(NYTimes) - The author of the short story Cat Person, which became a viral phenomenon after appearing in The New Yorker this month, has received a seven-figure book deal, according to a person with knowledge of the deal.
A collection from Kristen Roupenian, whose debut story in The New Yorker became the magazine's second most-read article of 2017 despite being published in the Dec 11 issue, will be published by Scout Press in 2019.
The collection, You Know You Want This, is the first of a two-book deal that includes an untitled novel.
It is almost as unusual for a collection of short stories to earn such a high sum on the market as it is for a single story to receive the attention that Cat Person did. Deborah Treisman, The New Yorker's fiction editor, said of the reaction to the story, "We have not seen anything like that with fiction."
She said in an interview on Wednesday that when she first read the story, which kicked off conversations about gender relations, power and consent, "I cringed just like everyone else." "I've never had this experience but I felt I'd had this experience," she added, referring to the unpleasant date that the story's protagonist, Margot, goes on. Treisman said her instinct was to turn down the story "so I wouldn't have to read it again and relive it, but that was exactly the reason to say yes".
Publishing professionals said Roupenian had some company in earning so much money in a deal that includes a short story collection, but that others who had done so, including Tom Hanks and B.J. Novak, were already famous.
"It's not that it's never happened, but it is unusual," said Michael Cader, the founder of Publishers Marketplace. "But it's also unusual if not unprecedented for a story of any kind to drive that kind of viral attention so quickly online."
A significant number of debut adult fiction authors have reportedly received at least US$500,000 for their works in 2017, including Laura Sims for the book Looker, Kathy Wang for People Of Means and Chip Cheek for Cape May. The biggest advance of the year, most likely, was the reported eight-figure deal agreed upon by the Obamas and Penguin Random House.
Cader said the 2019 publication date for Roupenian's collection indicated that her publisher had placed a long-term bet on her, rather than rushing to capitalise on the viral success of Cat Person. "Success and attention came quickly, but they want to get in there and do the editorial work with the author to make sure the published work is the best it can be," he said.
Treisman first read the story several months before its publication and said it was not Roupenian's naturalistic prose that attracted her so much as her deft use of detail.
"I don't think that writing in a sort of breezy, vernacular, colloquial way is so unusual," she said. "What's unusual is how incredibly real it seems and how well depicted everything is, so that you can imagine yourself into the scenario. When 2 million people are collectively cringing over a sex scene, you've done something right."
Roupenian, 36, committed to writing full time about five years ago after spending her early adulthood in the Peace Corps and worked as a teacher's aide, a bookstore cashier and a nanny before receiving her doctorate in English from Harvard. She recently completed a master's degree at the University of Michigan and is currently on a writing fellowship there.