Books on theater and film these days must crowd onto a very small stage. As Applause Books publisher Glenn Young puts it, "A performing arts publisher has to be sensitive to how much the market can absorb at one time."
An ominous symptom of today's challenges is the recent demise (reportedly for lack of membership growth) of Stage & Screen Book Club, the vehicle publishers have used to get the word out and sell books since it was founded in 1950 as the Fireside Theatre club. "I've heard publishers say with some sense of gloom that they won't publish as many trade plays," says Young, whose Glenn Young imprint at Applause features two titles by Al Hirschfeld, the late caricaturist of Broadway plays and performers: Hirschfeld: The Speakeasies of 1932 (Oct.) and Hirschfeld's Harlem (Nov.). "It used to be," Young tells PW, "that Stage & Screen might take 2,000 copies of a new play, but it was nevertheless hard for a publisher to make a profit on that. Even so, the fallout from what happened to Stage & Screen will play a significant part in our industry."
Dismal signs loom elsewhere as well. "We've all been watching library sales decline in the last couple of years," says James Peltz, editor-in-chief at State University of New York Press, which published Remaking the Frankenstein Myth on Film: Between Laughter and Horror by Caroline Joan S. Picart in July and will release Bad: Infamy, Darkness, Evil and Slime on Screen, edited by Murray Pomerance, in January. "But at the same time, film and media books have become a big area of study. I think academic circles provide a growth area." Also due in January are two additional film studies—Peter Biskind explores the new Hollywood in Down and Dirty Pictures: Robert Redford, Miramax and the Improbable Rise of Independent Film (S&S), while Joshua Hirsch shows how films attempt to embody and reproduce the unthinkable in Afterimage: Film, Trauma and the Holocaust (Temple Univ. Press, Jan.).
Booksellers agree that academics and professionals comprise the lion's share of the audience for serious theater and film books. Rozanne Seelen, owner of New York City's Drama Book Shop, remarks cheerfully, "We sell tools of the trade. Actors need plays for auditions or for class. Since we moved [in December 2001], we've expanded in some areas. We're in the garment area, so we've increased our stock of costume books. I'd say that 95% of our sales are to professionals. We have over 50,000 titles in our computer covering the current inventory of what's in print."
Treading the Boards
According to Mel Zerman, president of Limelight Editions, "Movie books sell better than stage books, but what sells best for us, without question, are instructional books. Those are the mainstay of our backlist." Zerman cites Accents: A Manual for Actors by Robert Blumenfeld, which was issued two years ago in a revised and expanded edition with two CDs for performers seeking to perfect ethnic intonations.
"Much to our surprise there is an endless need for monologues," says Marisa Smith Kraus, publisher of Smith and Kraus, which publishes up to 40 titles a year specializing in scenes, monologues and professional instruction. "We also found a bit of a hole for books designed for younger actors." For the older set, Smith and Kraus this month publishes Provoking Theater: Kama Ginkas Directs by Russian director Ginkas and John Freeman and Acts of Courage: Vaclav Havel's Life in the Theater by Carol Rocamora. About the former Smith says, "It gets down to the very roots of directing, which really comes down to an exploration of life." Of the latter she notes, "This is one of my favorite books we've ever published. No one else has looked at Havel's life in the theater to understand why he is the only playwright ever to become president of a country." Aspiring directors can also pick up Notes on Directing (RCR Creative Press, Sept.) by Frank Hauser and Russell Reich.
"Plays fall into two basic categories," says Applause's Young. "There is the memento market, which is what our book on the musical Hairspray falls into. The other is a book that deepens the theatrical experience. You might not fully understand a play by Tom Stoppard or David Mamet with one sitting, so you might want to read it. Golda's Balcony by Bill Gibson is a new one-person play about Golda Meir, but the protagonist isn't such a simple person. Reading the play underscores her personal and political dilemmas."
"We've had great success with plays," says Linda Rosenthal, Faber and Faber associate publisher. "Wit [by Margaret Edson], Proof [by David Auburn], which both won Pulitzers, and [last year's Tony-winner] Take Me Out [by Richard Greenberg] all did well for us." The FSG affiliate will publish a number of upcoming plays, including off-Broadway's extremely successful Our Lady of 121st Street by Stephen Adly Guirgis.
