How The Unknowns became known

05 June 2013

In the spring of 2011, I had a phone call from Nick Garland, the Daily Telegraph’s political cartoonist. Waywiser had published one book of his already, and later that year would be publishing a second. But he wasn’t calling about either of these; he was calling to find out whether we might like to consider a novel he had read and admired in typescript, the author of which had drawn a blank with the New York publishers it had been sent to.

I wasn’t able to start reading the typescript Nick sent me until a few weeks later, but I knew straightaway that I had something remarkable in my hands, and when I was only halfway through The Unknowns I tried ringing Nick to find out whether the novel was still available. Unfortunately, he was away and unreachable, so I emailed Gabriel Roth direct, telling him I still had a way to go but was thoroughly absorbed by his novel, and asking about its status.

Not having received a reply, I wrote again the next day, this time not holding back: “I finished reading The Unknowns last night, and came away thinking it a marvelously accomplished piece of work – richly observed, funny, touching, unostentatiously stylish and cleverly structured.” I went on there and then to offer him a contract.

It turned out that Gabe had known nothing about Nick’s efforts on his behalf. My emails had taken him completely by surprise. When he’d finished writing The Unknowns a couple of years earlier, he’d sent it out to a number of New York publishers and had been gravely disappointed when, one after another, they’d turned it down. He’d put the typescript away, resigned to the idea that he wasn’t a writer after all.

After the contract was signed, things moved swiftly. Sebastian Faulks and Andrew O’Hagan both agreed to blurb the book, and they did so handsomely. Not content with blurbing it, Sebastian asked us to send his agent a copy, and in next to no time Gabe had not just a publisher but one of the country’s most respected agents, Andrew Kidd, working for him. It was thanks to Andrew and his colleagues’ efforts that we sold the US rights to Little Brown in a competitive auction, that we’ve since done a number of foreign rights deals, and that, here in the UK, we have been able to enter this splendid co-publishing arrangement with Picador.

A book such as The Unknowns is what a small literary press like Waywiser dreams of, and it’s a source of pride that we have been able to give it such a great start in life, acting as its springboard, as it were. But the real hero of the story – if I exclude Gabe, of course! – is Nick Garland. Had he not recognized the novel’s quality, or taken the trouble to sound me out about it, The Unknowns would in all likelihood have remained just that – one of the unknowns.

-Philip Hoy, Editor in Chief at the Waywiser Press

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