Movies help sell books. Right? Ingram's database lists more than 500 tie-ins from just the last two years, with multiple titles for each film or TV show. But there's no one-size-fits-all prescription for a successful tie-in, other than a mega-blockbuster film aimed at teenagers. So is wrapping tie-in art around a paperback really the best way to spur sales? In exploring that question with publishers and retailers, we've uncovered some recent trends.

Do Literary Readers Resist Tie-ins?

"Elmore Leonard once said the best that could happen is that Hollywood buys your book and then never makes it into a movie," said Robert Segedy, head buyer for McIntyre's Fine Books in Pittsboro, N.C. "That way you get the money, but they don't screw up your story." For Segedy, who mostly caters to an over-30 female clientele, movie tie-in art can derail a title with a good sales record. "With tie-ins, Hollywood has branded the book. It's still the same inside, but psychologically, it just doesn't speak to my customers anymore," he said, noting that sales can decline even though the film raises general awareness of a title.

Margaret Maupin, head buyer for the Tattered Cover in Denver agreed: "Our customers don't want to see Gwyneth Paltrow on the cover of A.S. Byatt's Possession. They'd rather have the original so they feel they discovered it themselves, not because they saw a movie."

On the other hand, both booksellers freely admit that it depends on the type of book. Maupin suggests that a tie-in for a thriller like Thomas Harris's Red Dragon wouldn't cause a fuss because it's "more of a mass market book anyway." But Possession won the Booker Prize and "was a beloved original cover," she pointed out.

Does this spell doom for tie-ins aimed at upscale readers? Not for Frida, Hayden Herrera's densely nuanced biography, which was the source for the current Miramax film. Perennial put actress Salma Hayek on the cover in place of the Kahlo self-portrait that adorned the original. The move made sense to Susan Weinberg, senior v-p and editorial director for Harper Collins and Perennial because "it was an art film, and was done seriously. Also, Salma Hayek seems to become Frida. You know she's an actress, but somehow you feel you're looking at the actual person."

With The End of the Affair (Penguin), the tie-in edition helped resuscitate a backlist title with solid literary credentials. The Graham Greene novel "had been around for decades, but we had a major sales increase with the tie-in," said Robert Teicher, a fiction buyer for Borders. "We took a strong stance—brought in a lot of inventory and merchandised it—and it paid off."

In some cases, the tie-in art has become a permanent fixture. Seven years after the movie came out, Dead Man Walking (Vintage) still features Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn on the cover, even though it's a nonfiction book written by the character Sarandon plays in the film, Sister Helen Prejean. Sarandon also adorns the cover of Anywhere but Here (Vintage), Mona Simpson's revered mother/daughter novel, long after the movie's 1999 release. "It has achieved a stable backlist sales rate and holds very steady," said Ingram's Nancy Stewart. As long as the sales hold up, publishers don't necessarily feel the need to go back to the original. Frida is "getting a good response now, so we'll watch what happens after the movie is over," Weinberg said.

The Rise of Dual Editions

While Segedy and Maupin are clearly responding to the needs of their particular clienteles, they also may be on to a larger trend that is touching the large chains as well. "A shrewd publisher will bring out a movie tie-in, but also maintain the regular edition," said Borders's Teicher. "There is a market for both; I have sales figures to back that up. I highly encourage them to do that even more."

Last summer, Harper's mass market division published a tie-in edition of Rebecca Wells's The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, even though the original trade edition "did mass market numbers," according to Weinberg. "We felt the movie was the perfect opportunity to do a mass market edition to get the widest possible audience," she said. The tie-in edition sported the movie's distinctive sunflower artwork, while the iconic leaping girl remained on the trade edition. "There was such a good feeling with the original art that we figured people would continue to want it," explained Weinberg.

When a successful trade title is made into a movie, creating a mass market tie-in edition can help get an author into venues like WalMart, airports and supermarkets. But previous sales, the expected size of the movie and, of course, the potential audience also come into play. "Not all movie tie-ins are good candidates for supermarket distribution," said Liz Perl, Riverhead marketing v-p. "You ask yourself: will it fly at the checkout or is the audience mainly in the book venues?"

