When books receive second chances

Thousands of books come out each year. Very few will be bestsellers. Publishing cycles are accelerating. Paperback versions used to appear the year after their hardcover releases. That was then. Now paperbacks often arrive sooner.

Occasionally those second chances as paperbacks can garner readership for books that failed to gain traction as hardcovers. But that’s unusual. A more common trajectory is this: Books come out. A few people notice. Even fewer buy them. Some months later they are selling for pennies on Amazon.com.

Books can earn extra chances. There are various ways this can occur.

Some are evergreens. Example: Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” was reissued again last year to commemorate the 75th anniversary of publication. The original 1939 novel had a politically incorrect title that was altered into yet another politically incorrect title before this current one was adopted. Look it up.

Then there are books written in English that are not available here. Just because a book came out in Australia or Ireland or England doesn’t guarantee that it will find a publisher here. But that can change. Example: The British mystery writer Peter James has a popular series of crime novels featuring Roy Grace, a police detective in Brighton, England. I interviewed James recently, and he mentioned that his first book in the series, “Dead Simple,” has finally been published here.

“Dead Simple” opens as a group of friends are circulating between pubs. This is a mobile bachelor party. Their guest of honor is rather inebriated. This gent had previously played embarrassing pranks upon his companions during their own bachelor parties. They brought along a coffin. His friends have plotted revenge. They place him inside the coffin and bury it. They were planning to rescue him after he’s had some time to freak out in there. But they never returned. They got into a fiery collision instead. Nobody survived. This poor lad remains in his coffin, forgotten. James has written a hair-raising thriller with “Dead Simple.”

Paperback bestseller lists are often dominated by popular titles reissued to coincide with film releases. Examples: Blockbusters like Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” and Lauren Hillenbrand’s “Unbroken” derived substantial sales boosts from readers who saw the movies then circled back to read their books.

Leonardo DiCaprio is currently in southern Alberta making a movie based upon “The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge” by Michael Punke. Originally published in 2003, it quickly went out of print. I missed it the first time around. It has just been reissued again in hardcover.

“The Revenant” is based upon a true story. In 1823 a group of fur trappers were making their way through the wilderness when a member of their party, Hugh Glass, had an unfortunate encounter with a grizzly bear. Glass was badly mauled. The two men who were supposed to stay with him until he succumbed to his wounds abandoned him instead. Somehow Glass survived and began crawling back to seek his revenge. DiCaprio will play him in the film. The paperback version of “The Revenant” will be issued in November. Punke’s formerly out-of-print novel might become a bestseller yet.

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Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit www.wyso.org/programs/book-nook. Contact him at vick@vickmickunas.com.

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