`Wimpy Kid,' `Heroes of Olympus' among fall books
NEW YORK (AP) -- The books arriving this fall face a radically different market from just a year ago.
The Borders chain is going out of business, shutting down hundreds of stores, and millions more e-book devices have been sold. Some publishers say e-books are now 20 percent of overall sales or higher, more than double from 2010. Even J.K. Rowling has gone digital, and will soon offer e-editions of the "Harry Potter" books through her Pottermore website.
But the season's biggest selling title may be available only the old-fashioned way. "The Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever," the seventh of Jeff Kinney's series about the trials of schoolboy Greg Heffley, arrives in November with an announced first printing of over 6 million copies and, so far, no plans for an e-book.
The print run is greater than the combined totals for two other likely blockbusters: Rick Riordan's "Heroes of Olympus" (3 million copies) and Christopher Paolini's "Inheritance" (2.5 million), the fourth and final book of his "Inheritance" fantasy cycle. The "Wimpy Kid" series has more than 45 million copies in print and the new book has already reached the top 20 on Amazon.com. Independent sellers say customers have been pre-ordering "Cabin Fever" for months.
"Those books fly off the shelves like candy," says Becky Anderson, co-owner of the two Illinois-based Anderson's Bookshops. "It's great to see kids open the new books and immediately start laughing."
"They're like the `Harry Potter' books in that they appeal to kids who don't necessarily love reading," says Peter Glassman, owner of Books of Wonder in New York. "And when you do that, you reach a tremendous audience."
The e-revolution so far has been more for the old than for the young.
Officials at Rowling's American publisher, Scholastic Inc., and Kinney's publisher, Abrams Books, both say e-sales for children's titles are 5 percent or less of the total market, with at least some of those purchases by adults who like "The Hunger Games" and other works popular with kids.
Glassman, who cites parents' reluctance to let kids handle e-readers, says his business has been far more affected by physical books being purchased online than by electronic books. Michael Jacobs, president and CEO of Abrams, says he is still relying on physical outlets, from independent stores to school fairs to discount chains such as Target. He says Kinney and Abrams are thinking hard about releasing the "Wimpy Kid" series electronically, but that the vast majority of fans prefer paper.
"The market is developing and growing for children's e-books, but it doesn't compare to the market for adult best-sellers," says Jacobs, who also notes the distinctive design of the "Wimpy Kid" books, compact and heavily illustrated hardcovers. "The look and feel of the books means a lot to sales. I always think of this photo we have of about 15 or 16 boys, sitting on a floor with the books, after picking them up at a school fair."
Big sales are expected for several children's releases, including Maurice Sendak's "Bumble-Ardy," the first book he has written and illustrated in decades, and the first two installments from a new "39 Clues" series. Brian Selznick has a new novel, "Wonderstruck," and his award-winning "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" has been adapted into a Martin Scorsese film due just before Thanksgiving. Author-filmmaker William Joyce starts his new "Guardians of Childhood" series with "The Man in the Moon."
Even Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and atheist who wrote the million-selling "The God Delusion,'" has completed a book for young people. He says "The Magic of Reality" is not a work about religion, but about the mysteries of the natural world.
"I didn't lard it up with whiz-bangs and gimmicks," Dawkins says. "I suppose my vocabulary was slightly constricted compared to what I use for adults. But I've always had an audience in front of my mind when I'm writing anything."
For adult readers, booksellers say literary fiction looks especially strong, including two major debuts: Erin Morgenstern's "The Night Circus" and Chad Harbach's "The Art of Fielding." Novels are also coming from Haruki Murakami, Michael Ondaatje, Roberto Bolano, Charles Frazier, William Kennedy, Russell Banks and Umberto Eco. Nine stories by Don DeLillo have been compiled for "The Angel Esmeralda."
Chris Schluep, senior editor of books at Amazon.com, is looking forward to Jeffrey Eugenides' "The Marriage Plot," his first novel since the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Middlesex." A literary story about three well-read Ivy League seniors, "The Marriage Plot" is set mostly at Brown University, Eugenides' alma mater, and features a student who shares the author's Greek heritage.
"This is the one I'm most personally excited by," Schluep says. "To me, it seems more autobiographical than his previous books. I've really enjoyed reading him and now maybe we can see a little more of who Eugenides is."
New work is expected from John Grisham, Patricia Cornwell, Lee Child, Michael Connelly and the prolific James Patterson, an author for all seasons. A trio of crime novels builds on past work: Anthony Horowitz's "The House of Silk," an authorized Sherlock Holmes mystery; "Robert B. Parker's Killing the Blues," completed by Michael Brandman after Parker died last year; and the late Mickey Spillane's "The Consummata," finished by Max Allan Collins, a close friend.
"He was my hero. When I sold my first novel (`Bait Money') I was in college and sent the book to him. I got a very warm letter back, single- spaced, welcoming me to professional writing," Collins says. "In the week before he passed (in 2006), Mickey specifically asked me to finish `Consummata.' I really did get the torch passed to me, which is about the biggest honor I ever had."
