Publishers Gear Up for Big Book Season

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Paul D. Colford is a columnist for Newsday. His column is published Fridays

Larry Kirshbaum, the chief executive officer of Warner Books, took it on himself last weekend to ensure copies of Sandra Brown's new book "Charade" were receiving the best possible display.

"Yes, I was the one in the dark glasses," he says of his visits to the three Barnes & Noble superstores in Manhattan. "I wanted to make sure the books and the promotions were laid out properly."

Such attention at the top reflects Warner's determined effort to turn the prolific Brown--whose 54 novels include more than a dozen bestsellers--into a household name at long last.

Kirshbaum's concern for Brown's new suspense caper underscores a wider awareness in book marketing: The period from Mother's Day to Father's Day is second only to Christmas for book sales.

Publishers hoping to ride the expected wave of gift purchasing--and generate a sales momentum that might continue through the beach and vacation seasons--have shipped out their big commercial titles recently or will do so in the next few weeks.

Like Warner, Bantam Books is putting promotional steam behind Reba McEntire's autobiography, "Reba: My Story." The publisher teamed with the country superstar's record label, MCA / Nashville, to advertise her new book and her new album during this week's telecast of the American Country Music Awards.

And in a marketing twist guaranteed to make the literati wince, Bantam is preparing to implement a "Reba Rebate," offering $3 to those who send in the receipt of their book purchase along with the bar code from specially marked bags of Fritos Original Corn Chips.

Besides "Charade" and "Reba," the bestseller lists of spring include new novels by four sure shots.

Always a bestseller, Mary Higgins Clark has set her latest thriller, "Remember Me," on Cape Cod (Simon & Schuster). Mystery writer Sue Grafton is up to K, as in " 'K' Is for Killer" (Holt). Belva Plain is represented anew by "Daybreak" (Delacorte), while in Judith Krantz's "Lovers" (Crown), the diva of glamour fiction brings back characters from "Scruples" and "Scruples Two."

In the next week or so--20 years after publication of "Jaws"--Peter Benchley returns us to the deep with "White Shark," a tale of a killer beast terrorizing the waters off Connecticut. It's sure to be a big book for Random House.

Ditto for Doubleday, which will lay down one of the largest first printings in history--2.5 million copies of John Grisham's new legal thriller, "The Chamber."

Bantam has another predictable bestseller from Frederick Forsyth, "The Fist of God," a suspenseful treatment of the Persian Gulf War.

Likewise for Putnam, which is putting out Robert B. Parker's "Walking Shadow," the next in his successful Spenser series.

On the nonfiction side, there's "In the Kitchen With Rosie," cleverly subtitled "Oprah's Favorite Recipes," in which chef Rosie Daley presents nutritious meals favored by the weight-conscious goddess of daytime television. Starting with a 400,000-copy volley two weeks ago, Alfred A. Knopf Inc. reports that it now has about a million books in print.

After the death in January of President Clinton's mother, Virginia Kelley, Simon & Schuster moved up publication of her autobiography in an obvious bid to reach Mother's Day shoppers. Kelley's husband, Dick Kelley, recently visited "Good Morning America" and "Larry King Live" in connection with the book's publication--and The New York Times Book Review will feature a positive critique by Joyce Carol Oates on its Mother's Day cover.

Other choices publishers are counting on for spring glory include a notable group of political titles. In addition to Richard M. Nixon's posthumous "Beyond Peace" (Random House), they are the late H. R. Haldeman's "The Haldeman Diaries: Inside the Nixon White House" (Putnam), Bob Woodward's "Inside the Clinton White House" (Simon & Schuster), Henry Kissinger's "Diplomacy" (S & S), Boris Yeltsin's "The Struggle for Russia" (Times Books) and Dan Quayle's "Standing Firm" (HarperCollins).

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