Monday, December 13, 2004

'Here I Come, To Save the Day!' or; Dispelling the Rumor that Mad Max is, in fact, Karl Rove

It's a fact: I do have copies of MAX PERKINS: EDITOR OF GENIUS in every room of my penthouse apartment. And yes, sometimes—when I'm at a fundraiser at Trinity, say, or turning over my Jaguar XK to the parking attendant as I join Matthew and Sarah Jessica at one black-tie event or another at Lincoln Center—sometimes I cough into my hand, expelling (rather loudly) the words "MAD MAX" as I do so. And it's true, the story you've heard, about how at a dinner party held in Bill Clinton's honor, I borrowed my Belgian mistress's lipstick (Chanel Hydrabase--I believe the color was "Flamenco") and wrote "MAD MAX WAS HERE!" across the mirror in the powder room.

And yet, somehow, nobody inside the publishing biz seems to notice. It's been six—no, almost eight weeks now: when the hell you people gonna give me my props? I mean, how long's a fella gotta wait before he gets his (pseudo) name in PAGE SIX bold-print? For Stephen King and Amy Tan and Ridley Pearson to name me an honorary member of the Rock Bottom Remainders? For somebody to say, with genuine curiosity, "Who Is That Masked Man?!" I hate to bring this up myself—but hasn't anyone considered me for 'Man of the Year'?

I know, I know—Karl Rove is 'Man of the Year'—besides, how do you know I'm not Rove himself? Or maybe that’s where these "trust issues" come from--is that it? (...would certainly explain why you’ve been deleting my emails, unopened…) And all these anonymous testimonials—that’s right up ol’ Karl’s alley too, huh?


To put the Karl Rove rumor to rest once and for all, I refer you now to PublishersLunch Deluxe, December 8, 2004, in which Michael Cader, the proprietor of Publishers Marketplace, wrote,

"Last month we noted the arrival of blogger "Mad Max Perkins." Max has been trying, through a variety of questionnaires and posted challenges, to coax industry insiders to share true-life experiences (anonymously, like Max himself) and join in an online exploration of how to sell more books and re-inject vigor and hope into the publishing process.

"Lunch knows the man behind the "Max," and we can vouch that he is indeed as advertised: a highly-respected, longtime big six publishing veteran trying to help change things for the better—and serious about wanting to hear from (and protect the identity of) others in the publishing world."

OK, so it’s not God’s work, exactly, but “help change things for the better”—not a bad aim, right? And who among us doesn’t think that things could be better, that the industry could use some fresh juice? Yet generally when I reach out to y’all, it’s like, HEY, MISTER—HANDS OFF THE COAT! For instance: a week or so ago I sent out a questionnaire to about 65 marketing folk; I got 1 (one) substantial response. Couple days later I sent a one-sentence query to a bunch of literary agents—45 or so—and got 1 (one) reply. I’m burning the midnight oil, hoping to distill—or evoke—the occasional blogsize morsel that might prove useful, all for the greater good…and what do I get in return? I get bupkiss! (Bubkiss? Bubpkis?) Nothing. Nada.


Here’s another commentary--from a VP/Editor In Chief--that may allay your fears.

"For ye of little faith, I can hereby testify that Mad Max is a highly respected senior level publishing person, who possesses the best possible intentions, and can be trusted to protect your anonymity. And while it's possible he wrote this testimonial himself, he never would, because he's also a highly modest individual."

--Anonymous, VP/Editor in Chief of a division of a large New York publishing house

Possesses the best possible intentions”? Hmmmmmmm. The time is now, my Brothers and Sisters of the P&L! In this mentorless age, in this time when the half-life of the average book-editor is shorter than ever before, let us help each other by putting aside our differences and sharing our hearts and minds (if not the proprietary databases we're each secretly collecting) for the great good.


Besides: you're not going to have good ol' Mad Max Perkins to kick around forever... Next thing you know there'll be a memorial service in my honor (after my "untimely demise"), at which dozens of the Great Men and Women of the Industry will elbow each other aside for the chance to talk about my contribution to the world of letters. People known principally by their first names—Sonny, Binky, Gary, Phyllis, Star, Sloan, Suzanne, Jane, Esther, Nicole, Andrew, Marty, Morgan, Mort... Never mind that they didn't know me while I was alive. Now I’ll be remembered as the (plodding) "relentless," (desk-bound) "dedicated," (unremarkable) "enigmatic," (pain-in-the-ass) "always-scraping-for-his-authors" editor who went by the moniker “Mad Max.” The straw that stirred the drink, the pot that brewed the coffee, the pipe that smoked the pot—a selfless visionary who (according to legend) overcame humble roots to re-energize a staggering industry, to re-empower midlist authors, to put the nobility back in Barnes & Noble...

