I’m ecstatic to report that Babel No More, my book about hyperpolyglots, has been sold to Free Press/Simon & Schuster; I’ll be working with Hilary Redmon, who’s published a number of neuroscience books and is interested in things language and who has also worked with Richard Dawkins and Daniel Tammett (who appears in the book). She’s also working with Margalit Fox, a fantastic writer and NYT reporter who wrote <a href="Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals About the Mind, and is working on a new book herself.
If you’re just tuning in, my previous publisher (to whom the book was sold in 2008) did something that we’ll euphemistically call reorganizing their business, putting my editor, my manuscript, and the contract with me out in the street. Fast forward to August: my editor has become my agent at Foundry Literary + Media, we have a sparkly proposal and a finished manuscript to show around, and I have a number of conversations with interested editors.
As an aside, this is an interesting genre of conversation, whose stakes don’t help to make it less amorphous. Partly the editor is trying to figure out, as someone put it, “if there’s a there there.” (There was, he was kind enough to say.) Partly they want to propose editorial changes to see how you react. And then, of course, you lay out all the reasons why this book now, why hyperpolyglots are interesting, and what the rest of us might learn. It’s kind of a sales meeting, kind of a first date, kind of a job interview, kind of an industry ritual. I definitely finished that week grateful for the enthusiastic interest but also feeling scuffed and triumphant.
So Hilary and I get right into the topic, because she doesn’t need me to explain what’s interesting about it, and then she asks, “what sort of editor are you looking for?” which is an arresting question if you’ve had a bunch of conversations already with people whose main concern is what they want. After we talk, I go into my wife’s office and flutter my hand on my chest. I’m sure I’m smiling. Walking the dog later, I realize that I answered Hilary’s question in terms of what the manuscript needs, less so in broader terms. I write out a fuller reply and send it via my agent but don’t hear anything. I really hope Hilary will bid on the book, and the next week she does.
The reason I’m reporting this now is that the deal has just been announced on Publishers Marketplace:
Michael Erard’s BABEL NO MORE, a narrative of his journey to find the most extraordinary language learners on earth, hyperpolyglots who push past the normal limits of language learning and human memory in order to illuminate the intellectual potential in everyone, to Hilary Redmon at Free Press, for publication in January 2012, by David Patterson at Foundry Literary + Media (NA). Foreign: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ve always imagined this book in airports, a book for people who are either on their way to foreign lands, anticipating encounters with languages they don’t speak, or fresh from those encounters and on their way home, and who are, one way or the other, alive to the world and to life in new ways. Foundry’s foreign rights agent, Stephanie Abou, will be at the Frankfurt Book Fair in a couple of weeks to hook up foreign publishers and make that dream come true.