One of my favorite little corollaries to one of my favorite little screeds about how we should publish fewer books in any given year is the idea that we should also publish more in paperback original. After all, in many European and Asian markets, most books are published only in softcover, and while many of those markets are smaller than ours, the sell-through is often better. Besides, paperbacks are cheaper than hardcover, and many studies have shown that price is an important issue in bookbuyers' minds. While it is true that more and more American publishers have begun paperback original programs, there is still some stigma here: authors prefer the grown-ups' table that is hardcover publishing; review media tend to privilege hardcover over paper when it comes to allotting space; and—oh, yeah—the publisher stands to make far less on each paperback vs. hardcover sale. (A rule of thumb from one publisher: a house makes about $1—$2 for paper; three to five times that for hardcover.) So it looks like Hardcovers First is a philosophy that will continue to prevail here. The most optimistic publishers say that you can learn a lot from the hardcover publication—about jackets, about audience, about promotion—and adjust the process when it comes time for paperback; in other words, they say, the system we have is the best way to give a worthy book two shots at success.

I've always been a little skeptical of that philosophy, even in the face of runaway paperback hits of middlingly successful hardcovers (The Kite Runner), but I recently came upon a book for which I have a feeling—or at least a hope—that it's true. Rich Cohen's Sweet and Low, released last week by Picador, is at least as good as PW's review of last year's FSG hardcover said it was: a wonderful memoir by the grandson of the Brooklyn businessman who invented the sugar substitute, it is also a mini-history of New York City, the food industry and American culture, as well as a paean to Jewish immigrant families of the 20th century. It's also about a family suffering from deep financial and personal estrangements among its members. And it's funny.

In hardcover, according to Nielsen BookScan, Sweet and Low sold a respectable but not astonishing 15,000 copies. Picador's announced first printing for the paperback is 50,000. Optimistic? Maybe, but you need only look at our paperback facts and figures story this week (p. 36) to see some precedents. The Memory Keeper's Daughter, for example, has sold over a million copies in paper, far more than it ever sold in hardcover. Sweet and Lowprobably isn't, well, sweet enough to have that kind of mass book-club appeal, but with its graphic-novelish jacket (interestingly, unchanged from the original hardcover), $14 price tag and its privileged-scion-confronts-his-family theme, it's poised for Eggers-ish or Sean Wilsey—like success with the college-age and 20-something crowd. "It's kind of like a Jewish McSweeney's title," one editor who has read it opined.

Or as Rich Cohen's grandfather would surely have put it, but in Yiddish—From that editor's mouth, to God's ear.

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