Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Great Deal on Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry, and Just in Time for Her MPL Event on January 14th

When the big deal for Audrey Niffenegger's new Her Fearful Symmetry with Scribners was announced early in 2009, I didn't know exactly what to think. $5.5 million is a big advance, but I'm not in the business of determining P&L's (profit and loss statements) for acquisitions.

We had a couple of early reads on the book and they were great. I just finished Her Fearful Symmetry, in time for our event at the Milwaukee Public Library on January 14th, and I have to concur it's a very good. It's a ghost story this time, concerning two pairs of twins. The older pair, Elspeth and Edwina, have been separated for years, and Elspeth has just died of cancer. She's bequeathed her apartment, and much of her fortune, to Edwina's twin daughters, Julia and Valentina, provided they live in her London flat for a year. They are not to see her papers, nor are they to allow their parents into the flat.

Elspeth's lover Robert is still in the building, obsessed with cemeteries and the dead. Their other neighbor is Martin, a man possessing severe OCD, such that he is unable to leave his apartment, even when his wife Marjike leaves him for Amsterdam. This, believe it or not, is the lighter parallel tale. There are some nice twists and turns, clever meditations on the soul, identity, home, and the old standbys, love and death. I'm not saying everybody loved the book who read it, but even Olive Kitteridge gets bad reads from some people.

Having read Audrey Niffenegger's books, The Time Traveler's Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry, I know the books bare some resemblances. Niffenegger's first book wasn't like anything else I've read. It was a time-travel book with a modern jump-cut structure embedded in a classic romance. Though many indies sold it well, it was said that B&N really helped make this book work in hardcover, taking a chance with indie MacAdam/Cage and hovering on the New York Times bestsellerlist in the twenties for months.

Harcourt was said to help out, having bought paperback rights early, and with that, lent marketing support. Of course I have no idea if most of this is true, particularly because both publishers have restructured in the wake of continuing publisher problems and many of my contacts are no longer at these houses. (I always say, there's nothing like a huge success to teeter a small publisher's finances).

Anyway, the book exploded in paperback. And while I don't know exactly how the rights came on the market for the next book (was it a one-book contract or did MacAdam/Cage give up the rights on their 2nd book of a two-book deal?), they did, and Scribner snapped it up in an auction. Here was a novel that sold beyond expectations, it was a rare auction where the manuscript was finished and also good, and there was a movie of the first novel on the horizon.

The movie was released, and drove sales of The Time Traveler's Wife, but didn't exactly set the box office on fire.

We've sold the book very well, as did some other independents. But in other markets, the book did not sell to expectations, and the publisher wound up doing a shared markdown. Like many independents, we don't often take advantage of this opportunity. It's a lot of paperwork for few books sold--and it often is difficult to chase down the elusive credit. Most shared markdowns wind up being celebrity nonfiction and commercial novels. We can't even sell those at $6.99 mass market (and I'm not being snotty here--I've tried).

I won't talk about the jacket, but I'm sure the shiny teal cover was a bit controversial and is now taking some of the blame. Expect a very different package when the book is released in paperback. I'm expecting something more like Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger, another ghost story that is likely performing above expectations, especially since Stephen King called it the best book of 2009.

So here's the package--a rich and rewarding novel in Her Fearful Symmetry, a fascinating author, a great setting at Milwaukee Public Library's Centennial Hall, Thursday, January 14th, 7 PM*), the event is free, and now the book's only $13.50 if you want to buy a copy. A portion of the sales will go to the Milwaukee Public Library. And we'll bring a selection of other titles for you to purchase, a mobile library, if you will. See you there.

Here's Niffenegger's front-page review for Her Fearful Symmetry in The New York Times Book Review.

Another great review in the London Telegraph.

Just like the advance, it's hard to judge the novel without the context of The Time Traveler's Wife, though one of my booksellers hadn't actually read the first book. Here's a good review from the Guardian (UK).

AV Club review here. Better than the first book.

Washington Post review from Ron Charles. Some issues, but likes it.

The Toronto Globe and Mail features a review from Emma Donoghue. I think that's a good matchup.

One last piece from the Los Angeles Times and Martin Rubin. Issues with the philosophy, but happy with the twists.

*Depending on turnout. We have a smaller option if necessary.

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