::Literate Blather::
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Thoughts from the Shadows: The Craziness of Publishing

Commentary from Crime Writer Dave Zeltserman

Recently on Jason Pinter's blog, “The Man in Black,” he had folks offering their thoughts on what problems exist in the publishing industry and what could be done to fix them. Some interesting ideas were tossed around, and while I don't want to kick a dog when it's down—especially a dog I'm dependent on, here's my suggestion: every single person in publishing who was involved in turning down JK Rowling's Harry Potter needs to be fired. Booted out the door. Now!

But I digress.

I want to instead write about a film option I just sold and how it relates to the problems with publishing. The film option sold is for an unpublished book titled “28 Minutes.” I originally wrote this book in 2004, with the title then as “Outsourced.”
The book was about a group of software engineers who were made basically unemployable due to the industry's push to outsourcing (the process of moving American job overseas to places like India). Desperate as they see their middle class lives crumbling apart, they come up with an almost brilliant plan to rob a bank
. Almost brilliant, since things don't quite work out as planned.

In 2005 my literary at that time started shopping the book around and there was initially a lot of interest with editors in New York digging the book, but ultimately none of them could get it through their editorial boards, and the feedback I got from one of the publishing houses was that the board was worried whether outsourcing would still be relevant by the time the book was published (it would've been published in '06 or 07, yeah, right, outsourcing was really about to disappear from the public consciousness by then!).

Early in 2006 a top film agent, Steve Fisher at APA, read the book and decided he was g
oing to get this made into a movie. He started pitching it then, and there was a lot of interest in Hollywood, and over the last three years there have been a lot of false starts with different players.

On Tuesday, I signed a contract selling the film option for this unpublished book to Constantin Film Development and Impact Pictures with John Tomko (“Ocean's 11,” “Falling Down”) and Jeremy Bolt (“Resident Evil,” “Death Race”) to produce. Here's the difference between how Hollywood looked at the book and how the publishing industry looked it—Hollywood looked at it as a great story that would make a great movie, and while deals along the way fell apart due to scheduling conflicts, it never changed the excitement that they had for this book. The New York publishing houses, on the other hand, looked for excuses not to publish it. I think in a nutshell that points out what's wrong with the New York publishing industry.

So where does this book stand now? Well, last year I stripped out the outsourcing angle, making the software engineers more as people out of work because of time and technology passing them by, and have a deal in place for the UK rights and am now working out the US rights. Can the New York houses still find an excuse not to publish it? I doubt it, but they can be a creative bunch, so we'll see.

(Dave Zeltserman lives and writes in Massachusetts. His crime novel “Small Crimes” was called a “thing of beauty” by the Washington Post and National Public Radio named “Small Crimes” one of its five best mystery novels of 2008. Dave also publishes his own blog, Small Crimes. He publishes the column Thoughts from the Shadows for DaRK PaRTY.)

Dave Zeltserman at Amazon.com

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Blogger Beth Groundwater said...
Quite a story, Dave, and I'm glad it came up with a happy ending for you. Congratulations!

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Hey Dave, here's what I'd like to know... Is there really any chance for unknown writers to break into publishing these days? Or do you have to know someone? If the NYC houses aren't taking any chances then what's the point of writing fiction anymore? Are eBooks or self-publishing the answer?

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Is it easier to get a movie deal than get the book published first? Without the book being published how did the movie producers know about it? I'm confused?

Blogger Dave Zeltserman said...
Beth,thanks. Anonymous, I think it's tough and a lot of luck and randomness involved. I think you improve your chances by writing commercial fiction, which is advice of mine I've never followed. The safer the book appears and the more commericaly viable it looks the better the chance it can get through the gauntlet it will face at any NY house. HopefulWriter, I think in my case this was a fluke--I think the part of the reason my film agent got excited about this book was that it seemed obvious that someone was going to want to publish, but NY didn't cooperate.

Blogger Madam Miaow said...
Ooh! Well done. Feeling like a kid with my nose pressed up against the glass.

If a (UK) publisher is interested, should I still get an agent on board? I don't want to offend the publisher.

Blogger Dave Zeltserman said...
I don't any publisher would be offended if you got an agent involved--they'd probably prefer ironing out the details with an agent than a writer. Definitely get an agent involved if you don't feel comfortable/confident working out the deal yourself. There's a lot involved with different rights, and you want to make sure you're protected.

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