The Blockbusters

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, the bible of the book industry, has released figures on best-selling titles during 1986. By and large, it was a year much like 1985. Five hardcover titles sold a million copies or more in 1986, the same number as in 1985. Forty-two works of fiction sold more than 100,000 copies, compared to 43 in 1985. In the mass-market paperback field -- where Publishers Weekly makes calculations on a slightly different basis -- 103 titles published in 1985 or l986 had in-print figures of more than a million copies at the end of 1986, one less than in 1985 for the 1984-85 crop.

It is, of course, impossible to see any trends from a single year's figures -- in publishing, so much depends on the content of the books themselves -- but 1986 certainly was not a year of overall growth. It was the first leveling-off of mass-market paperback sales in four years, and the number of trade paperback titles selling 50,000 or more dipped from 194 in 1985 to 184 in 1986, both figures down from the 1983 high of 208. What is also evident from the Publishers Weekly figures is that a title must sell more copies to achieve the top plateau of the hardcover best-seller list. In 1986, for the first time, a nonfiction sale of 300,000 copies did not guarantee a spot in Publishers Weekly's top 15. This would seem to be a function of increased promotion emphasis on hot titles, including exploitation of television by publishing publicity people. Though it caused some unease among nutritionists, the diet book Fit for Life, by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond (Warner), was the second largest-selling hardcover title of 1986, with 1.35 million copies. The book started out with a first printing of only 50,000 copies, but took off after plugs from Merv Griffin (who lost weight on the diet) and the authors' appearance on the Phil Donahue show.

The top hardcover best seller, with 2.4 million copies, was also closely linked to television -- Bill Cosby's Fatherhood (Doubleday). Indeed, while The Bill Cosby Show reigned at top of the television rankings, this book, published in late May, became the fastest-selling hardcover book in U.S. publishing history, surpassing Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, which sold 1.8 million copies in 1972. Several other nonfiction hardcovers in the top 15 also had obvious television links. The Frugal Gourmet Cooks With Wine (about 400,000) and The Frugal Gourmet (about 350,000), written by Jeff Smith and published by Morrow, were undoubtedly given a strong push as a result of the author's cooking show on public television.

Be Happy -- You Are Loved by the television preacher Robert Schuller (Thomas Nelson -- 380,000); Word for Word by Andy Rooney (Putnam, 375,000 copies); McMahon!: The Bare Truth About Chicago's Brashest Bear by Jim McMahon with Bob Verdi (Warner, 360,000); and One More Time by Carol Burnett (Random House, 329,000) obviously got a jolt from the television fame of their authors. It's a delicious irony, isn't it, that the word business should be boosted on the product of the tube? In addition to Fatherhood and Fit for Life, the third nonfiction title to sell more than a million copies was Kitty Kelley's His Way -- The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra (Bantam), with reported sales of more than 1 million copies. The top-selling fiction hardcover title was Stephen King's It (Viking), with 1.2 million copies, followed by Tom Clancy's Red Storm Rising, with 1.02 million.

Among mass-market paperbacks (where totals, Publishers Weekly is careful to note, represent publishers' claims) six books issued in 1985 or 1986 had more than 3 million copies in print. They were: If Tomorrow Comes by Sidney Sheldon (Warner, 4.05 million); Iacocca: An Autobiography by Lee Iacocca with William Novak (Bantam, 3.8 million); Full Circle by Danielle Steel (Dell, 3.2 million); Family Album by Danielle Steel (Dell, 3.1 million); Thinner by Richard Bachmann a.k.a. Stephen King (NAL, 3.1 million); The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy (Berkley, 3.05 million); Heaven by V.C. Andrews (Pocket Books, 3.04 million) and The Color Purple by Alice Walker (Pocket Books, 3.01 million).

Of those, only Iacocca was a nonfiction title. And all except Heaven -- which was a so-called paperback original, meaning that its first publication was in paper -- were reprints of hardback books.

Publishers Weekly also takes note of books that were promoted by their publishers as best sellers, but which did not make the grade. Publishers announce to the world that they are taking aim at best-seller lists by ordering big initial printings and by specifying generous advertising budgets. The biggest dud of the year, given the hype that surrounded it, was probably David Stockman's The Triumph of Politics, for which Harper & Row paid $2.4 million. A close second was Going for It: How to Succeed as an Entrepreneur by Victor Kiam, the Remington razor king, a book commissioned in the wake of the success of Iacocca. Morrow ordered an initial printing of 200,000 and had a $250,000 ad and promotion budget. It didn't help -- the book went nowhere.

Among other disappointments (commercially speaking, of course) were Rex Reed's first novel Personal Effects (Arbor House); The Other Guy Blinked: How Pepsi Won the Cola Wars by Roger Enrico with Jesse Kornbluth (Bantam); Man in White, the first novel by Johnny Cash (Harper & Row); Arthur C. Clarke's 2019, in which Macmillan tempted fate by making the author's name part of the title; How to Stop the One You Love From Drinking by Mary Ellen Pinkham (Putnam) and First Lady: A Portrait of Nancy Reagan, taken from the script of an NBC television show about her (St. Martin's).

Royalty in Bethesda

MARY LIDE came to her home on Tournay Road in Bethesda by way of Cornwall (where she was born), St. Hugh's College, Oxford (where she took up medieval history) and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (where she taught and studied). Her husband, an American whom she originally met at Oxford, is a physicist with the National Bureau of Standards in Gaithersburg. They have four children, the oldest 27, the youngest 20.

Next month, Warner Books will publish Lide's third novel, A Royal Quest. The first two were published in paperback by Warner -- Ann of Cambray (which has sold 625,000 copies) and Gifts of the Queen (which has sold 350,000). The success of the first two books has spurred Warner to do A Royal Quest in hardcover.

All the books center around Ann of Cambray, a fictional heroine from a mythical place on the Welsh border, and are set in 12th-century England and France. Real characters and events are woven in with fictional ones. The first two novels have as their focus Henry II's seizure of the English crown. In the third, Henry's heirs and those of Ann and her husband, the Earl of Sedgemont, continue the story.

"I picked the 12th century to write about," says Lide, "because it was a time when women's position began to change. Indeed all feudal ideas began to change. People were more interested in saving their own skins than in duty or honor. Perhaps like any political age."

She has finished a fourth book, also due as in 1988 and tentatively titled Isobelle's Diary. It takes place in 19th-century North Africa. "It's really not such a jump as it sounds," says Lide. "That time in North Africa was in some ways a lot like the 12th century in England."

More Baseball

VICE PRESIDENT George Bush, who captained the Yale nine in the late 1940s, has provided a short foreword to Players' Choice: Major League Baseball Players Vote on the All-Time Greats (Facts on File). Compiled by Eugene and Roger McCaffrey, the book is based on a survey answered by 645 active and retired major league ballplayers, managers and coaches. Bush also picks his own all-time all-star team: Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Babe Ruth in the outfield, Lou Gehrig at first, Joe Morgan at second, Phil Rizzuto at short, George Brett at third, Johnny Bench behind the plate, Nolan Ryan as right-handed pitcher, Sandy Koufax as lefty and Hoyt Wilhelm as reliever. The team chosen by the 645 players in the McCaffrey survey was: DiMaggio, Willie Mays and Ruth in the outfield, Gehrig at first, Charlie Gehringer at second, Honus Wagner at short, Brooks Robinson at third, Bench at catcher, Walter Johnson as righthanded pitcher, Koufax as the lefthander and Goose Gossage as reliever. Okay, enough of this hot-stove league stuff. Let's get on with the season.