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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Hughes’

Kids’ Books Pop Up To Snare Kids

In his newest Weekend Adviser column, Robert Hughes looks at the latest generation of pop-up books. With Harry Potter‘s final volume now old news, publishers in the $2.5 billion children’s book industry are trying new tricks. They are putting out vintage-looking picture books that are packed with extras such as cards, maps, letters and even a facsimile X-ray plate or model ship.

On Tuesday, Candlewick Press publishes MYTHOLOGY (pictured to the right) the latest in a series that began with DRAGONOLOGY in 2003 and continued with PIRATEOLOGY, EGYPTOLOGY and WIZARDOLOGY. The titles and their spinoffs have sold more than six million copies, according to Karen Lotz, president and publisher, and the series has inspired imitators. Candlewick and others now refer to the entire genre as “ology” books, which are supposedly written by writers with Victorian-sounding names but are actually penned by series editor Dugald Steer.

These titles, Hughes says, can cost two to three times as much to produce as a standard picture book, yet typically are priced at $20, just $5 more. So publishers need to sell them in volume to make a profit. MYTHOLOGY has announced a first printing of 400,000 – a gamble in light of other titles, like BEATRIX POTTER: A JOURNAL (which tied into the movie starring Renee Zellweger) not doing so well. But if it does, then like other enhanced picture books, it can sell in a standard and steady way.

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Book Publishing Made Sweeter The Second Time Around

The Wall Street Journal’s Robert Hughes looks at efforts by two publishers – Persephone Books and New York Review Books – to bring back neglected books into print. NYRB Books, an offshoot of the literary magazine, has published more than 200 adult and 30 children’s titles, most of them reprints. Persephone specializes in novels by women. Among the London company’s most popular releases is 1938′s “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” by Winifred Watson, about a governess sent by an employment agency to the wrong address, where she finds a glamorous nightclub singer and helps her through misadventures. The reprint has sold 22,000 copies — exceeding the sales of many well-received new novels today. And “Miss Pettigrew” has spurred a film adaptation starring Frances McDormand set to come out next year.

Reprint publishers, Hughes writes, aren’t under the same pressure to create instant hits as are publishers of new material, says NYRB publisher Rea Hederman. His books often take a year to gather momentum compared with the month or two that bookstores give a new title before they pull it from shelves. Some independent booksellers embrace NYRB’s list. Nancy Olson, owner of Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh, N.C., says her staff recommends John Williams‘s “Stoner” from 1965, about a farmer who becomes a college professor, and has sold 60 copies so far. “They’re not the kind of titles you’ll see pushed in big commercial bookstores,” she says.

The Return of the Literary Thriller

Of course, it’s debatable whether it ever really went away or if market forces dictated that it “disappear” and re-emerge a few years later, as many trends do. But the idea gives the WSJ’s Robert Hughes a peg to feature a couple of dozen thrillers (highlighting future releases by Daniel Silva, Barry Eisler, Martin Cruz Smith and Joseph Finder, among others) and explain why they are making a so-called comeback.

Behind the revival, Hughes writes, is the confluence of a world grown more scary and a sluggish, $24 billion publishing industry seeking a new formula for hits. There’s another factor: Hollywood’s movie machine is hungry for such books. “Thrillers will definitely be the next cycle” in Hollywood, says Howard Sanders, a partner in United Talent Agency in Beverly Hills, Calif. Whatever that means. Of course, here comes the obligatory nitpick: all the thrillers Hughes & co. write about and they couldn’t find a single woman? Granted, thrillers of a certain variety are male-dominated for the moment, but it would have been nice to garnish some attention on say, R.J. Hillhouse‘s OUTSOURCED, M.J. Rose‘s THE REINCARNATIONIST or the recently released THE ACCIDENTAL AMERICAN by Alex Carr, which fits this bill more tightly than any of the titles on offer, male or female.