`Rebranding': a new chapter for some old books

Publishers find many reasons to reissue best-sellers


Americans love everything new, the latest scoop, brand-new names, fresh ideas.

But sometimes when it comes to reading, the hot new thing may be a great old book. When a major film adaptation or anniversary brings a classic back into the spotlight, publishers have the opportunity to recapture its earlier audience and attract new readers by "rebranding" it.

Through reprints with freshly designed covers adorned with movie images, or a banner proclaiming the anniversary edition or tie-ins to other works by that author, they can make something old seem new again and further enhance an author's reputation. That's happened recently with Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita.

"In repositioning a book, you are selling a narrative, and like all stories, it can be reconfigured from medium to medium," says James B. Twitchell, author of Branded Nation: The Marketing of Megachurch, College Inc., and Museumworld and a professor at the University of Florida.

Several other situations can trigger a reprint, says Sloane Crosley, publicity manager for Vintage/Anchor Books, a division of Random House. Vintage recently reprinted in paperback The Complete Stories of Truman Capote, Too Brief a Treat: The Letters of Truman Capote and his 1965 best-seller, In Cold Blood, which has become a classic of literary nonfiction. It also released in September a 50th anniversary edition of Lolita, Nabokov's controversial yet enduring 1955 novel.

"If we have a major hardcover backlist for a certain author," Crosley says, "or if we have reacquired the rights" to a certain book, that can be a reason to revisit the work. "It's like collecting cards," she says. "If we get them all, we'll reissue."

Sometimes if the author earns a major award or writes a new introduction with a fresh perspective, that is a reason to do a reprint, she adds.

The publisher hopes to attract both old fans and newcomers.

"You inherently do both," Crosley says. "People who haven't read it are reminded about the book." And sometimes with classics, she says, "a reader thinks, `I've been told and told to read this. Now I finally will.'"

With Lolita, the reprint's cover is a tight close-up of a sensual female mouth, but it could be a woman in her 20s. Gone are the familiar images from previous editions of the book: the bobby-soxer in a short pleated skirt, the little girl with a bicycle and the iconic Sue Lyon, from the 1962 movie version, wearing heart-shaped sunglasses and licking a lollipop.

"We wanted to let the older cover versions fade away. We want people to buy the most recent version," Crosley says.

Lolita, of course, came with some baggage. The exquisitely written book, which some see as an allegory about the old, effete Europe and the brash and vulgar United States while others read it as a journey through pop-culture America, is also the story of a middle-aged man carnally obsessed with a 12-year-old. Could such a book be successful today, in the current atmosphere of concern about molestation of children?

Crosley says a 50th anniversary "is huge, but is based on the old." The reissue of In Cold Blood is augmented by something new: the film starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, which opened to enthusiastic reviews. (It arrives in Baltimore on Friday.)

Instead of just a small sticker on the cover referring to the Sony Pictures Classics film, Vintage used a large one showing Hoffman as Capote, bow-tie, dark-rimmed glasses and all.

"We've reprinted three times since July. We have sold 130,000 copies, very strong for a reissue," Crosley says. "You come out of the film wanting to read In Cold Blood."

In addition to the film and recent reprints, a never-before-published work of Capote's will be released by Random House today.

Summer Crossing, an early work of Capote's recently found in New York in four handwritten school notebooks, is a novel set in 1945 with a heroine reminiscent of his later creation, Holly Golightly of Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Capote worked on the manuscript on and off for years and finally abandoned it. His estate knew it existed, but it was lost for decades.

The book originally was to be published in summer 2006, says David Ebershoff, editor-at-large for Random House, but the excitement over the Capote movie moved Random House to publish it now.

Ebershoff read the manuscript, a slow process because of Capote's cramped handwriting.

"We don't know for certain his final plans for the manuscript," Ebershoff says. "He tinkered with it for 10 years, till it fell off the radar. We don't know what he thought of it.

"But he could have published it, and he did not."

Publishing a book like Summer Crossing has different goals than the standard reissue, he says. "We'll let people assess it vs. Capote's body of work and respect it for what it is. It might be an entry point" for some readers.

"Those who like Capote will find there is something here - they will find something in this book."

Carole Goldberg writes for the Hartford Courant.

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