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Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Grotto: San Francisco's Book Factory


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The Grotto, the South of Market writers’ collective, is proving once again to be a very lucrative place to work. Clearly there are many talented writers renting offices there, but it looks like the cachet of the place also provides an added value when selling a book.

Take this recent posting from Publisher’s Marketplace about one Grotto resident’s recent book sale:

Melanie Gideon's The Slippery Year, pitched as similar to Elizabeth Gilbert and Nora Ephron, a bittersweet and wise month-by-month account of the year in her life during which, upon turning 43 and confronted with her own mortality, she chooses to wake herself up, embrace the passage of time, identify what matters (and what does not) -- and "finally decide to live," to Jordan Pavlin at Knopf, for six-figures, in a pre-empt, by Elizabeth Sheinkman at Curtis Brown UK (NA).

The six-figure sale comes after an excerpt from the book appeared in the New York Times’ Modern Love column. Gideon also wrote a well received children’s book called Pucker.

In the past year, nine of the Grotto’s approximately 30 writers have sold books. Many were sold for $300,000 - $600,000 and one may have even gone for more than $1 million. Writers are always happy to get big advances, but they don’t always want to advertise the fact, so I won’t attach numbers to names.

Some of the sales since January 2007:

Po Bronson, one of the Grotto’s co-founders, sold a “counter-intuitive examination of the new science of parenting,” to Jonathan Karp at Twelve. (He and Gideon use the same literary agency, Curtis Brown.) Now Karp’s imprint is called Twelve because it only publishes 12 books year. You know they look for books they think will sell a lot of copies, and that they pay their authors accordingly.

Jason Roberts sold Every Living Thing about the audacious, often-fatal program launched by scientist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), to compile a catalog of all life by sending acolytes to every corner of the globe (billed as "The Right Stuff of the 1700s"), to Star Lawrence at Norton, in a major deal, in a pre-empt, for publication in 2009, by Michael Carlisle at Inkwell Management.

Now “major deal” in Publisher’s Marketplace parlance means $500,000 and up. (I must reveal that Jason and I have the same agent.)

Allison Hoover Bartlett's The Man Who Loved Books: The True Story of a Rare Book Thief, A Book Detective, and the World of Literary Obsession to Sarah McGrath, executive editor at Riverhead Books, by James Levine

Allison and I are in a writing group together, North 24th, and I can vouch this will be a fascinating, utterly-compelling book. It came out of a piece she did for San Francisco Magazine. The article was included in the anthology The Best American Crime Reporting of 2007.

Ethan Watters', another Grotto co-founder, sold Crazy Like Us, exploring the imperialistic spread of the American perception of mental illness throughout the world, looking at the complexity of cross-cultural psychiatry, the spread of our syndromes around the globe, and the problems that come when the US inflicts its own definitions and treatment of mental illnesses and peculiarities on other cultures, to Dominick Anfuso at Free Press, in a pre-empt, for publication in January 2010, by Chris Calhoun of Sterling Lord Literistic .

(Now pre-empt means a publisher likes a book enough to pay more than other publishers to guarantee they get it.)

NPR commentator Andy Raskin's The Ramen King and I: Searching for God in a Cup of Noodles, his quirky efforts to meet the inventor of instant ramen noodles, who died earlier this year at age 96, to Erin Moore and Bill Shinker at Gotham, in a pre-empt, by Stuart Krichevsky at Stuart Krichevsky Agency (NA).

Raskin also had a piece in the Modern Love column in the Times about love and looking for a parking space. See “pre-empt” again.

Rodes Fishburne sold Going to See the Elephant, following the picaresque adventures of a young man in San Francisco seeking to be the greatest writer of his generation and unwittingly igniting forces larger than he could have ever imagined, to Kerri Buckley at Bantam Dell, by Fredrica Friedman at Fredrica S. Friedman and Company.

Laura Fraser, the author of the memoir, An Italian Affair, recently sold another memoir.

Cameron Tuttle, the author of The Bad Girls Guides, recently completed a five-book deal.

Grotto filmmakers Xandra Castleton and David Munro apparently just found a distributor for their film Full Grown Men.

Do you think it is something in the water?

1 comment:

Claudia said...

Nice article. I live in SF and wish there were more groups like the Grotto. One great advantage is that you can modify your space as opposed to just renting time or a room at the collective.

Between crappy apartments, a busy workplace and having to shuffle my writing stuff to various libraries, there's great appeal in cocooning alone/together in a writer collective where I could leave all my stuff and immerse myself in my writing.