In late 2006, the Ecco Press imprint of HarperCollins acquired a novelization of the classic Maurice Sendak children’s book Where the Wild Things Are, by McSweeney’s editor Dave Eggers, conceived as a companion piece to the forthcoming Wild Things movie that Mr. Eggers co-wrote with Spike Jonze. The deal was announced a year later, with much fanfare, at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
Talking about the project, Mr. Eggers seemed a little squeamish about having it published by a corporate house like HarperCollins, rather than through McSweeney’s, the way each of his books have been since 2002’s You Shall Know Our Velocity. Trouble was that he had to, because Harper owned the rights to his source material. “We weren’t allowed to do it,” Mr. Eggers told The Montreal Gazette in December 2007. “It’ll be Ecco, a sort of literary imprint,” he further rationalized, “and the editor there”—Daniel Halpern, the publisher and editor in chief of the imprint—“is really good.”
“So far so good,” Mr. Eggers concluded.
Mr. Halpern, who recently published a book by Mr. Eggers’ wife, the novelist Vendela Vida, was less tentative in his enthusiasm, telling Publishers Weekly that he thought the Wild Things novel would be Mr. Eggers’ “biggest book.” “I think it’s going to be huge,” Mr. Halpern said.
It was a confident assessment, particularly because, according to PW, Mr. Halpern bought the book “on description only.” In February, he told the trade that he was expecting the manuscript any day; Mr. Eggers, he said, “has a vision and doesn’t deviate from it.”
That was the last thing anyone said publicly about the book. Then, last week, Amazon put up a pre-order page for Wild Things, and as first pointed out by lit blogger Sarah Weinman, it was revealed that Mr. Eggers’ book would not be published by Ecco after all. Somehow, mysteriously, the famously particular novelist had managed to overcome the whole rights problem, and had gotten the book into the McSweeney’s catalog.
Moreover, the paperback edition, originally slated to be published through Ecco’s paperback line, will, like all the paperback editions of Mr. Eggers’ previous books, come out through Random House’s Vintage Books imprint. According to Sloane Crosley, Mr. Eggers’ publicist there, Vintage has been in talks to publish the book since this spring.
The rift between Mr. Halpern and Mr. Eggers seems to go back further than that, however: According to one publishing source, the author’s agent, Andrew Wylie, made calls to publishers about the book as early as six months ago.
Mr. Wylie did not respond to an emailed request for comment; nor did Mr. Eggers’ personal assistant or Eli Horowitz, the managing editor of McSweeney’s. Neither did Mr. Halpern. Mr. Sendak’s personal assistant said the older author was not involved in the publication details, though he had supported the original team-up with Ecco.
Confusingly, HarperCollins is still slated to publish a companion guide to the Wild Things movie. It will be created by McSweeney’s staffers.