Modern Love Breeds Book Deals

Writers House agent Daniel Lazar has sold two books based on Modern Love columns: Ms. Balcita’s book, which is tentatively titled Moonface, and Theo Pauline Nestor’s book How to Sleep Alone in a King-Sized Bed, which will be published in April; Ms. Nestor’s book is based on her November 2004 Modern Love column about her divorce, “The Chicken’s in the Oven, My Husband’s Out the Door.” Mr. Lazar signed both women after reading their columns. “The challenge with turning a column or an article or a blog into a book is, Is there a book in it? In both cases, the stories in their books were so much broader than what they wrote in their columns,” Mr. Lazar told The Observer. (He added he’d just e-mailed the author of a Modern Love column from two weeks ago, about a woman who had a long-ago affair with an unnamed actor, and asked to look at her book when it is ready.)

Then there are previously published authors who score new book deals based on Modern Love columns, such as Meredith Hall’s Without a Map, based on a column about adoption from her perspective as a birth mother. And a male writer—a relative rarity for the column—named Craig Bridger sold a book called Surviving Groomzilla: A Bride’s Guide, based on an October 2006 column.

One of the more unlikely, and memorable, columns was Jennifer Mascia’s April 2007 piece, “Never Tell Our Business to Strangers,” which detailed the criminal pasts of her now-deceased parents. Ms. Mascia, who is 30, was working as a news assistant at The Times when she submitted her story to Mr. Jones; the book was bought by Villard in a preempt in August. “Trip and Dan both told me, this is definitely not the standard story we tell here,” Ms. Mascia told The Observer from her desk at The Times, where she
still works. “They were a little reluctant to run it, just because of the criminal aspect. Modern Love was probably conceived as a relationship column, and they could have just kept it as a relationship column, but they do try to publish other kinds of stories.”

Amy Sutherland’s What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons for People From Animals and Their Trainers comes out next week, based on the most e-mailed New York Times article of 2006, a Modern Love column called “What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage.” Writing in Slate a few weeks after the story first ran in June 2006, Jack Shafer noted that the article’s success could be traced to, among other things, the fact that “the closer a column resembles the structure of a sitcom, the greater its appeal. … ‘Shamu’ shrewdly provides both sexes with room to grumble.”

And perhaps that also gets at what is, somewhat paradoxically, one of the most common criticisms of Modern Love and also the reason for its success. “I read the Styles section religiously, but my eyes glaze over the Modern Love column,” said an editor at Random House. “I assume it’s going to be a woman getting over her divorce. But maybe that’s it, it’s like Sex and the City, it’s a stimulus-and-response thing. It speaks to people. It just pushes the right buttons. And somehow that’s validating, to know that other people are suffering, getting divorced, sleep with their colleagues. They’re unabashedly confessional and really voyeuristic. That’s pleasurable for people to read sometimes.”