Nearly a year ago, PW reported about an unlikely publishing matchup, in which a backlist German book never before published in English, acquired by an indie U.S. publisher, was primed to successfully take on one of the most hyped (and costly) books of the season--Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones (which was acquired for a hefty sum by HarperCollins at the Frankfurt Book Fair).
That little German book was Hans Fallada's Every Man Dies Alone, which was originally published in Germany in 1947 and released by Melville House in the States the same day as Littell's book was published. Now, after it seemed as though Every Man Dies Alone would go down as a small success that unexpectedly bested its intimidating publication-day competition, the title is primed to become a bestseller in the U.S. and possibly ignite new interest in Fallada's backlist.
In the U.K., where the book is published by Penguin, The Guardian reported late last month that Every Man Dies Alone has sold over 100,000 copies and may well sell beyond the 200,000-copy mark. Dennis Johnson, publisher of Melville House, was initially pleased with the book's hardcover sales after its U.S. release in July 2009; he confirmed there are 45,000 copies of that edition in print. But the paperback edition has become something of a runaway hit. Johnson said there are currently 80,000 copies of it in print after it was published in late March.
With the success of Every Man Dies Alone, Johnson is also hoping Fallada's backlist will now have wider appeal. Melville House has world English rights to three other titles by the author and is publishing all of them in the U.S., U.K., and Canada. In March 2009 the press released Little Man, Now What? and The Drinker as trade paperbacks. Wolf Among Wolves, the press's third Fallada title, is already out in the U.K. and will be published in the U.S. later this month.
Although the print runs for the other Fallada books are more modest--in the 25,000 to 30,000 range--Johnson thinks he could have multiple backlist hits on his hands. He knew that Every Man Dies Alone would have the most legs, but said that he "always felt the other [books] would come along steadily behind it, and that we would establish Fallada as a new author in the canon." He then added: "Events seem to be bearing that out.”