Sleeper hits came out of nowhere
Call it the year of the sleeper.
Sure, there was the new “Harry Potter,” but as political books faded and even “The Da Vinci Code” began to slide, it was upstart tomes that grabbed readers in 2005. Here are six books that came out of nowhere to rock American auds — and five touted titles that barely whispered.
- “Prep,” by Curtis Sittenfeld: No one gave a glance to a work of semifiction about a New England girls school penned by an unknown author . But a deft voice and savvy media campaign made this zitgeist tale, like, a must-read (and convinced Par to option).
- “Freakonomics,” by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt: Dubner owed HarperCollins a book, so he whipped up a story with economist Levitt after profiling him for the New York Times Magazine. A year later, everyone’s talking about econometrics and the crime rate.
- “Juiced,” by Jose Canseco: The outlaw athlete couldn’t inject — er, drum up — any interest when he first began shopping his warts-and-all tale. But Judith Regan took a chance on a second go-round. Book wound up selling like crazy — and even made the Senate do something.
- “Cures They Don’t Want You to Know About,” by Kevin Trudeau: Under fire from the FTC, the controversial alternative-health guru shifted from hawking cure-alls to pitching self-help books via infomercial, generating sales of more than 1 million copies. Now, even George Foreman and Ron Popeil are jealous.
- “102 Minutes,” by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn — The public wasn’t supposed to go for a gritty reenactment of 9/11, but it did. And the two New York Times reporters picked up bestseller status, multiple prize noms and a Columbia Pictures option — for the title.
- “The Historian,” by Elizabeth Kostova: It’s hard to call a book with a $2 million advance a sleeper. But the encyclopedia-length Dracula tome spent five months on the Times list. Sony optioned it for $1.75 million, but the $64,000 question will be how they turn 800 pages of vampire research into a watchable pic.
- “The Traveler,” by John Twelve Hawks (a pseudonym): Despite an expensive Hollywood-style marketing campaign, the book faded quickly as the author’s secret identity proved a publicity obstacle.
- “Lost Painting,” by Jonathan Harr: Bestselling author of “A Civil Action” got on critics’ top 10 lists for his art-museum sleuther, but the book was a sales clunker, barely cracking the New York Times list. n “The Martha Rules,” by Martha Stewart: A new TV show, a post-prison profile –for Rodale, paying a reported $2 million for Stewart’s tell-all didn’t seem like such a bad idea. But the mega-hostess didn’t tell much, and the book sold a tiny fraction of its 500,000 copy print run.
- “Specimen Days,” by Michael Cunningham: This is the Pulitzer Prize winner (“The Hours”) whose prose helped Nicole Kidman win an Oscar? Interlinking stories with Walt Whitman theme earned marks for inventiveness by critics but was passed over by readers.
- “The Washingtonienne,” by Jessica Cutler: Hyperion reportedly paid several hundred thousand for the D.C. blogger’s tales of trysts in “Hollywood for the Ugly.” Reviews were actually welcoming, but titillation didn’t turn to dollars.