The sequel to Stieg Larsson’s Millennium books, The Girl In The Spider's Web, is the biggest book release in Sweden this year and probably one of the most elaborate book launches in this country in modern times.
There is the literary challenge to consider. And the ethical aspect of producing a "sequel" to the late author's trilogy, of course. But, unlike other markets where the book is launched this autumn, it’s the aspect of history you have to consider in Sweden.
It’s more than 10 years since Stieg Larsson passed away and the subsequent inheritance dispute exploded into public view. But in our country it's still as if it happened yesterday. As one of the editors involved put it: "The inheritance dispute is still an open wound in the family. The conflict between Stieg Larsson's life partner, Eva Gabrielsson, and his family of birth has always remained in people's minds. It means that many people take positions. Without that we would have had a completely different situation."
This fact has strongly affected the marketing strategy, both in the way the publisher Norstedts and the Larsson family have prepared for and approached the debate over the book so far, and the launch plans.
This July, before the campaign started, the father and the brother of Stieg Larsson issued an open letter that explained their reasons for agreeing to a sequel from David Lagercrantz, saying they saw an opportunity with "to let the characters and the milieu live on with respect and quality". They also wrote that all the income they would receive from the book would be donated to the anti-Nazi organization Expo, the organization Larsson worked for. Not long before Larsson died, he wrote a short note to himself saying that he wanted to give all the income from a fourth book he planned to Expo.
In the last two weeks, the debate over the book has exploded in the Swedish media, led by some old friends of Larsson's, and, to a lesser degree, by his life companion Eva Gabrielsson. They accused the family and the publisher of violating Stieg Larsson’s copyright and of being greedy, and criticised the choice of David Lagercrantz as the author, saying his upper class background is at odds with Larsson's left-wing principles. The question: “What would Stieg Larsson say?” has made its round in many papers.
Norstedts has engaged with the debate on TV sofas and in the big daily newspapers in a low-key but effective manner. No one has ducked the tricky questions, which is a new standard in Sweden.
It is against this background one must understand the sharp boundary that is being made in the Swedish market between Stieg Larsson and the new book. It is NOT a new Stieg Larsson book. It’s a David Lagercrantz book, built by him on Larsson's world of ideas and characters.
That message is reinforced in interviews and press releases, and in the way Norstedts has marketed David Lagercrantz so far. The cover of the English edition of the novel, with its clear reference to Stieg Larsson, would not be accepted in Sweden.
The marketing link in Sweden is the use of the Millennium logo, the same logo that dominates the covers of the three Swedish editions of Larsson’s earlier books. It’s also considered a better connection to Swedish readers who, the publisher believes, are more interested in the political aspect of the work of Mikael Blomkvist than your average international reader.
So far, the strategy seems to be working. All retailers have put in large orders and believe that they have a bestseller on their hands. Almost no retailer thinks that book buyers will be affected by the debate: they think that sales will be driven from curiosity. People will want to know if David Lagercrantz succeeds.
But there are some voices that differ within the trade. To quote one of a few critical booksellers, who remains concerned by the ethics of publishing a sequel to Larsson's work: “The sad thing in all this is that the morality of the entire project will be determined by how good the book is [and its success as a bestseller]. It is a strange morality.”
Lasse Winkler is a former editor of Sweden's book trade publication Svensk Bokhandel