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For thrillers, Beck is becoming new Oprah

Virtually every novelist fantasizes about being picked to appear on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show. But now an increasing number of writers have discovered a new champion: Glenn Beck.
/ Source: The New York Times

Virtually every novelist in America fantasizes about being picked to appear on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show. But now an increasing number of writers have discovered a new champion: Glenn Beck, the outspoken media darling of populist conservatism.

On his radio show and cable television programs, first on CNN Headline News and now on the Fox News Channel, Mr. Beck has enthusiastically endorsed dozens of novelists, a majority of them writing in the thriller genre. Mr. Beck, who now attracts 9 million weekly listeners on radio and 2.7 million daily viewers on television, often selects authors whose plots or characters reflect political stances that mirror his own. But he also promotes the work of authors who may disagree with many of his views.

“He’s our Oprah,” said Brad Thor, a writer of political thrillers who has appeared on Mr. Beck’s radio and television programs several times. “God love him, we’re very fortunate.”

At a time when the book industry is struggling to maintain, much less increase, sales, publishers and authors say an appearance on Mr. Beck’s television or radio programs helps attract new readers. After James Rollins, the author of “The Doomsday Key,” a thriller about a group of Defense Department scientists trying to solve an ancient mystery, appeared this past summer on Mr. Beck’s radio program and then his television show — on which Mr. Beck promised viewers “it will keep you on the edge of your seat” — Mr. Rollins met several people at a book signing who told him they had bought the book based on that recommendation, he said.

According to Seale Ballenger, a publicist for William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins that released “The Doomsday Key,” the novel remained in the Top 10 of the New York Times hardcover fiction best-seller list longer than typical for its type. “It was totally driven by Glenn Beck,” Mr. Ballenger said.

In the past five years Mr. Beck, who was a best-selling novelist with “A Christmas Sweater” last year, has interviewed about 40 thriller writers, including David Baldacci, Nelson DeMille and James Patterson, on his radio program, his cable television shows or both.

'Really unique venue for novelists'
While his focus is thrillers, Mr. Beck stands out among talk show hosts in that he regularly interviews authors who write fiction at all. “I think it’s an aspect of the show that maybe has flown under the radar because of some of the more controversial things that have taken place on the air,” said Daniel Silva, an author of spy thrillers. Mr. Beck, Mr. Silva said, “has provided a really unique venue for novelists to come and talk about their work on television.”

Morning shows like “The Today Show” and “Good Morning America” used to have regular book clubs devoted in part to promoting up-and-coming authors, but now there are fewer slots for novelists, most reserved for heavy hitters like John Irving or Patricia Cornwell.

While Craig Ferguson’s “Late Late Show” and “Sunday Morning,” both on CBS, do feature authors — including novelists — from time to time, Mr. Beck may be the most passionate national media advocate for fiction, albeit in a particular genre.

“I don’t think there’s anybody else on TV that is either that eager or open to booking novelists,” said David Brown, deputy director for publicity at Atria, an imprint of Simon & Schuster that publishes Mr. Thor and Vince Flynn, another thriller writer who has appeared frequently on Mr. Beck’s programs.

Kevin Balfe, senior vice president for publishing at Mercury Radio Arts, Mr. Beck’s production company, said Mr. Beck was a voracious reader who loved to read thrillers at night.

“Glenn is a regular guy, and regular Americans like thrillers,” said Mr. Balfe, an editor of Mr. Beck’s current nonfiction best seller, “Arguing With Idiots.”

Mr. Beck regularly tweets brief reviews of his favorite books. “Just finished Vince Flynn’s new book. BEST YET,” he wrote last month. He also promotes authors on his Web site,, and in his e-mail newsletter. In his print magazine, Fusion, he is running a serial novel for which nearly 30 thriller writers, including Mr. Patterson, Christopher Reich and Harlan Coben, have contributed chapters.

Now Mr. Beck, who through a spokesman declined to comment, has written his own thriller, an untitled work to be published this spring by Threshold, the conservative imprint of Simon & Schuster.

When Mr. Beck interviews authors, he gives brief endorsements of the novels, but then tends to pick out a few issues — often relating to current events — to discuss. Authors welcome the chance to talk about the meat of their books.

“He doesn’t have me on to talk about the great sex scene in Chapter 34,” said Brad Meltzer, a thriller writer who extensively researches his novels. “He has me on to talk about the great access I’ve had to former presidents and the research that I do.”

'Conservative porn'
Mr. Beck is quite canny about using novels as a vehicle for talking about issues he cares about. When Mr. Flynn was on Mr. Beck’s Fox News program last month to talk about “Pursuit of Honor,” Mr. Flynn’s latest novel, a thriller about a C.I.A. operative chasing Muslim terrorists who kill 185 people in Washington, Mr. Beck zeroed in on a chapter in which the main character, Mitch Rapp, goes before Congress to defend the C.I.A.’s record of using harsh interrogation tactics with suspects.

“Let me just say, it’s almost conservative porn,” Mr. Beck said.

He also engages with writers whose books may reflect political views divergent from his own. In a recent radio interview with Andrew Gross, the author of thrillers set among the wealthy families of Greenwich, Conn., Mr. Beck and the author talked about Mr. Gross’s latest novel, “Don’t Look Twice,” which features a plot twist involving political profiteering in Iraq.

“You’re on the liberal side of things, which is, you know, fine,” Mr. Beck said to Mr. Gross, before telling listeners that the book was “riveting.”

In a telephone interview Mr. Gross, who said Mr. Beck’s politics “don’t sit entirely well with me,” said he has been attacked by both conservatives and liberals for appearing on Mr. Beck’s show.

“I’ll get people who are obviously fans of his who write me e-mails, saying, ‘I paid $27 for this, and I didn’t want to buy a bunch of lefty” garbage, Mr. Gross said, using a term not appropriate for a family newspaper. “And then I get calls from people on the left who say, ‘I’ve always liked your books but now that I see you have an association with Glenn Beck, I’m reconsidering.’ ”

Mr. Gross said he defended himself to both sides. “Invariably, I’ve had people who said, ‘I wasn’t going to read it because I saw it was endorsed by Glenn Beck,’ ” he said. “And I’ve pushed them to hold their judgment. And several of them have written back and said, ‘I take it back.’ ”

This story, "," originally appeared in The New York Times.

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