In September, NYRB Lit, the new e-book series from New York Review Books devoted to publishing contemporary literary fiction and narrative nonfiction, will release its first title, The Water Theatre by Lindsay Clarke--called one of the best books of the year by The Times when it was first published two years ago in the U.K. Clarke's novel was scooped up by Sue Halpern, NYRB Lit's series editor (and longtime New York Review of Books contributor), when an editor at a major house couldn't get traction for it, despite the book's and Clarke's reputation (he's won the Whitbread Prize).
"Our logic is very simple," said Halpern. "Since, as the argument goes, it is too risky and expensive for those publishers to bring out these sorts of books, we will take advantage of digital's lower costs to expand the reading universe."
As an imprint under the New York Review Books umbrella (the book publishing side that's part of the same company as the New York Review of Books magazine), NYRB Lit will look to release 10 e-books per year, priced at $9.99 each. Halpern said, "I'm fairly certain that once we launch with our first five titles, we will get books published in less than a year fro teh time we've acquired them. But it's important to remember that these aren't instant books, and typically are not time-sensitive, so publishing quickly is not our goal but, rather, publishing them as well as we are able, is." Getting titles into Random House's catalog is essential, said Halpern, because if an e-book finds an audience, it'll be published in print. The other four launch titles (after The Water Theatre) are: Beirut, I Love You by Zena El Khalil (October); 1948 by Yoram Kaniuk (November); Ravan and Eddie by Kiran Nagarkar (December); On the Edge Markus Werner (January 2013).
"The agents and editors have been phenomenal in sending books our way," said Halpern, speaking to the network (which also includes the likes of the University of Iowa translation program) NYRB Lit is utilizing to find its titles.Indeed, Halpern and her colleagues already seem to have a knack for finding books with pedigrees that somehow seem to have slipped through the cracks: On the Edge has sold 400,000 copies in Germany and 1948 has sold over 80,000 copies in Israel, a big number for a small market.
Halpern is committed to making the imprint known for its strong fiction and nonfiction list, and to bringing great books to readers who wouldn't otherwise find them. Speaking about 1948, Halpern said: "It's telling us something about the world we don't know--and that's what I'm looking for."