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If Only We Made the Money They Think We Make

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Jeff Pearlman Walter Payton Controversy

The sports world has been brewing with furor over bestselling author Jeff Pearlman’s new book Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton. Enraged by an excerpt in Sports Illustrated that painted the legendary Chicago Bears running back as beset with addictions, infidelities, and affairs, the sports nation rose up in ire against Pearlman. Most of these critics were reacting to a short excerpt from a book they had never seen.

In response, Pearlman wrote a post for Deadspin.com, “Just Read the Damn Book: Welcome to the Sweetness Bash” that details the amusing/frightening/infuriating shenanigans he’s experienced in the last few days.

Now, since I have not read the book, I’ll reserve comment on the text itself, as requested. I’ve enjoyed Pearlman’s other work and I do look forward to reading Sweetness. But what I’ve found most interesting is how so many of the sports fans and commentators criticizing Pearlman’s work allude to some sort of literary equivalent to backing up the Brinks truck and making off with a bundle.

Which leads me to wonder… How much fucking money do these people think journalists make?

Sure, Pearlman is a bestseller. He’s got a bigtime agent and a bigtime publisher. He’s probably not subsisting on Ramen Noodles and contaminated river water. But my guess is that he’s not driving a Ferrari or jetting off to his vacation home in Bora Bora either.

Pearlman has been quoted as saying that he spent three years interviewing almost 700 people while working on Sweetness. So even if we assume his advance was in the low six figures, that’s still a helluva lot of work for what critics are dismissing as an easy payday.

Unfortunately, many people who are not avid readers or regular followers of publishing think writers are all rich. They see articles about the incredible wealth of the Rowlings-Kings-Browns of the world and believe we all type out a few pages while riding in the back of our chauffeured Rolls Royce. They see the rare publishing news that hits the mainstream media about some mega deal for some reality star who spends an afternoon with a ghostwriter in order to rush out a glorified press release in hardback covers in three months and think all books are easy, fast, and painless. Which simply is not true for the vast majority of books, whether they’re good or bad.

While I wouldn’t want to be going through the gauntlet of criticism that Jeff Pearlman is facing right now, I’d love to have the money his critics assume he’s making. And I’d love to make that cash as easily as his bashers think it can be made in writing.