And the Reading is Easy
AS PROSPECTS of long days on summer beaches begin to dance in our heads, so do thoughts of all the other things that make such days so pleasant -- a little chair to separate us from the torrid sand, a big hat and unctuous lotion to fend off the nastiest rays and, of course, a book to read. It is well known that movie makers schedule many of their biggest productions for summer distribution to take advantage of our available leisure time. Surely publishers must do the same. How does the season of sun and sand affect marketing decisions in publishing?
A survey of editors and publicity people from publishing houses reveals a range of attitudes. Summer is very much a consideration with mass-market paperback houses and is something of a no-no for university presses. For mainstream trade houses, though, summer turns out to be a factor in publishing decisions but not an overwhelming one.
Victoria Meyer, publicity director for Viking-Penguin, expressed what seemed to be a prevailing feeling in trade houses. "With the possible exception of works of strong academic interest, when the potential book buyers are not there to read the reviews," she said, "you can make a book work in any month." She added, however, that an August publication date presented an opportunity to get a book on the best seller list before the pre-Christmas fall blockbusters get up a head of steam. She pointed to David Wallechinsky's Midterm Report: The Class of '65 -- Chronicles of an American Generation -- due in August -- as an example of such a book. Wallechinsky is no stranger to best sellerdom, having co-authored such hits as The Book of Lists and What Really Happened to the Class of '65?. His new volume focuses on what is happening with the high school class of 1965 as its members approach age 40, the poor things.
Lela Rolantz of Morrow cited Rock Hudson: His Story by the late Rock Hudson and Sara Davidson, which will be out in mid-summer, as the kind of book that would sell no matter which month it was published in. But, she added, "we definitely have found in the past few years that summer is a good time for fiction." Morrow's candidate for the seaside read is Vendetta by Steve Shagan, a thriller involving porno movies and cocaine, which will be out in July.
Publishers also take the summer into consideration when they put together their spring strategies. According to Jane Freedman, associate publisher of Knopf, the firm expected that A Perfect Spy by John le Carre', published in May, would sell well throughout the summer because it is "a good beach read." Knopf has similar feelings about John D. MacDonald's Barrier Island, a novel about a real estate swindle on an island off the Mississippi coast, which will be released in June.
Mary Ann Palumbo, publicity director of NAL, which is in both mass-market paperbacks and trade books, says there is a different summer strategy for each portion of the business. "We always plan some big, juicy, sexy reads for summer paperback release," pointing to A Love for All Time by Bertrice Small, due for July, and Perfect Order by Kate Coscarelli, an August book, as examples. On the trade side, says Palumbo, she would not suggest postponing a nonfiction title to fall because "I've found that the chance of getting a newspaper review is better in the summer due to less competition."
Certain kinds of trade titles, Palumbo says, lend themselves to publication immediately before the summer, such as an exercise book due from NAL next month, The Water Power Workout by Linda Huey with R.R. Knudson. Interestingly, Palumbo says the prime time for diet books (NAL does the Weight Watchers series) is not in the summer but in December because people tend to overeat during the holidays. She adds, however, that early July is the second best time for diet books.
While some publishing people noted that summer books can be spring books that didn't get through the editing or production process on time, at other times a conscious decision is made to switch a book to summer. Deborah Broide, publicity director for Workman Publishing, pointed to two books that were scheduled for fall but which company salesmen persuasively argued would be stronger for summer. The sales reps said The Right Job by Paulo de Oliveira and Steve Cohen -- a manual on job-hunting -- would be a summer natural for recent June graduates. And Workman also decided to reschedule Salute Your Shorts by Thomas Hill and Steve Slavkin, a humorous book about summer camp, for the moment when the camp season hit.
And finally, one of those tricks of the trade that publicity people learn as the years pass by. According to several of them, when a mainstream trade book, in the natural rhythm of editing and production, ends up scheduled for the second half of August, it will often be shoved back to Sept. 1. The reason: Sept. 1 is the earliest date for a book listing in Publishers Weekly's fall preview issue, which is widely consulted in the trade. It's that kind of astuteness which separates publicity people from mortals like ourselves.
HARLEQUIN Intrigue Wants You!" said the advertisement in Ellery Queen, the mystery magazine. "Do you think you could write a script for Remington Steele, Scarecrow and Mrs. King or a movie like Romancing the Stone?"
The ad, which has also appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's mystery magazine and Writers Digest, is from the very same Harlequin Books that has made a name for itself as a publisher of paperback romances. Now the company is on the prowl for writers to crank out books for its two-a-month Harlequin Intrigue series, which combines romance -- plenty of it -- with a touch of the mysterious. Something like a Helen MacInnes novel with a lot more smoochy stuff. Or as the ad puts it: "Take one not-so-average hero and one not-so-average heroine and throw them into a plot filled with action, danger, mystery and suspense. Add equal parts chemistry and romance, and you are on your way to creating Harlequin Intrigue."
What Harlequin wants to see are three chapters and a detailed synopsis of a book that will run from 70,000 to 75,000 words. Pack all of this off to Reva Kindser, Harlequin Books, 300 E. 42nd St., New York, N.Y. 10017 and you will receive a contract. Maybe. Kindser admits that the chances of acceptance are not great -- less than 10 percent of submitted manuscripts end up under contract. According to publishing sources, the price Harlequin pays is about $2,500 to $3,000 a finished book, although that total can rise a bit if the novel is purchased by several of Harlequin's overseas companies, which number 11.
Now it's only a question of having a plot, a typewriter or word processor, the time, and the stomach for it. If you'd like to examine a typical model of a Harlequin Intrigue, Kindser suggests Out From the Shadows by Andreas Davidson, which was published as part of the May list, or A Top-Secret Affair by Vickie York, which will appear in June.
Rhapsody in Maryland
CHANGING THE SUBJECT, from Harlequins to Homer, do you know what a rhapsode is? If you said it is a singer of Rhap songs, you'd be half right. A rhapsode is someone like Homer himself, a singer of epic poems. And there was a modern version of a rhapsode rhapsodizing in the area recently. His name is Stephen V.N. Powelson and he was attending a meeting of the Classical Association of the Atlantic States at the University of Maryland. I sing of the man and his vocation.
Powelson, now retired from a career in business and living in France, spends an hour a day memorizing The Iliad. He has thus far mastered the first 20 books of the epic, amounting to 12,866 lines of Greek. At the classicists' meeting, he demonstrated what he can do. Rolf Hubbe, who teaches classics at the University of Maryland, chose five different selections, a minimum of 100 lines each, and xeroxed copies of them, so that every member of the audience had a copy. Hubbe repeated the first line of each section and Powelson took it