maryland almost in half.
A: Chesapeake Bay
Q: What nickname did people give to the early steam locomotive?
A: The iron horse.
LET US KNOW
If you have information on author appearances or other book-related special events, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org at least two weeks before the event. To read the online calendar, go to www.sacbee.com/books. Questions? Call The Bee's Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128.
Call The Bee's Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128. Follow him on Twitter @apierleonisacbe.