So, what's next for the draft I've just completed? I'm very happy with the response I got from many of you, and I certainly think I've got a mandate to prepare a book proposal and seek a publisher. Some may ask, do I even need a publisher? Haven't I published it already, and isn't the book biz a total clusterfuck right now? Yes and yes, but even so I want to give this a try, and I wouldn't mind working with an excellent editor to bring out the very best in this material. My search for a publisher may also prove entertaining in its own right: I wrote the book out here "in full view", and I plan to handle the next steps the same way. Thanks again to everybody who posted comments, suggestions, feedback or advice, and you'll be hearing more about this soon.
2. I've got some busy days ahead -- as I work on this book proposal, I'm also hoping to relaunch Literary Kicks in Drupal. I've barely begun the work so I don't know if it will fly or not. Stay tuned, I hope.
I'm also planning to shut the site down for the rest of the holidays, and will shortly be putting up an Action Poetry Random Poem Selector like we like to do every year around this time.
Okay, enough about LitKicks ... here are a few more literary links you might like:
3. An informative look at the circumstances behind Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.
4. PEN President Kwame Anthony Appiah calls sentencing of Chinese dissident writer Liu Xiaobo a "mockery" and a "scandal".
5. Beat-related videos by the excellent Laki Vazakas.
6. Was John Keats killed by a bad review?
7. Arthur Conan Doyle as Metafictionist.
8. Wizzywig, a hacker memoir by Ed Piskor.
9. Yay! Just Kids, Patti Smith's memoir about her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe is heading our way soon.
10. A word cloud representing Houghton Mifflin's Best American Short Stories series.
11. Drawings from Moby-Dick.
12. Very nice: Pride and Prejudice in emoticons.
13. You know that Joseph Conrad classic. The N-Word of the Narcissus.
14. And, just to prove I have some Christmas spirit, here's a Christmas memory from Henry David Thoreau (via @geoffwisner).
(This is chapter 36 of my ongoing memoir of the Internet industry.)
I was just hitting my stride in my new role as Director of Community Services at iVillage when the dot-com stock market began to fall. It happened quietly, imperceptibly. Some trace the start of the crash to a March 2000 article in Barron's magazine naming several Internet companies that were spending money too quickly and likely to go out of business soon.
Given the intensity of new media vs. old media competition during the Internet's early years, it's ironic that a magazine article brought the dot-com economy down.
(This is chapter 20 of my ongoing memoir of the Internet industry.)
I went to San Francisco in March 1998 to attend the Webby Awards. Literary Kicks was a nominee in the Print/Zines category. I was up against Salon (a well-financed new content venture), the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (exciting stuff!), a compendium of electronic literature known as Labyrinth, and, finally, alt.culture (my friend Nathaniel Wice's site, hosted by Pathfinder).
It felt strange to be up against a site edited by my friend and hosted by the company I worked for, but Nathaniel and I both agreed that alt.culture didn't have a chance, and neither did Litkicks. Salon, a darling of the new media industry since its highly publicized introduction, was the clear choice to win.
I flew out to California to attend the awards ceremony at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, bringing the Enterzone crew, Christian and Briggs and Martha and Rich, as my guests. We showed up to the event in an ironic mode, enjoying the hyped-up red carpet atmosphere though we knew my site would lose, and feeling dubious about the crowd of fashionably dressed dot-commers that filled the auditorium. It wasn't until the Print/Zines category was presented and I saw an image of the Litkicks front page on the large theatre screen that I suddenly realized I wanted Litkicks to win.
This sudden epiphany that I wanted to win was quickly followed by the announcement of the winner: Salon. Dammit.
Much about my attitude towards the Book Review has changed since that weekend in May 2005 when I began this pursuit. For one thing, I knew none of the editors or critics who wrote for the Book Review back then, whereas by now I have met or corresponded with many of the NYTBR regulars and staffers. I was completely unaware, back then, of the hyperactive and highly competitive internal world inhabited by professional literary critics, too many of whom (I have now learned) are more concerned with impressing their peers than enriching their readers.
Like these book critics, I seem to have passed in the last four years from an utter outsider to some kind of an insider, and I also feel compelled at this point to continue my ongoing review of the Review in order to satisfy some relational imperative that is probably more pointless (in the great scheme of things) than it appears. Today, I stare at the latest Book Review with utter disinterest.