Paolo Coelho, one of the world's best-selling authors, has a new novel of physical and spiritual travel, "The Aleph." But he is happy to remain home this fall, in Geneva, Switzerland, and spread the word through his millions of followers on Facebook and Twitter.
"I know that a lot of newspapers have closed, but I'm not worried about finding space. I've become tired of repeating over and over the same questions, giving the same answers and I asked myself, `Is this adding something? Is this helping to promote the book?' And I realized that, no, it was not helping. What really helps is to have the book in the bookstores and then word of mouth," says Coelho, who has been blogging for several years.
"I realized that blogging allowed me to have direct contact with my readers, which for a writer is a kind of blessing. So I went on Facebook and on Twitter and I started this conversation, and little by little the community started to grow. So when I release a book, I can have immediate feedback."
Two books will reveal the private thoughts of elusive public figures. Walter Isaacson's "Steve Jobs" is the first authorized biography of the Apple leader who just announced that he was stepping down as CEO. "Jacqueline Kennedy" features interviews with the former first lady taped soon after her husband's assassination. Stephen King's "11/22/63" is a time travel fantasy about a mission to save JFK.
Joan Didion follows her classic study of grief for her husband, John Gregory Dunne, "The Year of Magical Thinking," with "Blue Nights," a memoir about aging and the death of daughter Quintana Roo. Film critic and cancer survivor Roger Ebert takes on real life, his own, in "Life Itself." Diane Keaton remembers her mother in "Then Again." Harry Belafonte's "My Song" includes an intimate portrait of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Some works are hard to categorize, even by the authors. Dava Sobel's "A More Perfect Heaven" might be called a dramatic biography. It's a review of the life of the astronomer Copernicus in which a conventional narrative is wrapped around an original play by the author. Ann Beattie, known for her minimalist short stories, has written "Mrs. Nixon." The subject is Richard Nixon's wife, Pat Nixon, but it's not a biography, a work of fiction or creative nonfiction.
"I hate the term `creative nonfiction,'" Beattie says. "I guess I would say that it's fiction, but it's not a novel and part of the time it's journalism. Any time I'm writing fiction I let you know. I talk about what devices writers use to get inside the lives of their characters, like how writers use interior monologues. It's a very self-conscious book about writing."
The fall will be relatively light on politics and presidents, although a pair of books will come from two of the highest officials in the George W. Bush administration: Dick Cheney's "In My Time," the most anticipated memoir from a former vice president in decades, and Condoleezza Rice's "No Higher Honor," which covers her years as national security adviser and secretary of state.
"I think the Condi Rice book will be really good, and could be a counterpart to the Cheney memoir," Isaacson says. "I loved that memoir she did about her parents (`Extraordinary Ordinary People'). Unlike a lot of memoir writers, she's a great storyteller."
In "Tension City," newsman Jim Lehrer reflects on presidential debates — some of which he moderated — from Kennedy-Nixon to Obama-McCain. Another book may revive interest in a president who hardly had the chance to serve. James Garfield, elected in 1880 and fatally wounded just months later, is the subject of Candace Millard's "Destiny of the Republic." Patricia Bostelman, vice president of marketing for Barnes & Noble Inc., thinks Millard's book will be a hit.
"Millard is very good at taking an event and telling a broader story," she says, noting the subtitle's reference to "Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President." "It reminds me of `A Beautiful Mind' and I think we'll have the same kind of success with it."
Music memoirs are coming from Pearl Jam, Jermaine Jackson, Kenny Rogers and R. Kelly. Madonna fans might be interested in at least two books: "Le Freak," by "Like a Virgin" producer Nile Rodgers (they were just good friends, he writes), and "I Want My MTV," an oral history that has Madonna's picture on the cover and an entire chapter on her rise to video superstar, but no comments from the singer herself. A Warner Bros. executive does remember a then-unknown Madonna barging into their offices on a skateboard and leaving a note on a product manager's door: "Sorry I missed you, because I'm going to be a star."
Judy Collins has written "Sweet Judy Blue Eyes," which reveals that a performer with an image far gentler than Madonna's could have an equally wild private life. The title refers to the Stephen Stills song ("Suite: Judy Blue Eyes") that placed her in the pantheon of rock muses with Pattie Boyd ("Something," "Wonderful Tonight") and Jerry Hall ("Miss You").
"I felt I just had to give my book that title because the song was such a central part of my life, and Stephen's," says Collins, who avoided reading Boyd's "Wonderful Tonight" and other memoirs about the 1960s and 1970s.
"I didn't want to be affected by someone else's way of interpreting their lives. But one of the books I was excited about, and had some impact on me, was Steve Martin's book about the club life (`Born Standing Up'). It's a brilliant book and I felt strongly that kind of inside portrait about the music of the time."
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