Friday, May 20, 2005

When Writing Pays

I picked up an advance copy yesterday of Jessica Cutler’s, The Washingtonienne. Cutler is the woman who worked briefly as a mail girl on Capital Hill in early 2004, recounted her sexual exploits on a blog, got fired for using a government computer, and quickly sold a book for $300,000.

Like many, I was amazed at the size of Cutler’s advance, especially since she apparently fudged many details about her life – like her true age and educational degrees. What writing credentials did she have? How could she land such a huge advance in a matter of days after her story hit the national press? But I quickly realized my naiveté: Cutler was hot, and her story fit in nicely with the chick-lit genre. Besides, an agent I know assured me, Cutler was a terrific writer.

I’m not sure that latter observation will pan out, based on the 35 pages of the novel that I have read, but I bet the book will be a success regardless. The cover is a close-up of a woman’s B-sized chest, covered in a lacy pink bra, with a silver replica of the Capitol dangling on a chain. It’s sexy and racy and that, well, sells books.

The Washingtonienne is set be released in June, and this week, Cutler got slapped with her first law suit. An old paramour, whom Cutler apparently dissed on her blog, is suing her for revealing he liked to spank. I wonder, if he was so worried about his secret coming out, why did he sue? (Read the legal complaint here).

Cutler’s book is one of the spate of blogger-turned-author books to come out. Some other bloggers have also gotten huge advances. Stephanie Klein, who pens the blog Greek Tragedy, sold her book, Straight Up and Dirty: The Life of a New York Divorcee, to Judith Regan for more than $500,000. She recounts the excitement she felt at hearing the news.

Rachel Leibrock of the Sacramento Bee recently wrote about the trend:

Jerome Kramer, editor-in-chief of the online book magazine The Book Standard, agrees that one reason the trend is strong is because publishers can turn to the Internet to find a "pre-built audience."

"They're looking for proven models and tried-and-true sources from which to create books," Kramer says. "Publishers are getting into this pop culture-to-press thing and blogging is hot."

And, adds Kramer, on the phone from his Manhattan office, the medium is still rich with untapped talent.

"Blogging only reached the critical mass tipping point about two years ago - and it's still tipping," he says.”

It will be interesting to see how this trend plays out. While the New York publishing world is gobbling up quick, easy reads like Cutler’s and Klein’s, they still want authors who can build an audience book after book. I hope that will lead to book deals with bloggers who are elegant writers, not just bloggers capitalizing on sensation.

1 comment:

Robert Nagle said...

This point (that blogging builds audience) seems obvious to bloggers and it's hilarious that the publishing industry caught on so late.

Which raises the question: if the only main benefit of traditional publishing is marketing, and if traditional publishers are relying on you to establish audience via blogging, why go through the publishers anymore?

Here's an article I wrote recently about that very subject .