Hot Dealsby John F. BakerOUT OF SARAJEVO
A remarkable writer who was exiled from his native Sarajevo seven years ago speaking only basic English has just won a six-figure publishing contract for two literary books in that language -- or translated by himself from Serbo-Croatian. His name is Alexsander Hemon, and his The Question of Bruno, a novella and stories, plus another unwritten book whose form and subject are unknown, were bought at auction by Sean McDonald, a new editor at Nan Talese's Doubleday imprint, from agent Nicole Aragi at the Watkins Loomis agency. Aragi, who conducted an auction at which four houses were still left in at a six-figure level, made the final choice on the basis of the Talese marketing plan; the deal includes Vintage as paperback publisher. A further six-figure sale has been made to Picador in the U.K., and another half-dozen European publishers are also aboard. The Bosnian source of all this excitement left Sarajevo in 1992 and began writing in English three years later. Aragi read a short story in Ploughshares, offered to take him on as a client, and promptly sold his next story to the New Yorker. Hemon, who describes Vladimir Nabokov -- who also made his reputation writing in a language not his own -- as his idol, is currently studying for a Ph.D. in English Literature at Loyola University in Chicago. Talese plans to publish the first collection in May 2000.
Books that come from small publishers often go on to bigger things, but not usually quite as big as How to Behave So Your Children Will, Too! It was originally published two years ago by little Greentree Press in Tempe, Ariz., and since then has sold more than 225,000 copies. With results like that, it was plainly only a matter of time before the book came to the attention of a larger publisher, and it did so through the efforts of Laurie Liss of the Harvey Klinger agency. She had been introduced at the BEA show to Greentree publisher Tim McCormick and his author, school psychologist Dr. Sal Severe, by someone she'd helped discover, Richard Paul Evans (of Christmas Box fame). At least 14 larger publishers were attracted by the book's track record, and Liss set up an auction that was preempted at the last minute by a "significant seven-figure bid" from Jane Von Mehren at Viking. She bought North American hard, soft and audio rights to How to Behave and a future book Severe is working on, which applies the same formula to parents of preschoolers. McCormick thinks the deal may be one of the biggest ever for a parenting book, and who are we to disagree?
TIME TO PLAY
You never know which things Japanese are going to catch on here (Tamagotchi, anyone? Pokemon?), so agent Jimmy Vines was not surprised when he got a heated auction going for Kokology, a pop psych quiz book originally brought out as the first of a four-volume series by Japan's Seishun Publishing. According to Vines, they've racked up sales of four million copies in that country, and recently morphed into a TV show and Sony PlayStation video game. The winner over here was Cris Puopolo at Simon &Schuster, no stranger to electronic materials herself. It was a one-book deal for North American volume rights, including first serial. Vines was acting on behalf of Seichiro Shimono of Japan's UNI agency.
THE ROAD TO HELL
For the thousands who worked on it during some of the most bitter jungle fighting of World War II, the Burma Road, as it was known, was just that: the link between India and China that caused untold suffering and death among those who struggled to build it, many of them black American troops. The story is told in The Road to Burma by Mark Jenkins, an acclaimed travel and adventure writer who is about to debut his own column, "Off the Map," in Outside magazine. There was fierce interest when agent Kris Dahl at ICM offered the book around last week, and it was John Glusman at Farrar, Straus &Giroux, with an offer understood to be around $600,000, who beat out competition that included, until near the end, HarperCollins and Pantheon/Vintage. FSG rights director Michael Hathaway has already secured a $100,000 paperback floor with $50,000 in bestseller bonuses for a book Glusman calls "a Conradian tale of political will run amok, of man's bungled attempt to tame nature, and an extraordinary story of near-epic hubris."
FINDING MR. WRITE
Once there's an irresistible title for a book, what can you do but use it as a headline, too? A book of that name has just been sold to Random's Manie Barron by Wanda Akin of the Akin &Randolph agency, an outfit new to us, for what she describes as "a healthy six figures" for world rights. It's by a graphologist (handwriting expert to you) called Beverley East, and its thesis is that a woman can better understand the personality traits of a man in whom she might be interested through a study of his handwriting than by any other means. Like the camera, it seems, handwriting cannot lie. (Presumably, it could work equally well for men interested in women, but that's not how the book was sold.) East, a Jamaican who has lived much of her life in London, is a practiced speaker in African-American women's circles -- she has been on the circuit with Iyanla Vanzant, for instance -- and it was through the lecture circuit that the agents first discovered her and her unique abilities. Villard, for which imprint the book was bought, plans to publish in time for next Valentine's Day.
Bill Contardi at William Morris has closed a deal to option Kennedy and Nixon: The Rivalry That Shaped Postwar America&&/I>/B> by TV host Christopher Matthews (Simon &Schuster) to Papazian-Hirsch Entertainment for TV production, working with Rafe Sagalyn, the author's Washington-based agent.... Two misspelled agents' names, by mishearing and typo, in recent columns: Dan Mandel (not Mendez) and Chris Crane (not Crano).