Wednesday, September 25, 2013

I Read My First Open Road Media Novel, Adam Langer's "The Salinger Contract."

When Open Road Media started in 2009, I really didn’t think I’d ever be dealing with them. For one thing, they were really focused on buying ebook rights to backlist titles, and we didn’t even have an ebook strategy. We have one now, I guess, but there’s always a machine between you and the customer. Ask an independent bookseller, and even if they have an aggressive ebook strategy, there’s more satisfaction in selling a physical book.

And then there’s the frontlist vs. backlist. We’ve been known to get behind an older title or two, but most of the things we rec, have events for, and display are new titles. And ironically, the growth of POD (print on demand ) technology makes it more difficult to get behind a lot of deep backlist—the books are more likely to have a higher price, a lower discount, or nonreturnability. I should note here that there is absolutely no consistency among publishers regarding how POD titles are sold in stores.

But Open Road has slowly branched out. For one thing, they are now doing print editions of their books, and those print editions are not necessarily print on demand. You’ve read previously that we’ve all be cheering the return to print of Barbara Pym’s backlist, and I was assured that these titles were not print on demand, at least for now. I am proud to say, by the way, that we are proudly celebrating the Pym centenary, having sold 35 Pyms in the first half of 2013, compared to 6 for all of 2012. Jane, Anne and I (with the help of John and Earl and others) are planning our 101st birthday bash for January 2, 2013.

It turns out that Open Road is also getting into the new book business. Last May while planning my schedule for Book Expo America, my Ingram rep invited me to an Open Road party with the promise that I’d get to say hi to Adam Langer, a writer I really enjoy. I’ve read all his novels, but still think most fondly of Crossing California, now out of print*. It was my hope that Open Road might pick that book up. Maybe if the new novel works (cross fingers). I should note that you can buy Crossing California in Spanish. Really! Cruzar California was published in 2012 and it’s available at Ingram.

But for now, I’m thinking about The Salinger Contract, the new novel from Adam Langer (photo credit by Anthony Collins and credit for getting me that photo is Nancy Rohlen) that is scheduled to be available on September 17. It sort of continues the cycle of novels that stated with The Thieves of Manhattan. Like his previous novel, the main character is Adam Langer, and while Thieves contemplated memoir fraud and what a writer might do to tell a story, this is more about what a write might do to make a buck. Adam and his wife are living in Bloomington, where they’ve decamped from New York (Editor's note--it's the second book I've read this month set in Blooming, following Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves). In New York, Adam was the book editor of Lit magazine and the somewhat successful author of a novel in stories called Nine Fathers. Now he’s a househusband while his wife teaches at Indiana.

Into his life comes Conner Joyce, a mystery writer whose sales reputation has gone on a downhill trajectory after a successful first novel. After meeting up at the going-out-of-business Borders (editor’s note—once Borders announced its closing, regularly scheduled events moved out of the store as the day-to-day operations were moved to liquidators, who did things like close the bathrooms. Adam is sort of shocked that Conner remembers his interview (they went camping together), but he’s even more shocked when he gets a call telling him an amazing story—Dex, a mysterious Chicagoan approached him to write a novel under the strangest of terms, and claims that many other famous authors have previously taken him up on his offer.

And then he contacts Adam again. He’s violated the terms of his contract and he’s in big trouble. The story becomes a question of what makes an author write, and how mixed up is the need to create with the need to earn. Why so often do first novels have that passion that seems to burn out later? Is it being under the gun of a contract? And how involved is the need to please? If you got the advance but didn't really have to answer to anyone, would your book wind up better or worse.

Why the Salinger reference in the title? He's one of the guys Dex supposedly convinced to write a private book, along with Harper Lee and few fictional creations who play more closely into the plot, like Margot Hetley, whose amazingly popular novels are sort of Charlaine Harris crossed with Anne Rice and J.K. Rowling.

Langer's story is a modern Hitchockian psychological thriller, but it's also an insider's look at publishing. I've talked about the "books on books" section that is shopped by bookstore groupies. Langer's last few novels could be shelved in books on books/fiction. It's a case of "write what you know and then make it ridiculously over the top false." In a sense, it's the publishing process through a funhouse mirror--I saw Caroline Leavitt use the "funhouse" reference in her recommendation, and it's so apt that I've got to steal it. Hope you don't mind a little literary appropriation.

So yes, it's an Open Road Media original, but it's still a paperback original. I'll let you know when I catch them publishing a hardcover. I guess Mitchell Reiss's Negotiating with Evil had a hardcover edition but it was simultaneous with the paperback and might have actually been print on demand. I'll keep looking.

It turns out, of course, that this seems to be a good time for Open Road release The Salinger Contract, what with the announcement that previously unpublished Salinger work will finally find its audience. There's also the Salinger documentary from Shane Salerno, and the tie-in Salinger biography from Salerno and David Shields.

Further down the pike comes Pearl S. Buck's The Eternal World, a recently discovered novel from Pearl S. Buck and The Tenth Circle, from thriller writer Jon Land. We're also slowly seeing the print editions to authors such as Mary McCarthy and Frederick Forsythe. How traditional can you get?

*Editor's Note. Langer notes that Crossing California is still available as an ebook

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