Although writers say, and it’s true, that their pursuit of writing is primarily for the satisfaction they get from a creative outlet, who among us hasn’t indulged in the dream of landing a big book contract? A nice hefty one, enough so we can quit our day jobs and do nothing but churn out book after fabulous book, generating still more big hefty deals! From the outside looking in, it’s an enviable dream, one to which we can all aspire. We’d land on the New York Times bestseller list, have tons of marketing muscle promoting our work, even get our faces on daytime TV! Getting a big book contract would be just awesome. Right?
Meet Dan Blum. Dan’s a writer, a poet, and a blogger. I first came across his hilarious blog, The Rotting Post, (“The Finest in Literate Snark”) when I saw a piece he’d published about badly written sex scenes. As it turns out, however, Dan is also a novel writer. His new book, The Feet Say Run is due out in December. But several years ago, Dan wrote what he describes as a “post-modern sex comedy” novel entitled lisa33. For his effort, Dad snagged a well-known agent who handed him a dream: a book contract with major New York publisher Viking and a six-figure advance. Dan was on his way to author nirvana! But not so fast…
LadySmut: Hi Dan! Thanks for agreeing to tell your story to our Lady Smut readers. Let’s start, as all good yarns do, at the beginning. Before being offered the deal for lisa33, you’d been trying to get a “serious” novel published but without success at that point. Was lisa33 born out of frustration with the publishing process?
Dan Blum: Not exactly. I have to be genuinely inspired by an idea to put the time into writing it. I had always enjoyed both humor and serious fiction. With the dawn of the internet, the world of the chatroom and instant messaging and all of the anonymous flirtation and sex that it led to, I felt like there was this new world that was fascinating and comic and sexy and worth exploring.
LS: You’d put massive time into writing a serious novel and couldn’t get a publisher, yet you dash off a sex comedy in three months and get offered a six-figure advance. You must have been surprised that it was picked up so quickly, but were you also angered that this lighter novel got so much attention over your other fiction?
DB: It was very frustrating – particularly because I wanted to shout out, “This isn’t me,” or rather, “This is just one small side of me.” But there was no way to explain it. lisa33 was what got published and so it was all I was known for. It was me.
LS: The new agent you signed with for lisa33 was bursting with confidence and enthusiasm – did you have any hesitation at all in having him represent you? One of those “if it’s too good to be true” moments?
DB: I definitely wondered if he was for real. It happened incredibly quickly once he picked it up, all a bit dizzying. And I hadn’t really focused on what it would feel like to have that book actually published. I had a young family, was living in suburbia. After it came out, I remember waiting to meet my son at the elementary school bus stop, and wondering what all these mothers who were waiting with me thought of me. If I was the neighborhood creep.
LS: You wrote that Molly Stern, Viking’s Editor at that time, was a big fan of the book but wanted a couple of changes – like making it even funnier! Can you talk about those conversations? Did you feel like it was a collaborative process with her?
DB: Molly was a great supporter and if the rest of Viking had been behind the book in the way Molly had been, it would have been an entirely different outcome. At the same time, for anyone who writes humor, hearing, “Make it even funnier,” is a bit like a personal trainer hearing, “I want to be taller.” There is only so much one can do. I have only good things to say about Molly, but I never really felt secure at Viking. I was always trying to please, trying to prove how accommodating I was, never quite there.
LS: When things started turning sour with Viking, where was your agent in all of this? Was he going AWOL on you at the same time?
DB: Yes. As it later turned out, he was off on a cocaine bender. A good agent will not only represent the book through its sale to a publisher, but also make sure the publisher is doing the right things and assist some in promotion. Just when I really needed that, my agent flat went missing. I never really knew what had happened until he published his own memoir about it.
LS: (And for which he himself received a giant advance. Ach! But I digress). So, OK. You’ve got an agent you can’t reach and a pub date that keeps getting pushed back. Did you at any time think about pulling your book from Viking?
DB: The short answer is no. I just didn’t know enough at the time to know what my options were. And I continued to get reassurances from Viking. “It will all work out in the end.” “We’re still behind it.” Etc.
LS: I’m curious about the contract you were offered. Since your agent had gotten a bidding war going for the book, it seems like Viking, the eventual winner, would have offered you a multi-book deal. Was that not the case? And if not, what did your agent have to say about that?
DB: This was something that in retrospect I should have insisted on. I’m confident we could have gotten it. But my agent was focused on getting top dollar, not on the other aspects of the contract, and it never came up.
LS: So your pub date gets later and later, your agent disappears…did you ever consider quitting writing altogether after this happened? It seems like the emotional toll would have been monumental. How did you get through it?
DB: For years I not only stopped writing, I even stopped reading – or at least stopped reading fiction. I just wanted nothing that reminded me of the publishing world. But at the same time, you need perspective. There are worse tragedies, worse misfortunes in the world than a writer getting screwed over by the publishing world. It’s been over a decade now, I have a new novel coming out, a humor blog I’m having a great time with, and it is a distant memory – like a bad break-up might be after a decade.
LS: I have to ask the “lessons learned” question. When you look back on the experience, what were those lessons for you, if any? Were there things you would have done differently?
DB: That’s a tough one. You finally get your dream, and it is not what you expect at all. In fact…nothing changes. You have the same friends. Enjoy the same things. Are frustrated by the same things. Maybe the dream is an illusion. There is no amazing, joyous, completely fulfilling other life out there. There is just this one. So make the most of it.
LS: Lastly, congrats on the upcoming book! The Feet Say Run is due out from Gabriel’s Horn Press in December (read the blurb here). Are you at all concerned that history will repeat itself with the new book?
DB: Thanks. But no, I don’t really worry about history repeating because I did not get a huge advance, and have not been told I would be famous. So I am much more grounded. If it’s a big success, that would be wonderful. If not, then so be it.
LS: Anything else to share with our Lady Smut writers and readers?
DB: Well, first of all, to the writers: best of luck to all of you. As the site is all about erotica, I would add that I often feel we’re in an era of disappointingly prudish serious fiction. Shouldn’t sex be a topic to be explored like any other? In lisa33 I tried to mix erotic, comic and serious elements in a story about real people. I would leave it to others to decide whether or not it works for them. But I will say this: I wish more writers today were willing to try it.
Amen to that! Thanks so much for joining us today, Dan. Great having you here.
For Dan’s own account of what happened, dash on over to his blog. You can access the harrowing tale here.
Elizabeth Shore writes both contemporary and historical erotic romance. Her newest book is an erotic historical novella, Desire Rising, from The Wild Rose Press. Other releases include Hot Bayou Nights and The Lady Smut Book of Dark Desires.