Every writer I know feels a certain bitter thrill when they hear of a story like this one. An unknown writer writes a beautiful story, which he self-publishes. He prints only a handful of copies, which he gives away to family and friends as Christmas gifts: word quickly spreads and he prints up another batch, and before you know it he’s sitting on a publishing sensation. He makes a deal with one of the biggest publishers in the world and goes on to make a fortune from the sale of this single short book.
Despite myself, I love stories like this. I resist the books concerned for as long as I can because I don’t like getting caught up in all the excitement, in case it clouds my judgement: and when reading a book which has already earned millions I find I’m constantly looking for that trick—the reason behind its amazing success. I do usually give in and read them once all the fuss has died down (I only read the Da Vinci Code once the DVD of the film was in the discount bins, not that it took very long to get there) and I can usually see something of merit in the big-fuss books which explains their huge success. A new twist to an old story, perhaps; or a writer who might not produce the loveliest prose there is but can nevertheless make the pages turn almost on their own. No matter how cynical I become, I’ve always managed to spot that important detail. Until now.
After years of hearing about Richard Paul Evans’s book The Christmas Box I finally gave in and bought it despite the reverential sentimentailty which tinged many of the Amazon reviews. As I read the book I was amazed that it had done so well: the story is predictable, draw-droppingly sentimental, and pretty badly written too, full of oddly-formal dialogue and exposition. It took me less than an hour to read through to the end; it was simplistic, sentimental tosh. Despite the many shortcomings of the text it was a very pretty book, I thought, with its small size and gorgeous design: but making a best-seller has to involve more than binding a short story up into an odd-sized book, designing an elegant, uncluttered layout and printing it on heavy cream stock. Perhaps it was the delicious, jewel-like dust jacket heavily laced with gold which appealed to me: I’m a sucker for a pretty design. I just don’t know why I reacted as I did. I will grudgingly admit that while I found The Christmas Box a ridiculously sentimental story, full of lacklustre writing and clumsy technique, there is something about it that I loved.
Now all I need is for someone to explain to me why I found this little book so very covetable, so that I can write my own international bestseller in just a few thousand words.