Glenn Beck, the New Patron Saint of Thriller Writing?
I suspect reading Motoko Rich’s story on “the Glenn Beck effect” on thriller writers might have caused a trace of discomfort among many writers and publishing industry types. It’s certainly different than a spot on Oprah, or Craig Ferguson, or NPR, or the Daily Show or the Colbert Report, as those media outlets lean more towards the left, or the comedic, or keep politics to a minimum, let alone whip up a frenzy of cartoonish propaganda Warner Bros. would have balked at during the apex of World War II.
But publishing casts about for anyone resembling a savior, someone whose recommendations will lead to the magic elixir of book sales. Even Oprah’s own transformative powers have decreased this year (picking a short story collection that, while exceedingly well-written, centers around poverty and violence in Africa) So now Glenn Beck, that “outspoken media darling of populist conservatism,” gets his turn.
There are a number of interesting takeaways, the first being the types of books Beck gravitates towards and who is writing them. They are, by and large, thrillers that hinge more on elaborate plot twists, conspiracies and grand schemes, featuring protagonists who are more absolutist (what they do is good, who they battle is bad, with little room for grey areas or introspection) and more conservative in outlook. In the past couple of years, Beck’s interviewed David Baldacci, James Patterson, Brad Thor, Ted Bell, Andrew Gross, Brad Meltzer, Vince Flynn, Christopher Reich and Daniel Silva, among others – in other words, it’s like Beck has a line into the upper echelons of ITW. (The most notable absence at first blush would be Lee Child, but consider that the first of his Reacher novels to top the NYT list, NOTHING TO LOSE, was also the most heavily criticized by the right.) Beck definitely has a line into what his viewers – especially the 800,000-odd people in the coveted 25-54 demographic – might be interested in reading. Chances are they are not avid book buyers, lucky to put a couple of hundred bucks’ total into publishers’ coffers.
Beck’s viewership also skews predominately towards white males, and at the risk of gross overgeneralization, fall into the stereotypical category of those who shy away from reading books outside their own gender (or ethnic and cultural worldview.) I didn’t search through Beck’s entire interview archive of radio programs and tv episodes, but at least since he’s moved over to FOXNews, he doesn’t appear to have talked with a female thriller writer. Not doing so cuts off access to the larger, predominantly female book-buying demographic, but they aren’t really Beck’s audience – and I’m not sure he’s all that interested in catering to that particular group.
Increasing overall ratings is certainly of high priority – 3 million or so watch Beck daily, a loud minority that’s only about 1% of America’s total population. (Such is cable television.) But to put things in perspective, that’s a phenomenal number of potential book buyers. So no wonder William Morrow attributes Beck as the reason James Rollins’ THE DOOMSDAY KEY stayed on the NYT bestseller list longer than they anticipated, since all it takes to stay on the list is a steady sales stream of several thousand copies per week.
But then comes the proverbial problem: now that Rich’s story has run, will Beck’s producers be besieged by writers wanting to appear on his show? And if they don’t share Beck’s views, or deviate considerably from them, will they run into similar situations as befaced Andrew Gross?
“I’ll get people who are obviously fans of his who write me e-mails,
saying, ‘I paid $27 for this, and I didn’t want to buy a bunch of
lefty [shit,] Mr. Gross said. “And then I get calls from people on the left who
say, ‘I’ve always liked your books but now that I see you have an
association with Glenn Beck, I’m reconsidering.‘”
Mr. Gross said he defended himself to both sides. “Invariably, I’ve had
people who said, ‘I wasn’t going to read it because I saw it was
endorsed by Glenn Beck,‘” he said. “And I’ve pushed them to hold their
judgment. And several of them have written back and said, ‘I take it
In other words, Beck’s reach works because it’s self-selecting to his chosen audience, and when there’s a sales bump of a certain author’s titles, the publisher beams. Threshold, the conservative imprint of Simon & Schuster, will have plenty of occasion to do just that when Beck’s own thriller (still untitled) is released next spring. But move outside that self-selection bubble and the happy scenario may play out far, far differently. It’s a dance that requires a great deal of delicacy – a far cry from Beck’s own outsized, button-pushing persona.