My Book Deal Ruined My Life

reagan nathan englander1v My Book Deal Ruined My LifeFor those who think they have a book inside them just waiting to be written—and, really, isn’t that pretty much everyone?—landing a book contract would be like winning the lottery. Dreams would come true; doors would open. Anything could happen.

“You hear about these big contracts coming in, and it whets your appetite,” said Leah McLaren, a columnist for Canada’s Globe and Mail, who landed a book contract with HarperCollins Canada in 2003 for her chick-lit novel, The Continuity Girl. “You start to think, ‘This is my lottery ticket …. It could be optioned for a movie or become a huge best-seller!’”

Indeed, securing a deal with one of the many esteemed editors at publishing houses like Knopf or Doubleday or FSG seems like fulfilling a kind of New York–specific American dream. Visions of six-figure contracts, KGB readings and TV appearances dance through writers’ heads. Even better: no more office, no more boss.

“But then, it could completely disappear and sell five copies,” added Ms. McLaren whose own book was published to little fanfare as a paperback original in the States this spring. “And you’ll never be heard from again. You’ll disappear. And that’s the real risk of writing a book.”

But just think for a minute, by way of comparison, if a book contract is a lottery ticket …. Evelyn Adams, who won $5.4 million in the New Jersey lottery in 1985 and 1986, now lives in a trailer. William (Bud) Post won $16.2 million in the Pennsylvania lottery in 1988, but now survives on food stamps and his Social Security check. Suzanne Mullins, a $4.2 million Virginia lottery winner, is now deeply in debt to a company that lent her money using the winnings as collateral.

Could such doom await lucky-seeming, envy-enspiring book writers?

Look at Jessica Cutler, a.k.a. Washingtonienne, the D.C. sex blogger who was paid a six-figure advance for her novel, based on the experiences she chronicled on her blog. Suffering under the weight of a lawsuit from an ex-boyfriend, who claims to have been humiliated by her writing, she has now filed for bankruptcy. She can’t even pay her Am-Ex bill.

Then there are the truly epic downfalls of authors like James Frey, whose fabricated memoir caused his life (and his seven-figure two-book deal with Riverhead) to shatter into a million little pieces. Now he’s writing two novels without a contract and posting on the blog and message boards on his Web site,—the literary equivalent of living in a trailer park.

And even before the potential post-publication humiliation, there’s deadline pressure; crippling self-doubt; diets of Entenmann’s pastries and black coffee; self-made cubicles structured with piles of books, papers and unpaid bills; night-owl tendencies; failed relationships; unanswered phone calls; weight gain; poverty; and, of course, exhaustion.

So forget the American dream! Getting a book deal seems more like a nightmare.

In 2002, Daniel Smith, a former Atlantic Monthly staff editor, received the news that he’d gotten a book contract for Muses, Madmen, and Prophets: Rethinking the History, Science, and Meaning of Auditory Hallucination in a sweltering phone booth at the MacDowell Colony, an artists’ retreat in woodsy New Hampshire. “There was no cell-phone reception at the time, so you had to get into these poorly ventilated—meaning there was no ventilation—phone booths. You sweat like a pig in there, and that’s how I got the news. And it was extremely exciting,” Mr. Smith told The Observer.


  1. Kai Austin says:

    This is so true!. So True! I look at writers as “literary entrepreneurs” Being an internet entrpr. I take myself through the same exact torment. I’ve had a million jobs all working for some community or major bank that ALWAYS ends up demanding waaay too much of my time and then my “creative side” gets pissy and jealous. So the responsible me starts to conflict with creative me and I sabatoge the job.

    I do what I want everyday. I sell nothing! I tell the customers the truth about banking products and how “they” force us to sell debit cards only because most people dont keep track of their transactions and go in the negative making the bank a load of money and boosting their bottom line.

    The creative me tells people to put their money in their mattress and dont invest in ANYTHING because it truly is a scam. Well, management takes heed to this “i dont care” behavior and starts to ride my ass even more. Then they start only caring about trying to make my life miserable so I quit and I ALWAYS beat them to the punch. I’ve never been fired…come close as hell but the creative me wouldnt dare be a loser so I always come out on top. I quit!

    So i sit at home, no job, no steady income and back on the internet marketing and creating away, gaining weight by the mili-second. But boy can I put together a website in minutes! And design? I’ve got that all down! But wheres the money? It’s there just waiting for all the internet and literary entrepreneurs to quit and get frustrated so it can distribute itself amongst those of us who stay in the game.

    As if the money has legs and makes all the decisions. Well, it does because If I could control money I’d be rich!

    But the worst part of it all…I fight this creative battle as a single parent supporting two kids…..(to be continued….)

    Another day in internet world

    Kai Austin
    Atl, GA

  2. Bsallenbach says:

    as an aspiring novelist, this is one of the most depressing things I’ve ever read. Of course it’s not going to stop me, because like every other human being on the planet who has “a book inside them just waiting to be written”, I’m waiting on that “lottery ticket” to apparently help me ruin my life.

  3. Drabell7 says:

    Go to Amazon and look at the books that teach you how to publish and market your books.
    Pray and ask guide GOD to guide you.