There are all kinds of ways a book can become a bestseller: An ultra-engaged fan base, a particularly clever marketing campaign, even just a really, really good cover perfectly calibrated for an age where we’re more likely to post pictures of books to social media than we are to actually read them.
And then there are the “acts of the literary gods” – going viral on BookTok, a high-profile endorsement or the holiest grail of them all, being selected as one of the “picks” in a celebrity’s book club. (A pause here to acknowledge the pioneering work of Oprah Winfrey, whose on air book club began in 1996, and is estimated to have sold more than 55 million copies of the 70 books so blessed to have been chosen.) It’s an endorsement that can take a title from “selling well” straight to the top of the sales stratosphere.
Just ask Marissa Stapley, the first Canadian author to ever be chosen as an official selection of Reese Witherspoon’s eponymous book club. (Past alumni include Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, Untamed by Glennon Doyle and Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.)
Lucky, a thriller about a lottery winner who must choose between cashing in her millions and going to jail, “got off to a slow start,” as Stapley puts it. It wasn’t until late 2021, when the title was announced as the December Reese’s Pick, that “everything changed,” she says. For starters, it popped back onto The Globe and Mail’s bestseller list. Here, we chat with Stapley about the moment she calls her own “lottery win”.
Just generally, what does being on a bestseller list mean for you?
In Canada, it’s a smaller market, and it can be such a tough thing to feel like you’re making any headway, unless you hit that list. I remember when my first novel, Mating For Life, came out, and those first five or six weeks it did not hit a bestseller list. I finally just let it go. I remember I was out on the lake that had inspired the novel and I was paddleboarding in the fog – and then I came in to calls that I was on the bestseller list. That was such a pivotal moment, because right or wrong, you feel like you’ve made it. But the funny thing that you learn over the years is that it doesn’t always really matter. You can be No. 12 on the list and selling steadily, and it doesn’t necessarily make or break you as an author.
How much did getting the Reese’s Pick nod change the trajectory for Lucky?
Lucky didn’t hit the bestseller list when it first came out in Canada, and that was hard. I was worried about that book, because as a mid-career author you have all kinds of worries. When the Reese pick came along, it was such an incredible stroke of good fortune. I remember my editor and my agent looking at me and saying, “Everything changes now.” And it’s so true – and by everything, it really means everything. Lucky was on The New York Times bestseller list, which is a whole other level for a Canadian author. Your backlist starts getting more attention and to have that second chance because of one book doing so well has been wonderful. It was such a gift and such a wonderful surprise.
How did you find out that you’d been made a Reese’s Pick? Like, does Reese Witherspoon herself just drop you an e-mail?
It was probably the biggest surprise I’ve ever received in my life. I never even dared to dream it. My agent, Samantha Haywood, invited me out to dinner, and I went to the restaurant and saw my editor, Nita Pronovost, was there with her. That was a surprise. A lot of writers tend to catastrophize, so I thought, ‘Oh God, what’s happening? This is weird.’ When I got to the table, there were Champagne glasses, and I was like, ‘Oh God,’ because I actually did get bad news about my career once, a long time ago and Sam told me to have wine with my lunch.
When Nita told me I’d been made the Reese’s club pick for December, I just started crying. There were a lot of things behind my tears. This was a book that I wrote when my mom, who did pass away, was ill. It was something she really encouraged me to do – but then it didn’t really take off. Not only was she gone, but this book was just doing okay and I wasn’t feeling terribly secure in my career. That moment of knowing that this book, which I wrote with my mom and for my mom, was having this incredible lottery win, was very healing in a way. I was like, ‘The world is magical after all.’
As for how something like this happens … you have a whole team behind you, and the book did get to a scout who got it into Reese’s hands, and he did tell us that she read it, she loved it and she picked it. I did hear from her, months later after keeping this secret, which was so hard. I basically stopped talking to people! Reese sent this lovely e-mail a few days before [it was announced], just saying how much she loved the book, and how excited she was to announce it as a pick. We have actually corresponded about different things since, and we actually met at an event in L.A. on the day of the announcement.
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