It's not every day that a literary agent stumbles across a property like Go Set a Watchman, the recently discovered novel by Harper Lee. So it makes sense that Andrew Nurnberg, who represents Lee, is taking an unusual approach to foreign sales. The British agent is requiring foreign publishers considering the book to travel to his London office to read the material, which is embargoed until the U.S. and U.K. editions of the book bow in July.
"We don't wish to sell this book blind," Nurnberg said. "Not least because there has been a fair amount of nonsense in the press by a few people who seem determined to question the motivation of selling it, and to belittle its literary merits, without having read a single word."
It's a move that, if not unprecedented is highly unusual. A number of scouts and other insiders, when asked about the in-person reading, said, off the record, that they could not remember an instance where foreign editors have been required to travel to a specific location to possibly buy a book.
Nurnberg is offering the book first to Lee's previous publishers, some of whom have had To Kill A Mockingbird in print since the 1960s. He says there have been "no shortage of publishers putting in unsolicited blind offers, but these are unlikely to pass muster."
The international publishers coming to London for first crack at Watchman also have to sign a nondisclosure agreement before reading the material.
Nurnberg confirmed that he has already closed a handful of deals with foreign publishers, but declined to offer any specifics. Various sources did confirm that an auction has taken place for Polish language rights.
Although some deals have closed, the international publishing schedule for Watchman has not yet been determined. Nurnberg said that the timing of foreign language publications will depend upon how important certain houses feel it will be to time their edition to the release of the English language edition this summer. HarperCollins is releasing the novel in the U.S. and Penguin Random House will release it simultaneously in the U.K.
As for the reactions to the book, Nurnberg said they have been "wonderful" with "editors highly moved by the text." He added: "This is a fine book on every level. That it was still there and discovered is a miracle."