Civil War writer's one-page outline earns him record $11m book and film contract

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

An author has been promised more than $11m (£7.6m) for his second book, on the basis of a one-page outline.

The deal agreed with Charles Frazier, who wrote the best-selling American Civil War novel Cold Mountain, is unprecedented for a work ofliterary fiction.

Frazier accepted an advance of more than $8m from Random House at the end of a brief auction among New York's top publishing houses, according to reports that appeared in Newsweek and The New York Times over the weekend.

In addition, the film producer Scott Rudin – responsible, among other things, for the screen version of Angela's Ashes – agreed to pay more than $3m for the film rights, with the Australian director Peter Weir already tentatively attached to the project.

The deal took the publishing world's breath away for both the money involved and the speed with which the package wasput together.

Although the subject and setting of the new book have been established – it will be based on the true story of a Civil War-era white man raised by Cherokee Indians – it is not clear how much writing Frazier has already done. The novel is not expected to be published before 2005.

Frazier's deal dwarfs the £500,000 advance that Martin Amis was given for The Information. The size of that deal created a furore in the 1995 literary season.

It is not the largest advance offered, an honour that belongs to Mary Higgins Clark and her $45m five-book deal with Simon & Schuster. But it appears to be the biggest sum paid for a single book, and leaves competitors deep in the shade.

Cold Mountain, the story of a Confederate soldier trying to return to North Carolina – Frazier's home state – became a success as soon as it hit the shelves in 1997, selling 1.5 million copies in hardback and 1.3 million, to date, in paperback. It too is being adapted for the big screen, by the British writer and director Anthony Minghella. Cold Mountain was published by the Grove/Atlantic press, a respected Boston-based outfit but one that did not have the financial muscle to compete with the big league this time around.

For his new book, Frazier also dropped his original agent in favour of the New York heavy hitter Amanda Urban, who arranged an auction in which competing publishers were given only limited information about each other's offers.

In an interview with Newsweek, Frazier said money was not the only consideration and that he was keen to choose the right editor to help him shape the book from the beginning.

"I wanted to pick the person I wanted to work with," he said. "I've heard writers say, 'Nobody up in New York puts a pencil to my work', but I find it a really rewarding experience to work with someone who knows what they're doing," Frazier said.

The woman he selected for the job was Ann Godoff, Random House's editor-in-chief. "Frazier has a uniquely American voice that spoke memorably to the readers of Cold Mountain," Ms Godoff said. She said she was confident the new book would "take his readers back to the territory they long to return to".

Frazier was offered $100,000 for Cold Mountain in the mid-1990s. Morgan Entrekin, Grove/Atlantic's president, who took a big gamble on an unknown writer, was graceful about losing him.

"I'm really, really disappointed, but I can't begrudge him for whatever decision he has to make for his family," Mr Entrekin said.

"The guy wrote a book that helped me build my company into what it is. I can't be bitter towards him."

Book value

The biggest advances for fiction books:

£45m to Mary Higgins Clark, known as America's queen of suspense, for a five-book deal with Simon & Schuster.

£32m to Tom Clancy, author of The Hunt for Red October, for a two-book deal with Penguin Puttnam.

£27m to Michael Crichton, creator of Jurassic Park and ER, for a two-book deal with HarperCollins.

£23m to the horror writer Stephen King for his final four-book deal before he announced he was stopping writing.

£20m to Barbara Taylor Bradford, who launched her career in 1979 with A Woman of Substance, for a three-book deal in 1994.

£4m to millionaire socialist Ken Follett for each book.

£2.7m to Stephen Carter, a Yale law professor, for his first novel, The Emperor of Ocean Park.

£2m to Nicholas Evans for his first novel, The Horse Whisperer, after a bidding war at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

£2m to Nick Hornby for two books and a move from Gollancz to Penguin after the success of High Fidelity and Fever Pitch.

£1.3m to Ian Rankin,creator of the Inspector Rebus crime series set in Edinburgh, for two books.

£1.1m to Ben Elton for two books and a move from Simon & Schuster to Transworld.

£0.6m to This Life writer Amy Jenkins for a two-book deal including her first novel, reportedly based on the strength of a proposal written in two days.

£0.5m to Martin Amis for The Information and a book of short stories.