A Dangerous Path to Bestseller Status

By Carmen Comment

It’s a Jeff Trachtenberg double bill at the WSJ today, and in the second half of the double feature, he looks at why Conn and Hal Iggulden‘s THE DANGEROUS BOOK FOR BOYS – first published in the UK and Australia – has not only transferred its success to America but is on track to sell millions of copies, if HarperCollins‘ projections and hopes are to be believed.

The purports to aim itself at a particularly inscrutable and un-book-friendly audience: boys around the age of 10. It tries to answer the question: What do boys need to know? The answer is that boys need a certain amount of danger and risk in their lives, and that there are certain lessons that need to be passed down from father to son, man to man. The implication is that in contemporary society basic rules of maleness aren’t being handed off as they used to be. The message is not only hitting boomer fathers but their young sons, as Knopf executive Paul Bogaards found out when he took the book home to his eight year old son, Michael. Bogaards says Michael took to it immediately, demanding that his dad test paper airplanes into the night, even missing “American Idol.” He adds: “That’s the good news. The bad news is that he now expects me to build him a treehouse.” He concludes: “Million-copy-plus seller easy, with the shelf life of Hormel Spam.”

Shelf Awareness was working on a similar story when the WSJ’s piece went to press and found out more about how the Igguldens’ book got published in the US. Collins U.S. president Joe Tessitore, who is retiring from fulltime publishing later this year, told the daily bookseller broadsheet he had heard about the book from London colleagues and “loved it. It gets us out in the yard and doing stuff and gives us some basic knowledge of life. The audience is from 8 to 80.” Tessitore added that as a result of reading of reading the book, he has brushed up his rock-skipping skills and is teaching himself to juggle. The company changed about 30% of the book to fit the American market, for example, modifying entries on “cricket to baseball and the royal family to the president,” he said.

The book was then “promoted heavily” to accounts, who then pushed it onto the indies and later the chain bookstores. Librarians also took to the title. “When we showed the U.K. edition to librarians,” Tessitore said, “they said this is exactly what’s needed in libraries because it’s geared to the people we’d like to draw to libraries.” He called library sales “wonderful.” But don’t expect a similar version for girls. Boys are very different,” said HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman, mother of two sons and two stepsons.