Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dave Zeltserman

Commentary from Crime Writer Dave Zeltserman
First appeared in Dark Party Review

Recently on Jason Pinter's blog, “The Man in Black,” he had folks offering their thoughts on what problems exist in the publishing industry and what could be done to fix them. Some interesting ideas were tossed around, and while I don't want to kick a dog when it's down—especially a dog I'm dependent on, here's my suggestion: every single person in publishing who was involved in turning down JK Rowling's Harry Potter needs to be fired. Booted out the door. Now!

But I digress.

I want to instead write about a film option I just sold and how it relates to the problems with publishing. The film option sold is for an unpublished book titled “28 Minutes.” I originally wrote this book in 2004, with the title then as “Outsourced.”
The book was about a group of software engineers who were made basically unemployable due to the industry's push to outsourcing (the process of moving American job overseas to places like India). Desperate as they see their middle class lives crumbling apart, they come up with an almost brilliant plan to rob a bank. Almost brilliant, since things don't quite work out as planned.

In 2005 my literary at that time started shopping the book around and there was initially a lot of interest with editors in New York digging the book, but ultimately none of them could get it through their editorial boards, and the feedback I got from one of the publishing houses was that the board was worried whether outsourcing would still be relevant by the time the book was published (it would've been published in '06 or 07, yeah, right, outsourcing was really about to disappear from the public consciousness by then!).

Early in 2006 a top film agent, Steve Fisher at APA, read the book and decided he was going to get this made into a movie. He started pitching it then, and there was a lot of interest in Hollywood, and over the last three years there have been a lot of false starts with different players.

On Tuesday, I signed a contract selling the film option for this unpublished book to Constantin Film Development and Impact Pictures with John Tomko (“Ocean's 11,” “Falling Down”) and Jeremy Bolt (“Resident Evil,” “Death Race”) to produce. Here's the difference between how Hollywood looked at the book and how the publishing industry looked it—Hollywood looked at it as a great story that would make a great movie, and while deals along the way fell apart due to scheduling conflicts, it never changed the excitement that they had for this book. The New York publishing houses, on the other hand, looked for excuses not to publish it. I think in a nutshell that points out what's wrong with the New York publishing industry.

So where does this book stand now? Well, last year I stripped out the outsourcing angle, making the software engineers more as people out of work because of time and technology passing them by, and have a deal in place for the UK rights and am now working out the US rights. Can the New York houses still find an excuse not to publish it? I doubt it, but they can be a creative bunch, so we'll see.

(Dave Zeltserman lives and writes in Massachusetts. His crime novel “Small Crimes” was called a “thing of beauty” by the Washington Post and National Public Radio named “Small Crimes” one of its five best mystery novels of 2008. Dave also publishes his own blog, Small Crimes. He publishes the column Thoughts from the Shadows for DaRK PaRTY.)


Anonymous said...

I plead guilty. As a book editor for some Midwestern publishers in the 70s and 80s I turned down two nonfiction proposals that were sold elsewhere and published very successfully.

One was an anthology of published essays and articles about peyote. The other was an account of a family's struggle with a brain tumor in their teen-aged son. I didn't have the omniscience to see the worth of these two among the thousands of book projects I looked at.

I'm glad the film industry does things so much better.

Richard Wheeler

George said...

I'm not defending the publishers or the movie industry. I suspect their actions are part of the "home run" psychology in business. Publishers don't just want a good book, they want a blockbuster. The same goes for the movie industry. Ironically, a dozen publishers could have had their blockbuster with HARRY POTTER, but passed on it.

Dave Zeltserman said...

Richard, not quite sure I see the relevancy of what you did for midwest publishers 20-30 years ago and the way NY is operating now. I guess if Harry Potter was doing peyote or struggling with brain tumors than maybe it would've made sense for the NY houses to be turning the book down, but he wasn't, so inexcusable that they were too gutless or too shortsighted to pick up this book.

George, exactly, that blockbuster mentality is a huge problem, and making editors (at least a couple who I talked with relatively recently) to push books that they believe in. The way it was explained to me is if someone along the line thinks the book was a waste of time, your career could be irreparably damaged.