As BookExpo America opens in Los Angeles this weekend, attendees can put to rest the rumor that lightening doesn't strike twice in the same place. For Los Angeles-based author Steven Carter, author of the best-selling "Men Who Can't Love," it truly has.
Carter skyrocketed to literary fame 20 years ago when his book "Men Who Can't Love" -- which brought the word "commitmentphobia" into the American parlance -- hit the New York Times best-seller list for four weeks in a row, and the Publisher's Weekly list for eight weeks in a row, going on to sell 4 million copies worldwide. With co-author Julia Sokol, he went on to pen seven other best-selling relationship books.
Now Carter is topping the best-seller charts again -- but this time, in Brazil, the booming Latin American country with a book buying market of 186 million readers. Carter's "What Smart Women Know" has been amongst the Top 10 on that country's best-seller lists for 89 weeks running. Now a second Carter/Sokol book, "Men Love Women Who Love Themselves," has joined the best-seller lists for the past six weeks. The first title has already sold 350,000 copies and is still going strong. Together, the two titles are selling at the rate of almost 20,000 copies per week.
"They didn't even tell me 'What Smart Women Know' was on the best-sellers list until 50 weeks after it first appeared," says an elated Carter, who lives with his wife in the mid-city area of Los Angeles. "A royalty check for $60,000 arrived in the mail without warning, and I thought it had to be a mistake. I called my agent Barbara Lowenstein to report the error. She informed me there was no error. I was stunned."
By contrast, four days later Carter received a royalty check for the Chinese version of the same title. The royalty? $1.47.
What's the explanation for Carter's recent surge of popularity in Brazil -- some 20 years after his initial success in the U.S.? "Brazilian women have reached the same sociological and economic spot that American women were at in the '80s when our books were on the American best-seller lists," says Carter. "There's been so much upward mobility and movement toward equality, and it's all new. Before, roles were very, very rigid. Women didn't have the emotional and financial choices that they have now with Brazil being one of the fastest growing economies in the world."
Carter says Brazilian women, with their new economic and personal power, are now running into the same issues of "commitmentphobia" and "push-back" by men that their American counterparts first faced in the '80s -- and still continue to face. "Their culture had to be at a defining moment for it to happen," said Carter in awe. "To think that the cultural overlap would be so close!"
But now, says Carter, Brazilian women are indeed facing those issues: "They're facing the trap of looking too successful, of having too much power, and how that threatens men, and turns many off. These challenges are resting heavily on these women's minds in Brazil, along with issues of self-esteem and a shortage of available men."
Just back from a whirlwind book tour of five Brazilian cities -- "the media in Brazil is so smart, the questions were so incisive, and everybody, but everybody, reads" -- Carter was blown away by the pervasiveness of his book in the marketplace. "I just could not get away from my own stuff," he noted. "My books were everywhere -- in airports, in train stations, up front in the stores. It was incredibly exciting and flattering."
Perhaps not so coincidentally, the other cultural phenomenon sweeping the Brazilian population at present is an obsession with "Sex and the City," the television show now playing in syndication in that country.
"Nothing is bigger in Brazil than 'Sex and the City,'" said Carter. "Sarah Jessica Parker's photo is plastered everywhere. Brazilian women are fascinated by this portrayal of smart, single women, and their extravagant lifestyle of Manolo Blahnik-like conspicuous consumption. All the reporters I talked to wanted to get my take on it. Which ties back into my original thesis -- Brazilian women are finally experiencing the type of change, both positive and negative, that their American counterparts faced one or more decades ago. It's an incredibly interesting cross-cultural story."
(And the third current Brazilian obsession? "They just love Naomi Campbell," notes Carter. "Her photo is plastered everywhere. And don't dare make a joke about her cell phone throwing habits -- she's like a goddess there!")
Spurred by the rabid demand for two of Carter and Sokol's works, Carter's Brazilian publisher GMT Sextante has already made plans to release "Men Who Can't Love" into the Brazilian market next year, hoping for equally astounding results.
"That's the book that topped the best-sellers lists in the U.S., so it will be fascinating to see how it does in Brazil," says Carter. "Of course, I'd love to see it take off in other South American countries as well." Carter adds, "I suspect that 'commitmentphobia' will be the greatest problem women in Brazil will face during the next ten years."