Last BEA, Putnam had the thriller to grab: Retribution (Jan. 5), a debut by Jilliane Hoffman, a former Florida assistant state attorney. Acquired in a seven-figure, two-book deal that coincided with an international rights frenzy and a million-dollar movie option, the book drew hundreds of booksellers to the booth.

Early reviews have praised this graphic serial killer/courtroom thriller for its skillful writing and legal expertise, though the PW review (as well as some of the booksellers we later contacted) found the ending far-fetched. In any case, bookseller and media awareness of the title is high, and Putnam is planning a 165,000-copy first printing "that's driven by accounts—we're not forcing this out," according to senior v-p and publishing director Dan Harvey.

Backed by both chains and independents, it also has the support of the major book clubs. "What will make it work is that it has a triumphant female," said Barnes & Noble fiction buyer Sessalee Hensley. "She starts out as a victim, but isn't one in the end." Though Hensley compared the "law and order aspect" of the book to Linda Fairstein, the level of terror it evoked put her in mind of Karin Slaughter. Hensley's plan to position the book at the front of B&N stores, with the jacket on a stanchion, is based on her confidence in Putnam's ability to get reviews and to get the word out via radio ads. Borders buyer Dan Mayer is also "taking a big stand," featuring the title at front-of-store and discounting it. For him, Hoffman's serial killer was as creepy as Hannibal Lechter. Retribution is also Book Sense's #3 pick for January/February, a main selection of the Literary Guild and the Book-of-the-Month Club, and is the fourth title to become International Book-of-the-Month.

As Harvey pointed out, debut thrillers "cannot work unless the house almost becomes obsessed with them. It's almost a force of will." Here's a look at how Putnam is backing the book:

  • An early January pub date appealed because "it's a time when people are cashing in their exchanges and looking for new books," Harvey said. But Hoffman's debut will be up against The Kills (Scribner, Jan. 13), the latest novel by Linda Fairstein, who has set the standard for this subgenre.

  • A four-color brochure for booksellers played up the rights frenzy over the book, which has sold in eight countries, and to Warner Bros./John Wells Productions for film development. Bookseller blurbs and a letter from the author rounded out the package.

  • To boost early buzz, manuscripts were routed to children's, paperback and ID sales reps in addition to the adult hardcover reps who actually sold the book.

  • At BEA, a double-page full-color ad in the PW Show Daily promoted the 2,000 copies waiting at the Putnam booth.

  • A total of 10,000 advance reading copies gave the house the latitude to do a full Book Sense mailing, a campaign to B&N and Borders store managers, and outreach to big mouths outside the business.

  • Pre-pub author appearances at regional trade shows and dinners allowed booksellers to get to know Hoffman.

  • A six-month postcard campaign aimed at the media and booksellers, along with a two-page pre-pub ad in PW, kept the book on the radar.

  • In a two-stage consumer ad campaign, Putnam plans to follow up its initial print ads with 30-second national radio spots after the book shows some momentum. "We want to use the reach of radio to hammer in the name of book and stamp it as a must-read," said Harvey.

  • While national media is not yet confirmed, Hoffman will take a15-city author tour throughout January. According to publicity director Steve Oppenheim, "lots of local media is filling in everywhere, especially in [her home state] Florida."