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New Shipshape Category: Sailing After Patrick O'Brian
Heather Vogel Frederick -- 6/1/98
Prepare to step aboard and hoist the mainsail as Horatio Hornblower takes to the high seas once again. This month, Little, Brown will relaunch C.S. Forester's classic 11-volume naval adventure series, setting sail with a new hardcover edition of Mr. Midshipman Hornblower. "A number of key editors at other houses started asking [Little, Brown publisher] Sarah Crichton what she was going to do with the Forester books," said associate editor Amanda Murray. The series, which debuted in the late '30s and was reprinted in paperback in the '60s, "sells steadily and has for a long time," she explained.
Of course, the interest is all in the wake of the growing popularity of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series published by Norton. "It seemed a natural for us to relaunch them and try and get the same kind of readership," said Murray.Sporting natty cover art by illustrator Douglas Smith -- a "huge Hornblower fan himself, whose woodcut style and interesting use of perspective captured the flavor of these swashbuckling epics," notes senior designer Leslie Goldman -- the repackaging continues in November with new trade paper editions of Lieutenant Hornblower and Hornblower and the Hotspur, priced at $12.95. The hardcover is $18.95, similar to the O'Brian price.
Promotions for the Forester relaunch include a half-page Father's Day ad in the New York Times Book Review, as well as an offer enclosed in the entire 10,000-copy first printing for a free Hornblower paperback. Norton used a similar tactic with O'Brian, inserting postcards into The Yellow Admiral that encouraged readers to request a free copy of Master and Commander, the very first book in the Aubrey/Maturin series, for a friend. Norton v-p and director of publicity Louise Brockett said that promotion received "literally thousands" in response.
Also sure to raise C.S. Forester's profile are A&E's four new Hornblower movies, slated for television in early '99. Though film rights to O'Brian's Master and Commander were sold to Samuel Goldwyn by O'Brian's literary agent, Georges Borchardt, efforts to bring it to the screen are at a standstill.
Not that O'Brian needs the additional exposure a movie would bring. His immensely popular chronicles of Royal Navy captain Jack Aubrey and his colleague, surgeon and sometimes spy Stephen Maturin have sold between 2.5 and three million copies in combined hardcover and trade paperback, according to Norton editor-in-chief Starling Lawrence, who notes, "As far as we can tell, it's an expanding universe."
In October, the 84-year-old O'Brian weighs anchor again with his 19th installment, A Hundred Days, and he's already at work on the 20th and final volume of the series. Credited with expanding the genre's appeal, O'Brian's humor and the emotional depth of his characters and romantic subplots have been key in attracting female readers to what had long been a largely male bastion.
"There's a hunger in the marketplace for more reading material in this genre, and other publishers getting involved just reinforces it," said David Sobel, senior editor at Holt/Owl, whose new Heart of Oak Sea Classics trade paper series is just about to hit the stores. A Father's Day promotion in the chains will launch the initial trio: Dudley Pope's The Black Ship, James Norman Hall's Doctor Dogbody's Leg and Frederick Marryat's Peter Simple.
McBooks Press, too, has been buoyed by the reception accorded its Classics of Nautical Fiction trade paper series, which sailed into view last fall with Frederick Marryat's Mr. Midshipman Easy and Frank Mildmay, and continues this spring with Newton Forster, all of which were originally published in the 1830s.
McBooks also recently acquired the American rights to Alexander Kent's Richard Bolitho series, which, like O'Brian's, Forester's and Marryat's, feature Royal Navy adventures set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars.
"I think they're complementary to each other," Lawrence said. "No one who loves one of these authors should be dissuaded from sampling the other."
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