Knock A Successful Series of Books?
Numerous times in recent years, I’ve been in these discussions inside publishing houses. Whether in a group setting such as a break in a publication board meeting or one on one with various publishing insiders, I find they often like to talk about the Left Behind series. The series has sold over 62 million copies since the first book, Left Behind, was published in 1995.
I’ve heard a variety of responses to the series and most of them have been negative. One vice-president of sales told me, “I gave up on Book Four. The plots were too predictable.” Another says, “I started it and never finished the first book.” Another person gave up at Book Eight. In general, these individuals love to rail about the predictable writing, the cardboard characters and other such comments. Everyone shakes their heads and don’t understand how the series has caught on and why it continues to have such success.
Earlier this month, The Rising was published and last week was #1 on The USA Today bestseller list and # 2 on The New York Times bestseller list. Tyndale House Publishers printed 1.1 million copies for their initial release. My review of The Rising appears on FaithfulReader.com. As I mentioned in my review, I’ve read every one of the thirteen books—cover to cover. I’ve enjoyed the experience and believe it is the characters which have caught my attention.
When the Left Behind series was first published, writer Jerry B. Jenkins sent me a copy of the first book. I’ve known Jerry for about twenty years in a variety of settings. I took the book on a trip to East Texas where I was working on a book project. The first book opens with a stewardess knocking on the pilot’s door of a transatlantic flight of a 747. She tells the pilot they have a problem. Half of their passengers have disappeared. Their clothes are in the seats but their bodies are gone. It sets off a chain of events. My first thought was “How hokey.” Then I was hooked and had to complete the last page of the book about 2 a.m. I’ve been hooked ever since that first book.
Many people have tried to explain the sales of the series. If people within publishing could explain it, then they hope to duplicate it with another book. For me, it’s unexplainable except a movement of God which draws people to read these books—Christians and non-Christians alike. Many people forget that Jerry B. Jenkins had written over 100 other books (many of them quite successful) before he wrote Left Behind.
Many people within publishing would love to duplicate this effort—if they could figure it out. In the meantime, I have no doubt they will continue to discuss their fiction problems with the series. As for me, I celebrate the success of this series. I know it has improved and changed the spiritual condition of many. If you want to know more about these changes, I recommend you read These Will Not Be Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins with Norman B. Rohrer (Tyndale, 2003).
I’ll continue to listen to the discussions about Left Behind but you won’t find me knocking this series.