With a flurry of big deals closing in the run-up to the Frankfurt Book Fair, the seven-figure advance is back. While big advances are nothing new in the heady days before a major rights fair, the fact that at least five books—two novels and three nonfiction titles—have sold for $1 million (or more), indicates that publishers are going to Germany with money to spend.
In one of the buzziest deals to go down before the fair, Molly Stern at Crown spent a rumored $2 million for North American rights to a nonfiction work by Ethan Kross called Chatter. Kross, a neuroscientist who works at the University of Michigan, was represented by Doug Abrams at Idea Architects. Abrams, who would not comment on the advance, said the book was preempted "within 24 hours of submission." Subtitled The Conversations We Have With Ourselves, Why They Matter, and How to Control Them, the book, Abrams said in his pitch to editors, "presents startling research to reveal why we have an inner voice and how we can control it." Describing the ways in which we interact with that inner voice as a "universally relevant and challenging human issue," Abrams said Kross' book "allows us to peer inside our own heads and see how to make those conversations more productive." As of late Friday (October 6), Abrams said the book was either at the center of an auction, or a serious negotiation, "in a dozen countries."
One of two memoirs that have earned their authors a seven-figure advance is Adrienne Brodeur's Wild Game. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's Lauren Wein bought U.S. rights to the book, which is subtitled My Mother, Her Lover and Me. Brettne Bloom at the Book Group, who represented Brodeur, said 14 editors were in the U.S. auction. (U.K. rights to the book were sold, just before the U.S. auction closed, to Chatto & Windus.) Brodeur co-founded Zoetrope Magazine with Francis Ford Coppola and runs Aspen Words (which is part of the nonpartisan forum, the Aspen Institute) and Bloom said the book explores her "complicated relationship with her larger-than-life mother, Malabar." Bloom compared the book to such bestselling memoirs as The Glass Castle and Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, saying Wild Game is a work of nonfiction "about mothers and daughters that reads like a great novel."
Another memoir that some might think reads like a great novel and which is drawing intense buzz, is Sara Seager's The Smallest Lights in the Universe. Sold for a rumored seven figures to Crown by Mollie Glick at Creative Artists Agency, the debut is from a professor of physics and planetary science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who, just before 40, found herself a widow and single mother. In Glick's pitch letter, which PW obtained, she said Seager, who has Asperger's Syndrome, found herself raising two boys and struggling to do basics from food shopping to using her credit card. She was in a situation, Glick wrote, "nearly as difficult as achieving her interstellar dreams." Toying with the idea of quitting her career, Seager found unexpected salvation in a widows support group. Glick called the book "both epic and intimate" and "a moving demonstration that our understanding of the cosmos and our understanding of love and loss are twin quests."
The two novels that have drawn million-dollar advances were both represented by agents at the Book Group, and both are debuts. Julie Barer sold a work of historical fiction by Whitney Scharer called The Age of Light to Judy Clain at Little, Brown. Entertainment Weekly reported last week that the book, about a photographer named Lee Miller and her relationship with the artist Man Ray, fetched a sum "north of $1 million." In the U.K., the book has been preempted by Picador and Barer confirmed a number of other foreign deals have closed; among the foreign sales are deals in Germany (to Klett Cotta); Holland (Nieuw Amsterdam); France (L'Observatoire); Italy (Mondadori); Brazil (Intrinsica); and Israel (Matar).
The other big fiction deal coming out of the Book Group, and a second major sale for agent Brettne Bloom, is for newcomer Kate Hope Day. Her debut If, Then was acquired in a two-book deal, for a rumored seven figures, by Andrea Walker at Random House. (A U.K. sale for the book has also closed, with Transworld buying rights there.) Walker preempted the book which Bloom said " follows four characters in a sleepy Oregon town who start having visions of other lives they could have had." Elaborating on the novel, Bloom said it "it opens the possibility of multiple realities" as it explores "the way our paths are shaped."