Defending Jacob

UK pub day

Defending Jacob UK hardcover

Today is the UK publishing day for Defending Jacob. Safe journey, little book!

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London Tube campaign

With our UK publishing date fast approaching, Orion will soon have this outrageously cool series of posters displayed alongside the escalators at select London Tube stations. Jacob is coming, Londoners — and he doesn’t look happy. (Defending Jacob will be published in the UK on March 15. Click image to view it larger.)

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Week in Review

Today is Sunday. Let’s review the week’s surreal Defending Jacob news.

In Monday’s Times, Janet Maslin reviewed the book, which left her “wondering whether this book’s author, William Landay, a former district attorney with two well-received novels behind him, has developed the chops to catapult himself into the Scott Turow tier of legal-eagle blockbuster writers.”

Wednesday the Times released its latest bestseller list (to appear in the print edition on February 26). Defending Jacob actually climbed one spot, to number 3. Reuters and Publishers Weekly have the book at number 2.

Friday the Daily Mail published the first review in the UK. The opening paragraph (I am not making this up):

Not since Scott Turow has a crime thriller — any thriller, though this too happens to be a literary legal thriller — shaken me by the throat like this. It’s a stunning, shocking, emotionally harrowing ride in which the reader is plunged into a riveting but terrible murder trial and the equally heartbreaking implosion of a loving family. I had to lie down when I finished it (all too soon) to still my beating heart.

Now that’s a positive review!

Honestly, it’s hard to process all this. In the daily grind of writing, it’s a struggle just to churn out a few pages every day. How the work will be received is something I don’t think about. Like any other writer, I am painfully aware of the limits of my talent and the flaws in my work. This business is humbling enough without worrying about what the critics will say. So I am bemused — grateful, of course, but bemused — at the wonderful reception Defending Jacob has gotten these last couple of weeks. Here’s hoping for another week like last week.

Oh, and one other thing: this week saw a breakthrough in the fine art of book promotion, the Defending Jacob cookie. James Patterson, take note.

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What a week

It has been an incredible first week for Defending Jacob. Last Tuesday, the day the book was published, it hit #1 on the Barnes & Noble bestseller list and stayed there for most of the week. The ebook also spent most of the week at #4 or #5 on the B&N list. Amazon named it a Best Book of the Month and Editors’ Pick for Kindle, and sales promptly spiked there as well. Reviews ranged from flattering to really flattering to “Holy crap!” And all the while I’ve been on tour, visiting eight cities so far (I’m in Seattle as I write this, Portland tomorrow).

Today the week reached a surreal climax: I was told Defending Jacob will debut at #4 on the New York Times bestseller list. (That asterisk means the sales figures for Defending Jacob are barely distinguishable from the title above it.) (Update: To clarify, the book will appear on the print edition of the Times list on February 19. That list is available online here.)

I suppose things could get better, conceivably. But it’s hard to imagine.


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It’s finally here: Defending Jacob is published today. You know what to do…

(If you’re in the UK, you’ll have to wait just a few weeks more. Orion has pushed back the publication date a bit. Stay tuned.)

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Review of the day

From this morning’s Boston Globe book section.

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Climbing the charts

Barnes & Noble web site screen grab

The Barnes & Noble web site is certainly looking lovely today. Defending Jacob is currently at #48 on the B&N bestseller list and rising fast — it was around #350 at lunchtime. Not bad for a book that hasn’t even been published yet! I want to cherish little moments like this because, hey, you never know. Maybe this is as good as it gets.

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A Big Week

With just a couple of weeks left until Defending Jacob is published, last week brought two bombshells.

First, Barnes & Noble announced that Defending Jacob will be February’s pick for the Barnes & Noble Recommends program. This is a game-changer. For four or five weeks from its publication date, the book will have a prime placement at the front of every B&N store, accompanied by endorsements from booksellers. It will be heavily promoted online, as well. Already, Defending Jacob is prominently featured in the B&N Bookseller’s Guide to Good Reading and the list of Best Books of the Month. And — my favorite part — the dust jacket of all B&N stock will feature the lovely gold badge you see above. I am incredibly honored. The list of past selections for B&N Recommends is a roll call of books that were “that book.” Maybe, just maybe, Defending Jacob will be “that book” for a while, too.

