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You Shall Know Our Velocity,
October 10, 2002 4:33 PM   Subscribe

You Shall Know Our Velocity, but you shall not buy it from Amazon or other large booksellers. The new novel by Dave Eggers is out. The reviews have come in quite positively (Time, Newsweek, NYT, SF Chronicle, among others). The main topic of discussion, though, is not the quality of the book, but the ego/stance/plan of Dave Eggers to not publish and sell it more widely (only 10,000 copies on first run). Will Dave Eggers succeed at NOT being a major commercial success, or will it happen despite his best efforts?
posted by msacheson (36 comments total)

 
Oh jump for joy....I live on the side of the world from the USA but somehow a few copies of the genius mag Might found it's way over here and I fell in love. Is there anything else out there remotely like it?
posted by meech at 4:51 PM on October 10, 2002


First of all, are you some kinda book pimp or what?

Dave Eggers can kiss my ass.

He's a classic example of a runaway legend in his own mind. That's so 1998.

From what I've read from those who absolutely insist that he's a genius, I guess he's a pretty sharp guy, but that only makes me wonder why the hell he can't do something interesting or have an opinion on anything relevant whatsoever to what's happening in the world today.
posted by mark13 at 4:52 PM on October 10, 2002


again, the issue is raised of whether point to point sales is possible for products that fall into the category of the 'artistic'. music, novels, short stories, images, poetry, journalism, essays, so on and so forth. if the new eggers book was priced outrageously for a first printing, or put out as a special autographed version (which happens quite a bit for certain kinds of books - a first special run being done, at $100 plus a book, depending) i would be less impressed. but i am intrigued by this move. i am always surprised (god knows why) when people or the media get so excited/perturbed/edgy when artists in any medium say or do things that seem, well, different. i mean, what do you expect? and why do we look at such things askew. does talent or eccentricity really bother us so much? for me, it just brings a small smile to my face.
posted by buffalo at 4:56 PM on October 10, 2002


The New York Times review is actually quite negative
posted by gspira at 5:00 PM on October 10, 2002


it seems pretty obvious to me, and heartening. He's putting out a first edition, as it says on the link, to support the non-profit outreach center that he's worked for and with for a number of years, for troubled kids. that's cool.
since he's such a big shot he obviously worked a deal wioth the publisher whereby he owns the first edition, self-promotes and releases it, and can opt out of the system of capital, in this case to benefit troubled kids. say what you want about his ego, he's a good egg. (i swear that was unintentional, it just happened)hr
posted by alpha60 at 5:01 PM on October 10, 2002


First of all, are you some kinda book pimp or what?

No, I'm not. I hate reading books. I started Eggers's previous book "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" and was not captivated. My opinion (which I left out of the FPP on purpose) is that Eggers, while talented, is egotistical and pompous. I dislike his 'cute' mechanisms of starting the story on the cover, writing the notes upside-down in the back, etc.

The New York Times review is actually quite negative

You're right. Sorry; I meant to say, "mostly positive" reviews.
posted by msacheson at 5:06 PM on October 10, 2002


The tutoring center is fronted by a store which vends pirating and shipwreck survival supplies (as well as mcsweeny's volumes). There is a small fish tank in a draped booth with three movie seats installed. The lovely typography is everywhere. Do stop by if you're in the neighborhood and not too busy hating on our boy eggz.
posted by damehex at 5:08 PM on October 10, 2002


gspira

if you ever write a book, pray that Kakutani won't like it

if she digs it, it is crap
posted by matteo at 5:09 PM on October 10, 2002


He's not trying to reduce his commercial success, from what I've heard him say about it (there's a new yorker interview out there somewhere) he's just trying it as a DYI experiment. He's been doing his own publication of McSweenys using a crazy cheap icelandic publisher, and fought tooth and nail to show up in bookstores across the US without any formal deals. It sounds like he wanted to see if the McSweenys thing could scale and support a more widely sold work.

Owning the means of production is the best way to maintain creative control, get the most money out of the deal, and for the most part, keep yourself from getting taken advantage of or getting a sour deal. You sell less, but keep more per copy.

And if I remember correctly, the whole point is to keep the costs of production as low as possible, so the prices of his stuff can stay cheap.
posted by mathowie at 5:13 PM on October 10, 2002


You sell less, but keep more per copy.