It's not the Book Review's fault -- it's just the mood I'm in. Liesl Schillinger's cover piece on When I Forget, a first novel by Finnish author Elina Hirvonen, is fine, but I'd be lying if I pretended to have absorbed Schillinger's article deeply enough to say anything useful about it. There appears to be some type of low-flame debate "raging" about whether or not Ayelet Waldman is a terrible person because she once wrote that she loves her husband (novelist Michael Chabon) more than she loves her kids. Waldman has now written an entire book called Bad Mother about this, and Susan Dominus is willing to play along and stoke the weak flame, but I'm not.
David Means's review of Denis Johnson's noir-ish Nobody Move contains one sentence that pleases me:
If "Tree of Smoke" -- intricately plotted, embracing the entire Vietnam era and bringing it up alongside the war in Iraq -- was a huge piece of work, a "Guernica" of sorts, then "Nobody Move" is a Warhol soup can, a flinty, bright piece of pop art meant to be instantly understood and enjoyed.
And David Hadju reviews a book by David Robertson about musician W. C. Handy and Martin Filler reviews a book by Barbara Isenberg about the wonderful architect Frank Gehry, and I want to care, but I don't. I don't care. I'm tired of pretending I care. I just started a very exciting and demanding new job, I just moved and am adjusting to a new and happy configuration in my daily life, and sometimes I just want to ignore the New York Times Book Review for a few weekends. So there. I said it.
I tried to deal with this two weeks ago by inviting Bill Ectric to stand in for me, but I can't pull that trick every weekend, and I'm sure Ectric's family wouldn't like it if I tried. Should I quit this weekly feature? Nah. As soon as I tried to quit, I'm sure, I'd find myself burning up to comment on the next issue. Sam Tanenhaus isn't getting rid of me that easy.
Looking back on my first stumbling attempts to review this lovable supplement (which I really do dearly love, and I hope this is clear), I find some insight in not my first but my second installment, dated May 22 2005, when I wrote this:
I pledged last Sunday to begin reviewing each issue of the New York Times Book Review in these pages. It's now week two of this endeavor, and I'm already having a rough time.
Sometimes -- okay, often -- the Book Review just leaves me cold. Maybe this is what I want to complain about, because I think the world's most renowned weekly literary review should radiate a blazing white heat with every issue. This week's issue is a cold slab of refrigerated cheese, starting with a dull, trendy cover story about Nascar culture and books thereabout. Who cares? Where's my fiction and poetry?
I page through: American history; women's tales of friendship; a memoir of a person I'd never heard of when I start reading about his book; and who I forget I'd heard of by the time I turn the page; homeopathic medicine, how popular culture is good for you. Finally, on page 14 I reach the literary ghetto where novels and story collections get some ink.
But even these pages transmit a cool apathy. Once or twice each week the Book Review will favor a debut author with a polite but dismissive review, and this week this young novelist is named Alix Ohlin and the last four words of the review are "fatal shortness of interest." Yeah, well, we've got some of that going on in this publication too. I should find small reviews of books by Albert Murray and Caleb Carr interesting, but the reviewers seem bored and so do I.
In other words, I've been singing this same "I'm bored" song for four entire years. And yet people keep reading, including you (I know you are reading this, or else you wouldn't be reading this). So there must be some value in this nonsense, even if on this damp cool Spring morning I can't figure out exactly what this value might be. I'll see you next weekend. I go on.
I sell ads through BlogAds.com, a service whose Internet-grown principles and homespun values I trust. You can buy LitKicks ads for $20 and up on BlogAds, and they send me payments through PayPal once a month. I had a very good month in October of last year ($500.63), though I was disappointed in the Christmas season follow-through ($300.51 for November, $235.99 for December), which probably suffered due to general economic slowdown. But sales picked up in January ($403.00), dipped again in February ($210.95) and will hopefully be up again for March.
My regular advertisers include the wonderful independent book publicist M. J. Rose, whose brand of Buzz Balls and Hype usually includes a healthy dose of blog ads for her clients, and the Print On Demand publisher XLibris, whose highly varied offerings I always look forward to seeing here. I click through on every blog ad purchased on LitKicks -- every webmaster who sells ads should do this, I think -- and I have seen some excellent and surprising titles (as well as some admittedly less promising ones) in the mix. It makes me very proud to be able to help self-published and independent authors contact the readers they are looking for on these pages.
This pocket cash sure doesn't enable me to quit my day job, but it comes in handy and it feels good. It's a nice feeling to be paid for my writing, and for my ability to select other good writers for the site (I have experimented in the past with paying these writers, and will hopefully be able to do so again).
