Sometimes people ask me why no Foodspin book exists. I have never told them why. The answer is very embarrassing!
So. I launched the Saturday Foodspin column on Labor Day of 2012. Within six weeks or so, I started getting emails here and there from book agents and publishers. That probably sounds like boasting; I really have no idea. In any event the rest of this story will cancel it out many times over.
In the abstract, it made sense: Several food bloggers have made successful forays into cookbook publishing in recent years, and here was a series with its own dudely voice and approach, building a solid readership on, of all places, a penis-photo and sports website. Doing a book seemed like a smart idea. Craggs thought so; Drew thought so; my wife thought so; some readers in the comments thought so; and, significantly, at least a handful of agents and publishers seemed to think so.
And so, naturally, I resisted it, because I’m a self-destructive idiot, and for the second and not unrelated reason that I am the most neurotic and least-productive writer who ever fucking lived. My argument, in summary, went Okay yeah, let’s do it, hell yeah, I am excited to do this, followed by months of silence and inactivity, followed by another iteration of You should do a book and Yeah, for sure, I’m gonna do it now, followed by more months of paralysis. In the meantime, though, I got hooked up with a(n endlessly patient) book agent; my wife and I came up to New York and he bought us lunch. He was kind, confident, enthusiastic, and tolerant of my social awkwardness and weird misplaced skepticism. He convinced me. I was going to do a Foodspin book. It would be, basically, a collection of recipes in the prose style of Foodspin columns, but also with the stuff readers always get angry at us for not including in Foodspin columns: ingredient lists, and photographs, and step-by-step summaries. It would be a good book!
So, the way publishing a book works is, unless you are Lena Dunham or some other very famous person, you create a book proposal. This is a large document or packet of documents, like a business proposal, only it proposes a book instead of, say, a software solution: What the book will be; what will be in it; why it will be cool; why you, the publisher, should be excited to publish it. These can be very large productions; some of the examples the agent sent to me ran 70 tightly-stuffed pages or more, and included visual aids and shit.
You can see the problem, here: For no especially good reason, but for at least a couple of lame ones, I usually am not good for more than, like, 1,500 words in the average week, or roughly as many as Tom Ley publishes in the average afternoon. This is a way of saying that the proposal work went slllowwwwwwlllly—more slowly, even, than my shameful rate of blog publication. By my reckoning, it basically fit the following pattern: I would grind out a pitifully small chunk of proposal writing—sometimes literally just a paragraph or two—send it to the agent, get some timely and constructive feedback, reply with something like Okay great, now that I have a better sense of what I’m doing, I’ll finally be able to get this done a little more quickly; I’ll try to send you the rest of this section tonight or tomorrow morning, and then, six weeks later, send him another pitifully small chunk of proposal writing. (Note: The sad suckers who have edited my work are nodding in grim recognition as they read this.) It went on like this for, uh, more than a year. No joke!
Finally—finally!—in the autumn of 2014, two fucking years after the launch of Foodspin and over 18 months after I’d started “working” on it, we had a complete book proposal. It still needed some work! But all the sections were there. In the interim, I’d turned away a small independent publisher who promised loving and attentive care to my book project but couldn’t offer an advance; I’d ignored half-a-dozen or more emails from other agents; I’d bungled and eventually wasted an invitation to do freelance feature stories for a national magazine, and another invitation to do mildly reported freelance stuff for a major newspaper. I had not diversified my professional eggs around between a lotta baskets, is what I am saying here. I had this place, and I had the book proposal, and that was it.
I’d also, though, begun branching out beyond the Saturday Foodspin column here at Deadspin. I was doing weekday food-related blogs, and occasionally tossing in a hot take about this or that sports thing or pop culture thing. Which brings us to Nov. 18, 2014. The staff had spent a big chunk of the morning, in Slack, gaping in horror and revulsion at the YouTube works of the Holdernesses, a family of wholesome whites who make excruciatingly awful “parody” videos based on popular songs of the moment. We were united in disgust!
At Deadspin we have an unofficial practice called “Slack Law”: When a topic consumes the staff’s attention for more than a few minutes in Slack, Slack Law says that somebody has to take it to the actual website where we get paid to do our work, so that it will not be a complete waste of time and will not intrude for too long on the actual work-related use of Slack. Thus, for example, if we are bickering about whether a hippopotamus could take a rhinoceros in a street fight, someone can invoke Slack Law, at which point the bickering must end, and a blog must be produced.
I don’t remember who invoked Slack Law on the Holderness family; I think it was Marchman, but maybe not. In any case I accepted the assignment. The result was an extremely mean-spirited blog post titled “This Family Is The Worst Thing On Facebook,” in which I called the Holderness family “Stepford rejects” and wrote the following about Penn, the paterfamilias of the Holderness clan:
Look at that nimrod. I mean get a nice big load of that hammy, shameless, Moose-Johnston’s-mob-indebted-little-brother-lookin’-ass nimrod. Does it even matter whether this is just the clueless desperation of a mortgage-choked suburban Dad Type, or passive-aggressive crypto-racist culture-warrior self-congratulation? No. It does not matter. Because Weird Al Yankovic wipes his ass with better song rewrites than these. “Kin and Moose”? Fuck you. That is terrible. A rhyming dictionary with a Jack Chick pamphlet stashed between the pages could come up with better goof lyrics than those.
That is not even the meanest paragraph in the post!
In any case, I wrote it, and we published it, and some readers loved it while others hated it. And then, a little later, I got an email from my agent, under the subject line “This Family Is The Worst Thing On Facebook.” Here is what it said:
So Penn, the guy you destroyed here, is one of my best friends. He is a really great guy, one of the best, and, well, after reading this I don’t think we can work together any more dude. I know we all need to have thick skin for this shit, but I don’t see how I possibly could and look Penn in the eye the next time I see him.
Yep. What are the fucking odds?
After a couple quick desperation discussions with decreasingly enthusiastic agents, I dropped the whole thing. A month or so later, Marchman hired me on full-time here at Deadspin, and nothing—nothing—will ever convince me that it wasn’t out of a feeling of pity toward the idiot who responded to Slack Law by shooting his own dick off with a blunderbuss.
This is Gawker Media’s last week as an independent media operation, and while that shouldn’t affect you much one way or the other as a reader, we’re still going to take advantage of a pretext to run some especially stupid posts. If you have any ideas for such posts, hit us at firstname.lastname@example.org.