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1. Conservative Book Publishing on the Wane, So Cruz Gets $1.5M

Little more than two weeks after a widely circulated article on the fading of a genre, “Killing Conservative Books: The Shocking End of a Publishing Gold Rush that discussed “the gutting of the conservative book market” and that too many books and too many publishers “made the economics of their genre much tougher, with an ever-increasing number of books competing for an audience that hasn’t grown much since the ’90s”, came news that Texas Senator Ted Cruz agreed to a $1.5 million dollar advance from HarperCollins.

[Disclaimer: Different imprints of HarperCollins published both of my books.]

In a Washington Post article, Paul Bedard writes that Cruz’s advance is even more than Sarah Palin’s check after her entrance onto the national stage.

Let’s go back to the BuzzFeed piece, authored by McKay Coppins…

The crux of the piece is that publishers are basically obligated to sign up books by presidential hopefuls, in the event that they are eventually elected to the White House. However, in the chase for those politicians, many publishers sign deals with conservative politicians that don’t pay off in terms of sales. Coppins’ article points out that Jeb Bush’s book has only sold about 4,600 copies and that Rick Santorum’s 2012 book American Patriots only sold about 6,500 copies.

For example, Tim Pawlenty, a short-lived presidential candidate in 2012, received an advance of around $340,000 for his 2010 book Courage to Stand. But the book went on to sell only 11,689 copies, according to Nielsen Bookscan, which tracks most, but not all, bookstore sales. What’s more, Pawlenty’s political action committee bought at least 5,000 of those copies itself in a failed attempt to get it on the New York Times best-seller list, according to one person with knowledge of the strategy.

So what happens when you have a genre in decline? Pay a shit ton of money to someone in that genre.

Now, it should be stated that Cruz is a giant name in the conservative movement and Coppins’ article specifically states that some books do perform well and that it’s the midlist that struggles. Certainly, Cruz isn’t going to be a midlist author.

Nevertheless, this kind of news is what leaves many aspiring authors and publishing industry observers shaking their head, and more than a few critics applauding the so-called “death of publishing.” This isn’t about left or right, liberal or conservative politics. It’s about an industry observation that got a large amount of discussion about the struggles to recoup advances that face a genre and then, two weeks later, a giant advance is paid out in that same genre.

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2. Plan Your Trip by The Kentucky Barbecue Book

The Food Network and other outlets churn out insufferable amounts of coverage devoted to barbecue in Texas, North Carolina, and Kansas City. With good reason, admittedly. Like anything, there are places where people simply do things right. And those locales should be celebrated and honored.

But by falling back on these old faithful locations time and time again (I mean, do we really need another peek at the Salt Lick in Austin, no matter how great the place is?), we miss the opportunity to explore lesser-known, but equally vibrant cultures of cooking.

For me, that oversight was rectified this past weekend when I was finally able to do a bit of exploring of my old stomping grounds, using Wes Berry’s excellent The Kentucky Barbecue Book. The end result was 4 barbecue joints in less than 48 hours and a great excuse to get off the highway and explore something more unique than just the fast food dumps that litter the exits.

An Associate Professor at Western Kentucky University, Berry wanted to document the barbecue customs and, more importantly, the people who dedicate their lives to it, from his home state. Along the way, he uncovered highly unique and diverse ways of treating barbecue that varied from, literally, county to county. What he calls “micro-regional” cuisine changes from Hopkinsville to Madisonville. And while the big time TV shows and annual New York Times roundups stick with only the most prominent representations of the genre, Berry goes deeper to show how two towns, just separated by a few miles, might go about things completely differently.

Imagine that we’re looking at some pizza show on the Travel Channel. They say, “Chicago is known for deep dish pies,” and then they move on to discussing the thin stuff from the Big Apple. That’s about it.

If Berry were in charge of this production, he’d say, “Chicago is known for deep dish pies. And if you’re on Michigan Avenue, that means a tomato sauce, but a quick cab ride over to Oak Park, then it’s going to be a white sauce. Five miles down into Cicero, you’re going to have spinach on there…” And so forth. This is deeply specific food writing. Just look at Berry’s treatment of mutton.