It's a very modest successful business that I'm running here -- but I take some solace in the fact that I probably earn more money each month than many established literary journals, and I take even more solace in the fact that several larger content organizations consider web advertising a failure (as Eric Clemons' TechCrunch article indicates) while I consider it a nice little nut. Maybe this is because these failing sites feature shallow content, overeager writers with untrained voices and shaky convictions who don't know how to build and keep an audience. Many hopeful content companies also spend way too much in pursuit of web ad dollars, and often don't include "patience" in their business plans.
I know a bit about patience myself, because my modest success selling ads on LitKicks caps a long series of frustrations that almost had me giving up at several points. In 2002, unemployed and broke, the dot-com economy a wreck, I urged an independent book publisher and rare book seller to be LitKicks' sole sponsor, with a graphic ad on the bottom of every page, for $100 a month. This arrangement lasted exactly one month before the publisher backed out. Later in 2003 and 2004, when I was even more broke and desperate, I initiated a custom LitKicks ad sales program, the "LitKicks Visibility Program", selling ads that looked something like BlogAds' ads would eventually look, for $75 a pop. This earned me more than a thousand dollars in its first year, but the revenue trickled in too slowly and unsteadily for me to consider it a success, and I was happy to dismantle the program and switch to BlogAds in 2005.
Web advertising, like any other honest business, is a hard grind. But the fact that fools rush in does not mean the business model is flawed. I believe the TechCrunch article that's making the rounds today tells only half the story. Web advertising isn't making me wealthy, but it'll pay for my lunch today, because after years of effort and mistakes I've gradually figured out how to do it right. That's what good business is all about, isn't it?
I left the banking industry to join Time Warner's new media division, where I played an integral role in the now-famous disaster known as Pathfinder. I also launched my own website, Literary Kicks, was hired to build Bob Dylan's website, and had my own first taste of creative satisfaction and personal success. In 1999, I finally struck it "rich", cashing in on one of the biggest IPOs in stock market history, just as my marriage broke up and my workaholic tendencies reached a hysterical peak. A year later, the high-flying dot-com stock market began to crash. My paper wealth disappeared along with my job and much of my remaining sanity. I was beginning to gather my resources back together in 2001, only to face new shocking events of a completely unexpected kind. This is the memoir of a software developer who learned how to be a survivor, and a record of the life lessons learned along the way.
I'll be appearing at an exciting storytelling event this Friday evening at Bar Matchless on 577 Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, starting at 8 pm. We've been asked to come up with stories upon the theme "gift", and I'm puzzling over this right now (I bet the other storytellers -- Tao Lin, Justin Taylor, Starlee Kine, DJ Dolack and Mac Montandon -- are too). There will also be music by Prince Ruperts Drops, The Joints and (this should be cool) Alana Amram and the Rough Gems, self-described as "Patsy Cline fronting the Stones". The "Vol. 1" event is a benefit for 826NYC and Books Through Bars, and is sponsored by Hexedjournal.com and WORD bookstore.
Live storytelling events (like the popular Moth series) are a nice twist on the traditional literary reading tradition. Because there is a theme, writers are forced to come up with something fresh (unless they happen to be O. Henry and have a great story about gifts lying around), and this adds to the spontaneity of the evening. The notion of "storytelling" also has a homespun feeling to it, which helps to alleviate the existential artistic tension that often hangs overhead at these literary events. Party atmosphere and music also help to improve most live readings, and could probably have saved a few dreadful ones I've been to.
Speaking of storytelling, I'm working on a different kind of writing project that I plan to launch here on LitKicks in January, 2009. Regular readers of this site know that I have been working on a non-fiction book proposal, which is currently in my agent's capable hands. This proposal represents what I have described as my secret "M" idea, one of four great non-fiction book ideas that have been obsessing and possessing me, all of which I hope to eventually publish.
The "M" idea remains the most commercially viable of my four, which is important since I have no track record as a non-fiction author and must prove myself with a truly winning proposal. Being a popular litblogger doesn't get me very far (it gets me in the front door, basically), and the few literary bloggers (Ron Hogan, Mark Sarvas, Lizzie Skurnick) who manage to get significant book deals do so entirely on the strength of the work, not the blog. So I'm sticking with my "M" idea, which is on a wildly popular topic and has an excellent chance of selling a hundred thousand copies. I am an eternal optimist, so I will keep awaiting an email from my agent telling me he's found a smart publisher who sees it the same way.
However, I am aware that publishing companies are now in cost-cutting mode, and that this is a bad time to try to sell a risky concept. So, I keep waiting for that happy email from my agent, but I'm not holding my breath.
So what do I do with my non-fiction ideas? I did a bunch of writing for other venues last year, and I would like to do more. But the competition at these publications is now tighter than ever, so this is not a great outlet either for my desire to stretch my writing skills.
