Friday, January 30, 2009

What bad economy?

Here's the latest news from the world of publishing, my absolute favorite industry, one that continues to survive despite having no perceptible business model or the skills to run even one legitimate P / L on anything it produces.

Publisher's Weekly reports that a literary agent at major firm is "shopping around" (which means 'trying to sell' if you live in world that is not connected to publishing), a memoir by one Diane Keaton. Ms. Keaton's mother died about a year ago, after what PW called a "lengthy" battle with Alzheimer's disease. The story will be told "through the lens of [Keaton's] relationship with her mother."

As an aside, let me simply say that referring to the proposed book as a "memoir" more or less indicated to me that of course it would be told from Ms. Keaton's point of view. Maybe someone else is writing her memoir. But wouldn't that make it a biography? Does no one care about language anymore? Wouldn't you think a magazine devoted to publishing would? So would I.

Anyway, getting back to the title of this post, 'what bad economy?' here's the kicker. As of now, the entire book proposal consists of ten pages, and I'm going to guess that seven of those ten outline the reach and popularity of Ms. Keaton and the fan base who will line up to purchase anything with her name on it. I don't know who wrote this ten page "sample" but I'm going out on a limb here and guess that Ms. Keaton didn't sit in front of her laptop and labor over them. Of course there is a chance she did but somehow, I doubt it.

The rumored "offer" for this book? Two million dollars. TWO MILLION DOLLARS. For Diane Keaton's memoir about her late mother's Alzheimer's.

Has no one in publishing heard about the state of our economy? People are losing their jobs all over the place and some editor at some major publisher has the money to pay TWO MILLION bucks for this book?

Can someone explain to me why Diane's mother's Alzheimer's is of any more interest than anyone else's experience with a relative's Alzheimer's? Why is it worth a publisher paying her TWO MILLION DOLLARS to tell the story? The sad truth is that because we worship celebrities, more people will take notice of this disease because of Keaton's book. Maybe that makes it worth the money they're spending but somehow I doubt the publisher's motivation is that altruistic. If they'll pay two million they expect they'll make much more. And unless Ms. Keaton's planning to donate her advance and her royalties to Alzheimer's research, the whole thing is nothing but aggravating.

Look, I know the pain of watching a relative suffering from Alzheimer's. It is heart-breaking and difficult and frustrating and one of the saddest things there could possibly be. The energetic, entertaining, intelligent, fun person you knew and loved for years is gone but somehow not gone. She's mostly locked away, behind a wall of silence but looks out at you, offering nothing more than blank stares of non-recognition. At least you think she's probably gone. It's the unanswerable question. Is she still there? Does she know what we're saying and doing and telling her? Does she know exactly what she wants to say and is horrified to learn every single day that she can't tell you even one thing that's on her mind?

Ms. Keaton and her family have my sympathy. Alzheimer's is a horrible disease and watching it claim a loved one bit by bit, year after year, is terribly difficult. I hope her motivation for "writing" the book is to help others through the pain, to help them see that the disease can claim anyone, anywhere.

It's that two million bucks on the table that has me not quite convinced.


Chris Casey said...

Renee, what is discouraging is how many new, promising writers with deserving work could be published for that $2 million. Instead the industry is looking for the fast "Quantity" buck, instead of investing in long term quality writers.

renee said...

I agree. Many years ago, I read about an author, it may have been Dean Kootz although I can't quite remember, who accepted $100,000 of the $500,00 advance he was offered. He told his publisher to take the remaining $400,000 and publish 10 new authors with the money. It would absolutely make their life to earn a $40,000 advance and they would be able to prove their worth to publishers.
I loved that story.