Prognosis good for doctor's stories

Giller-winning Lam book selling briskly

James Adams, The Globe And Mail
November 20, 2006

It's on fire.

That's how Ben McNally characterizes the success of Vincent Lam's Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures in the wake of its winning the 2006 Giller Prize for excellence in English-language fiction.

McNally, the highly respected manager of Nicholas Hoare Ltd., one of Toronto's busiest independent booksellers, had only 10 copies of the book in stock going into the weekend and expected to have sold most of these by today. Before Lam took the $40,000 prize two weeks ago, McNally had sold "maybe 20 copies." Afterward? More than 80.

It's a phenomenon being repeated across the country, but most intensely in Ontario. And luckily Random House Canada, the parent company of Lam's Toronto- based publisher Doubleday Canada, seems to be up to the demand. In the last 13 days, Random House president Brad Martin has ordered four reprints of the $17. 95 trade paperback from Transcontinental Printing in Louisville, Que.. The first order, for 20,000 copies, was, in fact, called in the night of the Giller win, followed the next morning by an order for an additional 20,000.

As a result, there are now 115,000 copies of Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures in print, Martin estimates, including the two orders, of 30,000 and 20, 000, he approved last week. "Certainly it's the hottest-selling Giller book I've been associated with, and I've done a few," he said.

McNally agreed. "I think it's going to be really big, and I don't think it's going to stop for quite a while." Laurie Greenwood, an Edmonton independent book retailer, was almost as bullish. "This is one Giller that will sell," she said, noting that before Lam won the 13th Giller Prize, she'd sold only three copies of his book. Now she's selling as many as 10 a day -- or was, that is, until last Wednesday, when she sold out and had to order 35 more. "Probably I didn't order enough," she said Friday.

What perhaps makes the hubbub all the more impressive is that it's for a debut book by a largely unknown author -- and for a book of short stories at that. When he's not writing, Lam, 32, is an emergency-room physician at Toronto East General Hospital. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his 12 linked stories in Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures are a classic instance of the old admonition "write what you know." In this case, it's the intertwined lives of four University of Toronto medical-school graduates, from their days as students to full-fledged practitioners.

On Nov. 10, Lam's agent, Anne McDermid, announced that rights had been sold for a TV series based on the book, and last week an auction began for a rights sale to a U.S. publisher.

Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures began its existence last January as a $29. 95 hardcover, with a modest print-run of 4,000. Traditionally, a publisher likes to wait 10 months to a year before a hardcover is released in the cheaper paperback edition -- but in this instance, Random House and Doubleday decided to go the paperback route in late September, just after the Lam had been included among the 15 titles on the Giller Prize long list. Ten thousand copies were printed then, with another 5,000 ordered in October when the collection was named as one of the Giller's five finalists.

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