So I've made my decision: while I wait to hear from my agent on the "M" book, I am going to begin writing one of my other three big ideas, and I will do it right here on LitKicks. I will compose the book in blog-post-sized sections, and I will try (no promises, till I find my rhythm) to post one new entry each week. I don't know how long I'll keep doing this, but by the end of the experiment we will have hopefully witnessed the creation of ... something. And we'll take it from there.
You know I love doing projects here on LitKicks, and this may turn out to be my most ambitious project yet.
So, which idea? I've got my "I" idea, "P" idea and "Q" idea to work with. "P" is my most ambitious concept, but I don't think I'm ready to write it yet, and I couldn't even write a summary that would make sense.
The "Q" book is the one I could write most easily, because it's material I know so well. I could narrate this entire book start to finish in a week. However it has a regional audience, and I don't think it'll be my breakthrough book. I'd like to keep the "Q" idea in my back pocket for now, and I'll have fun writing it someday.
So that leaves the "I" idea, and so the "I" idea it is. This is the most personal of the four, the topic most rooted in my own life experiences. I will begin the first installment in the first week of the new year. And, as a special preview, please tune in next week to find out what the book is about, and what the "I" stands for.
That's all I can say right now. More to come, very soon.
And in the meantime, I better get busy thinking up a good story to tell for Friday night. Hmmm, gift, gift, gift ...
Now I've got the same problem with novels -- specifically, novels by newer or lesser known authors. It feels horrible to exchange emails with a nice friendly author, get a crisp good-looking book with a nice handwritten note in the mail, and never write about it. But this keeps happening, because I am a slow reader and I've barely been able to begin most of these books. I really do feel horrible about this. I know the writers deserve better.
Then again, just because I run a literary blog, who says I want to run a filtering service for new and unknown novelists? This is not a role I ever wanted to play, and it's not the kind of reading I most enjoy. At least 2/3 of the books I read are older texts (lately, hmm, Edmund Wilson's To The Finland Station, the Gunter Grass Reader) or history or politics titles (recently, Jacob Weisberg's The Bush Tragedy, David Adelman's A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today). I also sometimes read cheesy rock biographies (Suze Rotolo's A Freewheeling Time, etc.), and I try to read international titles as much as I can, so there's just not that much time left for new upcoming novelists or desparate last-gasp novelists, as good as their books probably are.
And yeah, sure, I'm interested in knowing who the next big sensation is going to be. But I really don't need to be the first to know. Hell, I haven't even found the time to read Roberto Bolano yet.
I am going to run some very few long-overdue book reviews in the next couple of weeks. But once again I have to warn any novelists who communicate with me that I'm always happy to hear from you and I'm always happy to check out your books, but please don't send it unless it's okay that the odds are against me writing about the book.
But please do keep those global history/politics titles and cheesy rock biographies coming! I need some good beach reading.
2. Oxford University Press's Evan Schnittman has written a refreshing analytical piece that projects the likely (secret) sales figures for the two major E-Book devices, Amazon's Kindle and the Sony Reader:
The chatter, as reported in the NY Times, has publishers and others speculating that Amazon has sold somewhere between 10,000 - 50,000 Kindles.
I think all the speculations are completely wrong. By my calculations, combined sales of the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader will be 1,000,000 units in 2008. This estimate is based on solid data.
Schnittman's math is fine -- but a projection is just a projection, and since these conclusions are largely based on parts (screens) ordered for manufacture, his research is probably over-optimistic. But he's right that E-books are a growing business.
Of course E-books will eventually succeed. Anybody who thinks they won't is out of touch with the 21st Century. But pricing is key, and the Kindle is too expensive. By slicing across the price differential, Schnittman's research misses the main lesson the industry needs to hear -- make it affordable, stupid. Still, the article is a worthwhile read.
3. It's strange that Ben Child says in the Guardian that Deepak Chopra is the inspiration for the Mike Myers character in the new film The Love Guru, since the character looks a whole lot like real-life love guru Mahirishi Mahesh Yogi, who recently died. I'll go see this film ... Mike Myers hasn't steered me wrong yet.
4. Speaking of karma, Ed Champion is dishing some heavy stuff out here.
As to how the spam device got there in the first place, it turns out to have been embedded in the WordPress theme I'd used to create the latest version of the site. The theme is called "Royaline", and anybody else who uses this theme will probably eventually run into the same problem I had. I posted about this on a WordPress forum.
It's a discouraging fact that prescription drug spammers would so carelessly violate the trust of the open source community. But it's equally encouraging that I asked for help with this problem and so quickly got what I needed. Good work, people.