This fall, the publishing world looks like a heavyweight boxing tournament, with intriguing head-to-head matchups at every turn. The biggest story is October's funny face-off, which finds Lena Dunham, Amy Poehler and Neil Patrick Harris all releasing books within weeks. Meanwhile, a slew of likely best-sellers from the usual suspects — James Patterson and Stephen King among them — square off for attention against old favorites making a comeback (Anne Rice) and underdogs poised to make a move for the crown (Tana French and Elena Ferrante).
The Secret Place
by Tana French, Viking Adult, $27.95, Sept. 2
Who The American-born Irish novelist whose first four books in the Dublin Murder Squad series swept publishing's top mystery prizes.
Elevator pitch The squad investigates the murder of two students at an affluent Dublin girls' school in a tale that alternates between the victims (pre-murder) and the detectives.
Expectations This will be her breakout commercial hit.
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay
by Elena Ferrante, Europa Editions, $18, Sept. 2
Who A mysterious Italian author, who hides her real name and photo.
Elevator pitch The third in a series about the friendship between two women in a mid-20th century Naples full of sexism, poverty and mobsters.
Expectations Strong buzz and glowing press is turning it into the next big thing in books.
I'll Give You the Sun
by Jandy Nelson, Dial, $17.99, Sept. 16
Who The author of the 2010 YA hit The Sky Is Everywhere.
Elevator pitch The lives of brother-sister twins, who are close at age 13, unravel at 16 after a dark tragedy.
Expectations Poised to be the next The Fault in Our Stars, it already has been optioned by producer Denise Di Novi.
by Meg Wolitzer, Dutton Juvenile, $17.99, Sept. 30
Who The author of the best-selling The Interestings.
Elevator pitch A young girl goes to a boarding school for "emotionally fragile and highly intelligent" teens after her boyfriend dies and discovers a supernatural way to be with him again.
Expectations Teen girls will love this, but Wolitzer's older fans will like it, too.
Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's 'Learned'
by Lena Dunham, Random House, $28, Sept. 30
Who The 28-year-old wunderkind with the $3.7 million book advance.
Elevator pitch Quarter-life advice inspired by Helen Gurley Brown's 1982 best-seller Having It All, as well as the late Nora Ephron.
Expectations The Girls audience — small for TV, big for publishing — will buy the book.
Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography
by Neil Patrick Harris, Crown Archetype, $26, Oct. 14
Who The TV/Broadway/awards show success.
Elevator pitch A cheeky memoir in the style of the '70s Choose Your Own Adventure books. Try out for Doogie Howser, M.D., or pass? Readers decide.
Expectations In a genre normally dominated by women (Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, Judy Greer), Harris will be the rare male author to sell.
by John Grisham, Doubleday, $28.95, Oct. 21
Who The king of legal thrillers.
Elevator pitch A young Wall Street attorney returns to her Appalachian hometown, sues the big coal companies and uncovers long-hidden secrets.
Expectations Early buzz is that this is Grisham's best book in years.
by Anne Rice, Knopf, $28.95, Oct. 28
Who The Queen of Horror, returning to her favorite character.
Elevator Pitch A growing vampire population provokes a crisis.
Expectations He's back, and the fans will be, too.
The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones
by George R. R. Martin, Elio M. Garcia Jr. and Linda Antonsson, Random House, $50, Oct. 28
Who The creator of the series, assisted by the founders of the site Westeros.org.
Elevator pitch The show's backstory filled out with new history, family trees and 170 illustrations.
Expectations A growing TV audience looking for an easy entry into the Game of Thrones books will scoop this up.
by Amy Poehler, Dey Street Books, $28.99, Oct. 28
Who The funny woman from Parks and Recreation and Saturday Night Live.
Elevator pitch Comedic anecdotes and advice on sex, parenting and divorce.
Expectations This season's Bossypants.