I was a judge for the first Indies Introduce debut author program last fall. The American Booksellers Association had been selecting the best in children’s Middle Grade and Young Adult publishing for several seasons through their New Voices program, wherein children’s book sellers across the country read a slew of books and pick their favorites. As the New Voices program gained in popularity, the ABA decided to give it a shot with grown-ups.
My fellow indie workers and I – owners, buyers, and frontline booksellers from all corners of America and everywhere in between – slogged through a lot of books that would be published in fall 2013. None of them were bad, thankfully, but there were books that stood out. For a variety of reasons, these titles woke the jaded palates of booksellers who see dozens of new titles each day. Once we’d narrowed the field a bit, we had to chose the final ten fiction titles we would promote.
Some of those conference calls got heated. A few people had a tough time separating personal favorites from books that we, as a bookselling community, should select as new writers worthy of our support. Not me, because I’m awesome at objectivity, but other booksellers.*
Then there was The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain. Laurain started as a screenwriter. After writing and directing a couple of little seen but critically acclaimed shorts in the late nineties, a full-length feature never materialized. After nearly a decade, he published Ailleurs Si J’Y Suis, Fume et Tue, and Carrefour de Nostalgies in quick succession. His fourth novel, Le Chapeau de Mitterand, became The President’s Hat when it immigrated to the states.
This was the guy we were considering calling a Debut Author; why not just call it the France sucks, USA #1 award?
The thing was, we really, really wanted to pick his book. Maybe a writer like Laurain is not who we had in mind when the program started, but. . . it was his first book in English. That counts, right? Sure it does. Let’s make it a rule; a title can be considered for the Indies Introduce debut author program when it’s the first one he or she has written in English.
Read this slim, light-hearted book, and you will know why it charmed us, why we had to broaden our understanding of “debut” in an attempt to give its profile a little boost. If Amélie wrote Ray Bradbury’s Wonderful Ice Cream Suit**, the result would be sibling to The President’s Hat.