''The Bestseller'' parodies real world scheming and dealing

By Matthew Flamm
July 26, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

With The Bestseller, best-selling author Olivia Goldsmith has turned out more than just another juicy beach read. Set around the fictional New York publishing house of Davis & Dash, and larded with actual literary gossip, Goldsmith’s new book has been received as a sort of ”publishing Rorschach test,” says the author.

”I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘This character is so-and-so, isn’t it? I’m so glad you wrote that — I hate that bitch!”’ But in fact, Goldsmith insists, the main characters are not composites but fictional creations, despite the occasional walk-ons by an assortment of real publishing folk, whose names appear in a six-page index at the end. ”I’m all about making mischief,” says the 42-year-old writer, whose previous novels have tweaked the fashion industry (Fashionably Late), Hollywood (Flavor of the Month), and rich men’s second marriages (The First Wives Club) and who also writes children’s books under her real name, Justine Rendal.

To promote First Wives, her first novel (the movie version of which will be out in September, starring Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, and Bette Midler), Goldsmith donned a ”cheap blond wig” and spike heels. ”I was going for that girl-writer look, some cross between Danielle Steel and Daryl Hannah. It was a joke, but nobody got it,” says Goldsmith, who ruefully describes herself as 5′ 4” and ”15 pounds overweight.” In fact, the glamour pose was such a hit that she kept the wig for every subsequent book jacket photo — until The Bestseller.

Publishing industry insiders have noticed more than a passing resemblance between the new book’s publishing house, Davis & Dash, and Simon & Schuster. A line could also be drawn, they say, between the cutthroat fictional publisher Gerald Ochs Davis and the notoriously hard-charging former head of Simon & Schuster, Dick Snyder (as well as his then lieutenant Jack Romanos). ”I only tilt at windmills and giants” is all Goldsmith will say.

That may be why Goldsmith decided to tack on the six-page index of big publishing names — including quite a few not even found in the book. ”What could be funnier,” she says coyly, ”than looking up page 308, hoping to see your name, and then having to read through the whole damn book because your name’s not there?”