Agents have claimed two big-money deals worth £500,000 each, which could mark a return to confidence in the rights market in the crucial weeks ahead of next month's London Book Fair.
Simon & Schuster publishing director Suzanne Baboneau won UK & Commonwealth rights to début, The Age of Miracles written, coincidentally, by S&S US editor Karen Thompson Walker. The title was secured for "pretty close" to £500,000, according to agent Cathryn Summerhayes, who handled the deal.
Summerhayes, at William Morris Entertainment, working on behalf of primary agent Eric Simonoff in New York, hailed the high-figure deal as "a sign that things are picking up". Picador and Fourth Estate were the underbidders in the final round of the auction.
Summerhayes added: "This is one of the most assured and emotive débuts I've ever read and it was incredibly thrilling that so many UK publishers felt the same. It was the most competitive auction I've ever had the opportunity to run and I'm thrilled with the outcome."
The book opens with a family in a Californian town waking up to the news that the world is turning more slowly. Life is thrown into turmoil and panicked governments dictate that the traditional 24-hour cycle must be followed, regardless of the sun.
Baboneau said: "It is a novel of big ideas, but absolutely grounded, written with crystal clarity and beautiful rhythm. For S&S UK to have acquired The Age of Miracles against the most formidable competition is a miracle in itself."
Deals worth $2.5m (£1.5m) on the book have been done internationally already, with Kate Medina at Random House US having pre-empted rights there for a low seven-figure dollar sum. Elsewhere, rights have been sold through Laura Bonner in Italy, Spain and Germany, each for a six-figure sum, and for an "unprecedented sum for Sweden" to Norstedts. Rights have also been sold in Holland, Brazil, Norway and Croatia. Simultaneous global releases are planned for June 2012.
Meanwhile, Fourth Estate publishing director Nicholas Pearson flew to New York to seal UK and Commonwealth rights (excluding Canada) to Jeffrey Eugenides' new novel The Marriage Plot and his first collection of short stories, in a deal believed to be worth over £500,000. Pearson beat off five others in an auction handled by Dorothy Vincent at Janklow & Nesbit in New York, on behalf of primary agent Lynn Nesbit.
The Marriage Plot tells of Madeleine and the two young men in her life, Leonard and Mitchell, as they are about to graduate from university. Pearson said: "Jeffrey has delved even deeper into character to produce something that illuminates the workings of the human heart in a way that is extremely rare." It will be published on 11th October in the US by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and simultaneously in the UK and Commonwealth. The collection of stories is as-yet untitled, with no publication date confirmed.
Commenting on the deals, Olly Munson of Blake Friedmann claimed: "It would be great if the Eugenides deal does herald a bright new dawn of punchy advances." Piers Blofeld, of Sheil Land Associates, said he would be more optimistic of a market recovery if there were "six or seven £150,000 deals", adding: "It would be nice to see evidence of movement in other areas, then I would be more convinced that spring is on its way."