Also last week, the American Booksellers Association announced that Defending Jacob made the Indie Next list for February. Another huge honor and one that is sure to bring the book to many, many people’s attention. I am always exhorting people to support their local indie bookstore if they’re lucky enough to have one. What a wonderful thing to have the indies supporting me!

It crosses every writer’s mind at some point: what would it be like to be picked for the Indie Next list? Or B&N Recommends? Happily, I’m about to find out.

Other news:

  • has a nice new feature on Defending Jacob. The “author spotlight” includes a book-giveaway contest and an original essay by me, in which I hold forth shamelessly on “the unwritten rules of the legal thriller.” (Hint: I did not know there were rules until they asked me to write about them.)
  • Barnes & Noble has added a new feature to the Defending Jacob page at an interview I did recently with writer-editor Tess Taylor. Have I become such a gasbag that I can fill multiple web sites with my carrying-on? It’s starting to look that way.
  • The Author Tour page has been updated with some newly scheduled radio appearances and an additional Boston-area reading, on March 1 at 7:00 PM at my own local bookstore, the lovely Newtonville Books, just a mile or so from the murder scene in Defending Jacob.

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Advertising Jacob

Random House has produced this 15-second ad for Defending Jacob. Fun.

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Another Star

I hate to turn this blog into an endless infomercial for Defending Jacob. I can’t imagine anything more tedious to read. But here I go again: another starred review, this one from Booklist magazine. (No link available yet. The review is in the print edition only, for now.) Booklist is an important tastemaker. As the trade journal of the American Library Association, librarians rely on it to help make buying decisions. And there are lots of librarians.

Money quote:

Landay’s two previous novels (Mission Flats, 2003, and The Strangler, 2007) were award winners, but he reaches a new level of excellence with this riveting, knock-your-socks-off legal thriller. With its masterfully crafted characterizations and dialogue, emotional depth, and frightening implications, the novel rivals the best of Scott Turow and John Grisham. Don’t miss it.


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Tour Schedule

Today I got the schedule for my author tour in support of Defending Jacob. It’s a doozy, ten appearances in ten days in nine cities. In order, they are: Boston, Kansas City, Houston, Denver, Scottsdale, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland. Then a final stop at my childhood bookstore, the wonderful Brookline Booksmith, which still looks pretty much the way it did when I was a kid. It was called the Paperback Booksmith then. It had a funkier vibe than it does now, but the bones of the place haven’t changed. Same creaky floors, same basic layout. I used to love wandering around there. Still do. It is a fitting place to end the tour.

For someone who has never toured at all, this feels like a jump to the big leagues. I am flattered, to be honest. These are lean times in publishing (and not just in publishing). Extravagant author tours are unheard of. It is a measure of Random House’s high hopes for this book that they are willing to foot the bill for all this. And stay tuned, there is much more to come.

The full schedule is here. If you live in any of these places, come on out and say hello. I promise to be spellbinding company, even if I’m a little delirious with jet lag.

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Up the Amazon

So many exciting things are happening behind the scenes with Defending Jacob, but most of the news is still top secret. My editor has regularly sworn me to silence, and because it is too late for me to get a real job, I will do as I’m told and keep my mouth shut. But here is some news I can share.

One nice feature of Amazon’s book pages is the occasional “guest review” by an author. For Defending Jacob, two star suspense writers have chimed in with very generous reviews. Philip Margolin, who has yet to write a novel that does not make the Times bestseller list, wrote:

The books I blurb range from fun reads to very good reads. Then there is the rare book that knocks my socks off. William Landay’s Defending Jacob is one of these gems. It is a legal thriller, but so are To Kill a Mockingbird, Snow Falling on Cedars and Anatomy of a Murder. Defending Jacob, like these classics, separates itself from the pack because it is also a searing work of literary fiction.

