Chesley Sullenberger of Danville, the US Airways pilot who safely landed his jet in the Hudson River in January, has signed a $3.2 million deal with William Morrow for two books, reports thedailybeast.com. The first will be a memoir; the second a book of poetry.
I nearly spit out my coffee.
Now, don't get me wrong. I have as much respect and admiration for Captain "Sully" Sullenberger as everyone else. Safely landing a plane on the Hudson and sparing all lives? Amazing. If possible, I'd like to have him at the helm of every future flight I take.
But a 3.2 million dollar book deal?
I don't fly planes, and have no aspirations to learn how to when I retire. I think Sully has probably led a fascinating life, perhaps even one worth reading about. But let's have a show of hands: do any of you think that William Morrow is going to be able to recoup this advance, especially considering the attention span of the average American?
Maybe. We do love heroes, and there's a chance that if this book gets cranked out quickly and makes it to market by Christmas (which I'm guessing is their target release date), people will still consider springing for the $25 purchase price. But will enough do so to earn back that advance? Or will there be another hero on our radar by then whose story is equally compelling? (And I'm just going to throw this out there: unless there's a whole bestselling sub-genre of airline poetry that I'm unaware of, I'm guessing they were planning on throwing 3.2 million at him for the memoir, and he asked for the poetry book as an add-on. I'm just saying.)
As the midlist slowly shrinks and more and more authors are being offered advances that amount to less than minimum wage for their efforts, discovering that the octuplets mom, or Joe the Plumber, just signed a seven-figure book deal is incredibly disheartening. I'm not saying that these people can't write- who knows, maybe Nadya Suleman is the next Zadie Smith. But the implication is that anyone can write a book, that it requires less effort than other fields of expertise. When I meet a physicist at a cocktail party and they invariably announce that they're planning on becoming a writer as soon as they retire, I smile and nod encouragingly, when what I actually want to say is that when I retire, I'll be working on cold fusion. Of course many authors have a second job to support their writing career (hell, with what we get paid, we have to). And when I was a personal trainer, I drew plenty of raised eyebrows at the pronouncement that I was working on a novel. But then, no one ever offered to throw a huge advance at me in a crass attempt to cash in on my fifteen minutes of fame.
So when the publishing industry bemoans the fact that no one is buying books anymore, and that they need to lay off staff and cut expenses to keep themselves afloat, I'm increasingly unsympathetic. Perhaps they should take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask themselves if it's really worth spending the bulk of their energy and finances chasing the public's tail. Maybe it's time they got back to supporting good books by people who have devoted their lives to the craft of writing them.
Now you'll have to excuse me, I'm off to find something that will draw me praise or scorn in the public arena, hopefully enough to raise my profile. While I'm gone, take a stab at an airline poetry haiku. Here's mine:
Stuck in the middle seat
No food, no water, on the tarmac
Oh my God someone farted.