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Monday, January 07, 2013

Failure Chronicles, Pt. 1: "Bleep!"

I'm currently working (slowly) on a book that's under contract with Beacon Press, tentatively entitled "God is Not Always Green: When Religious Practice and Environmentalism Collide."  I hope to blawg about that a bit before my month here is over.  But first I thought I'd blawg about two or three books that I wanted to write but which I couldn't get a contract to write--projects, in other words, that failed.  I'm not sure we talk enough about professional failure here in the blogosphere, which I guess is not surprising, but which is nonetheless unfortunate, because obviously a lot can be learned from why and how people fail.  Anyways, I feel I'm just the guy to do it. (But, you know, feel free to comment about your own failures and keep me company).

After I finished The Odd Clauses, I wanted to write a book about a single case, preferably one that had been to the Supreme Court. The case had to be interesting and related to at least one area that I know about and it also had to be quirky in some way because I have no confidence that I could write a book-length manuscript without something weird about the topic to sustain me through the year or two of research and writing it was going to take.  My first idea was to write about a case involving bald eagles, an idea that also failed, but since some of the stuff that would have been in that book will end up in the God is Not Always Green book, I'll talk about that failure in my next post about failures.

My second idea was to write a book about FCC v. Fox, the fleeting obscenity case that made it to the Supreme Court not once but twice--once on an administrative law issue and once on a first amendment issue.  Two Supreme Court trips!  Two areas of law I know and love!  Obscenity!  What could be better?  Plus, as I've previously blawgged about here, the first oral argument at the case was outstanding, featuring the Justices telling counsel not to say "fuck" or "shit" and then Justice Scalia's on-the-spot invention of the best euphemism ever for "fuck," namely: "golly waddles." (for my discussion with Steven Pinker about "golly waddles," look here).  I'd call the book "Bleep! Fleeting Expletives, the First Amendment, and the Case that Almost Changed Broadcasting."  I was certain someone would give me a contract to write it, and I even thought that unlike my three other books, maybe someone would actually buy it--after all, it would get lots of media attention, wouldn't it, given that doesn't the media like to cover books about the media??

So I did some research, read a couple of books about George Carlin, scanned the FCC's recent opinions on obscenity (talk radio, it turns out, is really nasty, who would have guessed?) and wrote up a proposal.  Since I was interested in publishing with a trade press rather than a university press, I found a high flying agent at a big New York firm who thought it seemed pretty good (though quirky) and could probably sell and was willing to represent me on it, and then I went out and bought two matching Jaguars (cars, not cats), one for my wife and one for me. 

Needless to say, given the title of the post, nobody was interested.  Not even the publisher of my previous two non-fiction books.  One publisher was wondering if I might write a non-quirky book about the first amendment generally.  I said, umm, no, I want to write Bleep!  They said no thank you.  I've learned that one of the typical ways editors will reject a proposal is by saying something like "this is a really interesting idea, but probably more suitable to a magazine article or a blog post or a fortune cookie than a book"; I got that a lot.  And who knows, they were most likely right,  I have absolutely no idea what makes a book saleable in the market, and although I don't think editors have anything likea firm handle on that either, they certainly know more than I do.  In any event, the book Bleep!, while fun to say, will sadly never see the light of day.  

Anyone want to buy a Jaguar? 

Posted by Jay Wexler on January 7, 2013 at 10:53 AM in Jay Wexler | Permalink


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Why not take it to a university or academic press? They probably would be interested.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Jan 9, 2013 3:59:38 PM

I thought "Bleep!" was our special word, just between us. And now you want to share it with the world. I feel violated.

Posted by: Sal the Pineapple | Jan 7, 2013 11:33:41 AM

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