03.11.09

Sully Is a Poet?

Did you know it? America’s favorite pilot “Sully” Sullenberger landed a two-book deal today worth more than $3 million. In a Daily Beast exclusive, Sara Nelson reports the second book will be…poetry.

America’s favorite pilot, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, landed a two-book deal today worth more than $3 million. In a Daily Beast exclusive, Sara Nelson reports the second book will be…poetry. You know what rhymes with “heroes”? Lots of zeroes.

I think that I shall never see
A deal as silly as the three
Plus million dollars BookLand paid
For poems our pilot hero Sully made

OK, so it doesn’t quite scan—but then, neither does the news that inspired it.

After hearing his testimony in Washington about the conditions pilots work under, I believe a grateful nation owes him a big payday.

Yes, it’s official: The book world has gone crazy. Here we are, a few weeks after some of the darkest days in publishing—both in layoffs and in actual sales—and along comes the newly revamped HarperCollins imprint William Morrow to give more than $3 million to Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the admittedly genius pilot who saved 155 lives by landing USAirways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River in January. Yes, Sully’s a bona fide hero, and after hearing his testimony in Washington about the conditions pilots work under, I believe a grateful nation owes him a big payday.

But wait: The crazy part is that the Sullenberger deal was for two books. The first will be a memoir, and the second is a collection of Sully’s inspirational poems. Who knew that next to the heart of a hero lurked the soul of a poet?

This is the kind of book deal a publisher makes in order both to make a balance sheet work—the $3.2 million goes down on two different lines, for two different titles, and thus each book “only” has to earn back half of the total—and also to humor a would-be author or, in this case, poet. (And make no mistake, if William Morrow had not signed up the second book, many other publishers would have, just to get Sully’s memoir.) The auction, conducted by Texas-based agent Jan Miller, was a hot one, with many publishers bidding. What better way to sweeten the pot for an aspiring author—who, as a HarperCollins editor told Crain’s, “has more substance than most people getting their 15 minutes of fame”—than to grant his fondest wish? (Miller could not be reached for comment and a spokeswoman for William Morrow could not confirm that the second book will be poetry.)

But the rest of BookLand doesn’t have this pandering rationale to blame for some of the nutty deals that have gone down in the last few weeks. $2.5 million to comedian Kathy Griffin? (Who, with that advance, goes from Hollywood’s D-List to publishing’s A-list.) And a staggering $4.8 million to Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife? That, too, was a hot auction—the first book was a phenomenon—run by New York’s Joe Regal. At one point more than ten publishers were in the mix, some within Random House bidding against each other (as is their wont). Last night the rumor was that Reagan Arthur of Little, Brown had “won” the privilege of publishing Her Fearful Symmetry in fall 2009, but at least one wag, who rightly insisted the auction wasn’t settled yet, was willing to believe it. “It figures. They’re buying up everything all over town.” In fact, the book went to Scribner, leaving all that money in the Hachette coffers (left over from Twilight goddess Stephenie Meyer) with which to overpay another day.

And speaking of Stephenie Meyer, how long before she pulls a page out of Sully’s book and signs a multimillion-dollar deal for page-a-day advice haiku for vampires and the teen undead who love them?

Sara Nelson is the former editor in chief of Publishers Weekly and the author of the bestselling So Many Books, So Little Time.