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Gene Weingarten: Want huge success on the Web and in book publishing? Think hamsters

WASHINGTON — I am the author of 56 books. Unfortunately, I've been paid for only three of them. The others are in various stages of planning, mostly in my head. Several of these have already been rejected by publishers, including two or three heartbreaking exegeses on the perilous nature of the human condition, as well as one impulse-buy novelty book I once proposed that would have consisted entirely of candid photographs of men in their cars, at traffic lights, picking their noses.

Here is a summary of a conversation I had just the other day with a big American publisher guy:

Guy: Would you be interested in writing a book about (a very serious subject)?

Me: I would!

Guy: Let's do it, then!

Me: Yay!

Guy: How much do you want for it?

Me: (Enough to purchase a Ferrari.)

Guy: Would you accept (enough to purchase a salami)?

There are times when it becomes obvious to two people that there is nothing more to be said, such as, for example, when one of them is dead. This was one such time.

The point I am trying to make is that it is very, very difficult to get a book published, which is why I am dismayed by a hot new phenomenon in the publishing industry: People who cannot write are getting fat book contracts for work they didn't do. I'm talking about certain kinds of bloggers: people who run Web sites that subsist on things such as reader-submitted snapshots of dogs in stupid outfits or photos of big plates of greasy food. The publishers are paying these bloggers for this "content," which they then turn into paperbacks. These books tend to be sold not in bookstores, which tend to have discriminating clientele, but mostly in places such as Urban Outfitters, as cash register candy.

The Web site, which features photos of people's cats paired with illiterate captions, has become a book called I Can Has Cheezburger? which has sold well more than 100,000 copies. (This is more than twice as many copies as my three books have sold altogether, and that's counting the fact that, like all authors, I lie about my sales.)

Do I find it amusing that the owner of the Web site that led to this puzzlingly successful book is named . . . Mr. "Huh"? Yes, a little. Or that the full name of this new gladiator in the book-publishing world is . . . Ben Huh? Yes, a little. Okay, I am bitter. I admit it.

I think this trend is a bad idea. But how do you fight an idea? Maybe you don't. Maybe you just decide to cash in on it yourself. The hard part is figuring out concepts for photo-only Web sites stupid enough to lure big money from book publishers. Here are mine:

Moods of my uvula.

Food that looks like Scarlett Johansson.

Pigeons lost in thought.

Wacky toilet-seat covers.

Re-enactments of famous historical events, using only bacon.

Hamsters, hamsters, hamsters.

Well-dressed people eating dog food.

Forks stuck in things.

Outies that look like Jesus.

Very angry babies.

Yarmulkes made from bras.

The contents of my hairbrush.

Obese people on stools.

Men at stoplights picking their noses. (I still think this would work.)

Gene Weingarten can be reached at [email protected] You can chat with him online at noon Tuesdays at

Gene Weingarten: Want huge success on the Web and in book publishing? Think hamsters 05/16/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 16, 2009 4:31am]
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