Get Ready to Read This: A Moment in the Sun

john-sayles.jpgNearly two years ago, I did an interview with the Los Angeles Times about an unsold John Sayles novel about late 19th-century America, which was then called Some Time in the Sun—Given that Sayles was already a well-respected fiction writer, in addition to his film career, the question they had for me was: Why weren’t New York’s top publishers interested? Although I only had one direct quote in the final story (“You’d think there would be some editor who’d be proud to say, ‘I brought the new John Sayles novel to this house’”), some of the things I said to the reporter came though in other subtle ways, like the notion that “the real challenge in selling a quality title now is not getting an editor to say yes, but overcoming the many ways a skeptical house can say no.” And the fact that Sayles’ manuscript was about 1,000 pages long seemed like an easy reason for editors at the most commercial houses to stop the conversation, no matter how much they might like the story on its literary merits.

At the time, I suggested to the reporter that Sayles should forget the plan he and his agent, Anthony Amove, were trying to execute—”land a deal with a deep-pockets publisher who can promote the sprawling, epic tale about racism and the dawn of U.S. imperialism,” as the Times put it—and start talking to smaller, independent literary houses that would be willing to pour the majority of their passion and their energy into publishing such a novel. So here we are in 2011, and A Moment in the Sun (maybe not a great title, but a better title, at any rate) will be arriving in May from McSweeney’s Books. “We were swimming against the stream trying to place a novel of this scope,” Amove told the Wall Street Journal recently. And though this means Sayles collected a smaller advance, and will fewer marketing dollars allocated, than if the novel had been placed at one of the bigger publishers, McSweeney’s still has significant plans for the book, including a 24-city book tour.

I have a two-volume galley of A Moment in the Sun, which I’m looking forward to reading this spring. After all, the last 1,000-page novel I read from McSweeney’s was Adam Levin’s The Instructions, and I hope we all remember how much I loved that book

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1 March 2011 | read this |