“It has taken 15 years for this to happen and I don’t anticipate that it will happen again,” said Dan Wells, publisher of Biblioasis, about the surprising surge in sales of Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann, a 1,040-page experimental novel that largely consists of a single unending sentence in the mind of housewife in suburban Ohio. The book was already a darling of independent bookstores, who got a preview of the title back at Winter Institute in Albuquerque this January. But when the book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, the U.K.’s most prestigious prize for fiction, the title started generating buzz and headlines.
It quickly sold out and Wells, who wrote about the risks of publishing such a book last month for PW, went back for second and third printings. “By the time the winner of the Booker is announced, we should have 27,000 copies in stores,” he said. “That for us is pretty huge, and it is the fastest selling book we have had in our history.”
Wells notes that the book might not merely be attracting the curious. “I’ve been following the conversations about the book online and can see that it is now being propelled by word-of-mouth,” he said. He also reports that the book is attracting attention from academics. One professor, Randy Boyagoda, who teaches at the University of Toronto, is the head of this year’s Giller Prize jury, and is also published by Biblioasis, is assigning it to his literature class. “He’s teaching it alongside David Foster Wallace, and I’ve seen others say that some are thinking of Ducks as this generation’s Infinite Jest,” Wells said. The Two Month Review podcast by Chad Post at the University of Rochester has just started a close reading of the book with fans and critics for its tenth season.
Interest in the books is widespread: Wells reports strong sales at stores ranging from Type Books in Toronto to Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass., to Interrabang Books in Dallas. Foreign rights for the book have been sold in Australia, India, and France, and deals for Sweden and Spain are in the works.
Asked what he thinks are the chances of the book winning the Booker are, Wells—who will be attending the Frankfurt Book Fair when the winner is announced on October 14—demurred. “You never know,” he said, “but I think it has just as much a chance as any other on the shortlist. That said, if Biblioasis is given a footnote in the history of publishing and remembered for anything, it will be for publishing this book."
This article has been updated for clarity.