Friday, April 24, 2009

Book Deals for Bloggers With Catchy Ideas
By Persia Walker

So what's the latest trend in publishing?

Blog-to-book deals for folks who think up funny subjects, put up a blog, invite user content -- and then sell the whole package for a fat check.

The New York Times is writing about the success of comedy screenwriter Duncan Birmingham who decided to set up a blog featuring pictures of the funny, and sometimes undignified ways, in which people dress their pets. He called the blog Pets Who Want to Kill Themselves. The site went up in January. Visitors immediately started uploading pictures of dogs in underwear, cats dangling in socks, and other photos of that ilk. Not only did the general public think it was a good idea, so did the publishing world. According to the Times, editors and literary agents were contacting Birmingham within a week.

Then, there's the case of the ladies who created a blog that amalgamated funny e-mail exchanges between moms and their grown kids. For Doree Shafrir and Jessica Grose, the result wasn't just a well-visited site, but a book called Love, Mom.


The folks behind This Is Why You're Fat enjoyed similarly-attained success.

Ka-ching! Ka-ching!

The sole downside for the blog-owners? They have to track down the people who submitted the materials to begin with and get permission to use them. That, the Times writes, can become a "nightmarish task."

Somehow, I feel no sympathy. I mean, sheesh, these folks should do some work. After all, they're essentially making money off of other people's content. (Which also leads me to ask, why would anyone agree to let someone else make money off of their photos?)

As a writer who, like many writers, labors countless hours over a manuscript, fretting about plotting, characterization, and story arcs, I guess I should be angry over how these non-writers are getting over.

I should be angry, but I'm not. As a matter-of-fact, my little heart of crass commercialism feels only a touch of envy. At the most, I find myself wondering, "Why didn't I think of that?"

Does this lack of resentment stem from my odd, but firm, belief that there really is enough for everyone to go around, or is it disguised despair, or do I genuinely believe that these folks, with their witty ideas, are contributing something?

Perhaps it's a bit of all of that. Humor is something we're in dire need of. Reminders to laugh at ourselves, they're to be valued.

I do think I'm just a bit cynical, too. We all know that American publishers race from one fad to another. They're producing book versions of farcical blogs now, too? Why would that surprise me? Furthermore, I would never assume that money not spent on fad books would be spent on serious ones instead.

I could let this instance of industry foolishness get my dander up, but I refuse to. I choose to leave the anger to others. I choose to believe that eventually real writers will have their day. I choose to believe that the decision-makers in publishing will soon be forced to seriously reconsider their priorities.

Until that day comes, I'll keep writing and I'll keep believing that there's enough to go around.


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