Ahh, but now he's gone, and what a tragedy--if only we'd appreciated him when he was.... sob...


OK, so I admit it: I AIN'T NO SUPERMAN! [I do, however, own a very smart red cape.] I ain't Max Perkins, or Cork Smith, Allen Peacock, Roger Straus; ain't nobody gonna confuse me with Jonathan Galassi, Dan Menaker, Katherine Court, Gerry Howard—though I confess it's a thrill to string these names together in conjunction with mine, even if "ain't" is the, errr, conjunction.

Point is, I’m trying. Now—what great things will we accomplish if you trust me and add your experiences/ideas (anonymously) to the greater data pool? Yeah, I know: probably bupkiss. There are institutional issues that we don't have much hope of addressing, of course. Then there’s the fact that I seem to have mislaid my Mensa membership card, and I’m not know widely known as a man of great vision, except as pertains to my own self-interests, and (to the best of my knowledge) I’ve never been short-listed for a Nobel Prize in economics.

Great thinker, man of letters? Moi? Imagine instead the Fuller Brush Man. Or—better yet—picture Andy Kauffman's first appearance on Saturday Night Live: Dorky guy standing stiffly (like "Latka," the character he later played on the show "Taxi") beside a 1940s-style phonograph on which turns a scratchy 78-rpm record. Utterly still, except for his eyes, which shift back and forth in stage-fright panic, as the phonograph plays the "Mighty Mouse" theme song. At last he stirs from his rigor to raise his arms in operatic grandeur as he lip-syncs the words "HERE I COME, TO SAVE THE DAY!"—the one line only—after which all animating drops away instantly, arms returnly limply to his side. There he stands, motionless but for the eyes, waiting, desperately, for his line to come around again.

OK, I know what you’re thinking—Jeez, this Max is a study! He feigns modesty but compares himself to a variety of publishing legends AND maybe the most original comedian of this, that, or any other generation.... Hmmm, and to make matters worse, the Kauffman analogy actually fits—not in terms of originality, but in the way that, with Kauffman, you never knew for sure: is this guy for real?

"For all you publishing types out there, who may be too nervous to converse with an anonymous blogger, I can vouch, in my own, anonymous way, for Mad Max Perkins, a trusted colleague, who with all good intentions is trying to get a dialogue going about an industry that is seemingly at a crossroads. For all the excitement of acquiring books, and seeing who bought what, for how much, on Rights Alert, the real crunch comes when it's time to publish. And we all know what we're facing. What we don't know is what to do about it. So let's start here, by talking to one another. Venting is ok, grousing is satisfying, but let's also share ideas, experience and optimism. Talk to Mad Max!"

That one sez it all, it seems to me—touches on some of the best aspects of my job, and some of the worst; and that discrepancy is the bog from which this blog was born. So I hope the next time you see an email with a question from MAD MAX PERKINS in your In Box (and/or recover it from “Spam”), you’ll give some serious thought to responding.

And now I’ll shut up—except to say, to last week’s Anonymous poster who remarked, basically, "Who CARES about this anonymity crap, let's get back to the conversation itself"—I hear you loud and clear. Fresh meat will be forthcoming. But we need data, help, ideas—real tried-that-and-it-did/didn't-work feedback from people inside the industry.

You show me yours, I’ll show you mine.


Anonymous said...

O Mad One,

What a fine rant. Let me add a note from an author who has only reached the foothills of the Mount your publishing peers rule--PLEASE apply your creativity and energy and passion to exploring solutions for bookworld. Vigorous innovation seems to be what's needed. I want to be published and have a decent chance for readers to know my work (I've a helluva novel of ideas). And I want to edit authors who earn publication and have a decent chance for readers to read their work.

It's disheartening to read all the stories about the death of midlist writers and that no one edits any more and that the conglomeratization of publishing is killing the business and on and on. I suspect a large part of the problem lies not with authors and readers, but the creaky mechanisms of the "industry." I come from a creative/marketing background and have seen many, many inventive ways to market that have succeeded. I believe it can be done. But not to the sounds of silence.

So create your own anonymous identities (like with Hotmail) and join in Mad Max's effort to uplift rather than naysay.

Ray Rhamey
Flogging the Quill

Anonymous said...


