One of the most popular events at the annual New York BookExpo -- one of this country’s largest book industry events -- is the Editors’ Buzz. Six editors sit on a stage high above a standing-room-audience packed with librarians, booksellers, agents, publicists, editors and, yes, readers, too. Once things quiet down, the editors spend 10 minutes each explaining why they are so excited about their big book of the season or, perhaps, the year.
If only publicists can bottle this kind of sincere, impassioned and beautifully expressed enthusiasm. If so, the book industry will be riding high this fall and winter.
The BookExpo was held May 30 through June 1 at the Javits Center in New York City. The event includes a trade show, scores of meeting spaces where deals are made, educational panels touching on everything from book-buying trends to diversity in book reviews, breakfasts with celebrity authors like Stephen King and Whitney Cummings, parties onsite and off, author signings by the hundreds, free books (carried home in suitcases or shipped by onsite UPS and FedEx offices), and other presentations on stages throughout the main floor.
Among the most fetching of small-stage talks was Brother Christopher’s and Marc Goldberg’s anecdote-rich presentation about raising and training dogs. Brother Christopher is one of the New Skete monks from upstate New York. The monks are known for their skills breeding and training German Shepherds. Their newest book, “Let Dogs Be Dogs,” comes out this fall. Dogs Raisa and Khan accompanied the two men on their book talk, to the audience’s delight. Raisa happily licked my hand and let me pet her soft, fluffy fur while I dutifully honored her dog-ness.
Even dogs can’t match the Editors’ Book Buzz for drama, however. Once all the editors have concluded their heartfelt descriptions of plot, writing craft and author, the audience is pointed to a couple of tables stacked high with books and are told, in so many words -- go fetch. Mayhem ensues, proving (1) that the editors have succeeded in inspiring desperate want among the audience and (2) that readers may look bookish but can grapple, shove and elbow with a passion you won’t usually see unleashed in public. Puns intended.
Here are the titles and descriptions of the Book Buzz titles launching later this summer and early winter 2018:
“Unraveling Oliver” by Liz Nugent. Publication date: Aug. 22
Presented by Jackie Cantor, senior editor, Scout Press
The book’s first line hooked Cantor: “I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.” Oliver, the man who brutally assaults his loving wife of 20 years, speaks this line. Oliver Ryan is a sociopath, a con man and pure evil. That this charismatic man’s real nature is hidden to those around him is also part of reason that Cantor kept reading to the exclusion of everything else. It’s Oliver’s character that drives the story that is told, in turns, by several of its characters. Cantor needed to know what made Oliver tick and what tormented him so. She also appreciated that Oliver is male since most psychological thrillers feature a female protagonist. The author is Irish and the book is a current bestseller in Ireland. Her previous book, “Hat Trick,” comes out in the United States next spring.
“Stay With Me” by Ayobami Adebayo. Publication date: Aug. 22
Presented by Jennifer Jackson, senior editor, Knopf
Margaret Atwood calls this book “scorching.” Knopf editor Jennifer Jackson calls it “urgent” and “important.” The novel, written by a 29-year-old from Nigeria, delves into the complex marriage of a Nigerian couple -- Yejide and Akin -- that cannot conceive. When the husband decides to take a second wife, Yejide feels betrayed. She finds a way to conceive but at an unimaginable cost. Jackson says that this author writes electrifying prose and that she is preternaturally wise to have produced such a deep and sophisticated profile of a struggling marriage from the points of view of both partners.
“My Absolute Darling” by Gabriel Tallent. Publication date: Aug. 29
Presented by Sarah McGrath, editor in chief, Riverhead Books
Editor Sarah McGrath describes young author Gabriel Tallent’s novel about 14-year-old Turtle in an emotionally charged presentation: “This book will be held in the hearts of readers for generations and it will renew your faith in the transformative power of reading. Turtle has grown up isolated on the northern California coast. Her father is reclusive, self-taught and a survivalist who is charismatic even though he is frightening and cruel. Fifty pages in, everything changes when Turtle develops a teen crush. This book feels really different -- like nothing else, a commercial and literary marvel. Some of it is disturbing but it turns into a book of resilience. Stephen King called it ‘absolutely a masterpiece.’ It has the most suspenseful, cinematic ending ever seen in a book.”
“The World of Tomorrow” by Brendan Matthews. Publication date: Sept. 5
Presented by Ben George, senior editor, Little Brown and Co.
In one week -- and 552 pages -- three Irish brothers careen through 1939 New York City caught up in a tightening whirlwind of fraud, betrayal, blackmail, death threats, love and, even, an assassination plot. As they bounce from Harlem to the Plaza Hotel, from IRA operatives to jazz musicians to heiress to Jewish street photographer they spin a narrative that editor Ben George says “puts across the vitality of New York City like nothing else. This,” he says, “is a New York City masterpiece that will be hard to beat.” The novel, written by a young man teaching at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Massachusetts, was given a starred review and a teary endorsement. “There’s a singularity,” says George. “It’s what we look for in a book -- a somersault of a novel.” George says he read the ending 30 times and shed tears every time.
“The Immortalists” by Chloe Benjamin. Publication date: Jan. 9, 2018
Presented by Sally Kim, vice president and editorial director at Putnam
Editor Sally Kim’s elevator speech for “The Immortalists”: “The story of four siblings who visit a fortune teller who tells them the day each will die.” She asks the audience, “How would you live your life if you knew the day you will die?” The four siblings disperse and pursue careers, the stunning prophesies informing their choices. Each tells a portion of the story that is, says Kim, a story “that demands to be discussed. Reading it leaves you a ball of emotions and inspires heartfelt testimonials. It’s the love story of a family, made up of intimate tales.” She says author Chloe Benjamin is “tender but not sentimental.” The story is harrowing but “it ends on an unexpected, optimistic note. You feel you’ve earned it.” But you’ll be left thinking big thoughts about destiny and choice, reality and illusion, and family.
“The Woman in the Window” by A.J. Finn. Publication date: Jan. 23, 2018
Presented by Jennifer Brehl, senior vice president, executive and director of editorial development at William Morrow
A.J. Finn, author of “The Woman in the Window,” is really Dan Mallory, an editor at William Morrow. He wrote this hot ticket item secretly, telling none of his peers. It was auctioned “at a very significant sum” and acquired by his peers at William Morrow. Though the book doesn’t release till late January 2018, Fox 2000 Pictures is already making the movie. This book has a big buzz already. It is part “Rear Window” and part “Girl on the Train” and part brand new. The narrator, an addicted, inebriated and agoraphobic recluse living in a townhouse in upper Manhattan, spies on her neighbors. She’s reliable but only to the readers. When she sees something horrific, no one will believe her. The book’s first two lines -- “Her husband’s almost home. He’ll catch her this time.” -- hooked the editor.
Gripping first lines and intriguing first scenes carry a lot of weight with acquisition editors, as does a powerful emotional response, especially at the end. These were the attributes most frequently cited by the editors of these six books. They loved characters that were multi-dimensional, that suffered but rebounded and that allowed readers to connect with them. These six books have it all. Whether readers will hear the buzz and buy the book is now in the hands of publicists and marketers. Good luck to all.
Rae Francoeur is a freelance journalist and author. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.