Publishers' hype fails to translate into sales

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The Independent Online
BOOK PUBLISHERS have wasted hundreds of thousands of pounds on expensive summer promotional campaigns which have flopped.

Titles that have failed to impress the nation's book-buyers include Turn of the Century by American first novelist Kurt Andersen, Ladies' Man, the debut from John Ramster, Starcrossed by newspaper columnist AA Gill and A Certain Age by the former American bratpack author Tama Janowitz.

Of the heavily hyped books, only one has enjoyed any real success: the autobiography of football manager Sir Alex Ferguson has sold well.

One of the few books that has sold well over the summer is Chris Stewart's homage to Andalusia, Driving Over Lemons, which had almost nothing spent on its promotion.

Published by Sort Of Books, and telling the story of Mr Stewart's exploits as he attempts to go native, it has sold more than 4,600 copies.

The publisher Headline paid a six-figure sum for the novel Turn of the Century, billed as the big "millennial read" and a futuristic satire on the "infotainment" industry along the lines of Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities.

But less than 1,000 hardback copies were sold this summer despite a huge marketing campaign, a UK visit by its author and generally favourable press coverage.

Hartley Moorhouse, marketing manager of Books etc., suggested that the cover price of pounds 17.99 for a hardback first novel of 700 pages from a relative unknown was ultimately offputting.

However, even those books launched as paperback originals or trade paperbacks - the large and increasingly popular strong-cover format - have failed to catch on as hoped.

According to Patrick Janson-Smith, AA Gill's publisher at Doubleday, summer sales of only 1,400 in trade paperback for Starcrossed will be followed by a stronger uptake for the mass-market paperback because the author already has a large following among fans of his regular newspaper column.

The book's publication was accompanied by festival appearances, numerous interviews and reviews, a nomination for the annual Bad Sex Awards and a launch party attended by the likes of Jeremy Clarkson and Tara Palmer- Tomkinson.

But Mr Janson-Smith suggests that Starcrossed may have been the victim of an unfortunate association with the film Notting Hill because of its plot, which concerns a love affair between a man who works in a book shop and a film star.

Bloomsbury, publisher of A Certain Age, also insisted it was happy with sales figures that saw the book enter the top 5,000 titles in the general retail market for just one week. The company paid only pounds 14,000 for the novel. Ms Janowitz also came to Britain to boost publicity for the book's launch.

Her sixth novel, A Certain Age is a satire about a 32-year-old female New Yorker's hunt for a suitable partner. But it received mixed reviews and, according to Nicholas Clee of The Bookseller, the author, who gained fame as a contemporary of Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney, could be in need of a relaunch herself, having lost some of her original following.

Little, Brown was reported to have paid pounds 250,000 at the time of last year's Frankfurt Book Fair for John Ramster's first novel Ladies' Man, but the paperback, which was priced at pounds 9.99, sold less than 1,300 over the summer months.

The comic story of the struggle for identity of a gay man who falls in love with a woman after three years as her best friend has been labelled "cliched and self-congratulatory", despite the campaigning hype that surrounded its launch.

However, according to Hartley Moorhouse, the novel performed comparatively well in the London market and at airport book shops.


The hype: "Kurt Andersen, an acclaimed cultural commentator, has written an unmissable novel for an age of extreme capitalism, playful, knowing and lightning sharp, essential reading for anyone who wants to know where we are at as we dip our toes in the 21st century. As big as the next century, this is a novel of real life at the giddy, anxious end of the millennium."

The reality: Sold fewer than 1,000 copies.


The hype: "Simon says his problem is he only falls in love with best friends - the rest of the world does not compare. His great gift is he understands the workings of a woman's mind. An original and comic angle on how men love, by turns startlingly earthy and unexpectedly touching, this is a tremendous debut novel from an outstanding new voice ... warm, witty and honest."

The reality: Sold fewer than 1,300 copies.


The hype: "Tama Janowitz created a literary sensation with her first book about New York and its slaves. Now she returns with a wickedly funny and glisteningly dark novel that takes as its subject our current obsession with conspicuous consumption - especially in the form of one very misguided young woman, desperate to secure a mate and a certain lifestyle."

The reality: Entered top 5,000 titles for only one week.


The hype: "A forthright, revealing and hugely entertaining book by a man at the very heart of football: Alex Ferguson. Managing My Life will become a talking point for everybody interested in football. Hugh McIlvanney has worked closely with Alex Ferguson, helping him to rekindle his memories and making sure no area of interest has been omitted."

The reality: A success, selling nearly 18,000 copies.


The hype: "Like Byron, John Dart, poet and bookshop assistant, wakes up one morning and finds himself, if not quite famous, then the next best thing: in bed with someone famous. Is fame the beauty parlour of the dead? Can the gods fall in love? Should a poet fuck with his muse? In his dazzling new novel A A Gill flirts with capricious destiny and hitch-hikes on the boulevard of fate."

The reality: Sold 1,400.


The hype: "Aged 17 Chris retired as the drummer of Genesis and launched a career as a sheep shearer and travel writer. Had he become a big-time rock star he might never have moved with his wife, Ana, to a remote mountain farm in Andalucia. Driving Over Lemons is that rare thing: a funny insightful book that charms you from the first page to the last."

The reality: Sold 4,600, despite virtually nothing being spent on its promotion.