“This is why I’m fond of mutton, as smoky, tender mutton marries well with the tangy black dip sauces you’ll find at the four Owensboro barbecue places and at western Kentucky Catholic church picnics,” Berry writes. “There’s nothing else like this flavor in the barbecue kingdom, and it’s rare to find outside a few counties in western Kentucky… Mutton is usually basted while smoking over hickory coals and served with a savory Worchestershire sauce-based dip, a think, black potion that also contains vinegar and spices like black pepper and allspice.”

As specific as The Kentucky Barbecue Book is, what prevents it from descending into ultra-niche market territory is Berry’s ability to recount stories about the food and the pit masters encountered along his travels. In many cases, Berry even managed to finagle some recipes out of these experts so you can follow along in your home kitchen. So even if you’re not planning a visit to the Bluegrass State anytime soon, the book is still well-worth a read. Part travelogue, part cookbook, part cultural exploration, Wes Berry’s The Kentucky Barbecue Book is like a great meal: it combines just the right amount of spices, along some sweet and a good smoke.

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3. Sometimes, Ya Just Gotta Write a Shitty Line

We write poor lines because of rushed deadlines, screaming babies in the background, hangovers, and just general human fallibility.

Other times, we write poor lines because we have to, because even though they may sound off or awkward, they are, technically, accurate. Such is the case with this Scientific American article republished on Salon.com.

The article states several times that systems didn’t fail air traffic control and oversight in the case of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 because ” the plane’s location was known before it disappeared.” No criticism for the writer because that is undeniably true.

But damn it seems odd to state, “We had it until we didn’t have it and so everything worked fine.”

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4. Noted Author McGinniss Dies

McGinnis

The New York Times is reporting that noted reporter and author Joe McGinniss has passed away at 71. McGinniss was the author of The Selling of the President and Fatal Vision.

Personally, I was originally introduced to McGinniss’ work because of the role he played in jumpstarting the career of Bret Easton Ellis.

Decades later, I also immensely enjoyed The Deliveryman by McGinniss’ son Joe Jr.

Sad loss. Our Slushpile thoughts go out to the family.

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5. Women in Metal Book Published

Kirtland Book

In my on-going quest to document all the tons of hard rock and heavy metal related books that are published these days, I thought I’d mention this new one.

Beyond just an attention-grabbing title, Not Just Tits in a Corset: Celebrating Women in Metal by Jill Hughes Kirtland examines Lita Ford, Doro Pesch, Roxy Petrucci and many other female headbangers in their struggle to perform in a male-dominated genre.

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6. Lanza’s New Yorker Interview and Fictional Material

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I generally abhor the “ripped from the headlines” style of books and television shows. To the point that I’ve often wondered if the writers for those Law and Order shows get reduced rates since they’re not really creating things from whole cloth.

But here is a situation that could make for amazing fiction.

In Andrew Solomon’s New Yorker article “The Reckoning” which features exclusive interview material with Peter Lanza, father of Sandy Hook Elementary shooter Adam Lanza, there’s an especially noteworthy passage.

As soon as she got home, they called Ryan and began the two-hour drive to his place, in Hoboken. Ryan had also left his office early; by the time he got home, the police had taped off his apartment building. Adam had been carrying Ryan’s I.D., which had led to the confusion. Ryan approached the police with his arms up and said, “You’re looking for me, but I didn’t do it.” He was taken to a police station, so Peter and Shelley headed there, too. They were questioned for a couple of hours and were made to wait for two more before they were allowed to see Ryan. They went to the home of an aunt of Peter’s to regroup; they were shuttled to a hotel, then to Shelley’s family’s house and other safe houses, with a canine unit supplied by the police for security; they were interviewed by the F.B.I., the state police, and various local authorities. “We didn’t even have clothes,” Peter said. “I had to borrow my lawyer’s pants.” Eventually, they headed to New Hampshire to arrange Nancy’s funeral, and had to evade a stakeout by news media, which wanted to cover it. I asked what they had done about a funeral for Adam. “No one knows that,” Peter said. “And no one ever will.”

