Cool Britannia Gothic

Does the public get the books it wants?  Publishers, in their own interest, make it their business to see to that, whether it is a question of chemistry text-books or novels.  While recent sales of earlier textbooks can suggest what the market will be for new ones, when it comes to fiction, publishers must play their hunches, taking into account current tastes and trends.  What is needed, for a book that hundreds of thousands will buy, is either a well-known name that acts like a magnet, or a sure best-seller formula, or some quality that, via publicity and reviewing, can lift it into the public imagination.  Established favorites often win at the literary racetrack, of course; sometimes, gambles lead to nothing; other dark horses turn out to be winners.

This dark novel by Diane Setterfield, who was born in 1964 in Berkshire and lives in Yorkshire, is a winner, for her and also the publishers, doubtless.  The manuscript was the object of a bidding war in both Great Britain and the United States.  Ultimately, Orion paid her an advance of 800,000 pounds sterling for the British rights, and Simon & Schuster, which owns the Atria imprint, one million dollars for the U.S. rights.  These extraordi-nary advances to a previously unpublished author say much about publishing and the fiction market.  The book topped the best-seller lists in America, but, as British commentators remarked, sales...

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