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Articles into Books into Cable TV

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Media Bistro has an interesting article with bestselling author Evan Wright about how he parlayed some Rolling Stone articles into a book deal which ultimately turned into an HBO miniseries.

Sorry, but reading the full text of the article requires a paid membership. However, I’ve always found MB’s paid content worth the price of admission. But for our purposes here, I’ll point out one specific passage. Maybe I’m just in a cantankerous mood, but this little bit sums up so much of what’s wrong in publishing today.

Wright recounts how he had initial interest from a publisher so he worked with his agent to create a proposal and submit. The publisher came back with a really low offer for the book. “The reason was — this is an interesting fact for any writer who’s thinking about writing a book — my first contact with the publisher was a conference call with an editor and their head of marketing,” Wright says. “It was to their marketing woman that I had to sell the worthiness of this book, not the editor. In my proposal, I pointed out that, at the end of the book, there were all these troubling things we encountered in Baghdad and that I would discuss the fact that the Iraqis I met in the first week of the occupation suggested that there might be a civil war between Sunni and Shi’a. And the marketing department of this publisher thought that my book seemed far too negative. I remember her saying back in July of 2003, ‘But the war is going really well. You’re being too negative.'”

I think you all know that I’m not naive about the need for publishers to make money. They are for-profit, commercial organizations after all. The ability to market a book is vital to the career of the author and the health of the publishing company. But this example is just priceless. A marketing executive in New York City is telling someone who just spent two months on the front lines with soldiers facing death each day that his book is “being too negative.” The marketing person is screwing around with the potential publication of the book because she doesn’t agree with the author’s assessment of the situation.

Ultimately, Wright and his agent took the book to G.P. Putnam’s Sons who “came in with a higher offer,” he recalls. “They really seemed interested in the book, and I didn’t talk to their marketing department. They just seemed really stoked.”

And now the book has sold more than 200,000 copies and received numerous awards including the PEN USA award for best nonfiction book of 2004. In spite of being “too negative.”

Pony up the cash for a MB membership and check out the rest of the good interview where Wright discusses Barry Manilow-loving Marines, working with the creators of HBO’s The Wire, and pitching to television and film executives. Lots of great info in there.

And try not to let anyone think you’re being too negative.