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New Publishing Motto: Hooray for Hollywood

July 15, 1994|PAUL D. COLFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES: Paul D. Colford is a columnist for Newsday

You've seen the motion picture . . . now read the book. Indeed, it appears the biggest growth sector in publishing consists of movie tie-ins and so-called novelizations of Hollywood screenplays.

A shoulder-high rack in one mid-town Manhattan chain store is crammed with paperback narratives spawned by summer releases such as "I Love Trouble," "The Shadow," "Maverick" and "True Lies," the Arnold Schwarzenegger flick that opens today.

"The Lion King," Disney's new animation hit, has generated four briskly selling books, as well as a coffee-table release, "The Art of The Lion King" (Hyperion), priced at $50. On the other hand, the lackluster reviews and disappointing box office for "Wyatt Earp" may bode poorly for the paperback novelization from Warner and the two "pictorial companion books" published by Newmarket Press.

To those outside the movie industry, the credits on these books can appear as complex as those of most films. The paperback edition of "Blown Away," for example, notes that it's a novelization by Kirk Mitchell based on a story by John Rice, Joe Batteer and M. Jay Roach, and a screenplay by Batteer and Rice.

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In the curious parlance of publishing, most of these books are considered "literary merchandise," as opposed to real books--such as Winston Groom's "Forrest Gump," published by Doubleday eight years ago. Then again, even the new paperback reissue of "Forrest Gump," published by Pocket Books, has the unmistakable look of literary merchandise: The words "Tom Hanks is Forrest Gump" and the actor's picture dwarf the tiny type that reads: "A Novel by Winston Groom."

Oh, yes. There's also "Gumpisms," an 88-page paperback ($5) also from Pocket Books dressed up with an introduction by P.J. O'Rourke and subtitled "The Wit and Wisdom of Forrest Gump." Such as: "Do not drink soup; it puts a lake in your stomach."

According to Irwyn Applebaum, the president and publisher of Bantam Books, the success of a movie and the use of a compelling cover image from the film are key elements in the marketing of a novelization or other tie-in.

Applebaum adds that the release of a film on video frequently will curtail interest in a novelization while real books can profit from almost any kind of movie exposure. Bantam's paperback editions of Tom Robbins' "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" and Isabel Allende's "The House of the Spirits" enjoyed renewed popularity upon release of the films, even though they were in theaters only a short time.

"In these days, as more and more publishing becomes Hollywoodized, agents will often talk about a book's movie prospects even before it is published," Applebaum says.

And lucky are the publishers that hold copyright to backlist titles belatedly brought to the screen--books such as Edith Wharton's "The Age of Innocence," first printed in 1920 and revived last year as a Collier Books bestseller (with Michelle Pfeiffer and Daniel Day-Lewis pictured on the cover) when Martin Scorsese's film version bowed.

"No matter how many of these tie-ins you may think there are now, I don't think it compares to the number turned out in the '40s, for example, when so many more movies were being made and almost all of them had some sort of published tie-in," says Michael Barson, a collector of film-industry arcana who is writing a book on Hollywood directors for Farrar, Straus & Giroux. These books go back even to the silent era, says Barson, who owns a hardcover novelization of Buster Keaton's "The General" (1927).

The superhits of the movie-book symbiosis include author William Kotzwinkle's novelization of "E.T." and John Grisham's paperback of "The Firm" (with Tom Cruise on the cover). But nothing matches the paperback sales of Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park." The "Jurassic Park" movie fever of last year helped turn the Ballantine paperback (with the film's dinosaur logo on the cover) into a gusher--more than 9 million copies sold.

And the gusher may not have run dry. When the "Jurassic Park" video is released in October--an event to be hyped in a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign organized by MCA/Universal--Ballantine plans to display its "Jurassic Park" paperback alongside copies of the video.

The next frontier may be print spinoffs of popular video games. In February, Del Rey, a division of the Ballantine Publishing Group, plans to issue Geary Gravel's "The Dreamwright," a paperback novelization based on the "Might and Magic" computer role-playing games.

Maybe electronic media won't be the death of print after all.

Spy Lives Again: With logo intact and trademark pranks aplenty, Spy has been resurrected from the magazine graveyard by its new owner, Sussex Publishers. "Reports of our death were . . . well, let's say partially exaggerated," begins an introductory note to readers in the new August issue.

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