It was the book that, as one insider put it, you had to “go into a closet to read.” If there was one hush-hush book at Frankfurt this year, it was Masha Gessen’s Vladimir Putin biography, The Man Without a Face. The book, which is forthcoming from Riverhead, presented a challenge for agent for Elyse Cheney, who was trying to sell foreign rights to the title, without compromising the safety of her author.
The book, scheduled for a March 1 release in the States, has been quietly sitting on Riverhead’s list for some time. But with its author, journalist Masha Gessen, still in Russia, there are concerns, voiced particularly by Cheney, that if too much information in the book leaks, it could create a safety issue for Gessen. (A rep at Riverhead said the book contains “explosive” information about the Russian prime minister, and that could be a hazard for Gessen, especially in a country that is notoriously dangerous for journalists.)
With that in mind, Cheney, who was working with the British Intercontinental Literary Agency on the foreign sales in Frankfurt, had readers sign nondisclosure agreements before getting the manuscript. The reaction to the book was stronger than Cheney expected, and word began to spread at the fair about the book that was being secretly shopped. With interest in the title rising, Cheney has now closed sales in Denmark, Finland, Holland, Norway, Spain, and Sweden, with offers pending in Brazil, France, Germany, and, Italy.
Jynne Martin, director of publicity at Riverhead, acknowledged that it’s tricky publishing a book when you have concerns about its author’s safety. Martin said everyone has been feeling “panicky and protective” toward Gessen and, going into Frankfurt, the thinking was that Cheney would “quietly go ahead” selling the book, but “wait to draw attention to it" until the agent got to Frankfurt. Once the title became caught the attention of scouts and other insiders, though, the quiet sales approach became harder to maintain.
Although Martin did not want to discuss Gessen’s schedule, or particular whereabouts, she said she doesn’t foresee any problems in promoting the book in the States, where she said there will be plenty of lead-time for marketing and publicity.