While the rack-size format remains viable, publishers and distributors noted that its real estate is shrinking as trade and even hardcover titles are being stocked in more venues. For example, Costco is moving away from mass market altogether as it caters to the kind of upscale consumers who have made it the nation's number one wine retailer. "The trade market has grown so dramatically over the last few years, it is hard to say with absolute certainty that people will go directly to mass market," said Ingram's Stewart. Weinberg agreed, explaining that trade often makes more sense. "It's a higher price and a strong segment," she said.

But for many paperback publishers, staying with the trade paperback format doesn't always mean replacing the original jacket with key art. "We frequently keep both the original and movie tie-ins out at the same time," said Perl, noting that each edition usually has its own ISBN. "In the past, publishers were more apt to temporarily ditch the original for the tie-in, but it's confusing and you lose some of your core audience," said Perl.

So how do sales of multiple trade editions compare? "When we have two editions, overall sales are always higher than for single editions. Every time we've done it, we've benefited," Perl said. When reporting to the bestseller lists, retailers have combined sales of the different trade ISBNs without confusion, according to Perl, as have many lists.

At the northeast regional wholesaler Koen, children's buyer Lisa Dugan reported that she had found markets for three different trade editions of Tuck Everlasting: the movie tie-in, the original and a special 25th-anniversary edition. In that case, the original sold nearly three-to-one over the tie-in, with the anniversary edition somewhere in between. Teicher's figures for Borders, however, generally swing the other way: "The tie-in tends to sell four times as many as the original when they're out together." Perl added that the tie-in gets a big push at the beginning, but "as time goes on, they begin to tag team: one slows down and the other picks up."

High Fidelity and About a Boy (both Riverhead) have continued to sell well in both editions even after their respective movies have left theaters. "With About a Boy, some of that is from the DVD release. Hugh Grant also has a new movie coming, so his face is out there, " said Perl. "But neither High Fidelity nor John Cusack have been in the news recently, and we're still selling the tie-in. Both editions of both Hornby titles are rating spectacularly well, and many retailers make a point of stocking both."

Ingram's Stewart echoes that logic even more broadly: "The more successful tie-ins are ones where they leave everything in print." Though, she observes, "it gets cloudy when there are lots of formats available—hardcover, mass market, quality paperback. They do kind of eat into each other to some extent." While she admits it can be difficult to discern a trend, the cannibalization might not be as pronounced in dual trade editions: "A Beautiful Mind [Touchstone] did well in both trade editions, though the tie-in did better."

Even more difficult to figure is the effect on book sales of a movie that flops. Sean Desmond's Adams Fall (St. Martin's) was retitled match the movie title, Abandon, and had modest sales, according to Stewart, even after the Katie Holmes thriller tanked at the box office this past fall. The same was true for books that inspired the box office duds Captain Corelli's Mandolin (by Louis De Bernieres, Vintage) and The Emperor's Club (based on the short story "The Palace Thief" by Ethan Canin, from Picador).

Books that already have a steady rate of backlist sales tend to do better, even when a film falters. White Oleander (Back Bay) has been a smash tie-in even though the movie topped out under $17 million (roughly equivalent to Harry Potter's take for three showings on opening weekend). "We started selling it when the trailers commenced, and it just mushroomed during the opening," said Borders's Teicher. "It was a good-selling title that has been permanently elevated as a result of the movie. It has very long legs."

Similarly, the tie-in edition of Prozac Nation (Riverhead) hit bestseller lists last spring, eight years after its initial hardcover publication—even though the movie never came out. Despite the lack of media hoopla, "the art was so winning—a striking picture of Christina Ricci—that it worked even without the movie," said Riverhead's Perl. Nearly a year after the tie-in's publication, Miramax is reportedly planning a limited March release. Either way, Riverhead is doing well with both trade editions. And while not every book will be destined for similar success, it's a promising development all the same.