Thursday, December 02, 2004

You Can Trust the Man Behind the Max

“You can trust Max!”
– L.A., Marketing Manager for a major New York publisher

If you're an editor, an online marketer, a literary agent, a publicist, chances are that you've recently received an e-mail (maybe several) from an odd but vaguely familiar address--mine. So you open up it up, and start to read:

"Hi, I'm Mad Max Perkins [NOT my real name], and I'd like you to share with me the hard-won secrets of your professional experience. You don't know me, but I'm a stand-up guy, completely trustworthy--I just can't tell you who I am. Anyway, as I was saying, I have some questions..." which point you say, "Wha--? Who the faaa--?" And then you hit the delete button.

It's weird, isn't it? to get these occasional emails from a complete stranger, someone claiming to have certain stellar credentials--a calling card, presumably, to reassure you that it's worthwhile to spend time (time you don't have) talking about the book trade--except he won't actually show you those credentials?

“We can't remember a blog becoming indispensible as quickly as Mad Max Perkins' BOOKANGST 101 has.” Mark Sarvas, The Elegant variation: A Literary Weblog

Seems...fishy. For all you know, he (I) could be your boss (the one who's always had it out for you anyway), trying to ensnare you into divulging something that could be purposefully represented as a "fireable offense"; or a former assistant exacting revenge for some long-ago humiliation by attaching a nude picture of Karl Rove to your reply, then forwarding it to 400,000 of her (my) closest friends...

Who's to say I've not concocted some sort of viral voodoo designed to insert the "f-word" into every document you produce? that I won't sell your email address to one of those sites that send, on average, 75 pieces of spam a day promising the horniest housewives and/or the best prices for Prozac? Let's face it, there're a lot of scamsters out there. I mean, who can you really trust anymore anyway?

"Having worked both in bookselling and in publishing, I can wholeheartedly state that Mad Max Perkins is the real deal: a publishing executive with the heart of a gentle reader and the best advocate for books. Trust him, I do!" -T.A., Marketing Manager

OK, I'm starting to understand why so few of you--publishing insiders, I mean--have been inclined to respond, or have responded so warily, to my e-entreaties. (And--please!--don't give me that "too busy" excuse. This is New York, folks: if you're not too busy, you're obviously not working hard enough...)

“Max recently offered to paint the front door of a bestselling literary novelist in exchange for an advance reading of my not-yet-published first novel. (Don't ask.) He works the brutal, bloody hours of all editors; that he takes time out of his already pressed schedule to maintain this blog for the benefit of us is a testimony to his passion for the continued vitality of the publishing industry.”--P.K, Novelist

Writers and bloggers have, for the most part, been quick to overcome these "trust" issues. I know what you're thinking-- "Well, sure, what the heck else do they have to do w/ their time?" Besides, maybe they see this as a Publisher's Sweepstakes of sorts, a Literary Lotto designed to give the Industry some front-page coverage in the New York Post:


Writers and bloggers will tell you anything you want to know (and then some)--they can't help it, it's their nature... But YOU, you're an Insider, you know better than to talk to strangers. Some might say you've lived in New Yawk too long, become cynical, jaded (Godless and/or queer, that goes without saying)--but, let's face it, they're mostly Red-Staters anyway, we don't much care what they say. So let's bottom-line it: if you're gonna talk turkey about The Biz, you want to see those credentials, have some material reassurance that I really am the "SENIOR EXECUTIVE WITH A MAJOR NEW YORK PUBLISHER" that I claim to be--is that it?

“Mad Max Perkins is willing to ask the tough questions and try to get a dialog going to see if there is any way to solve them. Any one who thinks like that is someone who I trust. Yeah, even though I don't know his real name.” --M.J. Rose - Author of The Halo Effect and the blog: Buzz, Balls & Hype

Well, sorry: no can do. I need this fat paycheck; I can't afford my Jag & my Hummer AND keep my kids enrolled in Trinity if I get the ax. Besides, it's more fun wondering who I am than actually knowing--believe me! (Here's a hint as to why: the only person who ever called me "Sonny" was Gramps--and Gramps, he dead...)

But what I've done instead is, I've solicited some comments from people who've actually had occasion to deal w/ me and, in so doing, have found me to be--well, honorable, or at least not a back-stabber. (That's what they think!) Yeah, they're mostly anonymous, and, yeah, I could have written them myself (BOY! You really have lived in New York too long)--but I didn't.
"Mad Max Perkins is a terrific and utterly trustworthy editor and human being. (He's my boss, what else am I going to say? But still, it's true.) The purpose of his blog is to advance good writing, good will, and better sales for the kinds of authors and books that he truly cares about. Feel confident in sharing your experiences and stories with him -- they will be used only for good, and your identity and identifying details will never be revealed."--S.J., Associate Editor

There you have it, from a really trustworthy source: "YOUR EXPERPIENCES AND STORIES...WILL BE USED ONLY FOR GOOD." (Couldn't have said it better myself!) So be brave, Publishing Insider...And the next time you get an email from me asking you a question or two, and promising to protect your anonymity, don't be afraid! I'm one of you and--to quote Elvis Costello--my aim is true.


