This spring Vintage, Anchor and HarperCollins are hoping to tap into the college market that propelled Dave Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius up the bestseller list, with paperback fiction published both as originals and substantially revised paperbacks. "At Vintage," said editor-in-chief Marty Asher, "the tradition of paperback originals goes all the way back to [Jay McInerney's] Bright Lights, Big City." In recent years, however, the house has most notably captured a younger market with reprints by Dave Eggers and Zadie Smith [White Teeth]. But Asher claims he's not concerned that originals won't get the same review attention as hardcovers: "Reviewers have loosened up now that Jhumpa Lahiri won the Pulitzer" for Mariner paperback original Interpreter of Maladies. Even so, he acknowledged, "We don't do a lot of originals."
Two authors published by Vintage and Anchor have already found a following among older teens and 20-somethings. Ben Marcus's Notable American Women (Vintage, Mar.), about a character also named Ben Marcus, opens with a plea from the character's father to "forget Ben Marcus and his world of lies." Shelley Jackson's Anatomy of Melancholy (Anchor, Apr.), a collection of short stories, is filled with corporeal fantasies. Children's book author and illustrator Jackson established her hip-lit credentials close to a decade ago with the publication of an early hypertext novel, The Patchwork Girl.
When Marcus toured campuses for his debut collection of nonlinear short stories, The Age of Wire and String (Knopf, 1995; Dalkey Archive, 1998), he made such a strong impression that his publicist, David Hyde, still remembers seeing Marcus read when Hyde was an undergrad. As a result, appearances by Marcus, who now teaches creative writing at Columbia University, figure heavily in Hyde's publicity strategy, although a first serial in the January issue of Harper's and a March excerpt in McSweeney's, as well as a dedicated Web site for the book (www.benmarcus.com), should also help.
With a narrative that features such oddly intriguing elements as an Intercourse Helmet, which will be on display during Marcus's talk at Barnes & Noble on Astor Place in New York City, it hasn't been hard for Hyde to come up with distinctive events. At Quimby's in Chicago, Marcus will give out Girls' Water; at Brown University Bookstore in Providence, he'll demonstrate the Promise of Stillness; and at the Community Bookstore in Brooklyn, he'll show his emotion-removal technique.
Paul Ingram of Prairie Lights in Iowa City, which is hosting Marcus and Jackson for a double reading, looks at their books as ones for "extra-smart college kids, more like graduate students. When I read the Marcus earlier this year, my jaw just dropped."
In addition to touring Marcus and Jackson together in some cities, Anchor director of publicity Jen Marshall is also working with Mammoth Records, which is releasing a new CD by Jackson's boyfriend, singer-songwriter John Wesley Harding, in May. She hopes to have the couple to do joint interviews with college newspapers, weekly alternative publications and magazines with youthful demographics, such as Jane. "Music," said Marshall, "seems to be the language that young people speak. Every college student wants to grow up to be a writer or a rock star like Shelley and Wes."
The recording industry will also play a role in Harper Perennial's Gen Y promotion for Neal Pollack, a pundit for McSweeney's, and the paperback reissue of his tongue-in-cheek spoof on the literary life, The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature: The Collected Writings of Neal Pollack (Mar.), originally published by McSweeney's Books. Harper's audio division collaborated with Chicago indie label Bloodshot Records to create a three-hour, three-CD companion audio of Pollack's The Complete Recordings (Apr.) that will be sold into regular bookstore channels. Two of the CDs will be available outside the set: the first, a live poetry slam with Pollack, will be packaged with his forthcoming Poetry and Other Poems (McSweeney's Books); another, featuring Pollack and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts satirizing Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, will be distributed by Bloodshot in music stores. Harper will cross-promote the book and the CD set with ads in each.
As for the book itself, Harper has added so much new content—10 new essays, a study guide and copious footnotes—that, Hart said, "We're treating this as a paperback original, sending out the manuscript of the paperback to reviewers." The look of the book has also changed, from the dull-blue cover adorned with an eagle and its prey on the hardcover edition—which garnered enthusiastic media coverage but moderate sales last year due to limited bookstore distribution—to a portrait of the writer as a naked old man done by Pollack's wife, Regina Allen. As Pollack described it, "It's a parody of the whole concept of paperbacks," including author photos that tend more toward literary hubris.
For publicity manager Lizz Pawlson, the challenge in publicizing the Pollack paperback has been to find a way to build on the grassroots following he developed when creating his own publicity for McSweeney's. "This guy did readings in public bathrooms and sold books out of his car," she remarks. "How do you fit this zanyness into a commercial publisher?" She started by enlisting Pollack's help in getting the word out, which he did by sending Christmas cards to each of the Harper reps.
Like Vintage, Harper is relying on Pollack's Web site, www.nealpollack.com , and an extensive 18-city tour to make Pollack a dorm-room name. Known for his supporting role in the uninhibited "hipster vaudeville" that draws large crowds to McSweeney's readings, Pollack has been so closely associated with Eggers that he's been accused of being the bestselling author's fictional alter ego. This time, he'll be doing joint readings with friends like Elizabeth McCracken and possibly Zadie Smith, as well as musicians. He will also be making a stop at this year's South by Southwest festival in Austin, Tex., a showcase for independent record companies.
It's too soon to know how well the efforts of Harper, Vintage and Anchor will pay off with book buyers. But for Timothy Huggins, owner of Newtonville Books in Newtonville, Mass., who has done some of his own cross-promoting through his Earfull music and readings series begun last fall, these books are a step in the right direction. "I really wish more publishers would start doing debut fiction in paperback original," he says. "Twenty-five dollars for a hardcover collection of short stories is too expensive."