Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch” is one of the most popular and critically acclaimed novels in recent memory, and this week it’s finally available in paperback (Back Bay, $20). Published in 2013, the story of a boy who loses his mother and steals a famous Dutch painting during a terrorist attack won a Pulitzer Prize and has sold 3 million copies (including e-copies).
Publishers typically don’t bring out a paperback edition until the more lucrative hardback starts to flag. The long wait for this week’s paperback release — more than 17 months — is a striking indication of just how strong sales of “The Goldfinch” have been. But with so many copies already purchased and such wall-to-wall publicity about the novel, are there many potential readers left to buy the paperback, which will have a first printing of 275,000?
“The answer lies ahead,” says Tartt’s editor, Hachette chief executive Michael Pietsch. “My experience is that when we in Washington and New York think we’ve heard a lot about a book, the rest of the country is just barely beginning to. It’s a big nation, and it takes a long time to get everyone’s attention. And then there are some people who will only buy paperbacks. And it’s the preferred format for book clubs. I suspect there will be hundreds and hundreds of book clubs sitting down to chew over the book for the first time.” (Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington is starting with 60 copies of the new paperback.)
Frequently, a paperback edition gives the publisher a chance to rebrand a book with a new cover that might appeal to a new audience, but Hachette is leaving this famous dust jacket well enough alone. Except for a couple of blurbs and a Pulitzer sticker, the new paperback looks identical to the hardback — with that glimpse of Fabritius’s little bird peeking through a torn piece of paper. “When the book has sold very, very well and the image is so iconic, it would be foolhardy to change it,” Pietsch says.
While insisting that an engaging story trumps everything else, Pietsch acknowledged that certain kinds of readers do seem to have a special attraction to giant novels. (“The Goldfinch” comes in close to 800 pages.) “There is a love of long books when it’s a big story with a lot of characters and a lot of context,” he says. “When you’re loving a book and you know you have 700 pages to go, it’s a feeling of wealth: You know that you have that much pleasure ahead.” While advance copies can use extra-thin paper to keep a long book from intimating time-starved publishing insiders, Pietsch says he sometimes uses “thicker paper” for the finished books so that “people know they’re getting their money’s worth.”
“The Goldfinch” may be flying all over the world again, but Tartt won’t be touring for this new paperback. She’s already working on another book.