âThe Last Thing He Told Me,â a hit thriller that aired on beach covers this summer, is not part of a hit series, nor of a dazzling debut album or latest release. ‘a branded author.
But the success of the book is no accident.
Author Laura Dave’s mid-career novel found its momentum thanks in part to high-stakes deals from New York to Hollywood. In December, with the book already available for pre-sale online, Reese Witherspoon’s media company Hello Sunshine said they were opting for the title of an Apple TV + limited series starring Julia Roberts, who is also executive producer. On May 4, the novel’s release day, Ms. Witherspoon unveiled it as her monthly pick for the book club. Sales have skyrocketed.
âIt’s a perfectly designed deployment,â says Kristen McLean, executive director of business development at NPD BookScan. âAll the pieces were lined up. “
Television decides which books we read like never before. As streaming platforms fight for fresh content, they crave complex characters and propelling stories that are all ready to go in many novels. Hits like âBig Little Lies,â an award-winning HBO series adapted from a novel by Liane Moriarty, can boost a streaming business. The volume of book options on television has skyrocketed, as have the prices of those offers, so much so that by the time a reader discovers a new book, their future television series may already be launched.
âDoes it seem like the attention paid to books in terms of adaptation has intensified and amplified over the past two years? Yes, âsays Lauren Neustadter, film and television president of Hello Sunshine. âIt’s a great starting point for telling stories on screen. “
âThe Last Thing He Told Meâ is the story of Owen, a tech executive who disappears after his company defrauds investors. His new wife, Hannah, a high-end woodworker who is the stepmother of Bailey, Owen’s surly teenage daughter, receives an anonymous note that says, âProtect her. When the women join forces to find out what happened to Owen, Hannah learns how to become Bailey’s mother that Bailey never had.
âI realized this was the early story of someone becoming a mother,â Ms. Dave says. “The main story was really about these two women finding their way to each other.”
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For Hollywood agents, that also means something else: juicy roles for two actresses.
Ms. Dave began writing the book in 2012, inspired in part by the Enron lawsuit. Recalling CEO Kenneth Lay’s wife Linda, defending her husband amid the scandal, she thought of a woman whose understanding of her spouse was contradicted by the perspective of much of the rest of the world.
Publisher Simon & Schuster has produced over 500,000 copies of the book and has already been to press 15 times. In its first two days, the book sold more hardcover copies than any of Ms. Dave’s previous five novels sold individually during their hardcover edition. Early sales outperformed all other Simon & Schuster titles picked by Ms. Witherspoon’s book club, publisher CEO Jonathan Karp said on a earnings conference call in May. The book has been at or near the top of several bestseller lists since its release.
Hello Sunshine, which the Wall Street Journal says is considering a sale, is becoming a particularly powerful force in the book world. The 41 fiction titles selected by Hello Sunshine since launching its book club in 2017 have print sales on average 149% higher than the average sales of the top 1,000 American fiction books during the same period, according to NPD BookScan.
“The Last Thing He Told Me” is the fifth onscreen adaptation of Hello Sunshine Book Club. Last year, the adaptation of Celeste Ng’s “Little Fires Everywhere” miniseries debuted on Hulu. Taylor Jenkins Reid’s âDaisy Jones & the Sixâ heads to Amazon. Delia Owens’ “Where the Crawdads Sing” is adapted into a film with Sony.
“From Scratch”, a memoir by Tembi Locke, is now in production in Italy as a limited series for Netflix.
Decisions about Hello Sunshine screen projects and book club choices are made independently, Ms. Neustadter said, describing a separation of church and state.
âSometimes I read a book and say, ‘It’s amazing and we have to adapt it, but it doesn’t look good for a book club.’ We’re never going to give a book to the book club audience if it doesn’t suit them perfectly, âshe said.
Industry watchers see a campaign well orchestrated by Hello Sunshine, the publisher and the author’s agents. âIt’s clear that they’ve been working on this as a 360-degree game for a while,â says Ms. McLean of NPD BookScan. “Hello Sunshine for me represented the future of what the page looks like on the screen.”
The agents and publisher of The Last Thing He Told Me say the book’s success is due more to word of mouth from enthusiastic readers than to marketing strategy. Simon & Schuster editor-in-chief Marysue Rucci points to the novel’s more than 20,000 reviews on Amazon, a “crazy” number she says shows readers are suggesting it to friends. The novel also made numerous top summer book lists.
Ms. Dave, a Southern California transplant raised in Scarsdale, NY, is planning a sequel to “The Last Thing He Told Me.” She co-created the limited television series with her husband, Oscar-winning “Spotlight” screenwriter Josh Singer. The two are expected to submit the final script this week and aim to start filming early next year. No broadcast date is set.
The author’s career began in disaster, when she spilled water on her computer and destroyed the 58,000 words of her first novel. For this book, she says she focused on listening to âIf I Should Fall Behindâ by Bruce Springsteen on repeat 13,000 times. After hearing from readers only occasionally, she now receives over 100 ratings per day.
âI always thought that if five people came to them and said that the book was changing their lives in some way or another, it was a creative endeavor worth following,â says -it. “It’s beyond my wildest dreams.”
Write to Ellen Gamerman at [email protected]
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