Major publishers still taking a chance on first-time authors
Traditional book publishers often have been criticized for not taking chances on first-time novelists and nonfiction authors, preferring not to risk resources on writers who may not be bankable. Most of the heat has come from aspiring writers and the self-publishing industry.
But the fall/winter book season suggests otherwise, with scores of debut authors being introduced by the major old-line publishers.
Here’s just a sampling.
“Algonquin has always thrived on discovering and introducing great new writers,” says Amy Gash, an editor with the top regional publisher, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. “I was knocked out when I first read the manuscript for ‘Hikikomori and the Rental Sister’ (Jan. 13, 2013) by Jeff Backhaus.
“The novel has everything I look for in fiction: an original voice, a story that moved me deeply and caused me to think in a new way about the fragility — and the strengths — of human communication, and an intriguing back story about the strange social phenomenon of people sequestering themselves in their rooms, sometimes for years on end. This is a beautiful book.”
At Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House in New York, the buzz is about “The Lincoln Conspiracy” (Sept. 18) by Timothy L. O’Brien, executive editor of the Huffington Post.
“ ‘The Lincoln Conspiracy’ begins when a fictional detective in 1865 Washington, D.C., comes into possession of an encoded document that reveals the true depth of the conspiracy behind the assassination of Lincoln,” says Ballantine editor Mark Tavani. “What brings the story to life is the author’s knowledge of the time and place and his passion for his characters — both those he made up and those he borrowed from history.”
Ballantine editor Susanna Porter also is trumpeting “The Map of Lost Memories” (Aug. 21) by Kim Fay, named as a top 100 entry in Amazon.com’s Breakthrough Novel Competition even as a work-in-progress.
“I read a lot of historical fiction but I’ve never come across a novel with such a rich, exotic setting,” she says. “It’s 1920s Shanghai, Viet Nam and Cambodia, in the stately old imperial capitals and deep in the jungles, (when) a young American woman and a team of rivals goes on a quest to find some ancient hidden scrolls; we get adventure, romance and an intriguing taste of a different era.”
William Morrow’s showcase debut this fall is “The Roots of the Oliver Tree” by Courtney Miller Santo, which also gets an early send-off on Aug. 21. Santo, who teaches creative writing at the University of Memphis, sets her novel in northern California.
“Many of the people I publish are authors I’ve worked with for a lot of years, but I also try to take on one or two people a year who have not been published,” says Morrow editor Carrie Feron. “Fifty percent of all the books I publish are first books. We always take chances, and the perception that we don’t is wrong.”
What “Kitchen Confidential” did for the restaurant industry, Jacob Tomsky’s “Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality” does for hotels, dishing out the secrets of what goes on behind the scenes with obvious relish.
“It’s a rollicking, eye- opening, fantastically indiscreet memoir of a life spent (and misspent) working in hotels,” says Todd Doughty of Doubleday. “Think Anthony Bourdain meets the hotel industry. We think it’s a wonderful non-fiction debut.”
One of the most respected of U.S. publishers, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, also is championing a fall entry, Robin Sloan’s debut novel, “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” (Oct. 2).
Reach Bill Thompson at 937-5707.