That raises the issue, are you writing to make money, or writing to be read?
posted by rushmc at 5:51 PM on October 10, 2002


That raises the issue, are you writing to make money, or writing to be read?

A delicate balance of both?
posted by Neale at 5:53 PM on October 10, 2002


Rush - The McSweeney's distribution experiment is designed to help writers who might not normally be published get read. They keep more of the proceeds, but they have to do their own publicity and book tours. I'm trying very hard not to interpret your comment as a swipe at any artist who tries to make a living at his art. The issue, really, is who should make the money: the creator of the work, or the risk-adverse, bottom-line-driven corporate distribution network?
posted by chino at 6:04 PM on October 10, 2002


but that only makes me wonder why the hell he can't do something interesting or have an opinion on anything relevant whatsoever to what's happening in the world today.

good christ, the guy's an author, not a politician. who gives a rat's ass what he thinks about what's going on in the world today? i sure as hell don't. nor do i care about what michael haneke, joel coen, j.m. coetzee, and countless other artists think about it. their talents lie in telling stories. i, for one, enjoy eggers; stories. in addition, i applaud his running mcsweeney's like an indie record label (giving 50% of profits to the author).

stephen dixon, who's been writing for 3 or 4 decades recently stated that "it could wind up that I'll make more money with this [mcsweeney's] royalty arrangement." this, on a book that was turned down by 4 other publishers, including the one that has published dixon for the past ten years.

From what I've read from those who absolutely insist that he's a genius, I guess he's a pretty sharp guy,

it'd probably kill you to read the book yourself, huh?

i mean, it seems pretty bizarre to me that when artists take the easy money they get called whores and sellouts. when they shun the easy money (he was offered upwards of SEVEN FIGURES by multiple publishers for this title) because they've got enough money for the moment, thank you very much, and would like to do it themselves, they're still chided.

you don't like his writing, fine. but must you spout off with such bile and hatred for someone you neither know nor seem too informed about?

First of all, are you some kinda book pimp or what?

i know you weren't speaking to me, but yeah, i'm a book pimp. and proud of it.

And if I remember correctly, the whole point is to keep the costs of production as low as possible, so the prices of his stuff can stay cheap.

yeah, mathowie, i believe that's part of it. the books they publish are gorgeous--nice paper, well designed, good binding, thoughful presentations, and they're considerably cheaper than the mass produced equivalent. i'm not saying that someone should only buy books based on the quality of the publishing, but the mcswys house has as good an average or better than their competition.
posted by dobbs at 6:34 PM on October 10, 2002


I was actually flipping through a copy of YSKOV today. I had no idea the print run was so low. It's quite nice looking, no dust jacket, the story appears to start on the cover and continue on the inside of the cover, and there are color pictures and illustrations inside. Maybe novelists will take a cue from the comic industry and release limited edition novels with multiple gate-fold foil holographic covers sealed in a plastic bag with trading cards. Yes I know the comic industry doesn't do that anymore.

Is anyone going to purchase the book? I'm still undecided myself.
posted by bobo123 at 6:43 PM on October 10, 2002


My guess is that the book is going to be a commerical success not in spite of his approach but because of it. Readers want what they want - especially if you tell them there may not be enough to go around.

Regardless, I'd love to see more authors go through McSweeneys as long as it didnt kill the quality of production and integrity of McSweeneys.

But, eh.
posted by erisfree at 7:12 PM on October 10, 2002


i'm planning on ordering it within the week... i don't know much about eggers, but i really liked AHWOSG (which i only picked up at first because the paperback cover felt really classy), and that one "selling out" interview that was posted on here many a months ago...

i expect nothing but good things.
posted by lotsofno at 7:22 PM on October 10, 2002


From the NewYorker.com Q&A mathowie mentioned:
You're publishing your novel through McSweeney's Books, a company you started two years ago. And you've already released close to a dozen titles. Did this come out of a desire to self-publish? Or was it some kind of broader vision that happens to include your own work? Do you ever find yourself confused in the roles of writer, editor, and publisher?

