I can still remember staying up way too late turning the pages of Sue Miller’s debut novel, The Good Mother (Harper & Row), promising myself, “Only one more chapter...” That was 1986, and all these years later, I can tell you that Miller is still writing page-turners. Harper will publish Monogamy, her 11th novel, as its lead fall fiction title on September 8.
Back with her original publisher after a stint at Knopf, Miller has a new editor, Terry Karten, and a new agent, Suzanne Gluck, a partner at WME, who says it all when she tells me, “It’s been extraordinary how Sue Miller’s power as a novelist has lasted so long.”
Monogamy is the story of Annie and Graham, happily married for 30 years. But after Graham dies suddenly, Annie discovers he was having an affair.
“I wanted to write a book about someone in grief, and how after someone dies we see them in a different way,” Miller says. “And I wanted it to be within a marriage. When Annie finds out about the infidelity, it changes how she grieves. Then I started writing the characters, and I enjoyed thinking about them, their relationship, how they talked to each other.”
The novel took six years to write. Miller notes that it doesn’t usually take her that long to complete a novel, but “things happen—life interferes.” Also, she confides, when her granddaughter comes to visit her in Boston, “all bets are off—she’s the focus.”
When Monogamy was finished in 2018, Miller went looking for a new agent. She talked to friends, looked up interviews, sent query letters. As Gluck tells it, “We are always checking emails, expecting nothing. Then, in August 2018, I get an email from Sue Miller! She’s so humble. She explained who she was, which made me laugh, and asked if we could have a conversation about representation.”
Miller sent the manuscript that September and went to the WME offices in New York City for a meeting. Gluck recalls that the manuscript was a “very, very final evolved draft,” adding that the support for Miller in the company was incredible. She says Miller had a great run with Knopf for her previous five novels, including her most recent, The Arsonist, in 2014, but the consensus was that it was time for a change.
Gluck thought “long and hard about whom to send Monogamy to,” she says. “Everyone in town wanted to see it. I sent it to seven editors who I thought could help captain this next stage of Sue’s career. We had seven meetings and seven offers.”
Karten says when Gluck called her about a new Miller novel, her response was simply, “What!?” She was very excited, not least because she had been editorial assistant to the legendary Ted Solotaroff, who was Miller’s first editor. “He was my model as an editor,” Karten says. “Even when I moved on, my desk was outside his office. I read all of Sue’s books that Harper published.”
Karten saw the Monogamy manuscript in February 2019. She read it immediately and was “blown away.” Then she did a survey. “My colleagues are very young,” she says. “I gave the book to a 20-something, a 30-something. Everyone knew who Sue Miller was.”
Then Karten took it to Harper president and publisher Jonathan Burnham and deputy publisher Doug Jones. “Oh, Sue Miller!” Jones told her. “I remember my first job at Brazos bookstore in Texas shelving The Good Mother.”
On March 4 last year, Karten trekked with three colleagues to the WME offices to lead the meeting with Miller and Gluck after preparing all weekend. “I made a big pitch about welcoming Sue back to her original publisher,” she says. An auction followed that went two rounds, and Karten won North American rights for seven figures. As part of the deal, Harper will reissue Miller’s Harper backlist in August as a lead-up to Monogamy. Karten also negotiated audio rights to all of Miller’s titles, which had never been available in audio before.
Gluck is excited about the potential the audio agreement has for bringing new readers to Miller. “This is an incredible Sue moment,” she tells me. “She has fans across all generations and should acquire serious new readers with this new access.”
Alexandra Pringle at Bloomsbury will publish the novel in the U.K. simultaneously with Harper’s U.S. edition. “Alexandra has been publishing Sue, so it’s wonderful to continue the relationship—to have that consistency,” Gluck says. Other foreign deals are in the works, and she has high expectations. Miller has been translated widely and published in 22 countries. Marketing will include everything possible in these uncertain times.
“The wonderful thing about this book,” Karten says, “is the vulnerability of all the characters. I love that about Sue’s writing. She probes so deeply into her characters, way below the surface. She asks those hard questions: What does it mean to love? To be loved? How well do we know the ones we love? How well do we know ourselves?”
As Gluck says, “Sue really explores every interesting nuance of family relationships. There’s as much excitement about what’s to come as what was behind. Her work never loses its power.”
And how does Miller feel about all the excitement? “Lucky,” she says. “And reaffirmed and joyous.”