Benioff is man of the ‘Hour’ for spec market

DAVID BENIOFF, WHOSE $1.8 million spec sale to Regency last week pumped new life into a lackluster spec market, has sold an untitled pitch to Warner Bros.

The studio wouldn’t disclose details of the pitch, but it’s said to be epic in scope and very different from the Regency project, “Stay,” which portrays a university psychologist’s attempts to prevent a student from committing suicide.

Though still unproven, Benioff shows signs of becoming Hollywood’s latest overnight sensation.

The 30-year-old scribe, whose first novel, “The 25th Hour,” is in development at Industry Entertainment as a starring and producing vehicle for Tobey Maguire, was named one of America’s top 50 bachelors by People magazine this year.

His charm appears to have been lost on publishers, however.

Thirty houses passed on “25th Hour,” the story of three men who spend a final night carousing in Manhattan before one goes to jail for drug dealing. William Morris agent Owen Laster ultimately placed it with mid-size publisher Carroll & Graf for a modest advance.

“I had many calls saying how talented he was, but there was some reservation about marketing,” Laster said. “If this were 10 years ago, one of those editors would have taken a chance on him.”

Plume, which will re-issue “25th Hour” in paperback in winter, isn’t likely to have problems marketing Benioff, given his new status in Hollywood.

In fact, it’s Benioffs adaptation of his novel, which Industry and WMA have been shopping to directors, that first whet producers’ appetites for his spec.

Certain authors have voices that lend themselves to film, Laster said. In Benioff’s case, he said, it’s the dialogue, the strength of the characters and the plot.

Carroll & Graf doesn’t have his next novel under contract, and Laster can expect publishers to pay considerably more attention when he shops Benioff’s next novel, which is now in the works. Laster wouldn’t say anything further about the novel, or when Benioff expects to deliver a manuscript.

NOVELIST JONATHAN FRANZEN learned a tough lesson this week: Don’t mess with Oprah.

The talk diva rescinded her offer to feature Franzen in a televised book club dinner after he groused that Oprah’s endorsement on the book jacket of his novel “The Corrections” made him uncomfortable.

“The Corrections” was the 43rd novel to be selected by Oprah’s book club, an honor that often translates into at least 500,000 additional sales — a remarkable number for a high-caliber literary novel like “The Corrections.”

But the publicity round robin that followed clearly rattled Franzen.

He told NPR male readers might be turned off by Oprah’s endorsement. And referring to the Oprah insignia on the half-million books his publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux rushed into print after the announcement, he told the Oregonian, “I see this as my book, my creation, and I didn’t want that logo of corporate ownership on it.”

Every writer selected by Oprah since she created her book club in 1996 has appeared either on the show or in a pretaped dinner.

Winfrey issued a statement Monday announcing that Franzen would do neither. “Jonathan Franzen will not be on the Oprah Winfrey show because he is seemingly uncomfortable and conflicted about being chosen as a book club selection. It is never my intention to make anyone uncomfortable or cause anyone conflict. We have decided to skip the dinner and we’re moving on to the next book.”

Franzen said in a statement of his own, “I was never conflicted about any of this, although the printed logo did make me uncomfortable.”

Franzen also apologized: “I’m sorry if, because of my inexperience, I expressed myself poorly or unwisely. I continue to be grateful to Oprah for her love of ‘The Corrections.’ ”

Even so, other publishers have scoffed at Franzen’s intransigence.

“He should be getting down on his knees and proclaiming, ‘I’m not worthy,’ ” an exec at another house said.

Whatever his motives, Franzen has joined a club of writers — from Dave Eggers to David Foster Wallace and Don DeLillo — who’ve generated a huge amount of publicity by kicking and screaming that they’re embarrassed by publicity.

And Franzen hasn’t been especially consistent on this point.

He’s in the midst of a coast-to-coast book tour covering more than 20 cities, and he published an article in Harper’s last year lamenting the state of American fiction that didn’t disguise his ambition to write the next great American novel.

Since Winfrey has already urged viewers to rush out and buy “The Corrections,” Farrar Straus is still likely to have no problem selling the roughly 700,000 copies of the book now in print.

As Franzen’s editor Jonathan Galassi said in a statement, “The way our business works today, the potential readership for a book of almost any kind is enormous if the right things happen to it — and all the right things happened to ‘The Corrections.’ “

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