The Author of the Viral Short Story, "Cat Person," Fetches a 7-Figure Book Deal

Turns Out, You Can Make a Living Writing Short Stories!

By Sam Eichner ·
Photo: Elisa Roupenian Toha via The Times

Kristen Roupenian, the author who penned the year's (decade's?) first and only viral short story, "Cat Person," secured a two-book, 7-figure deal for her first collection of short stories and a novel from Scout Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, EW reports.

While increasingly rare, it is not unheard of for a debut novelist to fetch a sizable deal with a major publisher for his or her first book. Matthew Thomas famously got a 7-figure deal for his 640-page historical novel, We Are Not Ourselves, which came out in 2014. And more recently, Emma Cline reportedly scored a $2 million, three-book-deal with Random House, after editor Kate Medina read her literary page-turner, The Girls, which came out last year to rave reviews.

But Roupenian is, thus far, still a short story writer. And it is, for all intents and purposes, virtually unheard of for a debut collection of short stories to elicit this much demand. Novels of the non-genre variety don't sell particularly well in this day and age; short story collections, historically, sell even worse. 

Obviously, the publishers at Simon & Schuster are attempting to capitalize on the New Yorker' story's lighting-rod cultural moment. Chronicling a queasy courtship—and a queasier sexual encounter—between a 20-year-old woman and a 34-year-old man with rueful wit and bitter honesty, from the perspective of its female protagonist, "Cat Person" touched a nerve in the #MeToo era (and received the kind of bullshit backlash anything widely celebrated on Twitter is bound to receive). In the reckoning over sexual harassment and assault, the clarity and detail with which a fiction writer is able to access the interiority of a girl in, if not a nonconsensual sexual situation, than an uncomfortable one, offers something even great journalism cannot. I personally loved Roupenian's story—it's last line is an all-timer—and would probably be willing to shell out 15 bucks for her collection. Simon & Schuster is making a big bet that thousands of other readers will be, too. 

The problem is, the collection, provocatively titled, You Know You Want This, isn't due out until Spring of 2019. That's not so long in the literary world. But it's a a lifetime in the Twitter-verse. I'm hoping people still care. If only so I can tell myself (and my parents) that, yes, it is possible to make a living writing short stories.

Sam Eichner

Sam Eichner likes literature, reality television and his twin cats equally. He has consistently been told he needs a shave since he started growing facial hair.

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