Without making excuses, or celebrating a tragedy, or passing judgement on anyone, that situation right there seems like a loaded opportunity for fiction. The whole article is worth reading and it is certainly getting lots of mainstream media coverage. But I’m just left wondering what fiction writers could do with those few hours and days.

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7. We’re Back

I’ve just imported all of the old data from Slushpile since 2005 – no mean feat – so it should all be here. I’d love to hear from you all about why you read Slushpile and what you’re looking for. I’m trying to make this a bit more lively at the very least. Please comment below!

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8. Kickstarter-Backed Author Burns His Books

Artist John Campbell, creator of the site Pictures For Sad Children, has started burning printed copies of his book after hitting $50,000 on Kickstarter yet finding himself still unable to ship the books.

He posted video of the burning on Kickstarter after receiving complaints from customers.

“After a decade of putting personal work on the Internet in public for free and realizing I didn’t have what I felt what I needed, my online persona committed suicide,” Campbell said.

Writes DNAInfo:

Campbell said he spent $30,000 of the Kickstarter money to print 2,000 copies of the 200-page hardback book and then spent more money to include a dead wasp inside of each book. Encased in plastic, the wasps were inserted into the inside back cover.

I suspect it’s the dead wasp that did him in. Those things are expensive.

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9. Slushpile Needs Book Reviewers

Thanks to the jubilee we’ve been given with the site, it would be great if we could start fresh with some new content and new writers. We can get you books. We need you to review them. Want to join us? Email john@biggs.cc with a few sample reviews and your specific reading/writing interests. We’d love to work with you.

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10. Please Hold

During a move we lost some of the data for Slushpile. We’ll be updating the site and all the SP goodness you expect should keep coming. Bear with us in this time of great peril.

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11. LA Times Obit for Louis D. Rubin

louis-rubin-mug

The great Louis D. Rubin passed away recently. Perhaps most well-known for co-founding Algonquin Books, Rubin was also a fine and frequent writer.

The Los Angeles Times has a great overview of Rubin’s life. Check here to read the obit.

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12. National Books Awards Held Tonight

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The 2013 National Book Awards will be held tonight in New York City. All the finalists are great, but around here, we’re pulling for George Saunders, who has had a special place in our heart ever since hearing him read “Offloading for Mrs. Schwartz” from CivilWarLand in Bad Decline.

Fiction Finalists
–Rachel Kushner, The Flamethrowers
–Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland
–James McBride, The Good Lord Bird
–Thomas Pynchon, Bleeding Edge
–George Saunders, Tenth of December

Nonfiction Finalists
–Jill Lepore, Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin
–Wendy Lower, Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields
–George Packer, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America
–Alan Taylor, The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832
–Lawrence Wright, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief

Young Adult Literature Finalists
–Kathi Appelt, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp
–Cynthia Kadohata, The Thing About Luck
–Tom McNeal, Far Far Away
–Meg Rosoff, Picture Me Gone
–Gene Luen Yang, Boxers & Saints

Poetry Finalists
–Frank Bidart, Metaphysical Dog
–Lucie Brock-Broido, Stay, Illusion
–Adrian Matejka, The Big Smoke
–Matt Rasmussen, Black Aperture
–Mary Szybist, Incarnadine: Poems

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13. McKenzie to Appear at KY Book Fair

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Slushpile’s Scott McKenzie will be at the Kentucky Book Fair on Saturday, November 16 in Frankfort, Kentucky. The event is being held at the Frankfort Convention Center. Stop by and say hello!

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14. Almost 400k Self-Published Books in 2012

digital-self-publishing

Galleycat points to the latest data that states more than 391,000 books were self-published last year. That’s an astounding 59% increase from the previous year.

Amazing.

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15. Ferriss to Publish Audiobooks

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Over at TechCrunch, Anthony Ha has a pretty lengthy look at bestseller and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss’ new audiobook venture.

Ferriss always seems to be trying something new, and this “book club” as he describes it proves to be an interesting enterprise. One thing’s for sure… He’ll certainly document every success and every setback with incredible rigor so it should make for an educational exercise.

