In an era when the publishing industry is floundering and a print run of 50,000 is considered good, author Jennifer Weiner can boast some pretty strong stats: more than 11 million books in print in 36 countries; her sophomore effort “In Her Shoes” was a hit movie starring Cameron Diaz, and she’s seven for seven on The New York Times Best-Seller List with her latest, “Best Friends Forever,” set to be number one Aug. 2.
For Weiner, it’s all icing on the cake. “I just write the best book I can,” she says over banana pudding from the Upper West Side Magnolia Bakery. “Let Dan Brown save publishing.”
This story first appeared in the July 27, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
But in the eight years since her debut with “Good in Bed,” the 39-year-old has collected a legion of loyal fans, who keep in touch via Weiner’s blog, MySpace and Facebook pages and Twitter feed.
“It makes me feel good that people feel like I’m someone that they know, because I probably am,” says the former journalist. (A typical message on her MySpace page gushes, “I think you’re fantastic & because of you, I’ve been reading like crazy, something I hadn’t done in years!” along with hundreds of Happy Birthday and Happy Mother’s Day wishes).
Such devotion might be due to the fact that Weiner puts a lot of herself in her books, from her clothing size, which is “plus,” to her family.
“I’ve had this life that’s given me a ton of raw material,” says the author, who writes every afternoon at her local Philadelphia coffee shop. “If your mom comes out of the closet when she’s 54 and you find out because your brother found love letters when he was looking for toenail clippers — if you don’t use that, God will hate you.” (So she did, in “Good in Bed.”)
She does let her family, friends and her lawyer husband take a look before anything goes to press, but “no one has ever complained.”
“I write fiction — it’s a novel. It says so on the cover,” says Weiner, who studied creative writing at Princeton under Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates and John McPhee. After graduation, “I asked my parents, ‘Would you like to become a patron of the arts while I write my novel about how your divorce messed me up?’ and they were like ‘No,’” she recalls. “So I had to get a job,” which meant working at regional newspapers before landing a features writing position at the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“Journalism is great training,” says Weiner, who spent her free time on short stories and a novel “that will never see the light of day….Getting rejected a lot is great training, too.”
Then came 2001’s “Good in Bed,” which, cumulatively, remains the highest selling of any of her novels, and Weiner hasn’t looked back since. She doesn’t even mind being labeled a “chick-lit doyenne.”
“I don’t get too worked up because it hasn’t hurt my sales,” she says. The market, she recognizes, has been saturated with the genre, making her figures even more remarkable. “Like with any trend, there were people who thought, ‘I can do that,’” she comments. “‘I date, I shop. Here’s my book — 400 pages.’”
Though they also contain dating, shopping and brunching, Weiner’s books aim to address “the big questions: How do you make a happy life? The choices women make—what you get and what you give up.”
In particular, she is known for her plus-size characters. “Fifty-percent of women in America wear size 14 or bigger, but if you read bestsellers, it’s like those women don’t really exist. I wanted plus-size women to be the heroes, not the goofy sidekicks,” Weiner says. But entertainment, not activism, is her top priority. “I don’t want people thinking, ‘Ugh, a message book.’ But I want the idea that your worth does not reside in your jean size to be in everything I do,” she says.
For now, Weiner is enjoying her success and her cozy Philadelphia life, where days are filled with playing with her two young daughters, watching “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” working on the next bestseller and Twittering to her fans. (“I sort of want to buy a tiara. And the bad news is, I think I actually could. Someone talk me off the ledge…” begs one recent post.)
“I always loved the idea of growing up and telling stories,” she says. Now she has 11 million people to listen.