We just wanted to see what would happen if we put out this book the same way as the rest of the books, by printing it in Iceland, sending the books to a warehouse in Boston, and then taking orders from people and bookstores. It might work on this scale, it might not — we really have no idea. That's one reason we're printing a relatively small number of copies. We know that we can distribute a certain number through our usual channels — mostly independent bookstores and our own Web site — so that's probably where you'll find the book. As for the confusion part of the question, I think that if you care about your writing, then you care about how it makes its way into the world, and self-publishing is one good way to make sure it comes out the way you'd envisioned. But we'll see. It could all go horribly, horribly wrong.
posted by mattpfeff at 7:26 PM on October 10, 2002


I just ordered a copy.

I know that there's this enormous backlash against Eggers, but I ordered it because I read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and I loved every minute of it. If I enjoy And You Shall Know Our Velocity half as much, then it was 20$ well spent.
posted by bshort at 7:28 PM on October 10, 2002


haha! : bobo123 answered dhelders problems before they were even revealed! : Just for that (and the fact that it sounds like a good read), I'm buying the book if I have the money.
posted by howa2396 at 8:06 PM on October 10, 2002


>That raises the issue, are you writing to make money, or writing to be read?

>>A delicate balance of both?


To silence the voices that keeping urging me to wear panties on my head and howl like a gut-shot dog in public?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:46 PM on October 10, 2002


I saw Eggers at a reading/signing at Staceys today. He self-published and distributed his book to independent bookstores as an experiment. And because he likes local bookstores because he feels they serve an important role in our communities. And because it's fun to experiment with the form of books. He did it because he's financially comfortable and happy in his life and can afford to take the risk of fucking it all up to see if can be done so that other writers who can't afford to take the risk might have a better chance at making a living doing what they love. I don't see a whole lot wrong with that.

At some point during the Q&A, he stated that if you buy a McSweeney's-published book via the Web site, the author makes at least 4 times more per copy than with a book published and distributed via regular channels. You still need to get a significant number of sales to make enough money to support yourself, but the idea that good writers can aim for smaller sales targets and still earn a living is encouraging.
posted by jkottke at 10:52 PM on October 10, 2002


Realizing I'm late, here is a short review of the book up to page 298, written very quickly and not thought out a whole lot.

It's kinda like AHWOSG's sober roommate. Whereas that book had Toph as a representation of innocence, this book is entirely guilt-ridden and somber. The narrator goes off in imaginary conversations with strangers and his friends a lot, which mimic Eggers' manic thought process in AHWOSG. However, there is much more of a story here. And a fairly good one, at that. I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who liked AHWOSG, but it would stand alone as an above average novel, so don't think you have to have read the first book first.
posted by dogwalker at 5:41 AM on October 11, 2002


Anyone else going to the Dave Eggers/They Might Be Giants thing in Philly on Oct. 19th?

As an aside, there are definately connections between what Eggers is up to and a lot of the philosophies laid out in "The Tipping Point." Case in point -- Airwalk used to sell special shoes to a small number of skateshops and a different set to the mass market retailers. When they stopped doing that, their sales actually started to take a dive.

Why?

Because they'd alienated their core audience, the people that had made them cool in the first place. These were the people who had gone out to their friends and said, "Hey! Look at these great shoes!"

The same thing is going on here. The DE 100 stores, they may not account for a huge percentage of book sales in the US, but the people who do buy there are extremely influencial. Keep them happy and he can create tremendous word of mouth for the paperback edition...
posted by ph00dz at 6:02 AM on October 11, 2002


>That raises the issue, are you writing to make money, or writing to be read?

>>A delicate balance of both?

>>>To silence the voices that keeping urging me to wear panties on my head and howl like a gut-shot dog in public?

