Friday, January 6, 2012

What made Charlotte's Web a book success?

Two posts ago ( how often can you say that ;-)) I was talking about Xmas movies.
Charlotte's web. To be exact.
I actually never read the book or seen the movie and I was wondering why this movie was such a success when it came out in 2006.

I've watched a bit of the film and I thought: "how was this successful as a movie?!"

Or even as a book.

The story seemed nice but somehow completely outdated with what Kids want to read or watch nowadays.

Storyline: an intelligent spider named Charlotte is trying to prevent a pig named Wilbur from being slaughtered.

It doesn't seem like wild or overly original as a story. Right? Wrong?

In fact "if Anyone wrote something like this now, he or she would be told how cheesy or lovey dovey it is.

Well to answer my question, I went to check Wikipedia.

And the reason (I thought) was because it was written back in 1952! Timing might have been of the essence. WW2 was just over and the  Cold War tension was was escalating rapidly. Maybe this lovely story provided a nice change for parents and kids as things were growing unsteadily!

Acclaimed American author E. B. White ( I thought the author would be a woman but it's actually a man) born in 1899 only turned to writing for children in the late 1930's.

By that time he was already in his late thirties (obviously ;-) he wrote columns in a newspaper before but nothing that set him apart. So by no means, do I understand how Charlotte's Web is now 78th on the all-time bestselling hardback book list selling apparently more than 45 million copies and been translated into 23 languages!

So what happened?

Well I'll tell you what happened.
In 1925, he was in The New Yorker magazine, then joined the staff in 1927 and continued to contribute for around six decades!!

He frequently provided what the magazine calls "Newsbreaks", these being short, witty comments on oddly-worded printed items from many sources.
He also served as a columnist for Harper's Magazine from 1938 to 1943.

So there you have it.

It's not necessarily what you write or how well you write it, it's WHO you know and HOW you get a chance to advertise yourself.

If you write for one of the poshest magazine with a readership that is 53% of its circulation in the top ten U.S. metropolitan areas and the average household income of The New Yorker readers is $109,877 ( in 2009, well at the time, it was probably much lower but I'd say the readership was still high and middle-class) then I think you will be just fine as a writer!!!

Then of course, there's talent.

It does say in Wikipedia that  "the description of the experience of swinging on a rope swing at the farm is an often cited example of rhythm in writing, as the pace of the sentences reflects the motion of the swing."

But in most cases, I don't think it's everything.

So now to you readers and writers, first of all what do you think of this book? Do you think it would work nowadays? Do you think that success as a writer depends on what you do for a living on the side? or do you believe talent is the key?

I'd like to have your opinion.


  1. Not really sure what point you're making. It's a children's book and children don't care if you write for the New Yorker. Awareness of a writer or of a book plays a large part in success, but you have to have a product too. And some odd books become favourites (Where The Wild Things Are is another good example of a hard to repeat phenomenon).

    All sorts of thing affect why something sells, but long term success is always more than just luck.


  2. Mood, when it comes to buying a children's book, now and more so in 1952, parents were making and still make the decision of what a kid should read or not. They are the buyers. So if they knew and read the author's column on a daily basis, then it's most likely they were familiarized with the name already and more likely to buy the book. Just like sex in the city. And I disagree Long term success can be due to luck as well. Just like long term failure.
    Why a book is chosen to be published is just down to one person. Why a book becomes a movie is just again down to one producer deciding it. Why the same actors get awards and other just as good, never do? Politics, timing, society's trends, a lot of luck.

  3. I read it for the first time this year and sobbed. I think it is a beautifully crafted book. I think it would still have appeal to late primary girls! I think talent plays a role as I think perseverance also plays a huge role! Is there an element of luck? Sure, just a in all aspects of life, but it is often what we do with that luck too!

  4. Parents may buy it and certainly the initial awareness of a book may be down to things like those you mention, but enduring classic status has nothing to do with that. It didn't just sell well, it's beloved by millions. Kids don't grow up and then buy it for their own kids because of affiliations to an elitist magazine.

    And most people who bought it haven't ever read the New Yorker or even know who EB White was. Magazine circulation is tiny. Book sales for Charlotte's Web are huge.

    Anything that lasts as a cultural phenomenon for decades has more going on than just being from a well connected author. I don't deny some people get all the breaks, and others never get any, but Charlotte's Web is a poor example to make your point with.

    I'd also like to point out I personally think it's an awful, mawkish, silly book (but then I've never been a six year old girl).

  5. lol, ok Mooderino...I get your point! ;-)

  6. What a fascinating post! I didn't know that about the book. I remember reading it when I was younger and the book has stayed with me for years. But, to an extent, I think you're right, I'm not sure it would be a success as much today as it was in the past.

    Do you think that success as a writer depends on what you do for a living on the side? Yes. And no. We have lots of examples of celebrities who write books that get published only because of who they are and not because of what they write. That being said, I think also that who you are and what you do for a living will define your writing and a person can use whatever they do to make their writings deeper.
    If you want return readers, talent is important.

  7. Fascinating post, enjoyed all the information about Charlotte's Web. Must confess I haven't read it as an adult or child but did however buy my niece the CD for Christmas ... guess I could always borrow it back ..or visit the library to bring myself up to reading speed :-)