It’s not every day that you hear an American house talking up its hot new Swedish thriller. But Knopf is starting to do just that for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which it will release in September with a 100,000-copy printing. Author Stieg Larsson’s bizarre backstory—in a John Kennedy O’Toole—ish twist, he died just before he was published—coupled with Knopf’s decision to swap out the book’s dicey European title, Men Who Hate Women, should pique the media’s curiosity. And if that’s not enough, Knopf publisher Sonny Mehta gives the book a rare glowing endorsement—in an open letter on the back cover of the ARC, he says it features “one of the most original heroines to come along in years.”
Knopf, which is handing out 1,000 ARCs at BEA, won the three-volume series at an auction held by British publisher Quercus last November. Although some interest was drummed up at Frankfurt, there wasn’t much need to hype Larsson’s books because of their eye-popping European sales. To date, the series has sold more than two million copies in Sweden and has become a runaway hit in the Netherlands, France and Germany. Book one follows a female computer hacker (the tattooed “girl” of the title) in pursuit of a missing girl. “Everybody started reading it and going crazy,” Mehta recalled, citing the American reaction. The series’ success abroad recalled, in Mehta’s mind, the “[James] Bond phenomenon.” (Although the series is being published in various ways throughout Europe, rights have been sold in more than 20 countries. In the U.K., Quercus published Girl in January.)
Once Knopf won the series, the first issue to tackle was the title of that initial volume. Mehta said that he bought the book as Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but when he and his colleagues learned that the original title translated to Men Who Hate Women, they considered going with that. “The fear was that the original title might be alienating,” Mehta said, adding that he also worried the work might sound like nonfiction. Knopf publicity director Nicholas Latimer put it more bluntly when he said the original title “might work in other countries, but... would surely and quickly sink a very good book here.”
Larsson, who died of a heart attack in 2004, was a left-leaning fringe investigative journalist who dabbled in fiction. From the late 1990s on, he worked for the Swedish magazine Expo, the official publication of the Expo Foundation, which says its mission statement is to “study and map anti-democratic, right-wing extremist and racist tendencies in society.” Mehta said he hopes to find “writers who will act as surrogates” to promote Larsson’s dramatic tale in the U.S.
Although Knopf also struggled to finalize Girl’s jacket art—there were eight versions before one was chosen—the imprint is betting readers will get Larsson right out of the gate. “I think people will react to the narrative and the characters,” Mehta said, adding that European readers, who’ve already spoken, aren’t so different from their American counterparts.
|* total sales for all three titles in the series|
|Sweden: 2.7 million+|
|France: 1 million+|