Fools for Rules

Some S.F. book-buyers are ruining the city's reputation

Dating game got you down? Don't worry, hon. "The Rules" are here. Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider have answered the modern single woman's cry for help with their best-selling paperback The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right (Warner, 1995; $5.99).

It's a step-by-step manifesto for enchanting a man and ultimately getting him to cough up The Ring. The authors, who are both married, offer several gems of wisdom -- 35, to be exact:

If a man starts talking to you at a party, "smile and answer his questions very nicely without saying too much. You're demure, a bit mysterious. ... After a few minutes you say, 'I think I'll walk around now.' " (Rule No. 1: Be a "Creature Unlike Any Other")

Don't call him, and rarely return his calls. (That's Rule No. 5.)
Grow your hair long ("We don't want to look like boys!"); if you've got a bad nose, for god's sake, get a nose job; oh, and hide the Prozac before he comes over. (They could all come under Rule No. 20: Be Honest but Mysterious.)

The translation of all of this is simple: Leave your brain at home, hike up your skirt, and smile a lot.

One million copies have sold nationally, but S.F. booksellers are baffled by the volume's massive success in a city that prides itself on its late-20th-century progressivity. According to SF Weekly's calculations, San Francisco bookstores sold more than 700 copies of The Rules in October alone. (Warner Books would not disclose exact sales figures.) The book has been the No. 1-selling "mass market" paperback in S.F.'s independently run bookstores since the middle of last month.

Well, perhaps $5.99 is a small price to pay for a road map to the man of your dreams.

The book came out in paperback last February, but sales took off last month after the authors appeared on Oprah. The book has since spawned more than 30 support groups across the country (yes, S.F. has one) -- not to mention Rules seminars and a newsletter, plus phone consultations for a mere $250 an hour. Warner Senior Publicist Tina Andreadis says about 100 women call each day.

Expect more Rules in the coming months. Next September, Fein and Schneider will release a sequel, Living With the Rules, which will cover topics such as e-mail, dating after a divorce, and tips for women in high-profile positions. Forrest Gump producer Wendy Finerman recently optioned Rules: The Movie. And the Learning Annex in S.F. expects to sell out next May, when Fein and Schneider come to town to give one of their seminars.

As one San Francisco bookseller, a single woman, put it: "I can't believe women in San Francisco are buying this. I'm embarrassed.

 
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