According to Warner Books publisher Jamie Raab, "It was one of those quiet successes. Booksellers loved handselling it, and it became a word-of-mouth favorite, especially with book clubs." Well, it's about to be a favorite of the greatest book club of them all when Oprah Winfrey announces her 20th selection on today's telecast. The book is Where the Heart Is, a first novel by Billie Letts published by Warner in July 1995. Reviews were glowing (a starred one from PW called it "lively [and] affecting...a heartfelt and gratifying read"), and the hardcover sold 68,000 copies in three printings. One year later, the mass market edition sold 188,000 copies; this past June, Warner issued a trade paperback version (approximately 25,000 in print after two trips to press) with a reading club guide bound in. Now, says Raab, "We'll be reprinting the typically astronomical Oprah numbers" -- plus, she notes, a small reprint of the hardcover. Letts (a real favorite of the whole Warner crew, according to Raab) is currently penning the Heart screenplay for Wind Dancer Films with her son Tracy. (Writing talent evidently runs in this family, as Tracy is enjoying a smash off-Broadway run of his play Killer J , starring Amanda Plummer and Scott Glenn.) The people at Wind Dancer are so taken by Letts's work, says Raab, that they have already optioned her second novel, Honk and Holler, which Warner published in July of this year.

Though the Oprah imprimatur clearly makes a difference in a book's life, awards, too, can often substantially affect that all-important bottom line -- witness what's happened to Alice McDermott since the night of November 18. Prior to that date, McDermott's novel, Charming Billy (published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux on January 15), had garnered rave reviews and appeared on several local bestseller lists; the in-print figure was 36,000 after two trips to press. Then came the National Book Award ceremony, at which McDermott beat out such high-profile nominees as Robert Stone and Tom Wolfe. The ante was upped, and the pace accelerated. Two more printings, totaling 40,000 copies, followed in quick succession, as feature interviews ran in the New York Times and USA Today. News of McDermott's success will be covered shortly in Newsweek and U.S. News &World Report; a photo shoot has been scheduled with Entertainment Weekly. The author's home town paper (the Baltimore Sun) ran a feature, local camera crews were waiting at her home when she returned from the NBA ceremony, and area bookstore appearances have been booked. Late next month McDermott will embark on an eight-city promotional tour for Dell's mass market edition of the novel -- Charming them wherever she g s.

In our column of November 23, we referred to the megaselling Chicken Soup books from Health Communications as "the most successful series in publishing history," and invited any dissenters to respond. "I have nothing but respect for the Chicken Soup people. I'm a big fan of their books," said author R.L. Stine in an answering letter. How nice, we thought. Stine didn't stop there, however, but went on to point out that his own Goosebumps books -- a paperback series published by Scholastic that started back in 1992 -- have racked up sales of "more than 220 million books in this country alone. Foreign sales bring the total to well over 300 million." We stand corrected, Mr. Stine, as we applaud your achievement in "the millions of kids [you've] gotten to read." (P.S. Cordial to the end, this celebrated creator of spooky scenarios signed his epistle, "Yours ghoully.")

With reporting by Dick Donahue