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16. Bestselling Author Michael Palmer Dies

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According to report on the New York Times, bestselling author Dr. Michael Palmer has died at 71. Reports state that he suffered a heart attack while returning from an African safari.

What I find most interesting about the article is the way it focuses on Palmer’s writing as a therapeutic tool to overcome drug and alcohol dependence.

“I loved the feeling of being in control when my life was not,” the article quotes Palmer has having said.

Palmer was the author of Extreme Measures, Political Suicide, and many others.

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17. Werewolves, Lawsuits, Copyright, and Huge Daily Word Counts

Fixed gavel and scale of justiceHere’s a headline for you:

“Nebraska author sues Texas publisher over books involving werewolf sex”

Got your attention? Check out the full article over at Omaha.com. It’s an intriguing situation. But what really caught my attention was the statement that writer Erin R. Flynn churns out 15,000 words a day and can do a book in a week or two. Amazing output.

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18. Funny, and Harsh, Review of the Zuckerberg Book

zuckerberg

Sam Grobart has an amusing, and pretty harsh, review of Randi Zuckerberg’s new childrens book, Dot. over at BloombergBusinessweek.

I’d be curious to see the artwork of the book given that Grobart points out the sum entirety of the opus is a whopping 101 words.

Wow.

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19. Square Books Named PW Bookseller of the Year

Square_Books_1

During my time in graduate school at the University of Mississippi, I was lucky enough to work at Square Books in Oxford. So I was particularly pleased to see the news today that Publishers Weekly named the store as Bookseller of the Year.

Check out the full article here.

Congratulations to all the gang down there on a well-deserved honor!

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20. Should You Pay to Make a Book About Success a Success?

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Finances are rarely as they seem.

The sports media blasts $100 million dollar deal headlines on an almost daily basis. But it’s only been in recent years that they began drawing the distinction between the guaranteed portions versus the purely imaginary Monopoly money the player will never actually receive. While basketball and baseball contracts are locked in, football contracts can be broken at any time by the team.

The entertainment media reports huge recording contracts, without referencing that the deal also covers merchandising and tour support. A band might “receive” a certain amount of cash in their agreement, but that pays for their studio time and tour bus rental, as opposed to pure profit.

Of course, lawyers, agents, assistants, and everyone else takes their cut as well.

As a result, we often assume that people have more money than they do. Just because TMZ and other outlets reported that Farrah Abraham “struck a deal” for almost a million dollars for fucking in a fake amateur sex tape doesn’t mean the Teen Mom star is depositing a check for exactly seven figures any time soon.

All of which is to say, I get it. You might seem like a big time player in a particular industry, but that doesn’t mean you’ve got piles of cash buried in the backyard, ready to be invested at a moment’s notice. Whatever your accomplishments may be, your bank account might not line up accordingly. Once again, I get it. But I’ll be goddamned if I can understand why we should subsidize a self-described successful Hollywood producer’s efforts to publish a book about becoming a successful screenwriter.

GalleyCat reported that Gary W. Goldstein, producer of Pretty Woman, The Mothman Prophecies, and other movies launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $12,000 to self-publish a book described as a “practical roadmap of every insider strategy I’ve learned on how to make it in Hollywood as a successful screenwriter.”

Let’s highlight the keywords and phrases in that description: “insider” and “make it” and “successful.”

In fact, the word “successful” is used about five times in the Kickstarter profile. Doesn’t this conjure images of someone who can make an investment in their own business and product? Maybe he’s not cruising a Bentley up and down the PCH on the way to his Malibu pad, but at least you’d think someone choosing to self-publish would, ya know, cough up the money to pay for self-publishing. I suppose you could argue that Goldstein’s fundraising effort is, on a small scale, precisely what a producer does: he seeks and puts together money from a variety of sources. Leveraging other people’s cash is old hat to Hollywood folks (and Wall Street) so maybe that’s what’s going on here.

Goldstein’s IMDB profile doesn’t show any projects since 2002 so maybe he’s hit a dry spell. Which doesn’t necessarily negate his knowledge and expertise on the subject. We’ve all gone through fallow periods or maybe changed careers and direction.

