MIDWAY : The bestsellerdom

The word “bestseller” doesn’t mean too much nowadays. “Self-published bestseller” does. William P Young’s SPBS, The Shack, has been the “buzz book” in the US for the past 18 months. Paul Young is an Oregon salesman with an interest in web design. He composed The Shack as a gift for his children at Christmas 2005, something that would explain

the mysterious ways in which God works.

He typeset the story on his computer and had it bound at the local print shop. His two pastors (kicking in a start-up fund of $300) encouraged him to self-publish. Registering themselves as Windblown Media, they dispatched copies from the Youngs’ garage. Lots of copies,

as the months passed.

Word of mouth became word of web. The Shack was blogged and hyped by Christian radio into the bestseller lists. The plot is simple. God takes exception to little girls getting murdered by serial killers and posts a bereaved parent a note on the subject. “He” cares. A huge number of readers testify on the web that The Shack brought them closer to their Creator.

Christian fiction is big in the US. In bookshops, that section is usually larger than science fiction (although regular Christian publishers turned down The Shack on the grounds that it was too “edgy”). Young himself calls his bestsellerdom a “miracle”, clearly discerning the kind of assistance you can’t expect from the average publicity department. Is The Shack the Blair Witch Project of the modern book world? Does it demonstrate that with modern e-tools literary talent can find a way around the cumbersome apparatus of the publishing industry? Probably not.

The famous novelists who have self-published could supply a well-rounded literary education: Mark Twain, DH Lawrence, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, et al. They are proudly listed on

self-publishing guru John Kremer’s “self-publishing hall of fame”. But, like Young, these novelists typically did it at the break-in stage of their careers.

Once inside, they signed up quite happily to the mainstream book world. The Shack arrives this side of the pond published by Hodder and Stoughton, in an initial print run of 25,000. They won’t be dispatching it from Mr Hodder’s garage.