When the riot broke out in Los Angeles on April 29, Ballantine Books publicity director Carol Fass was at a sales conference in Arizona. As she and her colleagues watched events unfold on television, one recalled the company had a title on backlist, "Black Protest: History, Documents and Analysis," a book that was published in 1965, reissued 16 times and was currently in storage. It might be an opportune time to move it back into bookstores.
Ballantine's New York headquarters had gotten the word. "Our sales agent placed a call to our offices," says Fass. "We were told that orders were already coming in from bookstores around the county."
Along with new life for older books like "Black Protest," the public's apparently reawakened desire to learn more about race relations may result in the obvious--quickly published books about the riot--and also in improved sales for books about race that were already on publisher's schedules or recently in stores.
At least two publishers are considering putting out quick books about the riot.
The Los Angeles Times may publish a book by its staff. "We are looking at the possibility of producing a book. Plans are still being formulated," says Times senior editor Noel Greenwood.
Random House is rumored to be considering a riot book, but no decision has been made, says associate publisher Carol Schneider. "We have been approached with a couple of projects, but nothing's been signed on," she says. "We're thinking about it."
Among publishers already gaining sales from interest in race relations is the New Press in New York, a new company that had already planned a series of books on race issues. Its first book was Studs Terkel's "Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession" published on April 6.
Sales in Los Angeles and Chicago, Terkel's hometown, tripled the week after the riot, says New Press director Andre Schiffrin. Nor has interest flagged.
"We sold 8,000 copies last week, the same the week before, and the book's initial print run of 50,000 has sold out," Schiffrin says. The New Press has printed an additional 10,000 copies and anticipates further printings, as the book continues to creep up a number of regional best-seller lists.
"Unfortunately," says Terkel, "or at least ironically, the book will probably receive more attention than it would have were it not for the riots. Strangely enough, though, there's a slightly hopeful note in this. You hear more and more black people--and no one is condoning violence--say that there might be a touch more thoughtfulness (among whites) now on what caused (the riot)."
Another author much less well known than Terkel is becoming a hot item, partly as a result of the riot. In early March, Scribner's published "Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal" by Queens College political scientist Andrew Hacker.
"Two Nations" has been acclaimed in reviews, but Hacker says of the potential for big sales: "I'm a college teacher in a minor borough in New York City. The first printing was about 10,000 copies."
The book did better than Hacker expected, and there were two additional printings before the riot. Since the riot, Scribner's has received so many orders it has gone back to press twice, printing an additional 40,000 copies, making 90,000 in all.
And, despite his dry, reserved academic demeanor, Hacker is becoming a media darling. He has appeared on the Larry King radio show, on National Public Radio and "Donahue." "Before the riots," says Scribner's spokeswoman Sharon Dynak, "I was trying to persuade 'Nightline' or 'MacNeill/Lehrer' to put him on. I would say, look, we have all these Democratic candidates campaigning and not a single one is talking about race--it's as though blacks don't exist. And the producers would agree, but they wouldn't book him. Now, of course, this is all anyone can talk about. And my phone keeps ringing off the hook." "Nightline" and "MacNeill/Lehrer" are still considering booking Hacker, Dynak says.
HarperCollins director of publicity Steven Sorrentino says that nationwide interest in L. A.'s gangs had been intense for a long time before the riots. Last year the company published Leon Bing's "Do or Die," an account of life inside L.A.'s Crips and Bloods street gangs. Bing had already assisted "Nightline's" Ted Koppel in bringing gangs together for a "Town Meeting" program.
Since the riot, Bing has taken calls for phone interviews or bookings from "Good Morning America," USA Today, NPR, ABC News and German Vogue. Sorrentino says HarperCollins is publishing a trade paperback edition of the book in a few weeks, and that Bing will again go on the road to publicize it, both according to plans made before the riot.
On April 30, Oxford University Press published Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s "Loose Canons: Notes on the Culture Wars." Gates is a prominent black scholar at Harvard and an expert on multiculturalism. He has been interviewed by U.S. News and World Report and the Chronicle of Higher Education since the upheavals. He has turned down interview requests from Cable News Network and NPR, saying they would interfere with his teaching schedule.
Oxford publicist Lila Neel says the book is moving quickly, though it has not yet sold out its first print run. She declines to provide numbers, but says that the run was sizable by Oxford University Press standards. "It was already one of our lead titles for the spring," she says, "but since the riots we've seen an incredible surge."
Ballantine Books' new One World paperback edition of "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" by Alex Haley was a big seller before the riot. Nor, probably, is Spike Lee's forthcoming feature movie "Malcolm X" starring Denzel Washington a big factor in boosting sales.
According to Ballantine's Beverly Robinson, that first mass market edition of "Malcolm X" published in 1965 sold 8 million copies. The recent trade paperback has become a bestseller in the national chains and in black book stores.
"The races are still struggling with each other. We should face up to that fact," says Beverly Robinson, one of four black Ballantine employees who founded One World, a new imprint dedicated to publishing multicultural books. One World has five titles on African-American themes due out in the coming year.
The Viking Press anticipates the publication early next year of two books it suspects will do better than anticipated because of the riot--scholar Gerald Early's "Lure & Loathing: Essays on Race, Identity and the Ambivalence of Assimilation," a collection of leading African-American scholarship, and "Deliberate Indifference," an account of the murder of a black man in Texas by Howard Swindle.
Viking spokesman Paul Slovak says his company has no intention of "crashing" the books into the market ahead of schedule. "We are not going to lose anything by publishing in February, '93 as planned," he says.
Even hard-boiled mystery writer Robert Parker may see an increase in his already large sales in the aftermath of the riot. His latest Spenser thriller, "Double Deuce," deals with street gangs and race relations in a Boston housing project. The book is due out June 8.
The publication date was not influenced by the riot, but publisher G. P. Putnam sent out press releases with advance copies of the books noting, "The explosion of racial violence in Los Angeles following the Rodney King verdict speaks volumes" and that Parker's 23rd book "mirrors these recent headlines and growing social unrest."