You may have noticed by now that I have a little "thing" about what I consider the "me-too"-ism of publishing. Why is it that when a book seems to come out of nowhere and suddenly succeeds that publishers think they can go back to that particular nowhere and find the same success again? Of course, such naïve foraging just about never works—see follow-ups to such blockbusters as The Nanny Diaries, The Devil Wears Prada and He's Just Not That into You. And suggesting that a new author is, say, the next Dan Brown (viz: John Twelve Hawks, author of The Traveller) is hardly a better idea; more often than not, the collective book-buying public squares its considerable shoulders and huffs, "Oh, yeah? Well, I'll be the judge of that."

Still, the urge to reinvent a winning formula is so powerful as to be almost irresistible. Who wouldn't want even just a little piece of The Da Vinci Code's success—at last count 40 million copies worldwide? But while countless sequels, prequels and copycats have been produced, none has come close to matching the sales power of the original. Why? Perhaps because the publishers involved have been wrongly focused on reproducing the same old ideas in the same old forms. What should they be doing? Why, putting the same old ideas into some sort of new package, of course.

The release last week of The Jesus Family Tomb(Harper San Francisco) and the sudden, overwhelming success of Rhonda Byrne's The Secret (S&S announced a new printing of two million copies, bringing the total to 3.75 million since November) prove the point. Both borrow religious themes (The Secret—about how you can think yourself rich, famous, thin, happy, etc.—from The Power of Positive Thinking's Norman Vincent Peale and, before that, from Christian Science and other religions; Tomb from the Dan Brownian contention that Jesus was married to Mary) and present nonfictive "evidence." Both take a wise and nearly liturgical tone. And both sound to some like the 2007 reissue of a very old story. They're still the Emperor's New Clothes; it's just that this time, the outfits are better tailored.

And, of course, more successfully promoted, though, interestingly, the usual promotional vehicle—the embargo—was not used in either case. In its recent press release, Atria/Beyond Words says that The Secret, which was released in November, "instantly enjoyed steady and swift sales," but it was not until Oprah Winfrey featured it—twice!—on her show that the book buyers went wild. (Nielsen BookScan reports 604,000 sold since release; there are surely plenty more moving through Wal-Mart, which doesn't report to the service.) The Jesus Family Tomb was quietly shipped to bookstores last week, where it sat ready for the perusing when the Discovery Channel broke its story. (The first week's sales will be collected by BookScan next week.) There was no high-powered media finagling and book-withholding, and look what happened: the books made news (and sales) anyway.

Which just goes to prove that sometimes publishing gimmicks are unnecessary. Releasing a blockbuster is, clearly, a piece of cake. All you need is a tried-and-true idea that involves some controversial religious theory, a little luck and maybe a prominent talk-show host. The Secret author Rhonda Byrne couldn't have willed it better herself.

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