Tuesday, October 17, 2006

News: US Publishers Rolls the Dice on a Mystery Debut

Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg of the Wall Street Journal writes of the efforts of one US publisher, Henry Holt and Company, to create this year's blockbuster book. Their choice: a debut mystery written by a Yale Law School professor, a historical thriller that centers around a series of murders that are committed in New York City during Sigmund Freud's only visit to the United States.

The Interpretation of Murder by Jed RubenfeldThe book: The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld. Holt acquired the rights to the book for $800,000, one of the highest advances paid to an unknown author. It further committed $500,000 for a marketing campaign, including the publication of 10,000 advanced reader copies.

Trachtenberg adds that the timing of its marketing push was to coincide with the annual booksellers convention in late May of 2006. Early signs were positive and independent stores were particularly enthusiastic. But a week after the book's publication in early September, the results weren't good. The Interpretation of Murder debuted at only 18 on the New York Times bestsellers list, and fell in subsequent weeks.

Trachtenberg continues with an analysis of what went right and, more importantly for Holt, what went wrong.

Mysterious Reviews reviewed The Interpretation of Murder just prior to its publication. We called it "cleverly devised" but "... flaws in style and editing prevent it from being a memorable novel of suspense fiction." Great books aren't often bestsellers, and bestsellers are frequently not great books. But we think one of the major problems here rests squarely with the publisher's marketing department. The Interpretation of Murder was heavily promoted as a mystery with Freud as the consulting detective, but Freud actually played a minor role in the book, and there is little to suggest that Freud acted as a "detective" in any sense of the word. Those readers who thought Freud would be portrayed as a psychoanalytical Sherlock Holmes were likely sadly disappointed.

Trachtenberg concludes his article by noting that publishing is often like the roll of the dice: there are no guarantees.

Read the read of this fascinating article on The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette here.

Visit the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books often where we provide readers and collectors of mysteries with the best and most current information about their favorite mystery authors, books, and series.

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