Joseph Finder, whose espionage and suspense novels also sell in outlandish numbers, might actually be more enthusiastic.

Scott Turow invented the modern legal thriller, I’d argue, with his astonishing 1987 novel Presumed Innocent. … Turow’s had many imitators since then, but nothing has come close to the power, the narrative skill and the legal cleverness of Presumed Innocent.

Until now.

It is a little surreal to read such extravagant praise for my own book, especially praise from fellow writers, which carries more weight. And of course I am thrilled that Defending Jacob will have such a kick-ass Amazon page. But what impresses me most about the whole thing is how incredibly gracious these two authors have been.

Mind you, this is not logrolling. I am in no position to repay the favor, since a blurb from a no-name like me is of zero value. Nor do I have a relationship with either writer. I have never met Margolin, and Finder I’ve met only a handful of times, very briefly. None of us share a common publisher, editor, agent, dentist, car mechanic, or anything else. So neither of these guys has anything to gain. Apparently they are endorsing the book for no other reason than that they believe in it and want to help an obscure mid-list author find a wider audience. It’s so generous, so — there’s no other word for it — nice … well, I can hardly begin to explain it.

So I will just say “thank you” to both, publicly. And if you find yourself in a bookstore with a novel by Finder or Margolin in front of you, remember that these are two of the good guys.

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Jacob earns a star from PW

More good news today about Defending Jacob: a starred review in Publishers Weekly.

Andy Barber, a respected First Assistant DA who lives in Newton, Mass., with his gentle wife, Laurie, and their 14-year-old son, Jacob, must face the unthinkable in Dagger Award-winner Landay’s harrowing third suspense novel. When Ben Rifkin, Jacob’s classmate, is found stabbed to death in the woods, Internet accusations and incontrovertible evidence point to big, handsome Jacob. Andy’s prosecutorial gut insists a child molester is the real killer, but as Jacob’s trial proceeds and Andy’s marriage crumbles under the forced revelation of old secrets, horror builds on horror toward a breathtakingly brutal outcome. Landay (The Strangler), a former DA, mixes gritty court reporting with Andy’s painful confrontation with himself, forcing readers willy-nilly to realize the end is never the end when, as Landay claims, the line between truth and justice has become so indistinct as to appear imaginary. This searing narrative proves the ancient Greek tragedians were right: the worst punishment is not death but living with what you — knowingly or unknowingly — have done.

I do not get especially high or low about reviews, honestly. I am my own harshest critic, and by a very wide margin. By the time I read a review, I have already lashed myself for every flaw in my book. This is probably not the healthiest way to go through a writing career, but it does have the happy effect of insulating me from critics. Good reviews feel unconvincing, bad reviews feel … well, not bad enough. With all that said, I’ve never understood those artists who simply ignore reviews. I can’t resist reading them.

In any event, I am far from home today — in beautiful Seattle, doing more publicity for the book — so this was very nice news to wake up to.

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Jacob’s English jacket

We have our cover for the British edition of Defending Jacob from Orion Books. I was hesitant about this design at first, honestly, but now I really love it. It’s a completely different look from the U.S. cover, which probably tells you something about the differing sensibilities of American and English readers — though what it tells you, exactly, I have no idea. One thing is clear, even to my American eyes: that is one creepy-looking kid. My thanks to everyone at Orion for such an arresting design.

Cover art for the English edition of Defending Jacob from Orion publishing


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FYI a Q&A about Defending Jacob — questions posed by Random House publicists, rambling, prolix answers by me — has been added to this site, though it’s pretty well buried. An edited version of this interview was included in the press kit for the book. This is the whole unedited enchilada. You can find it here.

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Quote for the Day

Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.

