Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The Maxed Man

Over the weekend I gave an interview to Mad Max Perkins, the blogger who has been creating a stir with his weblog, BookAngst 101. The interview was the result of an interesting exchange I've been having via e-mail with this guy since answering a survey for authors on his weblog back in November.

To give you what lowdown there is on Max, he uses a pseudonym to protect his identity and invites other industry pros to comment anonymously on the blog. All we know about Max is what he tells us, which is this:

"Mad Max Perkins has worked in the book trade in a variety of capacities for over 20 years and is currently a senior executive for a major New York publisher."

I like that variety of capacities in particular. Reminds me of some of the excellent dodges I saw on resumes when I was a comptroller and tried to hire a decent secretary. Note to aspiring secretaries: do not put "typing on various equipment" if the only thing you can operate is a telephone key pad.

Anyway, Max's survey asked fairly standard questions like "What (if anything) did publisher #1 do especially well as pertains to the positioning/marketing of you/your book(s)?" and "Why did you switch publishers?" but he was also interested in changes in sales and marketing effort, and whether or not the publisher delivered on their promises.

I thought Max might be an author posing as an editor (or marketing director, "executive" can mean a lot of things, but I'm going with editor.) Trusting soul that I am, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and sent in my answers. His first personal e-mail to me opened with this line (and please note, Max has given me his permission to post these excerpts):

"I'm digging into the survey responses, and I think you for your honesty & specificity."

Okay, so Max forgets to hit his spell check, but hey, you know I can relate to that. :) He was also careful not to squash my toes:

"I know this is terribly inappropriate of me--but it sounds like you make a pretty good living, no?"

Sounds a little French, doesn't he? And he admitted he didn't know everything about publishing, and thus earned another gold star in my book:

"I'd have to consider you one of the real success stories of this survey--and it comes from a realm I didn't even know existed! (I don't mean the genres, but that you get paid a flat fee etc.)"

I like people who don't pretend they know everything; they're less likely to piss me off. I responded with my usual candor, and he appreciated it:

"This is PRECISELY the reason I started this site in the first place--in hopes of discovering these avenues to which you allude, and giving writers--and publishers--something else to try."

Nice motive, and I mean that sincerely. I suspected he also wanted to get some fresh angles on marketing for his own career purposes, as he wanted to know more:

"Can you be more specific? Even if you don't want me to talk about it in the survey, and/or want to withhold certain details, I'd DYING to know how YOUR plan is different from what I've heard--and even said, myself..."

I have no problem with this, either. Shared information is the only way we can improve the industry. Quote me on that.

After I gave Max the information he requested, I didn't see any results from the survey posted (it never occurred to me that he might not be getting enough response to the survey to post useful results.) The only communication he sent me after the survey was a reminder to read at particular post at BookAngst in which he had other industry pros endorse him.

Frankly the endorsements annoyed me. I have little patience with coyness to begin with, and this read like another dodge. Also, I'd been very up front with this guy, but now he seemed more worried about his credibility than posting the survey results and following through on his promises.

After reading that endorsement post, this was my unsolicited advice to him:

"...the whole justifying the anonymous thing is getting old. If you're so afraid for your job or your reputation that you have to hide who you are, you shouldn't be doing this. If you're not, and you truly want to change things, just be honest. Hiding behind your industry buddies while they vouch for you only makes you look foolish. As does continuing to contact me when I don't know who you are."

He didn't tell me who he was -- and I still have no idea who he is -- but he came back with a quick response:

"I'm afraid I don't agree--I think there's utility in what's going on there, and frankly I won't be able to continue doing it if I go public, for a variety of reasons. If you want me not to send you updates, I certainly understand, and I apologize for the inconvenience. I hope it's still OK to use your story in this writer-survey I'm working on--please advise if not."

Up until this point I thought Max might be bullshit, but I work for a lot of editors, and the above paragraph has "editor" written all over it. If I'm wrong and he isn't an editor? The guy should be one.

I happen to like editors, so I sat down and thought about it. I'd been honest; he was still wearing a mask. He was actively working on the survey, something I hadn't known, and he sounded more legit than ever. I don't like being scammed, but what I'd told him was pretty much what I'd tell anyone who asked.

I decided to trust my instincts and regard Max as a genuine person with good intentions. Our exchange continued from there to an interview, which Max will be posting on Book Angst sometime after the holidays. The interview is under my name -- well, one of them -- because I do share information, and I don't have anything to hide.

Who knows, maybe if enough authors follow my example, maybe we can eventually unMax Max.

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