Marlon James: lauded hardcover, no paperback?

Geoffrey Philp interviews Jamaican writer Marlon James, whose John Crow’s Devil (“a powerful first novel” about a preacher and a modern-day apostle “driven not by faith but by guilt, in both cases guilt driven by sexual transgressions,” according to the NYTBR) I’ve intended to read for the past year.

The interview — and James’ praise for Wide Sargasso Sea — solidified my determination to get to the book sooner rather than later. But then I skipped over to the author’s blog, and was horrified to read this:

It took me a long time to accept that maybe I’m writing books that nobody wants. But knowing this and knowing the song and dance that I will face with agents again I do find myself wondering why I do what I do. Not writing mind you, I don’t think I could stop if I tried, but publishing or at least, getting the publishing industry to notice. Only one publisher cared about my first book and getting nominated for a couple awards and selling out a couple printings and getting good reviews still resulted in zero, yep, nada offers for paperback rights.

John Crow’s Devil was, as Philp points out, an Editor’s Choice pick in the New York Times Book Review and a finalist for both the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. And still the novel is too great a gamble for someone to put it out in paperback?

Has fiction, even fiction so lauded by the establishment, really become that great a losing proposition in the eyes of U.S. publishers? Or is there something else at work here?

Image taken from the Miami Book Fair site.


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