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Sara Gruen's big payday

The New York Times has an article about author Sara Gruen, who scored a $5-million advance from new Random House imprint Spiegel & Grau for her next two books. That’s because her most recent novel, Water for Elephants, published by the small firm Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, has been a runaway success over the past year. That book sold nearly 250,000 copies in hardcover and has already sold close to that in trade paper, the Times reports.

Gruen’s first book for Spiegel & Grau, Ape House, is about bonobo monkeys appearing in a reality TV show. That sounds like a grabber to Quillblog, but some are questioning the wisdom of that $5-million cheque:

Following up on an unforeseen success — particularly after receiving a news-making advance — is often tricky. Charles Frazier, whose debut novel, Cold Mountain, was a runaway best seller, left Grove/Atlantic for an $8 million advance from Random House for his second novel. Although that book, Thirteen Moons, spent 10 weeks on the New York Times hardcover fiction best-seller list and sold 242,000 copies in hardcover, according to BookScan, it is considered a publishing disappointment because it did not sell nearly enough to recover the advance.

What goes unmentioned in the Times article is that Gruen, a former technical writer who lives in Illinois, is actually a Canadian expat. She moved to the U.S. in 1999. Water for Elephants was published in Canada by HarperCollins Canada. (The Q&Q review of the book is here.)