Sunday, April 08, 2007

Iowa Library’s Cat Has a Rich Second Life as a Biography

Watch out, Marley.

In a hotly contested deal, the life story of Dewey, a rescued cat who lived for 19 years in a library in a small town in Iowa, has sold for about $1.25 million to Grand Central Publishing.
With an eye toward creating the feline answer to the best-selling “Marley & Me,” John Grogan’s memoir of his misbehaving yellow Labrador retriever, Grand Central bought the book, currently titled “Dewey, a Small Town, a Library and the World’s Most Beloved Cat,” on Monday by making an offer high enough to pre-emptively shut down an auction.

“You can’t underestimate the market out there for people who love animals,” said Karen Kosztolnyik, the senior editor at Grand Central who will edit the book; co-authors will be Vicki Myron, the head librarian in Spencer, Iowa; and Bret Witter, a former editorial director at Health Communications, the publisher of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books.

“You look at ‘Marley & Me,’ and that book has been a publishing phenomenon,” Ms. Kosztolnyik said. “I think there are equally as many cat lovers out there. We see this as having that kind of potential.”

The authors’ advance raised some eyebrows in the publishing industry, given that “Marley & Me” reportedly sold to William Morrow less than three years ago for an advance of about $200,000. To date it has sold 1.85 million copies in hardcover, according to Nielsen Bookscan, which tracks book sales in most bookstores and online retailers, although not mass-market outlets like Wal-Mart.

“It’s stunning, the advances being paid,” said Robert S. Miller, president of Hyperion, a publisher that looked at the “Dewey” proposal but declined to bid. “If it might be the next ‘Da Vinci Code’ or the next ‘Marley & Me,’ the ante just increases,” Mr. Miller said. “The problem is that even as the biggest best sellers sell more copies, there are fewer of them, so the publishers paying these advances do so at increasing risk.”

According to publishing executives, “Dewey” will need to sell at least 250,000 copies in hardcover to cover the cost of the advance. Sales to foreign publishers or paperback sales could offset some of that cost.

“Dewey,” which was sold on the basis of a 45-page proposal with about 10 photos of the fluffy orange cat, will tell the story of how the kitten was found in the late-night book drop of the public library in Spencer, a town in the northwest part of the state, and adopted by Ms. Myron and the other librarians. Slowly, over the course of his 19-year life, Dewey became a town mascot who lifted the spirits of residents hit hard by the 1980s farming crisis. In the process he attracted the attention of tourists, cat-calendar makers and filmmakers. He appeared in “Puss in Books: Adventures of the Library Cat,” a 1997 documentary, and another film made by Japanese documentarians. When he died last November, his obituary ran in more than 250 publications, including USA Today and The Washington Post.


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