The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cover up the name of a book
- Voracious readers expected to feast on Wolfe

London, Sept. 21: A book is known by its cover, runs the clich', but perhaps no longer.

America, the land of gimmicks, is trying out a new stunt ' printing only the name of the author on the cover of a novel but not its title.

This unusual experiment is being attempted with Tom Wolfe’s new novel, which will have the name of the author in giant letters on the cover of the just-published paperback edition but not the name of the book, I Am Charlotte Simmons.

Perhaps the title ought to say, ‘I am so big that my name alone will sell the book’.

Anyway, that seems to be the thinking at Picador USA, which is engaging in the experiment.

The tale is set against the sexually charged background of contemporary US college life. The cover picture is of a young woman in a green dress, who symbolises the main protagonist.

If the experiment works ' and most weird things begin in America ' publishers in India, too, may decide it is enough to have Arundhati Roy’s name on the cover of a book. A picture of the author might be considered a bonus. She has written only one novel, so in her case, at least, there is no chance of a reader picking up the wrong title.

Explaining the thinking, Tanya Farrell, publicity director for Picador USA, told Reuters: “We are using Tom Wolfe’s name as a brand, rather than the title of the book. He is an icon himself.”

This is certainly a true statement about the 74-year-old author of the worldwide bestseller, Bonfire of the Vanities.

The publishers are printing more than two million copies of the 738-page I Am Charlotte Simmons.

Despite mixed reviews, the book sold 775,000 copies in hardback in 2004, making it the 11th bestselling novel last year.

“Whoever missed the book the first time around should know that Wolfe has written for a new demographic,” Farrell was quoted by the agency as saying.

Picador had hired an outside firm to help market the book to college students.

For his part, Wolfe is giving interviews to college newspapers and doing joint readings with Toure, a 34-year-old writer who once worked for MTV and is idolised by college-age readers.

“As a paperback house, you try to reinvent the book because at a lower price, you have a different audience so you are bound to find new ways to get the book into audience hands,” Farrell said.

Would Salman Rushdie sell as well if only his name appeared on the cover' Could this work with V.S. Naipaul or Vikram Seth'

The chances are probably not in India where the number of books sold are still relatively modest, compared with America where a popular novel would sell by the million. There, the reader might tend to go for “the latest”, especially if it is the only one on display.

In Britain, where people do buy books, publishing is a conservative business.

The paperback edition of I am Charlotte Simmons will be published by Vintage, whose spokeswoman said: “This experiment applies only to America. I have been here eight years and I haven’t heard of anything like this before. We don’t have to do what they do. We have redesigned the cover and it will come out with the name of the author and the title in the normal way.”

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