Earlier this week the literary agent (and former magazine editor) David Kuhn pulled a funny trick, and submitted a novel to publishers across town without telling them who wrote it. The only clue the agent gave was the novel itself, which, according to people who have read it, is told from the perspective of a young boy growing up in the 1980s.
Mr. Kuhn told publishers the identity of the author would be revealed to anyone who expressed an interest in the book.
If it was buzz Mr. Kuhn was after, he got it. Rumors about who the author might be flew immediately among scouts, editors, and other agents. Some speculated it was a person who works in publishing, while some thought it was an established author with a poor sales record. Others were convinced that it was a disgraced celebrity who didn’t want his or her bad reputation to cloud anyone’s judgment. One preferred theory was that it was the actor James Franco, who is known to have recently started working towards an MFA at Columbia.
Today speculation ended as word spread that Mr. Kuhn’s mystery author is none other than… Joyce Maynard, the author whose name is inextricably linked to an affair she had with J.D. Salinger as a young woman and the memoir she wrote about it in 1999.
That turned out to sit fine with the good people of William Morrow, who submitted a preempt offer today and won the rights before Mr. Kuhn put the thing up for auction as he was intending to do next week. No word on which editor there is going to work on it or how much they paid.
Asked earlier today why he thought Ms. Maynard’s book would do better with publishers if they didn’t know who wrote it, Mr. Kuhn first cited "the fact that it’s more fun." He added that this book was a "major renaissance" for his client, and that the subject matter—remember, young boy in the 1980s!—was delightfully incongruous with its author. "Not only is it not a young novelist, it’s not even a man!" Mr. Kuhn said.
Joe Dolce, who runs a media consultancy that specializes in rehabilitating the reputations of public figures who have fallen out of favor with the public, said he wasn’t sure what the anonymity would achieve in this case (Mr. Dolce was interviewed on the subject before it was confirmed that Joyce Maynard was indeed the author of the book).
"If the person is a celebrity or a politician—even a disgraced politician!—I can’t see how it would hurt the sale of the book, because most publishers would think, ‘this person has a platform, and we can at least bank on the notoriety to raise the profile of the book in a very crowded media landscape.’"