On March 11th, it was reported that Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger had scored a seven-figure advance from the William Morrow imprint of HarperCollins for a book of poems and a memoir in which the good-natured pilot would tell his life story and recount the successful emergency landing of USAirways Flight 1549 that he carried out in the Hudson River in January.
When the passengers whose lives Mr. Sullenberger saved that afternoon saw the news, they started thinking that maybe they had a story of their own to tell. After discussing it over Yahoo! groups (where about 100 of the 155 survivors had gathered after the incident), they started looking into their options.
Their efforts came to fruition yesterday, when it was announced that Ballantine had bought a memoir co-authored by all of them, and would publish it in hardcover on Nov. 3.
ICM agent Jennifer Joel brokered the deal after beating out two other literary agents for the account, and secured for the passengers a pair of journalists—Vanity Fair contributing editor William Prochnau and former Washington Post aviation reporter Laura Parker—to interview them about their experiences and write the book.
Pam Seagle, who worked in advertising at Bank of America at the time of the plane’s crash landing and sat in seat 12A, took a lead role in exploring book options on behalf of the other passengers in the Yahoo! group.
Ms. Seagle, a resident of Charlotte, N.C., said that after news came of Mr. Sullenberger’s book, a few people in the Yahoo! group brought up writing memoirs of their own. After some discussion, though, it was resolved that it’d be better to do one all together. Ms. Seagle had a few contacts in the media thanks to her job at Bank of America, and volunteered to put out some feelers and figure out how to proceed. One of the people she got in touch with, as Pub Crawl learned during the reporting of this story, was The Observer‘s publisher Jared Kushner, who introduced Ms. Seagle to Ms. Joel at ICM.
“We sort of sat down and started talking a little bit about what a book generally entailed and whether or not we could come up with a way where some significant subset of the 150 passengers who were saved on the plane might work together to tell a unique story,” Ms. Joel said.
The meeting went well, in part, because according to Ms. Seagle, Ms. Joel and the rest of the ICM staff gave off an air of empathy during her visit to their offices because they had watched the rescue through their 26th-story, westward-facing windows while it was happening.
Ms. Joel recruited Mr. Prochnau and Ms. Parker by way of her colleague at the agency Kris Dahl, who represents them.
“We are the authors, they are the writers,” Ms. Seagle explained. “That’s what we’ve been told. We own this content, this is our story, but we’re not writing it ourselves.”
The advance from Ballantine, which was not disclosed, will go to the passengers, who Ms. Seagle said are in the process of forming an LLC. The two journalists, who are technically being hired by the passengers, will be paid for their services out of that advance. Whatever remains will be split evenly among the participating passengers. “We may have enough to take our spouses out to dinner at the end of the day,” Ms. Seagle said.
At the moment, according to Ms. Seagle, one of the writers is in Charlotte finishing up some interviews, but pretty soon, they will get started on the actual manuscript, which will be crashed into bookstores around the same time as Mr. Sullenberger’s life story.
“We clearly all wish him the best and hope that his book does wonderfully,” said Ms. Seagle. “On the other hand, we also felt that we had a story to tell.”
Ms. Joel said her clients’ book will appeal to anyone who has ever sat down in a plane and wondered how they’d react if something went wrong.
“As fascinated as I might be about how one lands a plane in the middle of a river with no engines, I’m never going to be sitting in the pilot’s seat,” Ms. Joel said. “What we all stood around our office asking each other and ourselves as we watched that happen was, what are those people going through?”
Not all of the 150 passengers who were on Flight 1549 are participating in the book. According to Ms. Seagle, between 30 and 50 of them have not come forward or taken part in the community that formed after the landing. She said efforts are under way to locate them, but that there is a suspicion that “some of them just do not have an interest or don’t want to be found.”