In a world where fees of $5,000 to $7,500 are the norm, a 23-year-old unpublished creative writing student at UC Irvine has sold his first novel for $155,000. William Morrow & Co. paid that highly unusual, if not unprecedented, sum for hardcover rights to Michael Chabon's "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh."
"I believe it's the most that an unpublished first literary novel ever sold for," Chabon's agent, Mary Evans at the Virginia Barber Literary Agency in New York said, making a distinction between literary and commercial.
The agency believes "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" is both literary and commercial, Evans said, predicting it would be sold all over the world. As early evidence, she said, after an overnight reading, an editor at the Italian house of Mondadori called on the morning of the American auction and bought the Italian rights. Movie rights are being auctioned now, and paperback rights are expected to be auctioned by Morrow, she said.
"The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" is a rites-of-passage account of one summer in the life of Art Bechstein, during which he deals with his gangster father; his friend and guide to the exotic side of Pittsburgh, Arthur; girlfriend for all seasons, Phlox; and a character named Cleveland.