Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010
119

Simon Rich and How Many Books You Need to Sell to be a Success

SIMON SAYSGawker's Richard Lawson wrote today about being against being oh-so-outraged by nepotism, triggered by the longstanding freefloating ire among some folks regarding Simon Rich. (Unfamiliar? Simon Rich was born in 1984, to Times columnist Frank Rich, went to Dalton, was Harvard '07, edited the Lampoon, is published in the New Yorker, writes for "Saturday Night Live," is cute and shaggy and just sold the rights to his first novel (and his third book!) to director Jason Reitman. Sure! It's like a recipe for resentment!) Lawson concludes: "It's not that they got the wonderful opportunity, the secret passage through the back door. It's that we didn't. And that just makes us seem a little petty and insecure and, in a strange way, vain. It sort of implies that the only thing standing in our way is a lack of access." That may be true though! Lack of access is the number one path to failure. (That's why people move to New York.)

Okay, sure, young Mr. Rich has a pretty successful resume. But he's working in a very competitive field and it's gotta be stressful. I couldn't do the things he does (up to and including graduating from Harvard; no way would I have made it through that).

And let's look at the nitty-gritty. Playing the "he sold x many books" game is always a fool's errand, we should first acknowledge. There is only one reason we're indulging in it here: the point being that there is nothing to be jealous of when someone sells or publishes a book. The publishing industry is very wacky! All kinds of crazy people sell books! You too can be one. And publishing a book is often a terrible, ugly process, and after all that, you are forcibly reminded that nearly no one buys books.

But people get a little crazy also anyway when someone publishes or sells a book. Because we're people who like books, really like them, sometimes we get confused, and start thinking this means that the book-selling person is elevated in some way or has arrived or is famous. That is incorrect.

So. According to Nielsen BookScan, which disclaims always that it reports about 75% of book sales (because it excludes WalMart and Sam's Club), Simon Rich's first collection, Ant Farm: And Other Desperate Situations, from 2007, sold 21,000 copies, which is pretty amazing! [N.B.: This originally said 25,000 copies, which was a typo; the actual figure is 21,000.]

His second collection, Free-Range Chickens, from 2009, sold 2000 in paperback and 4000 in hardcover.

And his novel, Elliot Allagash, the one that he just sold to Reitman and which was published in hardcover this May, has sold 1000 copies.

You can go to a Kinko's today and publish your book and get a thousand people to pay you for it. Except you'll make money per copy! Because you won't be paying back an advance! And you won't have to go to marketing meetings! You'll just start a Tumblr or something! Resent not. Go have some fun. Finish your stupid novel tonight!



Photo of Simon Rich by Adrian Kinloch.

119 Comments / Post A Comment

Moff (#28)

I moved to New York because the Casual Encounters listings in Poughkeepsie were pretty underwhelming. I guess that's sort of an access thing too, though.

doubled277 (#2,783)

Yeah, always gotta check the CE listings before considering a move. It could be a big mistake

Astigmatism (#1,950)

Hey, I tried to keep it interesting, but I'm only one man. What did you expect?

Abe Sauer (#148)

What's a "casual encounters" listing?

deepomega (#1,720)

@Astigmatism: An orgy hosted at your house. Everyone's invited!

SourCapote (#4,872)

Free hand jobs from self-aggrandizing fatties

las chicas

belltolls (#184)

I moved to New York to work in publishing, drink and get laid. Boy was I right!

@Bell: Me too. I stayed for the glamour (*snort*!).

belltolls (#184)

When I found out that publishing is largely an entertainment business with no money, I realized I had picked the wrong coast. I also loved it. The day after a book is sold to a publisher is the best ever. Everything else is a falling off.

Moff (#28)

@kitten: Has the benefit of being especially disturbing because the Bruins are not only UCLA's mascot, but that of Fargo South High.

Moff, there is some hope though. That was empty when I posted it.

doubled277 (#2,783)

Um, my novel is not stupid. Thanks

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

Mine totally is, though!

doubled277 (#2,783)

Oh, I've heard

If you write for SNL in 2010, you might not want to tell too many people about it.

sox (#652)

Is this somehow related to your "sort of finishing a book" offhanded mention earlier today?

saythatscool (#101)

Oh shit! Is it done Choire?

Abe Sauer (#148)

Thanks Chris Anderson!

Vulpes (#946)

As is almost always the case, Richard has a great point. Still, I don't think it's nepotism in its strictest sense that makes people go crazy, it's the kind of nepotism that involves a total incompetent beating out someone with talent because their stepfather is golf-buddies with the boss. People get outraged about that even when it's not them that lost out (or least I do). Simon Rich seems to have actual talent and a work ethic, though. Still, people can be jealous if they wanted to. It's not like there's a lack of pettiness and insecurity and vanity!

Abe Sauer (#148)

Maybe i'm missing your point but I think it's the kind of nepotism that involves a real talented person beating out another someone with talent (a conceived peer) that drives people nuts. When somebody like Tori Spelling becomes a famous (working) actress, do people get that outraged? On a level laying field she'd clearly be a paralegal or something. But somebody whose talent cannot be dismissed, like this guy, is infuriating because "there for for the grace of Dad goes I."

I think maybe other people who auditioned for Donna Martin would disagree.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Ha. Probably. In my mind though, those people take solace in the fact that they are clearly better actors and only lost the part due to nepotism. As Choire points out, the infuriating thing about this Rich nepotism is that the those jealous might NOT be able to actually do a better job.

"level laying field" is the best freudian typo i've seen in a while

He was thinking about the CL Casual Encounters.

doubled277 (#2,783)

Aren't we all thinking about casual encounters most of the time anyway, whether on CL or not?

La Cieca (#1,110)

Well, actually she's neither famous, working nor an actress at the moment. (An actress, ever, really.) If someone's idea of success in her chosen field of artistic endeavor is to do eight seasons of a basic cable soap opera (in a supporting role, no less) and then drift around doing bits in indy pictures and finally a self-produced reality show — well, anyway, that "someone" has set her sights terribly low. Tori's not playing Hedda Gabler at the Royal Shakespeare Company, after all.

deepomega (#1,720)

Pft. Everyone knows that the fewer people buy your book, the more thoughtful and impressive a writer you are.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

exactly. You'll be HUGE in another 15/20 years when the hipsters discover your posthumous work! (all the great geniuses drink themselves to death, no?)

A.R. Chrisman (#2,964)

I hope that this carries over to twitter and livejournal, et al. I like to think that in 2025, after I've gone into a bleach-oriented coma, Miranda July will find my old xanga and declare me at 12 "a real profound bro."

HiredGoons (#603)

Who is that lesbian pictured?

saythatscool (#101)

She feels things deeply. That's why she macrame's.

Matt (#26)

Justin Bieber.

HiredGoons (#603)

#thingsIwasthinkinMattEalergetoutofmyhead

Bittersweet (#765)

I was thinking Evan Kasperczak's long-lost little brother…

Didn't what's his name Bellow write a book about this?

LolCait (#460)

Is my IMing you this post and thus getting you to post about it nepotism?

mathnet (#27)

It's aksess.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

nepotism vs. insidery table of comparisons, please

Moff (#28)

It would be if Conbon had done it.

HiredGoons (#603)

Quality.

La Cieca (#1,110)

Damn pink mafia!

mmmark (#4,458)

Also. I'm not entirely sold on the fact that the "Shouts & Murmurs" section counts as "writing for the New Yorker."

Brian (#115)

..but I wouldn't know because I haven't read it since the first time I ever read it.

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

George Saunders, when he writes them, is worth reading.

mmmark (#4,458)

I stand corrected: George fucking Saunders.

Plus, Woody Allen, I guess.

hockeymom (#143)

I love "Shouts & Murmurs" .
Perfect for those distracted by shiny objects and don't want to admit they read the New Yorker for the cartoons.

(though, I hate the last page now being that cartoon caption contest. too interactive.)

cuiveen (#370)

About this: "is cute and shaggy." Shaggy, yes. Cute, no. Although, I suppose the added wealth, connections and infamy might give him some of what I like to call "Windsor points."

Art Yucko (#1,321)

also comparable to getting a solo and representation at an art gallery. Who told you you were Chris Ofili!

MaryHaines (#3,666)

People using their connections only bothers me when they deny having done it. "Oh, no, my mother/father being a famous movie star/important writer had nothing to do with my getting an audition for Spielberg/a manuscript on so-and-so's desk when I was seventeen."

Brian (#115)
doubled277 (#2,783)

Great read, thanks

Miles Klee (#3,657)

fucking great link. i agree so much it hurts.

doubled277 (#2,783)

careful, there

wb (#2,214)

This is a great way to experience the slush Miller speaks of: http://slushpilehell.tumblr.com

SourCapote (#4,872)

the last line was pretty fucking optimistic

thank you.

Miles Klee (#3,657)

i met and had dinner with simon rich some weeks ago and he is a delightful fellow with a normal apartment so yeah people should probably just relax

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

which we will do as soon as we meet and have dinner with simon rich

Well I hope he was gentle at least.

I met and had PBR and Jack with Miles some days ago and he is a delightful fellow etc.

mickeyitaliano (#2,202)

very cool man…nepotism only works so far…the guy has three (pretty decent) books. Frank Rich did not co-sign his Harvard Ed. Give the guy a break.. If the movie sucks then pounce.

Miles Klee (#3,657)

guys i'm just happy when people respond to my comments

elegantfaker (#1,646)

glad to hear casual encounters is working out for you!

Bridget Callahan (#5,234)

Windsor Points is now the name of my stupid novel's first stupid chapter.

If you like, I'll let you write the intro?

The children of the famous are shitty writers. The children of the unfamous are shitty writers. The famous are shitty writers. The unfamous are shitty writers.

Honey, there's a lot of crap out there. For those of us whose job it is to polish the turd, this is all water under the bridge, or piss in the sewer, if you prefer.

Honor real talent by supporting it with your wallet, ignore the garbage, and let the free market chips fall where they may.

"Let the free market pee on you."

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Honey honor. Shitty shitty shitty shitty crap turd piss. Chips.

Time for a long weekend, workers in words!

SourCapote (#4,872)

Ahh! but the amount of books put out everyday will leave me with a strained and frail body…how to sort through all of the shit when you don't know where to start!

belltolls (#184)

BL: Yes, indeed. There has always been a surplus of words. The hunt for the good writers is all the fun. For a decade I am sure I didn't read anybody who was alive.

@BL: Live by Sturgeon's Law, die by Sturgeon's Law.

I kinda see Jaden Smith for the lead.

Aatom (#74)

Shouldn't this have a "Note to self" tag?

Wow, this is about the finest daily affirmation I have ever read. Thank you.

Do you think Blythe Danner:

http://realestalker.blogspot.com/2010/06/blythe-danner-lists-ocean-view-condo-in.html

is jealous of Candice Bergin:

http://realestalker.blogspot.com/2010/06/candice-bergen-quietly-sells-compound.html

and spends her days burning with envy over not having been born to rich and famous parents? She had to struggle along all alone until she married a TV producer. And that little ungrateful Gywnnie NEVER calls her.

I mean even among the beneficiaries of nepotism there has to be some sort of levels of jealousy.

La Cieca (#1,110)

As a fellow former zine publisher, I find it amusing that Choire still instinctively regards "publishing" as something that involves schlepping hard copies to Kinkos (and, I think he will agree, spending more time trying to make them understand how pagination works than you actually spent writing the damn thing.)

New/unknown writers are in probably the most enviable position now that they've been in a century: it costs nothing to self-publish now, and your work can just sit on a server somewhere until the audience (when, as and if) finds it. What's the point of getting the identical content presented in ink-and-wood-pulp format besides the illusory prestige of calling yourself "published?"

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

> What's the point

It will be here when the cloud fails, maybe?

La Cieca (#1,110)

If only: all that idiotic ranting I did on usenet 15 years ago is still there, so what makes you think your novel is going to dissipate?

@Cieca: Her books sell like hotcakes.

That was meant to respond to your post about La Spelling.

Clip Arthur (#2,024)

I actually agree with what you are saying, but the thing is outside of short bits of wit and fiction, the Internet is not a world for novels.

LondonLee (#922)

I hate all this bullshit about "you can self-publish on the web!" If that's so superior why are so many blogs turned into books? Sorry, "ink-and-wood-pulp format"

It must be nice to live in a world where people are happy to give their hard work over for free.

musicmope (#428)

"If that's so superior why are so many blogs turned into books?"

And, it should be added, not selling.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

On behalf of your future archivists, I commend you for ranting on usenet and not listbot.

La Cieca (#1,110)

So many blogs (were) turned into books because the publishing industry is in disarray, desperately throwing money around hoping they might hit the next big thing. How many blog-into-books sell? And, of those, how many of those authors sell second books?

And who said anything about giving something away for free? True, it is possible that if an author wants to share his work, he can get it read by hundreds of thousands, even millions of people, particularly if he's working from the platform of a popular blog. (Which is why Richard's complaining rings a little hollow, published as it is on a blog where he enjoys hundreds of thousands of pageviews a month, or a day, or an hour, or whatever the ridiculously high number is currently.)

No, it's already fairly easy to self-publish an e-book, if still rather a hassle to self-promote, and it's not even all that difficult to self-publish an ink-and-wood. And monetizing something self-published is pretty straightforward too. The difference is that even a book that sells only a couple hundred copies a month is still getting paid for and read, whereas that same book, rejected by a traditional publisher, is just sitting in a manila envelope taunting you.

I honestly think the whole "getting really published, with an editor, and expense-account lunches, and a book tour" charade is just another excuse for people not to write — like the unfairness of nepotism. Like I said before, it's easier to write and to get read now then it has been certainly since the 19th century. So why do people keep bitching about how unfair it all is that she got a book deal and I didn't?

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

> another excuse for people not to write

Yes, writers should pull themselves up by their bootstraps and climb up on top of the stacks and stacks of their manuscripts.

The whole getting published charade is a validation fantasy, and it's the goddam point.

I'm reposting this because screwed up and posted 2 links and it looks like the dads have gone home.

1st part w/ link

Do you think Blythe Danner:

http://realestalker.blogspot.com/2010/06/blythe-danner-lists-ocean-view-condo-in.html

2nd part w/ link

is jealous of Candice Bergin:

http://realestalker.blogspot.com/2010/06/candice-bergen-quietly-sells-compound.html

and spends her days burning with envy over not having been born to rich and famous parents? She had to struggle along all alone until she married a TV producer. And that little ungrateful Gywnnie NEVER calls her.

I mean even among the beneficiaries of nepotism there has to be some sort of levels of jealousy.

I had no idea who her parents were till you posted that.

When Candace was younger and before she did comedy critics would liken her acting ability to her father's dummy.

Lovely Lisa (#5,692)

I'll never understand why Richard Lawson always comes off as such a bitter, jealous sad-sack. He's got a coveted "platform" (as they call it in the biz) and an army of groveling sycophants (check the comment thread on the original post and keep a barf bag handy.)

The point is that I'm sure he could get a book deal in a flat second if he tried. Has he tried? Has he written a book? Is his book so bad that no one will touch it? (I doubt it.)

There are people out there who actually have a bitch of a time finding an agent etc. I'm sure Richard Lawson is not one of them.

You'd be real pretty if you tried smiling sometime, honey.

hockeymom (#143)

Wow. That's not how Richard comes off to me, at all.
You see them as "groveling sycophants", I see them as people who like what he writes.
Potato, Potahto.
Have a lovely day. Lisa.

HiredGoons (#603)

"always comes off as such a bitter, jealous sad-sack."

You… you realize what you're doing here, right?

mathnet (#27)

How lovely. Lisa.

salesman_carla (#1,439)

Seriously. Lisa. That smile would be real pretty coming from you, too, I'm sure.

salesman_carla (#1,439)

Sorry. I meant from you, honey.

Lovely Lisa (#5,692)

i am so beautiful that i don't need to smile. i also have really big boobs. and a book deal.

Apparently Lisa's boobs obscure everything she tries to read.

barnhouse (#1,326)

I love Simon Rich and always will because of that freaking hilarious thing he wrote in the New Yorker a zillion years ago about being eight or so and listening in on his parents' dinner party. omg my bestie and I still email each other sometimes with

Pass the wine, please. I want to become crazy.

erikonymous (#3,231)

That was him?! I loved that! Keep 'em coming, Rich kid.

Clip Arthur (#2,024)

Compared to Richie Rich, Simon Rich is at least funny.

Fredrick (#268)

I thought this was gonna be a post about Le Tigre or something.

Now I've got a JD Samson joke and no one to tell it to…

sox (#652)

Tell us anyway!

Fredrick (#268)

I'm not sure how good it would've been. I think the idea of it might be better–like a Shake Weight.

iplaudius (#1,066)

It was treat to have within the same day Richard’s thoughtful, self-reflexive essay treating ambition and jealousy and talent and long-suffering, counterpoised with Choire’s smart and clever critique of the object of envy and the its apparent value. Thank you both for so much delicious food for thought.

keisertroll (#1,117)

Frank Rich is heterosexual? TALK ABOUT BURYING THE LEAD!

balsa_wood (#465)

Looking at that picture, I'm pretty sure he shot Andy Warhol.

Ribs (#2,690)

hes got a large baby head .img

mickeyitaliano (#2,202)

Bazzinga!

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

On another note, has Maura left the building? I was hoping for a post on the Times sports style book requiring Mets beat reporters to use the words sparkling and/or radiant in every win story.

Atencio (#399)

So thaaaat's why Frank rich was on SNL. Gotcha.

sigerson (#179)

Nice connecting of the dots there.

KarenUhOh (#19)

I am writing a book about why all you people are writing books.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

can't wait for the onslaught of commenter memoirs

"Troll Hairs are Pink and Nick Denton Stinks- A Troll's Life and Times as a Commenter at Gawker by 'Minsley Tortimer'"

keisertroll (#1,117)

Hey there, my facial hair is only reddish because I drink too much Gatorade.

Please include that in your book.

elegantfaker (#1,646)

Best Amazon review EVER:

FIVE STARS: "There is a reason this guy has a huge fan base. [ed. note: 1,000 =huge?!] Elliot Allagash is painfully funny.

I'm always turned off by humor writers who have printed in the NYer and their style of beating joke premises into the ground with precious prose. But believe me, Rich is the exception. Comedy books are at a low point, and Rich is now one of the few writers I look forward to releasing books and recommend to friends. He's hit his stride. If you're into the rapid-fire, sophisticated comedy aesthetic of shows like 30Rock, the Simpsons, Arrested Development, buy this book."

sox (#652)

And also on another note of another book due for release – I'm sure you'll tell us just as soon as it drops – but when the HK Choi comic masterpiece coming out again? Must mark my calendar for an afternoon of ice cream and comics in the park.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Reflecting on this a little longer, there are a couple questions. 1) When did it become cool to diss an SNL writing gig as if it were an undesirable thing? 2) Richard complains about being "born under the crushing weight of normalcy" and not having the inside track; but he went to the Boston Latin School and Boston College, which many, many writers (and people) would consider to be an inside track. Professional jealousy is a shell game where there are no winners and only one loser.

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