Projects you “desperately want to publish” but that you also can’t imagine “sliding comfortably between those two stiff pieces of cardboard” is how Farrar, Straus & Giroux senior editor Sean McDonald described FSG Originals, the publisher’s paperback line. Launched by McDonald and FSG editor Emily Bell in 2011, the imprint has published 20 titles to date, and recently gave birth to a digital line, Digital Originals. FSG Originals has just started promoting one of its 2014 summer titles, The Silent History, and McDonald said the work (it’s adapted from the celebrated story-driven app of the same name, which launched in 2012) is exactly the kind of book that fits the imprint’s list.
The Silent History is written by the creators of the app (which PW covered in its Aug. 31, 2012, issue): Eli Horowitz, Matthew Derby, and Kevin Moffat. The novel, about a cataclysmic event that leaves a generation of children without the ability to understand, or create, language, drew in McDonald, both because of its unique origins as a nonbook, and because of its “literary sensibility.” The novel will be released as a $16 paperback on June 10 and, the editor explained, required a “fair amount of work” to adapt from [a screen] into a cohesive, single narrative.
FSG Originals was created with an ethic that drives a number of other literary paperback-only imprints: it allows its editors to take chances on books that are more experimental, by publishing them at lower price points, and often with smaller print runs. The line has already had a handful of successes. One of its two launch titles—John Jeremiah Sullivan’s essay collection, Pulphead—was named a 2011 New York Times Notable Book. And, though it received less critical acclaim, Brian McGreevey’s horror novel Hemlock Grove (March 2012) has been adapted into an original Netflix series of the same name.
The books coming out of FSG Originals have crossed genres—titles have swung from nonfiction to hard-boiled noir to science fiction—and, ultimately, it’s about the writing, and the story, for McDonald. “They’re all books driven by strong, distinct, unusual voices, crafted with obsessive care, powered with a bit of manic energy,” he said.
To keep things interesting, McDonald and Bell have tried to pair FSG Original titles with the kind of events that would likely appeal to their well-educated, pop-culture-obsessed, young-ish urban readership. In one effort, cohosted by GQ magazine and Flavorpill, authors of FSG Original titles were paired with musicians for talks at a loft space in lower Manhattan.
In addition to apps—and more obvious source material like magazine articles—a number of FSG Originals began life as something other than traditional book proposals. McDonald once nabbed something that was began as a string in “crime fiction message boards,” and he said he is eager to continue to publish titles that come from, and can exist, in other forms of media. To that end, McDonald is working with Horowitz, The Silent History coauthor, on a digital storytelling project that will be the basis of a book.
With a recently added editor (Taylor Sperry), as well as a new dedicated publicist (Brian Gittis), McDonald is hoping to ramp up FSG Originals in 2014. The events will certainly continue, too, since, McDonald noted, to date they’ve all been sold out.