Propelled by a smash movie, houses are jumping on the Bard bandwagon
Fueled by the success of Shakespeare in Love -- the multigenerational hit film that boasts attractive young stars, 13 Oscar nominations and Tom Stoppard as its co-screenwriter -- publishers are feverishly churning out Bard books in an attempt to find the Next Big Book Thing in this post-Titanic age.
"It's suddenly a much more youthful market," said Carol Publishing president Steve Schragis. "Even if the film wins no Oscars at all, it still will have had an effect." Schragis has invested more than just words in this contention. Birch Lane's Shakespeare in the Movies: From the Silent Era to the Present Day by Douglas Brode (July, $24.95) was originally positioned as a scholarly title and commanded, appropriately, a humble 15,000-copy printing.
With the movie's success, Schragis has increased the print run to 50,000 and moved the pub date to April. He has also given the book a new subtitle -- From the Silent Era to Shakespeare in Love -- and licensed a photo of the movie's star, Gwyneth Paltrow, for the jacket. Said Schragis: "When we first went to many booksellers, they said `This isn't for our market' and we didn't have a problem with that. But the film has changed that."
Other, more unlikely quarters are making their own contributions to Bard-mania. At Oxford University Press, the house has six children's titles -- from a biography to a history of the Globe Theater -- coming out over the next few months. While the hit film wasn't originally in their plans, publicists and marketing managers are making the most of the connection. An ordering flier aimed at booksellers features the header "Shakespeare's in Love" in a flowery red font, and Oxford hopes that booksellers will display the presses' books with other Oscar-related titles. The association will also be played up in a booth banner at San Diego's International Reader's Association, which follows BookExpo America.
Chicago Review Press, meanwhile, will in May publish Shakespeare for Kids: His Life and Times by Colleen Aagesen and Margie Blumberg. Among other things, the book covers how to stage swordplay, juggle, create authentic costumes and make a quill. Not exactly the bubblegum-band biographies the children's market is used to.
Other houses have already drunk from the Shakespeare in Love's overflowing chalice of success. Hyperion has gone back to press five times for a film tie-in, Shakespeare in Love: The Love P try of William Shakespeare, bringing the total to 57,500. (The house has published the film's screenplay, too, which is in its fourth printing and up to 23,500 copies.)
Oxford also scored with its dense biography Shakespeare: A Life by Park Honan, selling out all 3500 copies of its first printing, rare for such an academic title. "Scholars were going to buy this book, but the movie has definitely helped," said publicist Susan Fensten. A similar scenario played out for Riverhead's Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human by Harold Bloom. The book had fallen off the New York Times bestseller list, but jumped back on when the Academy announced its nominations. Riverhead publicist Michael Barson sounded what is becoming as familiar a refrain as some of the Bard's better-known lines. "The film helped the book get noticed by people who would not otherwise have picked it up," he said. Most important for Riverhead has been the torrent of attention for Bloom -- he's been called by several publications to evaluate the movie's verisimilitude; Newsweek even ran a piece about the author's take on the movie. (He liked it.) There are now 115,000 copies of Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human in print.
Given the obsession, publishers might be happy to know that Hollywood has plenty more where all this came from. In the spring, Calista Flockhart and Kevin Kline can be seen in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Buena Vista is slated to release a loose remake of The Taming of the Shrew, called Ten Things I Hate About You. Ethan Hawke has signed on to a modern update of Hamlet.
Publishers that haven't gotten in on the act, then, may have a second chance. This is especially critical considering the remorse they're already feeling for missing the, er, gondola. "If I knew there was an opportunity that the competition wasn't already covering, I would take it," said Esther Margolis, publisher of Newmarket Press. "I think this is one of those rare movies that translates into the book business, just like Dances with Wolves or Gandhi. It's triggered an interest in a whole body of work.
And the notorious T-word? Said Margolis: "It's even bigger than Titanic, in a sense, because that was about a singular event and this is about a whole period."