One of the most commonly held beliefs—not to say oft-heard whines—about contemporary big-house publishing is that nobody nurtures authors anymore and that if an author's first book or two don't sell well, the publisher will soon sign off. Its corollary, of course, is that houses fight tooth and nail to keep authors who make money for them: witness the furious wrangling that went on when Ann Godoff left Random House and her more successful authors were suddenly "in play." And no wonder: Wired editor Chris Anderson revealed here last week the disturbing statistic that fewer than 500 books sell more than 100,000 copies in a typical year; when you've got a winner, you'd better hold on, right?

So the news last week that Adriana Trigiani, bestselling author of a number of extremely successful "women's novels," jumped from Random House to Harper, in a three-book deal worth over $3 million, was more than a little surprising. Trigiani is big business for Random: according to Nielsen BookScan, just one paperback version of just one of her books, Big Stone Gap, has sold over 400,000 copies since its release in 2001, and this doesn't include Wal-Mart, where the book has also been stocked; other reports suggest Random has shipped more than one million copies in various editions. And yet, Random stepped aside and let the suitors—including Harper; Little, Brown; and Putnam—pitch and woo. Why?

This being publishing, we're quick to find the fool. Some suggest Random made a mistake in letting such a golden goose go; others say that Trigiani and her agent, Suzanne Gluck, were "disloyal," aka "too demanding," of Random, money-wise. But maybe there's less story here than meets the eye: is it possible that this is a situation in which everybody wins?

First, Harper's side. Even at $1 million a book—though that figure, surprisingly, doesn't include foreign rights, only audio—the house may well make money on Trigiani: even if her hardcovers sell "only" as well as 2005's Rococo, which Nielsen BookScan reports has sold more than 40,000 copies, she is, by all accounts, a book group staple and paperback phenomenon. And don't forget the woman's amazing gift for promotion; surely Jonathan Burnham, the newish Harper head who is himself no stranger to razzle-dazzle, is factoring in her tireless book-clubbing and reading and greeting, all of which move books. As for Random, which retains paperback rights to the first books and will surely benefit sales-wise when Big Stone Gap finally becomes a movie (deal now in the works), I wouldn't be sending them any Kleenex—like an abandoned first wife, the house is doing pretty well in the settlement department: it's called "backlist."

As for the loyalty questions, it seems to me there's another way of looking at this, too. Yes, Trigiani has left her first love and is hooking up with someone new. But like the classic divorced husband who turns up with a new wife who looks just like the old one, she is also returning to the known. Her new editor at Harper is none other than Lee Boudreaux, to whom she gave the best years of her life at Random.

Who says you can't go home again?

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