Monday, March 30, 2009

I'm Just a No Book Wonder

Here's an excellent Op-Ed piece from the Timothy Egan in the NYT that really captures how I feel about slaving over a cold blog while some idiots make millions.


The unlicensed pipe fitter known as Joe the Plumber is out with a book this month, just as the last seconds on his 15 minutes are slipping away. I have a question for Joe: Do you want me to fix your leaky toilet?

I didn’t think so. And I don’t want you writing books. Not when too many good novelists remain unpublished. Not when too many extraordinary histories remain unread. Not when too many riveting memoirs are kicked back at authors after 10 years of toil. Not when voices in Iran, North Korea or China struggle to get past a censor’s gate.

Joe, a k a Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, was no good as a citizen, having failed to pay his full share of taxes, no good as a plumber, not being fully credentialed, and not even any good as a faux American icon.

With a résumé full of failure, he now thinks he can join the profession of Mark Twain, George Orwell and Joan Didion.

Next up may be Sarah Palin, who is said to be worth nearly $7 million if she can place her thoughts between covers. Publishers: with all the grim news of layoffs and staff cuts at the venerable houses of American letters, can we set some ground rules for these hard times? Anyone who abuses the English language on such a regular basis should not be paid to put words in print.

Most of the writers I know work every day, in obscurity and close to poverty, trying to say one thing well and true. Day in, day out, they labor to find their voice, to learn their trade, to understand nuance and pace. And then, facing a sea of rejections, they hear about something like Barbara Bush’s dog getting a book deal.

Writing is hard, even for the best wordsmiths. Ernest Hemingway said the most frightening thing he ever encountered was “a blank sheet of paper.” And Winston Churchill called the act of writing a book “a horrible, exhaustive struggle, like a long bout of painful illness.”

Not disgusted yet? How about this?


It’s official: The book world has gone crazy. Here we are, a few weeks after some of the darkest days in publishing—both in layoffs and in actual sales—and along comes the newly revamped HarperCollins imprint William Morrow to give more than $3 million to Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the admittedly genius pilot who saved 155 lives by landing USAirways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River in January. Yes, Sully’s a bona fide hero, and after hearing his testimony in Washington about the conditions pilots work under, I believe a grateful nation owes him a big payday.

But wait: The crazy part is that the Sullenberger deal was for two books. The first will be a memoir, and the second is a collection of Sully’s inspirational poems. Who knew that next to the heart of a hero lurked the soul of a poet?

This is the kind of book deal a publisher makes in order both to make a balance sheet work—the $3.2 million goes down on two different lines, for two different titles, and thus each book “only” has to earn back half of the total—and also to humor a would-be author or, in this case, poet. (And make no mistake, if William Morrow had not signed up the second book, many other publishers would have, just to get Sully’s memoir.)

The auction, conducted by Texas-based agent Jan Miller, was a hot one, with many publishers bidding. What better way to sweeten the pot for an aspiring author—who, as a HarperCollins editor told Crain’s, “has more substance than most people getting their 15 minutes of fame”—than to grant his fondest wish? (Miller could not be reached for comment and a spokeswoman for William Morrow could not confirm that the second book will be poetry.)

But the rest of BookLand doesn’t have this pandering rationale to blame for some of the nutty deals that have gone down in the last few weeks. $2.5 million to comedian Kathy Griffin? (Who, with that advance, goes from Hollywood’s D-List to publishing’s A-list.)

Poetry? Please. I'm very surprised it wasn't a children's book. Have you ever met a grandparent that didn't have a children's book they couldn't wait to publish? Illustrated by their daughter? I haven't .

My favorite observation on the Sully book deal came from KaneCitizen. He predicts the book will be a runway bestseller.

1 comment:

onionboy said...

Don't blame the 'writer', blame the reader.