What’s the big book of this year’s fair? That no single title has emerged to claim the crown is, depending who you ask, a positive sign or a negative one. As one scout noted, the potential that a big book is yet to emerge at the fair, which officially gets underway today, means the biggest title of the season may still be on the horizon. But, as another scout opined, the absence of a book drawing everyone’s attention points to a weaker overall crop of titles for the season. One thing the absence of a big book has meant is that a handful of titles—drawing strong advances from editors in the U.S. and abroad—are being clumped into an ever-growing list of buzzed-about books.
Arguably two of the biggest books of the fair, so far have been the debut novels All Our Wrong Todays and Eleanor Oliphant, which both sold for rumored seven figure sums in the U.S. alone. All Our Wrong Todays a Jonathan Tropper-esque work with a science fiction-bent, which we reported last week was nabbed in a North American rights deal by Maya Ziv at Dutton for a sum insiders put at $1.25 million, is the first novel by Canadian screenwriter Elan Mastai.
Eleanor Oliphant, by Scottish author Gail Honeyman, is being compared to bestsellers The Rosie Project and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry; it follows a woman that British agent Madeleine Milburn, who represents the book, described as a “lovable oddball.” Pam Dorman, who acquired the book in the U.S. for her Pamela Dorman Books imprint, noted that the novel specifically grapples with “the very real issues of bad mothering, as well as how social dysfunction, and being somewhere on the ‘oddball spectrum’ affects a person to her core.” In addition to the U.S. sale, the novel was acquired in a high six-figure deal in the U.K. by Martha Ashby and Kimberley Young at HarperCollins after an eight-way auction; it has also sold in Germany, Italy, Serbia, France, Holland, Israel, Sweden and Brazil.
Among the projects by more established names drawing some attention is Douglas Preston’s new nonfiction book, The Lost City of the Monkey God. In a pre-fair seven-figure deal, Mitch Hoffman at Grand Central acquired North American rights to the book. Lost City is expanded from an article Preston wrote earlier this year for National Geographic about the discovery, in the Honduran Rain Forest, of the remnants of a city belonging to a heretofore unknown ancient culture. Eric Simonoff at William Morris Endeavor represents the book and the agency said that, at press time, it was on submission in the U.K. with offers in from publishers in various countries, including Germany and Holland.
Two novels which have been particularly hot in foreign markets are Abbi Waxman’s The Vegetable Gardener’s Companion and E.O. Chirovichi’s The Book of Mirrors. Though neither sold for huge sums in the U.S.—Kate Seaver at Berkley acquired North American rights to Vegetable Gardener’s Companion, while Megan Reid at Emily Bestler Books took U.S. rights to Book of Mirrors—both have been racking up foreign sales.
Book of Mirrors, which we covered late last month and has been touted in the consumer press as one of the big books of the show, is represented by Marilia Savvides at U.K. agency Peters Fraser and Dunlop (with PFD’s Rachel Mills handling foreign sales in Frankfurt). By a U.K.-based Romanian author, who is a bestseller in his native country, the novel is being touted as the next The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair; it has sold in 23 foreign countries so far, having fetched a rumored 500,000 euro advance in Germany and a six-figure advance in the U.K., where Penguin Random House imprint Century acquired it.
Vegetable Gardener’s Companion, a debut novel, has sold in auctions in a number of countries including the U.K., Germany, France and Spain; it's represented by Alexandra Machinist at ICM Partners and is being compared to The Language of Flowers. It follows a young widow who unexpectedly finds happiness through a gardening class she takes with her sister and daughters.
Some more nonfiction titles generating buzz are Debt author David Graeber’s new book, Bullshit Jobs, which sold pre-fair to Penguin Press in the U.K. for six figures, and was just acquired by German publisher Klett-Cotta in a preempt. Then there’s Wired columnist Clive Thompson’s Hello World, which Scott Moyers at Penguin Press took North American rights to in a pre-fair deal; the book, which William Morris Endeavor agent Suzanne Gluck represents, is about computer programmers and is subtitled How Coders Think, Work, Imagine and Shape Our Lives.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the title of Gail Honeyman's novel; it is called Eleanor Oliphant, not The Bumper Book of Eleanor Oliphant. Additionally, Maya Ziv was misidentified as working for HarperCollins; she works for Dutton.