on this story
Reading from All the Wrong Men and One Perfect Boy
Sunday, Aug. 1, 2 p.m.
Finagling a book deal with a major publishing house may seem like a dream come true. But not to this Knoxville ex-pat writer.
by Spike Gillespie
Once, I wrote about my experience interviewing a Playboy centerfold. I predicted that no matter what else I might inadvertently accomplish from then on, this article would always be the most-asked-about topic of my life.
I was wrong.
What could surpass the hub-bub of my brief time spent with a very young, very busty babe in a hotel room? I'll tell you: getting a book contract.
I say "getting a book contract" as opposed to "writing a book," purposefully. Long before I got a contract, I'd written a book. A novel. It's still sitting, dusty, on a shelf in my house. A few agents looked at it. Took years before I understood why they rejected it (frankly, it's pretty damn sloppy.) Yes, writing it was an achievement for me: until that point, I didn't think myself capable of putting together 300 pages.
But lots of people write books that don't get published. And I think nearly everyone, at sometime, has voiced a desire to write a book. I'd been doing that myself since I was eight. Which is to say, it's "only" taken me 27 years to accomplish the feat. Now that the book is about to hit the shelves, a whole lot of people want to hear about how it happened, what it's like.
When I take the bait and start answering, I can't shut up. I want people to know what it took, in my case, to make this thing happen. It's a long story and I fear I'll come off as a whiner telling it. Hey, I'm not complaining. I'm just saying it wasn't easy.
The short version of the pre-book career is this: a letter to the editor of my college paper was well-received enough to net me a column. The clips from this column landed me an internship at Whittle Communications, where I met a whole lot of people who, when Whittle faded, helped me find national work.
Too, there is Jonathan. Jonathan and I met as teen waiters at the Jersey shore. We both wanted to be writersthat is, write for money. However, while I pursued love and libido around the country, Jonny went off to New York, busted his ass, and rose through the ranks, eventually carving a lucrative career and making tons of contacts. Now and then I'd venture to NYC in pursuit of work. Each time, Jonny'd throw a party for me to introduce me to his editor friends, which always led to more assignments for me.
At one of these parties, I met a book editor. She did not forget my loud mouth, emailed me when I got back to Austin, asked for writing samples. Which led to...
This book editor moved to a job with Prodigy and my dumb luck kicked in: she offered me an electronic column. Even more lucky, USA Today was running a piece on cyber-celebrities. Though I had less than a thousand subscribers, they declared me a cyber-celebrity.
An editor at Simon and Schuster saw the piece and asked if I wanted to write a book. This sounds ridiculous, and is such a far cry from how most book contracts get made, but I swear to you, that's really how it happened.
Initially, I felt like a princess, like this was it, the dream was finally coming true. That I would be rich. And famous. All my troubles were over.
First of all, I had to find an agent. Which wasn't so hard, since a friend of minea former Whittle-ite, who'd recently made the New York Times bestseller listhad recommended hers years before. When I called to announce I had a contract in the waiting, I was snapped up.
And that is when the dream became not exactly a nightmare, but definitely an exercise in patience, not my finest point. Negotiations began in March. It took until June to nail the deal. I raced through the first draft in 10 weeks. It wasn't so hard: I'd carried those stories inside forever. At the other end, there was no racing being done. One thing I'd really been looking forward to was the first half of my advance, allegedly something that materializes pretty early in the game.
It took 10 months from that first, "Wanna write a book?" call until the first half came in. By then, it was '97, coincidentally the only year I ever had a job that paid really well, which occurred when Prodigy increased my responsibilities and paycheck. This is an important factor, as you'll see.
While I was working on the second draft, a number of things happened in my life. I got pregnant, had an abortion, learned I had a tumor, filed for divorce, and was stalked.
Beyond the basic hell of these experiences came the artistic question. In draft one, I ended the book with my marriage, talked about how it was hard, but how we were working on it. That would be far from true by publishing date. At some point, when you are writing a memoir, you have to pick a frame to freeze on or you go nuts trying to keep up with real-time. On the more positive side, though it might sound crass, when all the crises shook down, the new ending (I chose to include the aforementioned messes) was a hell of a lot more dramatic.
