In separate deals with agents at William Morris Endeavor, HarperCollins's Terry Karten acquired North American rights to two of the big buzz books drawing attention leading into the Frankfurt Book Fair. Both are debut novels. The first book, which Dorian Karchmar sold, is called Gutenberg's Apprentice and is written by journalist Alix Christie. That novel tracks what WME called the "last great media revolution:" the invention of the printing press. The second novel, sold by Bill Clegg, is Katy Simpson Smith's The Story of Land and Sea, which is set during the final years of the Revolutionary War.
Karchmar said Karten took Gutenberg's Apprentice in a "major pre-empt." The novel follows a man named Peter Schoeffer, who is the foster son of the venture capitalist that funded printing press creator, Johan Gutenberg. The story, based on the historical record, is, Karchmar said, one that captures a moment similar to one we're experiencing today, with people perched "on the unsettling and exhilarating cusp between the old ways and the new." She added that the novel is "both stirring and tragic, with three men united to make a thing that none had seen before; but the doing of it would lead to their undoing."
Christie, an American now based in London, has been a foreign correspondent for three decades, writing for various publications. She currently reviews books for The Economist and is a member of the North London Writers Group, which claims alums such as Sarah Waters.
Smith's novel was acquired in a ten-house, seven-bidder auction, and offers on the book are currently in from houses in Germany, France and Holland. The book weaves together the story of John and his 10-year-old, Tabitha, with the decades-earlier tale of Tabitha's mother and a slave child named Moll, given to her as a gift by her father on her tenth birthday.
While John is trying desperately to save Tabitha--the year is 1793, and he's whisking her off to Bermuda in hopes of stemming the spread of her yellow fever--the story of Tabitha's mother is one about two women growing up under very different circumstances, yet easing into an uneasy friendship. The book, as Clegg noted in his pitch letter, "captures the singular love that binds parent to child, the devastation of love lost, and the desperate paths we travel in the name of renewal."
Smith, who lives in New Orleans, has a PhD in history from the University of North Carolina and an MFA from Bennington. The Story of Land and Sea has also received blurbs from, among others, Anita Shreve, Paul Yoon and David Gates.