Back Stage Books, the Watson-Guptill imprint newly revitalized after three and a half moribund years, is led by senior editor Mark Glubke. "We'll be doing seven to 10 books a season," he says. "Since we're tied to the Back Stage newspaper, it makes sense that books for actors remain a core of our list. Acting books always work. The U.S. today has 100,000 union-member actors, and 50% of them get out after three years because they can't make a living. With a 50% turnover every three years, large numbers of people are always coming into the profession looking for new books. Individual plays are a risky business, though. We'll be doing anthologies, like next spring's Selected Plays of Arthur Laurents. His plays have never been published in an anthology before." Elsewhere, Overlook Press is both gathering plays, in The Collected Plays of Edward Albee: Volume 1: 1958—1965 (Feb.), and releasing single works such as Albee's The Play About the Baby(Jan.).
At Theatre Communications Group, publications v-p Terry Nemeth reports, "We're putting both plays of Angels in America by Tony Kushner into one volume for the first time to tie in with Mike Nichols's HBO presentation." (TCG has already sold more than 350,000 copies of Kushner's acclaimed plays in paper since 1993.) This month TCG released The New American Musical: An Anthology from the End of the Century, edited by Wiley Hausam. "There's been nothing like this in quite a while," says Nemeth. "It celebrates a whole group of artists who are known but who haven't yet found big Broadway success." The assembled musicals—known chiefly to music theater devotees—include Floyd Collins, Rent, Parade and Michael John LaChiusa's The Wild Party.
Faber and Faber's lead title this fall is also musical-oriented—Colored Lights: Forty Years of Words and Music, Show Biz, Collaboration and All That Jazz (Nov.) by John Kander and Fred Ebb, as told to Greg Lawrence, is presented as a dialogue between the creators of Chicago, Cabaret and other Broadway and Hollywood hits. "They talk about how they came to music as kids," says F&F's Linda Rosenberg. "The chapters focus on different shows and what was happening around them, making it a history of the American musical theater." Past musicals are also remembered in The Impossible Musical: The "Man of La Mancha" Story (Applause, Nov.) by the show's book writer Dale Wasserman; Jerry Herman: The Lyrics (Routledge, Oct.) by Hello Dolly!'s Herman and Ken Bloom; and Everything Was Possible: The Birth of the Musical "Follies" (Knopf, Oct.) by Ted Chapin.
Speaking of Kander and Ebb, Chicago: The Movie and Lyrics was a big book this year for Newmarket, which continues to tighten its grip on film companion books and movie scripts. Upcoming in its Shooting Script line are Pieces of April by Peter Hedges, Sylvia by John Brownlow and In America by Jim Sheridan. Publisher Esther Margolis points out that books such as these—as well as pictorial books like Cold Mountain: The Journey from Book to Film (Dec.) by Dan Aulier and The Alamo: The Illustrated Story of the Epic Film (Dec.) by Frank Thompson—have several lives. Published when the film comes out, they receive another sales boost when the DVD appears. "Retailers would benefit if they'd market film books with DVDs," Margolis remarks. "DVD sales can outgross theater box office." The promotion-minded executive reports that this month Newmarket is offering some of its scripts in value-priced boxed sets. "A lot of people want to write screenplays, and our scripts are being used in schools more and more," she says.
Insiders' views of this art enlighten Schmucks with Underwoods: Conversations with America's Classic Screenwriters (Applause, Dec.) by Max Wilk, while more concrete instruction is offered by Hot Property: Screenwriting in the New Hollywood (Berkley, Aug.) by Christopher Keane and Lew Hunter's Screenwriting 434: The Industry's Premier Teacher Reveals the Secrets of the Successful Screenplay (Perigee, May 2004) by Lew Hunter. Jeffrey Scott takes a more specialized tack in How to Write for Animation (Overlook, June).
On the Silver Screen
Where there are movies, of course, there are fans—lots of them. At Andrews McMeel, a 200,000-copy first printing is planned for Now Showing: Unforgettable Moments from the Movies (Nov.) by Joe Garner. "He selects 25 particular moments that we remember," says editorial director Chris Schillig, "and the book is accompanied by a DVD that doesn't just parrot what's in the book. It's a mini-chapter all by itself." Performing arts books, if not a major part of AM's list, are always a staple, says Schillig. "It's a category we're very comfortable with because it has a dedicated audience."
Romance has played a pivotal role in films since the days of Vilma Banky and Ramon Novarro. Two early 2004 titles are just the, er, ticket for cinephiles of an amorous bent: A Kiss Is a Kiss Is a Kiss... A Celebration of Romance—Hollywood Style (Hylas, Jan.) by Lauretta Dives and Reel Romance: The Lover's Guide to the 100 Best Date Movies (Taylor, Feb.) by Leslie Halpern. Movie love that could only recently begin to speak its name is covered in Fabulous!: A Loving, Luscious and Lighthearted Look at Film from the Gay Perspective (Broadway, Jan.) by Donald F. Reuter.
