Selling a second novel can be like climbing Mt. Everest all over again. And if the first book was a hit, it can be even harder, as author, publisher and bookseller confront steep expectations.

Tracy Chevalier's first novel, Girl with a Pearl Earring, was a publishing phenomenon that grew by word of mouth from a 17,500 first printing to a bestseller with more than one million hardcover and paperback copies in print, according to Dutton publicity director Lisa Johnson. Her new novel, Falling Angels, has met with mixed advance reviews in both PW (Forecasts, July 30) and Kirkus, though Booklist has called it "accomplished and powerful." But so far, Chevalier seems poised to sidestep any drop-off in critical esteem. Booksellers in stores where Chevalier toured for the January 2001 paperback launch of Girl with a Pearl Earring are eagerly awaiting her second appearance.

Nancy Quinn of Harry M. Schwartz in Milwaukee, one of the early enthusiasts for Girl, exulted, "I'm beside myself with excitement" about Chevalier's return. "People trusted us when we recommended Girl with a Pearl Earring. That book showed how valid our recommendation is," she told PW. "I was excited to go back to Dutton [about the new book] and say, 'We want to help create Tracy Chevalier as a novelist.'" She feels confident that the more than 200 people who attended Chevalier's first appearance will flock to the store again, especially since Chevalier—"a fabulous reader," according to Quinn—tantalized them by reading several passages from Falling Angels.

The new work, another historical novel, is set in London at the turn of the last century. Alternating voices propel a plot that dramatizes class differences, the fight for women's suffrage and changing social mores. At Book Passage in Corte Madeira, Calif., events coordinator Paul Herman echoed the praise about Chevalier's "wonderful" speaking abilities and predicted that fans of Girl will turn out in droves. According to Dana Gilligan at Book Ends in Ridgewood, N.J., Chevalier's second appearance there will assuredly boost her popularity.

But all three booksellers note one essential element in the timing of Chevalier's second tour: no one will have read the book beforehand, whereas many had already read Girl in hardcover when Chevalier promoted the paperback. In sending her out on an eight-day blitz around Falling Angel's October 15 pub date, Dutton is banking on readers' loyalty to the author, rather than their familiarity with the new work.

Chevalier's reputation is well founded. Girl with a Pearl Earring continues to rank high on paperback bestseller lists across the country, still benefiting from initial enthusiasm at independents, selection by Barnes & Noble for the Discover Great New Authors program and the 2000 Discover Award for the best debut book. Reading groups adopted it in droves, ALA selected it as one of 10 best books for young adults in 2000 and BookSense also got on board. A "drop dead" review in Time was another bonanza, according to Johnson. She cited Girl as a book that was "made the old-fashioned way, by great reviews and incredible word of mouth with booksellers and the media."

Dutton is counting on a similar buildup of excitement for Falling Angels, and has plenty of coverage lined up. "I can't say that the advance reviews have made our job any harder or made a difference in our plans," Johnson said. Chevalier will be the subject of a cover interview for Book Page in October. Elle has picked her book as one of three to win its inaugural Elle Letters Reader's Prize, and Talk will feature it as one of the top 10 reads of the season. Mademoiselle, More, Marie Claire, O magazine, People, Time and YM "are all on board," Johnson said.

Bookstores, however, will have work to do at the grassroots. "Last time, we made Girl with a Pearl Earring the subject of a massive book discussion group," Gilligan said. She intends to stimulate interest by alerting 14 book groups sponsored by a local college and sending an announcement to about 15 local public libraries.

Quinn at Harry M. Schwartz is also relying on reading groups to spark enthusiasm, especially since Falling Angels is again concerned with women's rights, a subject that readers of Girl found provocative. She foresees lively sales through the holiday season and beyond.

At Book Passage, Herman will utilize the store newsletter (circulation: 45,000) and the book group coordinator will notify members about the book by e-mail. "We did so well with her first book that her name alone will boost sales this time," he said.