A new book proposal from Margot Lee Shetterly is making the rounds at New York publishing houses. According to insiders, the sales tag for the work is quickly mounting.
The large sum the book may fetch should come as no shock, given the fact that Shetterly's literary stock is high. Her debut, Hidden Figures (William Morrow, Sept. 2016), became an instant bestseller. More notably, the film adaptation of the book emerged as one of the unexpected critical and box office hits of 2016.
A nonfiction account chronicling the unsung black female mathematicians who worked at NASA through the Jim Crow era and into the Civil Rights Movement, Hidden Figures quickly gained traction in Hollywood. Studios and producers love true stories and uncovered bits of history. Another plus? Shetterly's book addressed a criticism dogging Hollywood, about the industry being woefully behind the curve when it comes to creating entertainment about, and featuring, non-white characters.
Writing in Wired, in a piece called "'Hidden Figures' Should Be a Diversity Wake-Up Call for Film," Stacy L. Smith pointed out that the film not only stood out for its portrayal of black women, but also for its depiction of women in science.
The numbers the book has done have also helped elevate Shetterly to a new perch. According to NPD BookScan (which tracks 85% of print sales), the movie tie-in edition has sold over 284,000 copies, to date, while the hardcover has sold about 85,000 copies.
The film adaptation has also out-performed expectations. It was nominated for three Oscars and and has, according to Box Office Mojo, brought in more than $160 million in the U.S. alone. (Box Office Mojo estimated the film's budget at $25 million.)
Shetterly is represented by Mackenzie Brady Watson at the Stuart Krichevsky Literary Agency. A representative from the firm confirmed that the agent and author are "currently taking publisher meetings, and have been all week," and Watson said that she expects a deal to close next week.
While Watson did not respond to inquiries about the proposal itself, PW has heard rumors about the content. Sources said two proposals are being shopped and that one is a nonfiction work centered on race relations in Baltimore. The other, we hear, is about African Americans who moved to the Soviet Union during Stalin's time in power.
Given the success of both Shetterly's book and its film adaptation, insiders expect that this deal may well go into seven figures. As for film rights to the book, or books, some sources have said the parties involved want to sell publishing rights before selling film rights.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of the Stuart Krichevsky Literary Agency.