Methinks your diction tells too much. If you were any more poncey, you might have said "when in hell’s inferno whilst thou give me mine props?": which leaves me inclined to believe that you are a) Mad of the British variety (i.e. the kooky-phanooky kind), knowing as I do that no one does poncey better; and b) that you are indeed who you say you are – a gatekeeper of literature, both great and gainful.

Now, don your cape, mighty man, return your shifty gaze to the page and show us some of yours. And then maybe I’ll gimme you your props.

ps out of kindness, and as a rare show of solidarity, I have referenced my desk copy of Yiddish For Yobs (ISBN: do-ntlook-formeinyourlocallibrar-y) and can resolve your bubkes/bopkes dilemma (take your pick, it is a transliteration of a foreign language, fer Abraham’s sake) -- hoping to soothe at least that little dreck of your editorial angst.

Anonymous said...

It's "annonymous" here.


But really folks, I can not only vouch for MM's credibility and good intentions, but frankly, his blog entries are about the most entertaining reading I do all day. Donning my hat as an optimistic, I'm-not-going-to-pay-attention-to-the-fact-that-this-publishing-ship-is-sinking, executive editor, I want the book. Come on, MM, stop tilting at these windmills of publishing and turn your talents to writing a book. Call me. You can help me re-arrange the chairs on this deck.

Anonymous said...

PS: from "annonymous"

Plus, don't you feel a little frisson of "six degrees".

First you ravage M. Kakutani; then you expound on the new BESTSELLER from Michael Crichton. Then Michiko ravages the Crichton.

Libertarian Girl said...

Dear "Annonymous,"

Re: MK, my guess is she'd heard of Michael Crichton prior to having read about him [ha!] here--I'm sure she's had her knives sharpened and poised for Crichton for quite a while. At least this time--as opposed to the Tom Wolfe review, which I took her to task for some weeks back--she waited till the book was actually in stores, so that her opinions on the subject would have the potential to resonate in bookstores. Indeed, given her expertise in the arena of thrillers, my guess is that a negative review from MK probably sells about 3x as many copies as a positive review would, especially for Crichton's core readers. She helps get out the vote.

In response to your other suggestion, "Annoymous," I'm flattered--but I quote the immortal words of X, an editor I adore, who said to me recently,



Brenda Coulter said...

I believe in Mad Max. [Clap, clap, clap.] I believe in Mad Max. [Clap, clap, clap.] I do believe, I do believe, I do believe....

Anonymous said...


I’ve been thinking about your dilemma:

Have you stopped to consider that perhaps you are going about trying to engage these suspicious and cagey publishing senior executives the wrong way? At least, perhaps it is time to admit that the direct approach is not netting the desired result, and that maybe there are other tools in your toolbag you may want to schlep out?

Seeing as how you are so handsomely connected in these upper-ranks yourself (to wit: your fawning testimonials) perhaps you should try invoking the six degrees of Mad Max Perkins: you recruit one of your trusted (insider) editor pals to action, they in turn (leaving your precious identity off-stage) attest to their first hand knowledge of your wonderfulness and credibility and best intentions to, say, one of their writers… but now with your fabulous-self once removed from the equation and only the trusted voice of the second degree association to drive it. The writer in turn goes to his agent, from agent to another of their loyal writers… up to their (fancy) editor … and voila! Okay, only five degrees, but you get the gist.

Don’t you think that perhaps Michael Connelly may hold greater sway over Michael Pietsch than, say… you *in innominato*? Cause I do (and, who’s to say I’m not Michael Pietsch? Enh?). And in the doing, you may gain yet more notoriety and readership for your wonderful blog, thereby furthering your objective of setting the publishing world on fire (while providing you with a vehicle to flex your own gorgeous parietal lobe).

Your fan
Annie Ominous

ps I've been quite enjoying seeing "yours"

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A VOCATION OF UNHAPPINESS [Courtesy Georges Simenon (1903-1985)]

"Writing is considered a profession, and I don't think it is a profession. I think that everyone who does not need to be a writer, who thinks he can do something else, ought to do something else. Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness. I don't think an artist can ever be happy."

PRACTICAL MARKETING [Courtesy Zornhau, 2005]

"They should put the 1st couple of pages up in subway adverts. Having read them several times, you'd feel compelled to try the book - if it was any good."

PLATE OF SHRIMP [Courtesy Alex Cox’s REPO MAN, circa 1984]

"A lot of people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidences and things. They don't realize that there's this like lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything. I'll give you an example, show you what I mean. Suppose you're thinking about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly somebody will say like "plate" or "shrimp" or "plate of shrimp" out of the blue, no explanation. No point in looking for one either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness."