Celebrated Canadian author Sheila Heti dissed by US publishers

Celebrated Canadian author Sheila Heti dissed by US publishers

When Sheila Heti’s first novel, Ticknor, came out five years ago, she was the darling of the Canlit world, widely lauded as the next big thing. So why can’t she find an American publisher for her second novel, How Should a Person Be? That’s the question posed by Kat Stoeffel in a lengthy article in the current edition of the New York Observer. The book has so far been rejected by six American publishers—odd for a book by such an acclaimed author. After all, Ticknor was quickly picked up by Farrar, Straus, Giroux (FSG), and it’s not like Heti is a stranger to American audiences: McSweeney’s published her first book of stories, and her work has appeared in The Believer, Bookforum, and n + 1.

So why the cold feet down south on Heti’s latest work? Editors have provided an array of reasons for passing. The book tells the story of a young Toronto woman who, unable to finish her play, focuses instead on giving perfect haircuts and perfect blow jobs. One editor told her it was the subject matter, complaining that selling a book about not being able to finish a play would be too challenging.

Stoeffel hypothesizes that perhaps it is because Heti’s body of work is so difficult to pigeonhole, and therefore challenging to buy and sell. Where Ticknor was a fictional account of a real-life biographer, How Should a Person Be? attempts to capture the fame-hungry ethos of the MTV generation through a fictional story populated by Heti’s real-life friends, and scattered with transcriptions of real conversations.

Or maybe it’s the harshly honest sex scenes written from a female perspective. One editor said that though he felt reading the book was a positive experience, the sections between the sheets made him want to run and hide.

Whatever the reason, it looks like Heti will have to be happy with a Canadian audience for this one, while her fans south of the border are left scratching their heads.

The Problem Child: Why Won’t America Publish Sheila Heti’s Second Novel? [New York Observer]