Unemployed Harvard man auctions debut novel on baseball for $650,000

Written by Bloomberg | Updated: Apr 6 2010, 03:40am hrs
Five months ago, Chad Harbach was an out-of-work copy editor with an unpaid position at a literary journal and an unpublished novel: 475 pages centering on a baseball team at a fictional Wisconsin college.

A few weeks ago, Hachette Book Groups Little, Brown agreed to pay about $650,000 for it, according to two people briefed on the sale. It was one of the highest prices for a mans first novel on a topic appealing to a male audience, said Jon Baker, a book scout who advises non-US publishers. Nine years in the writing, Harbachs novel, tentatively titled The Art of Fielding, sold after a two-day telephone auction of eight publishers.

If you dont have a vampire, you dont expect that kind of money, Baker said, referring in part to Stephenie Meyers Twilight series. Those books were the basis of two feature films and sold more than 50 million copies in the past two years, according to Publishers Weekly.

Baker called Harbach a fantastic writer, based on the manuscript. He certainly took his time and made it perfect, Baker said. And I hate baseball.

A soft-spoken 34-year-old, Harbach met a reporter at the one-room 500-square-foot Brooklyn office of n+1, a nonprofit literary magazine he helped start in 2004. He isnt paid as executive editor. In October, he lost his part-time copy-editing gig with the consulting firm McKinsey & Co, he said. He scraped together rent for the Brooklyn apartment he shares with two roommates from short-term copy editing and money borrowed from a friend.

I wasnt excited about finding a new job, he said, wearing blue jeans, a black shirt and Puma sneakers. He grew up in Racine, Wisconsin. His father is an accountant, his mother ran the Small World Montessori School, for children 6 and under. He read prodigiously as a child, starting with Roald Dahl. In high school, sportsbasketball, golf and baseballtemporarily trumped reading and writing as priorities.What fascinates me about baseball is that although its a team game, the players on the field are each very much alone, he said.

Rights for The Art of Fielding have recently sold in Japan and throughout Europe. Its expected to be out in the US in the fourth quarter of 2011.