Meanwhile, back in New York, there was a lot of silence. My editor would say that, any day now, he'd send back the manuscript with his comments. In reality, this would not occur until December. Of '98. I can't even remember the original projected publishing date anymore, but I'm pretty sure it was for the fall. Of '97.
I grew discouraged. I'd hurry up. I'd wait. My editor got bogged down working on some actual celebrity's book, and anyone who knows anything about marketing knows where the time and money get spent when it comes to sure-bet-book-by-hot-shot-actor vs. first-time-memoir-of-a-Jersey-girl.
'97 dragged on. The surgeries and legal tangles (divorce and stalking) did keep me fairly occupied. As I waited. And waited. I no longer hurried. At least they sent me the second half of the advance in December of that year, just in time to afford me the opportunity to flee my state and my stalker, and settle for a spell back in Knoxville, where I always feel better about everything it seems.
The downside of this meant that all of the money came in the same tax year. The same tax year that I made a veritable butt-load of dough from my on-line gig. The combination of these things bumped me into a tax bracket Donald Trump can explain. I was still poor and in major debt, this debt magnified by the medical and legal and moving costs. Try telling that to the IRS. I won't tell you what I owe them. I will say the sum could vaccinate all the children in a small, Third World country.
Forget about the debt though. More than anything, I just wanted the damn book to come out. That couldn't happen until I got the manuscript back to revise. The latest target publishing datespring of '98came and went. Still, nothing from New York.
When, at last, in November of '98, my editor called to say, no, really, he had sent the manuscript overnight, he also announced his departure for a different company. My book, my baby, was being tossed to another editor, someone I had no choice in naming. Salt to the wounds, the overnight delivery company lost my manuscript. (Luckily, there were copies.)
Back to the upside. The new editor turned out to be very enthusiastic. Finally, we were in business. The new publication date was spring '99. This meant we really did have to hurry. Not hurry and wait. Just hurry hurry hurry. I'd listen to suggested changes, argue or give in, make some of my own, ship it back. They'd ship it back faster. They needed X and they needed it fast.
Five days before my son's birthday sleepover for 10 8-year-olds, I was informed that the latest revisions had to be dealt with by the following Monday. Not knowing this was coming, I'd also planned a huge Hanukkah party, something I do for my Jewish friends annually. Five days. Two parties. No sleep. I'd been on the wagon for four months.
I fell off.
Somewhere in there, they sent a cover. It looked like a horror movie poster and did not remotely convey the book's contents. Happily, they heard me out. The final cover is lovely, a photo from my personal collection. But, again, the waiting to find out was excruciating. Unless you consider that by that point, I'd learned pretty well how to wait.
Next came the lawyers. Here I must tread lightly, but will say that memoirists in particular have to be very, very careful. Seeing as I am less than buoyant about a number of people in my book, we had to scrutinize with a lice comb. This took 16 hours. Each time a potential libel point was raised, I cringed. I'd say more. I can't.
I was assigned a publicist. A week later she left the company. By now, conspiracy theories filled my head. I envisioned weekly Simon and Schuster meetings to discuss the ongoing topic: How Can We Make Spike Freak Out This Week?
The publication date got moved again. And again. The galleys came and the typos were incredible. For example, somehow, the Virgin Mary became the Virgin Sarah. I needed to pay, out of my own pocket, the ASCAP fees for lyrics I wanted to use. I had to track down the owners of the lyrics and secure permission. I had no idea how to do this. I also had less than no money. Finally, the company paid. This will be held against royalties.
I cried a lot. Sometimes I lost faith in me and my project, though I always held that seed of hope that it would come out, it would do well.
On August 4, 1999, my book will be fully distributed around the country. I feel a sense of closure, though public-consumption-wise, I know the journey is just beginning. Already, a number of people are pissed at me, knowing, correctly so, that they will not be portrayed as they might like. I have fear. I have worry. I have excitement, too. Advance reviews have been excellent and that seed of hope is growing.
I might sell 10 million copies. Doubtful. I might sell 10. I can't think about that. Mostly, I just try to stay centered, to think about all I've already been through, in my life and recording my life and having that record make it between two covers. That, I remind myself, was always the dream. And so, the dream comes true.