But the whole online fundraising thing is simply out of hand. No longer relegated to truly indie projects, charitable efforts, low budget start ups, and outrageous, outlandish flights of fancy, now Kickstarter and Indiegogo are employed to make a success of how-to-be-successful book from a success guru?

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21. Slate Says “Ignore Inspiration”

inspiration-green-light

Slate has been running a series on the rituals and techniques of great artists. Today’s article, focuses on ignoring the idea of waiting for inspiration.

“Waiting for inspiration to strike is a terrible, terrible plan,” Mason Currey writes. “In fact, perhaps the single best piece of advice I can offer to anyone trying to do creative work is to ignore inspiration.” It’s not necessarily earth-shattering to most serious writers, but it is a useful reminder.

The people who can most obviously benefit from this type of advice are the — for lack of a better description — posers. The folks who spend all day at Starbucks with their computer open, hoping someone will ask them what they’re working on so they can spout off their lofty ideals about the muse, and art, and all that.

But even writers with a fairly dedicated routine can still benefit from the prescription to ignore inspiration. Even if you’re diligent about sitting your ass in the chair for a set number of hours a day, worrying too much about getting in the zone can lead you to bail out too quickly, to say, “It’s just not happening today.”

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22. O’Brien Now Carries a 100k Check

Photo: Greg Helgeson

Tim O’Brien has been named the 2013 winner of the Pritzker Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing. The honor comes with a $100,000 honorarium. O’Brien is the first fiction writer ever to win the award. Although all his books are great, he is, of course, most well known for The Things They Carried.

Super nice guy, fantastic writer… Congratulations on a well-deserved honor.

For more details, check out the full announcement.

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23. Lamb of God Frontman Signs Book Deal

blythe

Add another hard rock memoir to the constantly bulging list of headbanging books

But in this case, there’s definitely a different story to be told, beyond just the usual “banging chicks, doing drugs” story.

Publisher’s Marketplace is reporting that Randy Blythe, lead singer of Lamb of God, has signed a book deal with Ben Schafer at Da Capo. Blythe was incarcerated for slightly more than 1 month (and tied up in criminal wranglings for almost a year) after a fan in the Czech Republic was killed in Prague.

Blythe stood trial and was acquitted, but the legal turmoil took a heavy toll on the band. Drummer Chris Adler recently told The Virginian-Pilot that the court case bankrupted the band.

Expected to be on bookstore shelves in the spring of 2014, Blythe’s memoir will certainly stand out from the rest of the heavy metal bookshelf.

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24. Mezrich Ranks Pop Culture’s Esteem for Writers

mezrich

Bookish interviewed bestseller Ben Mezrich in a discussion that raises a number of interesting discussion points.

When the discussion turns to the writer’s place in pop culture, Mezrich says that we’re at the very bottom.

“Writers are now the lowest on the totem pole; you’ve got actors, directors, sports stars, chefs and, at the bottom, authors.”

He goes on to detail a possible explanation for this situation, but what do you think? Why aren’t authors bigger pop culture figures than we currently see today?

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25. The Dangers of Ghostwriting

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Over at Salon, Anna Davies offers her experiences with ghostwriting and shares “My dirty secret writing life.” It’s an interesting look into the world of book packagers and those folks who churn out amazingly popular titles.

Now, as one of the commentors suggests, in some ways, ghostwriters are no different than the ranks of studio musicians who perform on record after record. That’s a profession I’ve always admired. While unique, distinctive musicians are certainly appreciated and applauded, I think it also takes a very unique and talented person to play on a jazz record in the morning and then rock out a metal tune in the afternoon and then maybe do an acoustic gig at a coffeeshop in the evening.

Certainly, I enjoyed my own time as a ghostwriter and co-author and would do it again. So I don’t look back and feel as though I’ve lost my soul or anything, as Davies states happened to her.

Nonetheless, the challenges and trials she relates in the article do have some merit. Ghostwriting isn’t for everybody. And for folks who think it’s all fun and glamor, then Davies’ piece is a useful word of warning.

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