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Book News: Egypt Launch For Nile Saga
Herbert R. Lottman -- 4/17/00
Frances Bernard Fixot fans worldwide buzz for Christian Jacq's new Egyptian series

The excitement aboard the charter flight flying to ancient Thebes in the Nile Valley last month was palpable: Here was a planeload of publishers of commercial fiction from around the world--among them S&S (from both sides of the Atlantic), Bertelsmann, Mondadori and Planeta--all celebrating their soon-to-be near-simultaneous release in 22 markets of Nefer the Silent, the first volume in Christian Jacq's four-part Stone of Light series, a followup to his previous five-volume Ramses series, which has accrued global sales of a snappy 11 million copies.

Australian-born Judith Curr, president and publisher of New York's Pocket Books, brought along advance proofs of her edition of Nefer the Silent--and will back the book's its 100,000-copy first printing in April with a $250,000 marketing campaign that includes radio and movie-slide advertising, floor displays, online promotion, even outdoor billboards. And Simon & Schuster Audio versions will follow each print release.

The same kind of talk came from Curr's Brazilian colleague Sergio Machado, of Rio's trade giant Record, whose subsidiary imprint Bertrand is doing the novels both in Brazil and Portugal, after having published Jacq's earlier Ramses cycle. Klaus Eck, head of Bertelsmann's German trade group, was able to sign up the Stone of Light series because Holtzbrinck, which had published Ramses series, passed on the new one, partly due to problems coordinating simultaneous worldwide publication, and partly due to its now publishing a somewhat competitive series by Pauline Gedge. Pocket, too, is new to the series; Warner previously published the Ramses saga in the U.S.

One key constant to Jacq's publishing history, however, is the plane charter's host, fellow Frenchman Bernard Fixot, who not only acquired the Ramses series for his then house, Laffont, but also managed to take the author, and world rights to his new series, along to his new house, XO Editions, which launched on January 1.

Everything about Fixot's career is high-flying in traditional Paris. A college dropout whose career began in a Hachette warehouse, he repped for both Hachette and Gallimard before joining the latter as a salesman and then moving up to sales and marketing director. While holding the same job at giant Hachette, Fixot founded Edition No. 1, believed to be the first publishing venture to combine print and electronic media (that was back in 1978). Later, when he ran his eponymous imprint, Editions Fixot, he founded TF 1 Editions as a joint venture with France's leading television channel. Fixot made a specialty of the first-person tearjerker. Betty Mahmoody's Not Without My Daughter was the kind of book he took up and made into a French sensation, starting the ball rolling around the world.

In 1993, Fixot's savvy captured the attention of the group that owned Robert Laffont and was looking for a replacement for the retired French blockbuster master. The arrangement included the takeover of the Fixot imprint (which is why Fixot had to devise a new one when he broke lose from the company) as well as TF1. Fixot's goal at XO is to publish a very small number of titles yearly, but to make each of them work in as many media as possible.

One of Fixot's final coups at Laffont was to drag a novel out of scenarist Marc Levy and sell it as a movie (to Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks) before placing it as a novel, under the title If Only It Were True. In the U.S., the novel went to Pocket, where it will be a May release.

But for XO, the current focus is the new Jacq release. Fixot fixed it so that Curr and her counterparts would fly over to meet Jacq, an Egyptologist who worked in the archives of the forbidden village known as the Place of Truth and then constructed a sprawling page-turner. Once on the ground, visiting publishers and press--some 120 persons in all, including spouses and consorts--got some orientation from Jacq and the director of antiquities of Luxor, site of the tombs and of the fabulous Luxor and Karnak temples. They sailed the Nile on age-old feluccas to the Valleys of the Kings and Queens and attended a closing banquet in the courtyard of the illuminated Luxor temple.

Also present was a less-talked-about guest, but one who was hardly the least important member of the group: Claude Gagniere, who convinced Jacq to write his first books, then continued to work with the trained Egyptologist/amateur writer when Gagniere was editor-in-chief of the giant France Loisirs Bertelsmann club. Although he has retired, he still works with Jacq as editorial advisor.

Lasting 'Supper'

The Book of Revelations has been the source of inspiration for a host of bestsellers, including evangelical tomes and, of course, apocalyptic novels like Tyndale's blockbuster Left Behind series.

But in the case of Scott Hahn's The Lamb's Supper, the mystical text is providing interesting new food for thought about the Host itself, as well other rituals of the Catholic mass.

Based on what publisher Doubleday can determine is only one major media appearance--on Mother Angelica's popular call-in TV show on the Eternal Word Television Network in late March--the book catapulted onto Amazon.com's Hot 100 list. Launched with a conservative 6,000 copies, The Lamb's Supper now has gone back for seven printings, for a total of 35,000 copies in print, with another 5,000 run expected at press time.

Hahn is no stranger to bestsellerdom--his debut book, Rome Sweet Home, about this formerly Protestant minister's conversation to Catholicism, has sold some 125,000 copies for Ignatious Press since it was published in 1994.

Supper won't be the last Hahn book on Doubleday's menu; the author is set to deliver Hail Mary, Holy Queen, to conclude his first two-book deal. And recently Doubleday's religious publishing v-p, Eric Major, clinched a deal for two more books. The first is tentatively titled Finding Your Family, a discussion of church community. --J.Q.

Bloomsbury USA's Big-Bucks Offer

Thanks to hit books such as Fermat's Last Theorem, narratives about mathematical problems and issues have become a hot niche market.

But in a promotional move that's perfect for today's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? crazed climate, Bloomsbury USA dramatically has upped the stakes: it's offering a whopping $1 million prize to anyone who can prove that every even number greater than two is the sum of two prime numbers--the real, centuries-old theory (posed by Prussian mathematician Christian Goldbach in 1742) that obsesses the main characters in its February release Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture, a first novel by Greek film director, computer expert and mathematician Apostolos Doxiadis.

While the publishers wanted to announce the contest in time for sell-in of the book, they ended up announcing it post-publication, on March 17. The reason? Although this math problem hasn't been cracked in more than 250 years (apparently it's hard to prove this theory into infinity), there is still a chance that it could be. Contest insurer Lloyds of London applied its odds-making and modeling methodology to the Bloomsbury book's much tougher problem.

The company decided there are indeed some mathematicians who might arrive at the solution by the contest's March 15, 2001, cutoff date; thus, to cover this possibility as well as its research costs, a five-figure policy charge was required.

The investment is worth it, said publicity director Lisa Gallagher, if only for the press the contest already has generated. --J.Q.
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