Monday, August 25, 2008

To each their own

My mother loves this expression - "to each their own." Having just spent four glorious days in Provincetown, a.k.a. Heaven on Earth, it should be no surprise that this phrase comes to mind.

But in fact, I'm thinking of this phrase as I ponder this post on Galleycat, regarding the publication of Crystal Mangum's memoirs - she's the young woman who accused three Duke University athletes of rape. The book, with the rather impressive title of The Last Dance for Grace: The Crystal Mangum Story, is going to be published by a new publisher called fire! Books, just getting off the ground led by her co-writer Vincent Clark.

Galleycat goes on to quote Clark on why he chose to publish in this way. In reading these quotes, I went from skepticism to... well my interest was piqued, though I'm still suspicious of motives. One must be when reading about this type of publishing, no? But he makes some points:
"[When I met her] She was being approached by people who said they could help her make a lot of money and all of them seemed to be a little slick and shady. I just talked to her about what she wanted to do with her life. We developed a good working realtionship and we worked on her just getting back to a normal life... It isn't about making money. She really wants to set the record straight about some of the things that have been said about her personally. Any large publisher would have been looking to do book tours and all of that stuff. She really wasn't interested in all of the extra stuff."

$1 from each sale will be donated to help battered women (though the post doesn't mention an actual organization, and who knows if the press release does. That's always questionable to me, when an actual org isn't mentioned.)

Clark's new business will also publish, eventually, something by the drug dealer who supplied Marion Jones and other "elite-level athletes" with performance enhancing drugs.

What piques my interest is that Clark seems to be developing this niche that could be just plain exploitative or it could be legitimate, in trying to publish voices getting maligned in the press who are problematic but are also, to some extent, in a position in society in which that are marginalized. They responded perhaps in an unhealthy way but that does not make their voice worth silencing, and they could offer an interesting perspective on a story we all, as a nation, know due to media hysteria. They are the people we want to disappear, the relatives that are embarassing. They are the Other in a way, right?

And he's publishing this in a way that is not entirely different from Free Press publishing Michael Phelps' Built to Succeed, his memoir that will conveniently be out by the holiday season this year. (Expect more gratuitous shots of his taut body, folks - at the pool, in the pool, from above looking down, from under the water, etc etc etc.) It's opportunistic publishing, trying to jump on a media sensation and capitalize on it while the iron is hot, knowing that many of those million books you print will end up on remainder tables and/or in used bookstores for years to come. Working in this kind of publishing, while surely exciting, must be hell, as you are just producing crap over and over. I'd be curious to hear of someone who enjoys this. Maybe the editor of Kathie Lee Gifford's autobio still has it proudly displayed on a bookshelf, and I'm the fool.

So I can't fault Vincent Clark for seeing an opportunity and going for it, and maybe he really is going to protect his subject/client/co-authors from media sharks. I'll be curious to see how it plays out, because a book by this Crystal Mangum could easily be another My Story by Amy Fisher, and surely no one wants that.

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