John Grisham’s 21st book, The Associate, was released Jan. 27 and went straight to No. 1 on most best-seller lists.
Nearly everything Grisham writes goes to No 1. He long ago earned enough money to last several lifetimes.
But for many reasons, this is one of the former Mississippi legislator’s most important books. The Associate will go a long way in measuring the recession’s effect on the book industry and how publishers, big and small, will operate in 2009.
“It’s the first big book of the year, and all the publishing houses are watching it closely,” Grisham says. “Most popular authors are down anywhere from 25 to 50 percent (in sales). If The Associate is down that much, it’s a bad sign. If it hangs in there and does within 10 percent of what my other books have done – if it doesn’t show a lot of erosion – then the industry is going to feel pretty good because a big book can work.
“But if the big commercial authors take a bit hit, it filters down to your publishers, your bookstores, to everybody. And it makes things a whole lot more frightening. So far, the numbers look promising. But it’s still too early to tell.”
John Evans, owner of Lemuria Books in Jackson, says the economy has hit his store hard. Lemuria is one of the few independent bookstores remaining in the South.
“We’ve been getting clobbered since last August,” Evans says. “I’m fighting the economy every day. It’s been brutal. But if The Associate does well, I think it will take pressure off the publishing companies. They’ll be willing to hang in there a little longer.
“But I assure you they’re saying ‘If Grisham’s books won’t sell, how can we sell anybody else?’ I think it could determine how many layoffs there are at publishing companies, how many books are purchased from authors. You had better believe this is a major crossroads for our industry.”
And it could be a good thing, indeed, that in The Associate Grisham returned to the recipe that made him one of the top-selling authors worldwide.
It is a fast-paced, page-turner that features a young lawyer who finds himself being blackmailed and forced to work for a big-money, low-ethics law firm.
“Over the years, people have often said to me in a very nice way ‘I like your books. But I really liked your early books,’ “ says Grisham, 53, who, along with wife Renee, splits time between Oxford and Charlottesville, Va. “At first, I wasn’t sure how to take that. But then I realized we all tend to do that, whether it’s music, actors … we always tend to like the early stuff.
“If you look at my early books – The Firm, The Pelican Brief and The Client – those were all big books. And the movies of all three were released in a 12-month period of time, and all grossed over $100 million. Looking back now, those three books paved the way for everything else that has happened for me. So I said, ‘OK, I’m going back to the early stuff and try to write a book that can capture the suspense of The Firm.”
Margaret Boles, a 43-year-old nurse from Pearl and a huge Grisham fan, calls The Associate “his best book in 10 years … it just has that old Grisham flavor to it.”
Grisham already has sold The Associate’s film rights to Paramount Pictures. Production could begin this year.
“If done properly, I think it could be a slick, fun, commercial film,” he says.