For Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War (Atlantic Monthly Press) to get noticed, and to overcome any resistance readers might have to a doorstop book on an unpopular war, Grove/Atlantic had to cut through a “very noisy world,” said Morgan Entrekin, the company's president and publisher. Grove/Atlantic did that by first circulating the book to authors to garner their endorsements and introducing the novel at ABA’s 2010 Winter Institute, where it wowed booksellers who subsequently nominated it as an April Indie Next List Great Read. The publisher is building on this support for Matterhorn by offering special promotions and sending author Karl Marlantes on a 20-city tour this fall.
“We’re strong supporters of what we publish,” said Entrekin. “One reason publishers tend to move on is they have other books to publish. It’s kind of like landing airplanes. It’s very difficult to keep working on a book for 10 to 12 months.”
Though Grove/Atlantic has its own line-up of planes to land – a strong fall list that includes P.J. O'Rourke’s Don't Vote It Just Encourages the Bastards – the publisher is committed to Matterhorn’s longevity. In an approach that worked with Anne Enright’s The Gathering (which sold more than 400,000 copies) and Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss (nearly 600,000), Matterhorn is the focus of a “10- to 12-month plan to keep itselling,” said Entrekin.
The book's introduction at ABA’s Winter Institute was certainly key, said Entrekin, noting that indies were early and stalwart champions of the novel, which took more than 30 years to complete. “Independent booksellers have been extremely supportive,” he said. “They’ve proved yet again how important they are in launching a book that’s not obvious. Marshalling support from that community is critical, not only in selling to customers but in convincing the media and larger world that this is a worthy book.”
An example of indie support, reported by Bookselling This Week in late May, was Maria's Bookshop's Memorial Day promotion. The Durango, Colorado, bookstore donated $2 to the local chapter of Disabled American Veterans for each copy sold. The Clinton Book Shop, in Clinton, New Jersey, inspired by Maria’s, offered a similar promotion, as did Third Place Books, in Lake Forest Park, Washington, which donated $5 to Disabled American Veterans for each copy sold.
Entrekin said that Grove/Atlantic planned an extended campaign for Matterhorn for “a number of reasons," including the need to overcome any initial resistance readers might have to picking up a 600-page novel on Vietnam. One way to “keep the book in the marketplace is to keep people writing and talking about it. And to keep people talking about it, we’ll keep up our efforts.”
Grove/Atlantic recently offered a Matterhorn promotion through PGW and has another planned for the fall. The house is participating in Ingram’s Wire program, and it is happy to help booksellers facilitate events with local military organizations.
The centerpiece of the publisher's ongoing campaign is a 20-city author tour this fall, including stops at Albuquerque, Boston, Raleigh, and Vancouver. Marlantes will often be part of events organized with local military groups.
While he never harbored any doubts about the novel’s success, Entrekin had moments where he “wondered if it would ever catch on at a level I hoped,” he said. “And, frankly, it’s exceeded my expectations.”
But beyond Matterhorn’s sales numbers, which hover under 100,000, Entrekin said he thought the novel earned its place in American war literature. “I think it’s going to endure for decades. It’s a transcendent book about young men at war, and particularly about the Vietnam War. This was the first modern war of unclear purpose, distant command, and unrest at home. What most pleases me is that Karl Marlantes has been rewarded and recognized for what he went through, and that he created a work that will teach us all for years to come.”