Sunday, March 30, 2008

"autueur! auteur!" = tacky

I supported you in the early days, Governor Patrick, but this is a bit tacky. Please settle down.

If you're in publishing and/or you're in Massachusetts, you probably heard all about our governor, Deval Patrick, scoring a $1.35 million advance for a book about his life, which he himself will write. The Boston Globe, apparently seeing little happening in the world yesterday (Saturday), included two separate and fairly long articles about the deal in the newspaper, with one on the front page and the other on the first page of the City/Region section, with both jumps leading to one big Patrick page, with information repeated every which way.

In the more local piece, by Matt Viser and Frank Phillips, the focus is a bit more on local reactions to the deal. In the second paragraph, we learn:
Republicans immediately attacked him for appearing to signal ambitions beyond Massachusetts in only his second year as governor. Even some prominent Democrats privately worried that his new role as political memoirist could give ammunition to his enemies in the State House.

Yes, I'd hate to have a governor that was just using this office as a stepping stone for bigger things...

Anyhow, it seems clear that's just what this book will be, especially as its planned pub date for now is the year he's finishing his first term as governor. But he says it's not just about this one role in his life. Here's what Viser and Phillips, presumably having attended his last-minute press conference in Waltham, reported:
"The book's not about being governor," Patrick said at a press briefing in Waltham yesterday. Smiling, he entered the room calling out, "Auteur! Auteur!"
"The book is about life. And I have a life that did not begin on the day of my inauguration," he said. "I appreciate you being interested in the book. I hope you'll buy a copy."
He said he would write on nights and weekends, building on substantial material he has put on paper in the past decade. He will be working with Stacy Creamer, a Random House editor who has done books with Elizabeth Edwards, Lance Armstrong, and John McEnroe.
The governor attempted to downplay the financial gain from the deal. "That is not the central part of this project for me," Patrick said when asked about the large advance.
"I'm very excited about the project. They are very excited about the project," he added. "There's a catharsis in it, actually, as well, which I am looking forward to."

I love this - it feels like old-school city reporting. Rushing off the press conference to get the soundbyte! Letting politicians spew this crap and reporting for others to judge. Viser and Phillips, on the scene! And man does this reporting make Patrick look a little bit foolish. Oh, and he's giving "a portion of his earnings" to A Better Chance, the group that helped him get a private school education back in the day, getting him from the South Side of Chicago to Milton, MA. I think it's fair that he can say how much just yet because royalties are complicated and it is probably hard to know how it should all work out.

The piece from the front page, by Keith O'Brien, seems to be more of a debate as to whether Patrick can actually write a book. O'Brien brings up how much work such an endeavor entails:
Still, Patrick could be in for a long slog, particularly given his assertion that he will be writing his book without a ghostwriter or collaborator. Literary agents and authors believe he has a story to tell. Who can resist a tale of a poor boy raised on the South Side of Chicago going on to become the first black governor of Massachusetts? But telling that story, in a way that someone else might want to read it, is something else altogether, said Ipswich author William Patrick, who is of no relation to the governor.
...What usually trips up the aspiring memoirist, he said, "is the rewriting, the honing. It's the architecture. It's knowing how to write a book."

I'm glad this Patrick has this sense. Just because it happened to you don't mean it's easy to chronicle. That seems obvious to some of us...

I don't mind that the governor just cashed in on his story, but I think some of the publishing types have it right when they make the point most succinctly here, in Viser and Phillips' article:
"That's a hefty advance," said Sara Nelson, editor of Publishers Weekly. "My guess is that they're doing it so they own the rights to this book so when he becomes a real player on the national stage, they'll own the rights for the next book. It's a flag-planting."

In this age of intellectual property disputes and preparations, this is exactly how the advance got that high. And while comparisons to Barack Obama based on race alone are ridiculous and cheap, make most offensive by a feature on Boston.com in which photos of their rise are put side by side, there is a similar story here and Gov. Patrick does have a lot of supporters. He is a great speaker and clearly as political aspirations. If he achieves them in 8 years, Random House wants to have those paperback rights available and send through to one of their many subsidiaries to print out, just like they did with Obama's Dreams of my Father, a book originally published in 2004.

But please, Governor Patrick, no more grandstanding, no more entering rooms called out "auteur! auteur!" No more patting yourself on the back. Get to writing!

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