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Can You Tell a Lot About Debut Novelists From Their Times Book Review Covers?

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Something strange is going on at The New York Times Book Review. Over the past two months, three debut novels have netted cover reviews, most recently Joshua Ferris’s Then We Came to the End. That’s more than in the average year. And two were paperbacks. Editor Sam Tanenhaus says, “It’s not a policy thing, it’s a matter of serendipity.” But “if you can put a paperback original first novel on the cover, that is like orgasm time for us.” Still, does a cover slot guarantee future success?

THE BOOK
Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
8/13/06
Reviewed by Liesl Schillinger

PRE-REVIEW BUZZ
Big advance, and preemptive backlash from other writers—leading Schillinger to implore, “Don’t hate her because she’s beautiful.”

LEAST-FAVORABLE PART OF THE REVIEW
Only to repeat (and dismiss) accusations that Pessl suffered from “Hot Young Author Chick Syndrome.”

SALES
64,000 in hardcover. Publisher says it will print 500,000 paperbacks.


CAREER TRAJECTORY
More backlash (Gawker said she was only “book hot”), but Scott Rudin picked up film rights. A novel-in-progress hasn’t been sold yet.


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