November 11, 2013

How to talk about Garth Risk Hallberg and his $2 million book deal


After two days of bidding, Knopf has picked up City on Fire, the nine hundred page debut novel by Garth Risk Hallberg, reports Julie Bosman for the New York Times. As discussed previously here on MobyLives, Hallberg’s novel had already been optioned for film by Scott Rudin, even before the book had sold to a publisher. Knopf paid $2 million for the book—a hefty sum for a debut—though if the glowing praise from the novel’s early readers both on twitter and in Bosman’s article is to be trusted (Ed: LOL) the book has the potential to earn that back and more.

Canteen Magazine ran an interesting interview with Hallberg about the then-in-progress novel, with a link to a sample, in 2011.

On twitter Sunday night, Sarah Weinman remarked that this sale is not unprecedented: “Little, Brown paid $2m for THE HISTORIAN by Elizabeth Kostova. Debut novel. #1 NYT bestseller. It earned out.”

As eager as I am to read Hallberg’s novel, I’m also full of a very specific dread: I fear the way we—that is, the three of us on the internet that care to discuss books for whatever sad reason—will be talking about Hallberg, his book, and this deal in the year to come With that in mind, here are a few ground rules.

Rules for discussing Garth Risk Hallberg

Rule 1: Don’t make fun of the guy’s name. No puns. Leave it to the monsters at the New York Post

Rule 1A: If the front page of the Post is ever given over to talking about Hallberg or any other book deal, it’s a sign that the end times are upon us and I will be practicing my crossbow skills in the woods somewhere so at that point you can do what you want, I guess. All of these rules are off. Pun-for-all. Go to town.

Rule 2: Each of us is permitted one comment about the exceeding length of the book. I think I just used up mine in that last sentence. If you must talk about it more than once, you may buy book-length-whine rights from other individuals who haven’t exercised theirs. How this works: give a stranger five bucks. Whisper “Haaaaaalllllberrrrrrrg” into their ear to seal the transaction. I advise trying this on the subway tomorrow morning.

Rule 3: Bosman already mentioned Thomas Pynchon. That’s used up. Sorry. I’m also banning comparison to Don Delillo‘s Underworld. Not because the books aren’t similar, only because, come on, try harder.

Rule 4: First person to write something to the extent of “Much like the city in his book’s title, Garth Risk Hallberg is on fire” goes to whichever circle of hell has the most wasps.

Rule 5: Jokes about Hallberg being wealthy now are totally okay. Really. Two million is not that obscene, compared to some authors, but go ahead, mock him. Because eat the rich. But at the end of the day, if you see the guy, give him a high five. This deal is a good thing.



Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.