Although better known for an impressive nonfiction list, Bloomsbury USA is looking to expand its fiction publishing, adding a broad array of edgy, younger American writers, international works, and literary fiction with commercial interest. The house has added more editors focused on fiction with a broad mandate "to attract review attention and attract new writers to our list," said Bloomsbury director of publicity Peter Miller.
While Miller took care to note that the house has always published fiction—the bestselling 2004 Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Miller said, "put us on the map"—most of Bloomsbury's fiction has come from the much deeper fiction list of its parent in the U.K. Miller pointed to a crop of relatively new Bloomsbury editors—senior editor Ben Adams, former Houghton Mifflin editor Anton Mueller and now executive editor, and editor-at-large Nancy Miller (formerly with HarperCollins)—charged with acquiring fiction on the U.S. side. "We are being more bullish on midlist fiction in general," Miller said.
In 2004, the Bloomsbury fall list had only four novels, while this fall the list will have 11 (not counting a host of mystery novels, a legacy of its acquisition of Walker & Co. in 2005). Fall print runs have not been set, Miller said, but will be between 10,000 and 20,000 copies. The house has just published novelist Anchee Min's Pearl of China—with 50,000 copies in print, "our most commercial fiction in years," said Miller—a biographical fictional homage to Nobel laureate Pearl Buck brought to the house by Mueller, Min's longtime editor. Mueller is also publishing The Pleasure Seekers, a U.S./U.K. coacquisition and first novel by Indian/Welsh novelist Tishani Doshi that boasts a gushing blurb from Salman Rushdie. And he's also responsible for Bound by New Yorker writer Antonya Nelson—set in her hometown Wichita, Kans., and focused on the BTK serial killer—coming this fall from a writer best known for short stories. "We're giving away 300 galleys at BEA," said Miller.
Adams is interested in "literary pyrotechnics with a heart," but added, "we're always after bestsellers," which should explain two books he's publishing this fall. Adams acquired You Were Wrong, a new novel by Matthew Sharpe, author of the much-praised 2007 post-apocalyptic literary hybrid, Jamestown, and The Network, "an upmarket thriller/spy crossover" set in Afghanistan, a first novel by Jason Elliot, better known as a prize-winning travel writer. It's a book Adams hopes will attract male readers. "There are male readers," he said laughing, "and I feel comfortable publishing for them."
Nancy Miller has two books by "veteran American writers at the top of their game"—Robert Hellenga's Snakewoman of Little Egypt and Jo-Ann Mapson's Solomon's Oaks, both featuring iconic central characters in rural settings; she said books have "reading group, or word-of-mouth appeal." Kathy Belden, the Bloomsbury editor who oversees the books of veteran fiction writer Will Self—he's published five books at Bloomsbury—will publish Self's The Undivided Self: Selected Stories in the fall.
Why all of this high-tone fiction at a time when long form reading is allegedly in its death throes? "You'd be crazy not to be concerned," said Nancy Miller. "But we believe our books will find readers. We hand-publish every book and that makes a difference. And we have high expectations that some will be big books. We believe in our authors."