Those who like blood with their popcorn can get Fangoria's 101 Best Horror Movies You've Never Seen: A Celebration of the World's Most Unheralded Fright Flicks (Three Rivers, Sept.) by Adam Lukeman; Fangoria Magazine; Beyond Horror Holocaust: A Deeper Shade of Red (Fantasma, Oct., Biblio dist.) by Chas Balun; and Edge of Your Seat: The 100 Greatest Movie Thrillers (Citadel, Oct.) by Douglas Brode.
Puzzled about what DVD to rent? Check out the additional critiques found in such comprehensive tomes as ReelViews: The Ultimate Guide to the Best 1000 Modern Movies on DVD and Video (Justin, Charles & Co., Aug.) by James Berardinelli; the 12th edition of the Time Out Film Guide (Nov.), containing more than 15,000 film reviews written over the course of 35 years; and Leonard Maltin's 2004 Movie and Video Guide (Plume), by the film critic who's become something of a household name and media personality.
Movie books are frequently promoted as holiday gift items, a market that Bulfinch hopes to tap into with this month's release of a lavishly illustrated profile. Judy Garland: A Portrait in Art & Anecdote by John Fricke "isn't a biography of Judy. It's a biography of her career," says editor Karyn Gerhard. "All that's been written about her life has eclipsed why she became the legend she is." Of the book's more than 400 photos, fully 85% have not been seen before, says Gerhard. "The other unique element to this book is that John Fricke fleshed out her career with remembrances from people who knew and worked with her, from Munchkins to hairstylists, directors, actors, musicians and other singers."
Conceding that bookselling has witnessed a rough patch lately, Gerhard remains optimistic. "One of the great things about films is that they are constantly being introduced to new audiences. That's why there will always be a market for this kind of book, as long as it is tempered with the right material." Other photo-rich books pitched for gift-giving are 75 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards (Abbeville, Sept.) by Robert Osborne; Audrey Hepburn: An Elegant Spirit (Atria, Oct.) by Sean Hepburn Ferrer; Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema (Abrams, Nov.) by Jeffrey Vance; and Bond Girls Are Forever (Abrams, Nov.) by John Cork and Maryam d'Abo (herself an actress and Bond girl).
Houghton Mifflin has developed a burgeoning franchise with its Lord of the Ring tie-ins, which continues apace with the December release of the trilogy's final film, The Return of the King. Two of the newest Hobbit-forming titles (with 150,000-copy first printings in paper) are The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Visual Companion (Nov.) by Jude Fisher and The Lord of the Rings: Weapons and Warfare (Nov.) by Chris Smith with John Howe. Norton is seizing a similar opportunity presented by the Russell Crowe film directed by Peter Weir with November tie-in editions of Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander and The Far Side of the World and The Making of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World by Tom McGregor.
If these books are helpful as reference resources, even more vital statistics are collected in The Science Fiction Film Reader (Limelight, Nov.), edited by Gregg Rickmann; The Encyclopedia of Westerns (Aug.) by Herb Fagen; and The Encyclopedia of War Movies: The Complete Guide to Movies About Wars of the 20th Century (Jan.) by Robert Davenport, the last two from Facts on File's Checkmark Books. "Film fans who are interested in a specific genre like to know everything about it," says James Chambers, Checkmark's editor-in-chief, arts and humanities. "They can refamiliarize themselves with movies they've seen and may have forgotten, and they can learn about films they haven't seen."
"I want to do more reference books at Back Stage because they backlist very, very well," says Mark Glubke. "Next spring's The City & the Theatre: The History of New York Playhouses—A 250-Year Journey from Bowling Green to Times Square by historian Mary Henderson was first published in 1973, and this updated edition should sell for a long time to come." The variety of stage and screen interests is reflected in these upcoming titles: Lorca: Living in the Theatre (Peter Owen, Oct., Dufour dist.) by Gwynne Edwards; The Girls in the Big Picture: New Voices from Ulster Theatre (Blackstaff, Oct., Dufour dist.); Once upon a Time in China: A Guide to Hong Kong, Chinese and Taiwanese Cinema (Atria, Nov.) by Jeff Yang; and, for tyros in pursuit of next year's box office sleepers, Filmmaking for Dummies (Wiley, July) by Bryan Michael Stoller.
With such a broad spectrum of vibrant theater and film titles to choose from, a comment from Young at Applause seems particularly apt. "Our books," he says, "perform on a stage just as alive as the one on Broadway. What film or stage designer's budget can match the resources of our imaginations with a book in our hands? And our productions don't post closing notices. The only catastrophe for us is the blackout, and then we need only wait for our lighting designer to show up again. There's no business like the show book business."