I’m not sure if I buy the logic in this New York Times article about paperback originals:
Ms. von Mehren, the publisher, said that following the article in the Book Review, Mr. Mitchell’s novel sold “10 to 20 times better than he ever had here. It really reignited his career.” Next month, Random House will publish Mr. Mitchell’s next novel, “Black Swan Green.” In hardcover.
Au contraire, Ms. von Mehren. A quick look at certain dates will deflate this mistaken hypothesis. A moment, if you will, as we dig up the history:
August 29, 2004: Tom Bissell, a perfectly fine critic, reviews Cloud Atlas for the NYTBR.
August 17, 2004: Random House releases paperback original of Cloud Atlas to bookstores.
Now I’m no marketing expert. But it seems to me that 12 days is enough time for the most feverish literary folks to read Cloud Atlas in whole and then tell their friends and loved ones, “Holy shit! You have to check out this David Mitchell guy. This is the best damn literary fiction I’ve read in years,” which then inspires these folks to do the same.
But more importantly, there is the history, which indicates (in about five minutes of Googling):
Early 2004: Some guy named Edward Champion manages to get his hands on the UK hardcover and says “David Mitchell” in nearly every sentence he writes and speaks. Others soon follow.
August 17, 2004: Village Voice reviews book.
August 27, 2004: Cloud Atlas anounced as part of Booker longlist for 2005. Cloud Atlas is reviewed by Boston Phoenix.
October 2004: David Mitchell appears in many U.S. bookstores. He is interviewed by a guy who doesn’t know what he’s doing.
October 10, 2004: Cloud Atlas reviewed by San Francisco Chronicle.
In other words, not only did Cloud Atlas get a hell of a lot of publicity from multiple outlets, but there were many reviews other than the NYTBR reviewing it. I also think Random House was smart in getting Mitchell into the States in October to revive interest in it — in the event that some folks hadn’t heard of it already or the attention had flagged.
So for the Times to take exclusive credit (as much as I’ve mentioned Mitchell over the years, I certainly wouldn’t) for Cloud Atlas‘ success is not only laughable in the extreme, but highly irresponsible. Could it be that this is an in-house effort on the part of the Times to prop up their decaying Sunday literary offering? What can we expect next from the Gray Lady? A Sam Tanenhaus centerfold in next week’s New York Times Magazine? Propaganda isn’t working for the Bush Administration and it certainly won’t work for the NYTBR.