Tuesday, July 21, 2009


There's a weird duality about being a writer. On one hand, you want a big book deal, maybe to sell the rights of your novel to Hollywood for a fat enough paycheck that you can sip Mai Tai's happily by the ocean, while working on your follow-up, and you want to be known and respected. And then you want literary glory, the kind that's usually not achievable (except in rare cases) until after death. Too often, if you're a big commercial success, it means you have little respect within the literary community. If you're okay with this, then you're a sell-out. Or a hack. Which sometimes, to a writer, are labels worse than "unpublished."

At the heart of it, we're snobs, we're elitists. And we're comfortable being such. We'd rather win a small literary prize and live in a studio apartment eating sardines out of the tin than have a novel published that brandishes the sticker of Oprah or Richard & Judy's respective book clubs. Being a starving artist means you haven't sold out yet and that you still have integrity. Which is everything.

(I will say, however, the worse the economy gets, I'll settle for any publication and any book list, and if Oprah wants me to sit on her couch and have housewives all over America read my book and have Mandy Moore play the lead character in the Lifetime adaptation of it, I'm all for it. You've gotta pay the mortgage.)

But news broke today that was a reminder that it
is possible still to have both. The literary respect and the MONEY! financial security that accompanies selling lots and lots and lots of books.

Yann Martel, author of the Booker-winning "Life of Pi" reportedly is receiving $3,000,000 for the manuscript of his third novel. Do not adjust your monitors. Seven figures. Three million dollars. For his manuscript. This isn't even film rights, it's just the book.

While I realize that Martel is definitely the exception, and not the rule, it's nice to be reminded that authors of literary fiction, and not just chick lit or crappy crime fiction, can make money too. Because while the respect part is grand, eating ramen sometimes sucks.


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