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Uwem Akpan's 'Say You're One of Them' Is Oprah Selection

Mitchard credits Winfrey with the fact that she's able to make a living as a writer, saying she went from "total obscurity to being a sort of well-known writer in a couple of weeks."

Mitchard recalls that Winfrey called in 1996 simply to say that she'd enjoyed her book, but that she wouldn't mention it on the show, since fiction was bad for ratings. Two weeks later, Mitchard says, the show decided to give the book club a whirl and picked Mitchard.

The day the show aired, there were 4,000 hold requests for the book at the New York Public Library, says Mitchard, who released her 15th novel this week.

Author and teacher Lamb is one of the few authors to have two books chosen -- "She's Come Undone" and "I Know This Much Is True." He recalls getting a late-night call in 1997 to say that "She's Come Undone" had been selected. Lamb had just returned from the funeral of a former student and explained to Winfrey that he couldn't quite handle the news.

"And she was very sympathetic," Lamb says. But before getting off the phone, Winfrey quietly suggested that Lamb get in touch with his publishers. "She said . . . 'If this thing goes the way it's been going . . . they're going to have to start printing copies this weekend,' " he recalls.

A former high school English teacher, Lamb says he admires the variety of books that Winfrey has chosen (the picks also include more canonical works by authors such as Tolstoy, William Faulkner and Toni Morrison). And Lamb reiterates that a single nod from Winfrey can guarantee an entire career for a struggling writer.

"My first novel came out in 1992, and occasionally I would walk through the mall with my kids," Lamb says, "and I would say, 'Kids, go into the bookstore, and I'll give 50 cents to the first one who finds my novel on the shelf.' And it was kind of demoralizing because they'd be in there for about 20 minutes and they wouldn't find it, and they'd run out and say, 'Dad? We can't find it. Can we have the money?' That was before Oprah."

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