Anonymous said...

I'll second the notion that you should trust Maddie, as I call him. In an email to me he says that his mission is "to help writers under contract understand the publishing process well enough to, perhaps, effect some positive influence over it." This does not sound to me like someone out to do nasty things to correspondents. Maddie has been helpful to me in other ways, too.

And, hey, if paranoia persists, just get a not-your-name Hotmail account like Maddie and reply that way. Either way, support the mission.

Ray Rhamey, Flogging the Quill

Marjorie said...

Is Mad Max the Real Deal? I don't know. I don't really care. What I do care about is the dialog between publishing insiders (lots of editors, a few writers) and outsiders (lots of writers, a few editors). I do not believe that dialog can happen on a blog that isn't anonymous.

Once upon a time, my agent told me she could facilitate that dialog. She would hold hands with my naive writer self and also with the corporate sharks. She would join our hands together in wedded bless. Guess what? My agent doesn't even spell my name right. Yeah, she got me a contract, and okay, some foreign reprints. But except for the initial introduction, she didn't do anything I couldn't have done myself. She added nothing to the equation, and took away 15%.

Okay, I'm digressing. My point is, writers are desperate for this dialog. And maybe that's why more writers than editors are jumping into this. We have more to gain from it. But editors have something to gain, too. Wouldn't you like to work with authors who submit proposals that are actually readable, never mind marketable? Authors who understand - and meet - deadlines? Authors who help promote their books, imaginatively and aggressively?

We want to make your job easier. We want to give you what you want. But we don't know what it is. Tell us what you want. Tell us. Tell.


Anonymous said...

The biggest downer about this blog, to me, isn't the anonymity. It's the debate over anonymity. So let's get back to some of that famous dialog.

I'm an unpublished writer and a business man. I've written my first manuscript and for the last year I've been researching the publishing industry, preparing my business plan, marketing plan, etc. My hope is to switch careers one day. I hear many discussions about how authors can no longer remain solely in the creative mode, that they must promote their book. I find this amazing. Authors should not only promote their book, but they should also take on some of the financial risk.

I truly view my career change as a business decision and, to that end, I want to invest in my future. I hope to find an agent and a publisher that will understand my desire to invest my own capital, money out of my own pocket that is budgeted to marketing & promotion activities. My goal is to remove some of the financial risk from the publisher and create awareness for my name and my book. Rather than make any money from an advance, I plan to invest all of the advance plus ~$10k of my own money. (Gasp!)

Do most authors find that shocking? Why? People invest in their future when they go to college. They do it again when they start a business. Why do writers somehow feel they should be immune from financial risk when publishing their first book?

Again, I'm an unpublished writer. Am I extremely naive? I have the impression that first-time novelists, even the ones with the financial means to take on some of that risk, feel they should be immune to financial risk...that their creativity should be all that is required. I just don't think that's reasonable in today's business climate. Comments?

Anonymous said...

I think that most of your audience is made of writers, not people on the publishing side of the business. We're sitting here, picking your brain quietly, listening to the dialogue between you guys and filing away the important books for future reference. And I don't think that's a bad thing, even if it isn't your purpose. At it's not a bad thing for least for us. *g* I'll never turn down the opportunity to become more business savvy!

I am lucky as a writer in a lot of ways, and some of what the book industry as a whole is wailing about doesn't really affect me. I write *gasp* genre fiction, and so I have a big built-in audience. We still get good print runs, and we still have plenty of midlist authors earning a comfortable living on their sales. My genre has also exploited the web more fully and skillfully than any other, so we also have a big online audience to market to with our websites and our reviews and our book excerpts. Personally, I write for a publishing house that I am grateful for every day, with fantastic and caring editorial, managing editorial, and art depts. My agent is one of the goddesses in the genre and is a delight to work with; she represents NYT-bestsellers and yet is nevertheless very dilligent in advancing my career even though I'm chicken feed to her right now.

But I put *myself* in a position where I have a big audience, where I could choose what house I went to and choose what agent represented me because I never failed to look out for the business side of things--and I certainly won't stop now! Things can change in a heartbeat, and no matter how good they are now, they could always be better.

Does my interest in marketability and marketing mean I write crap and "sell out"? Hell, no! I write what I love, and I write the best that I can, as hard as I can. But I really don't think to be "good" that I have to write something 95% of the general population loathes. *g* When books were big, the great writers wrote to the people. And I think that a whole lot more should be doing that now. But that's a rant for another place...

--Lydia Joyce

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed that little post from the businessman because of course authors generally just have pots full of money hanging around and nothing else to do with it. Also, it's a known fact that all authors are highly skilled at the kind of self-promotional promotion tasks required. Because writers are secretly pitchmen. They don't really want to write. They crave celebrity. They --- enough I suppose with the sarcasm. But to show how even out of touch this businessman is, $10K ain't going to get him too far in the promotional world. A good independend PR person may ask for 3 times that amount for a month's work and one month of PR won't be sufficient. Want to try to use the services of BuzzAgent? $95 K for a month's work by 1000 of their people. This businessman isn't any more realistic than the rest of us. And what's apparent is that he's not really interested in being a writer, he wants the fame.

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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."