Elizabeth Stone (1803-1881)

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A blurb from Joseph Finder

While I was away on vacation last week, I received this jaw-dropping blurb from the perennial bestselling author Joseph Finder:

A novel like this comes along maybe once a decade. William Landay’s Defending Jacob is a tour de force, a full-blooded legal thriller about a murder trial and the way it shatters a family. With its relentless suspense, mesmerizing prose, and a shocking twist at the end, it’s every bit as good as Scott Turow’s great Presumed Innocent. But also something more: an indelible domestic drama that calls to mind Ordinary People and We Need to Talk About Kevin. A spellbinding and unforgettable literary crime novel.

Thank you, Joe. But next time could you try to be a little more enthusiastic?

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And we have a cover at last. To see it in glorious high resolution, look here.

Defending Jacob - front cover

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Public Writer, Private Writer

Preparations continue for this winter’s publication of Defending Jacob. The cover art is locked in (sneak preview soon). Yesterday I spent six hours being photographed on Boston street corners in various brooding writerly poses. This morning comes news that the book has sold in China, making it the rare product that we export to them. (Hang on, America, just a few more books and I’ll get this darn trade deficit turned around.)

But the strangest bit, to me, is that I will soon go off on a “pre-publication tour.” In September and October, I will visit regional trade shows for independent booksellers in New England, Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, southern California (Long Beach) and northern California (San Francisco). I am delighted to do this, of course. Author tours, pre- or post-publication, are rare today. Not penny-on-the-sidewalk rare — unicorn rare. So I’m very grateful to my publisher for putting increasingly scarce resources behind my book.

At the same time, I can’t help thinking that I am a hell of a lot less interesting in person than I am in my books. In person, I am a perfectly pleasant guy, I suppose, but no author can replicate the intensity and intimacy of a good reading experience. Most authors I’ve met? Meh, the book was better. That’s the nature of reading, which requires the reader to conjure the author’s voice out of squiggles on the page. Inevitably the voice you, the reader, create in your head has a special quality. It seems to come from inside you, it seems to originate in your own thoughts. A good book hijacks the inner voice that burbles constantly in every reader’s head. That’s what makes the medium so powerful: the story takes place inside the reader’s consciousness. No wonder the author’s voice seems so familiar and authoritative.

The author’s voice is not my real, conversational voice, of course. When you read my books, you hear only my most articulate, well-crafted sentences. My best and most refined self. That’s what good writing is. The rest — the clumsy phrases, the not-quite-right words or metaphors, all the inarticulate flubs that characterize ordinary speech — is edited out. Even my realistic dialogue is not quite real, the quotation marks notwithstanding. It is shaped, polished, crafted, improved. Every stammer and stumble is calculated for its precise effect. It is the way you would talk if you had a writer scripting your life. (How great would that be?)

Surely readers know all this, but they crave the writer’s personal presence anyway. They want to meet the awkward, bashful, inarticulate writer behind the exalted, hyper-articulate authorial voice they’ve heard in their heads. That’s why there are bookstore readings and author tours and Oprah (well, there used to be Oprah). Continue reading →

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Promoting Jacob

The publicity onslaught continues! Random House has printed a second round of advance editions, this one for independent booksellers, and again it’s a doozy. The cover is below.

Obviously this is incredibly flattering. It is not every day that the publisher herself personally goes to the mat for any novel, let alone endorsing one in such glowing terms. I am deeply grateful. Thank you, Libby!

Defending Jacob - ARC 2d edition

It is odd to read such enthusiastic praise while I am in the early, floundering, confidence-crushing stages of my new book. Even now, with three decent novels under my belt, I feel like an absolute beginner every time I start a new one. I think that will always be true for me. Novel-writing will always be an uphill struggle. It can’t be mastered. That is especially clear now, at the start, when the story hasn’t revealed itself yet. Everything I learned writing the last book does not help much when I sit down to write the next one. So this endorsement comes at a welcome moment. After all, Defending Jacob was a struggle, too. It is helpful to remember that.

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