Friday, April 16, 2010

Part Two of Lonely Polygamist Post--A Conversation with the Agent, Nicole Aragi

Believe it or Not.

Aragi: Hi, I’m Brady Udall’s literary agent, I spotted your post about The Winter Institute, Brady’s book.

May I be nosy and ask … do you not like big fat books*, or is it simply a carrying-around issue? I also represent Rabih Alameddine, author of The Hakawati, which is on your reading list I see and it’s another fat book, so I suspect you’re open to reading long un’s but your post made me wonder.

Hope you don’t mind me asking, I just don’t get many chances to talk to booksellers direct as there’s always a layer of publishing personnel in between me and bookseller opinions.

Goldin: I continually whine about fat books, but I actually find I read a lot of them. It's intimidation more than anything else, and I get a little bent out of shape when it seems like I could have cut 100 pages here or there.

That said, I think I've read the following books (in addition to The Hakawati) that are more than 500 pages in the past 12 months:

The Post Birthday World
Raymond Carver
Half of a Yellow Sun
Cutting for Stone

So maybe it's more chatter than anything. And my buyer Jason loves big fat books, and I think that it's become this discussion, dialogue, a mock debate, about the point of it all.

It's not a carrying around issue at all. In fact, I hate the very thin paper they sometimes use to make books look thinner (or maybe cheaper). There's nothing I hate more than being able to see through a page as I'm reading it. And it comes up more than I'd wish.

Someone compared it to Middlesex at WI5, and I thought that was fair, the way it makes something you're not used to become mundane by getting to know the characters so well. His writing reminds me of Anne Tyler so much, the patriarch who wields power but secretly is plagued by doubts. (editor’s note—I know I used this in the last post, but hey, it’s my hook.)

You must be so pleased. The book was clearly the hit of WI5. The line for signings must have been 3 times the size of anyone else's.

Aragi: I whine about fat books too (“they wouldn’t be so long if typed on a typewriter” is my wail), and then I go ahead and fall in love with a monster manuscript and insist to everyone that this fat book is the exception to the fat book rule.

As for thin paper, oh I’m with you there, please repeat that complaint noisily and often to everyone in publishing.

It’s done for cheapness more than size but I think it’s off-putting. If I’m going to fork out $25 or so for a hardback I want it to feel good in my hands, without the text from the reverse page glowing through.

That’s quite a list of big fat books too; I wish mine was as long. I loved Cutting for Stone. (Editor’s note: clearly modesty. Agents have to read like crazy.)

I’m so glad you’re enjoying The Lonely P, I have my fingers braided that it’ll be a huge success. You’re right it’s funny how polygamy became ordinary, although an administrative nightmare. I really liked the family, even the crotchety ones, which shouldn’t matter (or so they say) but it does to me.

Goldin: I have this theory that fat books are more intimidating, but once you read them, you've made this investment and become convinced that it's better than the equivalent thinner book. Just a theory, which I have to tighten.

Aragi: You may be right about fat books, although I’ve noticed that I’m drawn to them more often these days and my counter-theory (we all have theories!) is that life is so fractured and distracting these days that big, involving books have more appeal than in the past. It’s almost restful to invest in something that takes time and silence. Don’t know about you but my email never stops clicking and my phone never stops ringing and when I pick up a big novel it’s when I want the world to shut up and go away. Maybe that’s just me though, I’m rather grouchy.

Goldin: Yet at the same time there seems to be resurgence in short stories. So go figure.

Aragi: Really? That’s nice to know. I began my so-called “career” by representing short stories (writers like Junot Diaz, Nathan Englander, Aleksandar Hemon) but publishers now insist that people don’t want to read collections. (Editor’s note: yeeks)

There’s a chasm between what publishers say and what booksellers say. I believe you guys.

Talking of short story collections, have you read In the Valley of the Kings, by Terrence Holt? Do you like dark, creepy, literary, and did I mention creepy, stories?

Goldin: Oh, I have at least one huge fan of Terrence Holt's book on staff, Carl. He sold a few, and hopes for more in paperback. I can be a little thin-skinned for creepy.

Re: short stories, what do they say about Elizabeth Strout and Jhumpa Lahiri, who likely had two of the bestselling paperbacks of last year? We've sold hundreds of the former so one suspects that there are stores that have sold thousands.

I understand that indie bookstores are a special case--it might be hard to get table placement at Cosco or an endcap at Walmart. But what about this theory that people are going to want to download individual stories as ebooks? Hey, they have to buy the rights to the stories or they won't get the agency fee.

Moral of the story--go buy a copy of The Lonely Polygamist.


*Our Handy Book-Size Calculator
under 200 pages: lil’ books, also known as novellas

200-499: the AMA's approved page count for books. I call this average, which offers no implication that the book is better or worse than any other book

500: big ‘n’ fat
Read the Next Chapter post from their buyer Dave about how much he loves The Lonely Polygamist. No offense to Emily St. John Mandel, but I'm a little shocked that this book was not the #1 Indie Next Pick for May.

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

Some of my favorite books over the past few years have been big and fat -- The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, Last Night in Twisted River, Until I Find You, The Hour I First Believed.

I think the key to the "big and fat 'uns" is pacing yourself. Throw in a couple of 200-300 page books between the 500+ pagers. I'm looking at Anthropology of an American Girl, and can't quite bring myself to tackle it, yet.