Oh, how shall I keep thoughts of Eggers and literature in mind with this tantalizing vision of a Victoria's Secret bewigg'd barnyard fowl dancing about and crooning sweet love songs to canines near and far in my mind's eye?
posted by JollyWanker at 6:42 AM on October 11, 2002


i fail to understand this "Dave Eggers is a pompous egotistical jackass" meme...i fell in love with his first book because he comes off like such an insecure, idealistic loser. and that is how he projects in person too: i saw him and Zadie Smith at the New Yorker Festival a few weeks ago (also that night were Jonathan "Pompositus Maximus" Franzen and David Foster "Personal Jesus" Wallace), and he read an excellent part of YSKOV and a great short story. his philosophy, if you can even call it that, of publishing was summed up as, "Uh, well, this seemed cool so we tried it...hope it works out," in classic DIY fashion. in other news, he answered the question "What scares you most?" with one word: "Hummus."
posted by serafinapekkala at 6:45 AM on October 11, 2002


I dislike his 'cute' mechanisms of starting the story on the cover

It doesn't turn me off, but I think it's worth remarking that this device, especially the way he turns it into the cover design itself, is very reminiscent of the cover of XTC's Go2.
posted by soyjoy at 8:21 AM on October 11, 2002


I heard him read from the novel last June and was unimpressed. I mean, it was perfectly competent, but nothing to get excited about. I liked AHWOSG quite a lot, though I kind of agreed with his own self-defacing intro notes on it - that it kind of went downhill after about page 100 (when it turned into guy in SF & friends start magazine). I adored Might when it was around.

Totally support the self-publishing thing though. That's cool. I just don't think this book should be overrated just 'cause it's by a literary celebrity - he's funny, and a decent writer, but his first story really only worked because he had such an intense experience to write about & it was true. There was also an excerpt of this new novel in the NYer a month or two ago, which again was kind of "eh", IMO. I really doubt this book would've gotten any play if it weren't by the guy who wrote the book about dealing with his parents dying.
posted by mdn at 9:04 AM on October 11, 2002


I love the concept of McSweeney's (I bought the first one because it looked like a lot of fun) and the whole self-publishing idea, I like his support for authors -- I just don't like any of the authors very much. There seems to be a pervasive "hey, we're so goofy and deadpan" attitude that rubs me the wrong way, and the writing just isn't good enough over the long haul to keep my interest.
posted by languagehat at 9:14 AM on October 11, 2002


dhelder : It appears that the first page is the cover, the second is bound against the cover. There is no isbn # or edition marker, which I find pleasing in that there are only two other books that I can think of to omit such information.
I ordered a copy off the web a few weeks ago, but I've not started to read through it yet (I'm alittle behind on my book stack.)

I like Eggers' writing and his use of his success to found a really really good journal and a community outreach writing center. Many authors take the money and run to Hollywood looking to sell out and make more money. *I'm looking at you Stephen King* Eggers seems to be attempting to wretch control away from the big publishers whose main interest is not literature, but the bottom line.

His writing, as I saw in AHWOSG, is brilliant. I can see, however, why people view him as arrogant based upon that text. That arrogance is really a part of his sincerity, is it not? In his memoir he lets the reader see Eggers as a real person: hurt, flawed, caring, cynical and above all wanting a good life for his younger brother. This might offend those looking for a new literary god. In that case I suggest Neil Pollack.

In closing, Eggers did the right thing in publishing his own book. When he needs money for a new project he can always sell the rights to a larger publisher. In that case the publisher will have no control over the work, will still have to fork out a royal sum and Eggers will still be able to put his thumb up the publishing industry's nose.

Corporate Literature Sucks.
posted by elwoodwiles at 1:04 PM on October 11, 2002


There is no isbn # or edition marker, which I find pleasing in that there are only two other books that I can think of to omit such information.

i don't have the book in front of me but i believe this information is on the inside back cover. for sure the edition info is there (mine says "First Edition"), as is copyright and thank yous.
posted by dobbs at 1:35 PM on October 11, 2002


Well I caved in and bought a copy ( I keep thinking it should be named something like ... And You Shall Know Us By The Trail of Velocity). I do have the book in front of me and there is a copyright and thank yous on the inside back cover, but I don't see the words "First Edition" anywhere. There is a sticker on the back with the isbn and it is printed at the bottom of the back cover.

And if I was travelling around the world I wouldn't mind losing a day at the international dateline, since all the days spent travelling would be longer.
posted by bobo123 at 3:04 PM on October 11, 2002


dobbs/bobo123: Damn, I didn't look hard enough. Thanks for the heads up. I don't know what I have against ISBN #'s anyway.
*makes the spoke-to-quickly face*
posted by elwoodwiles at 3:19 PM on October 11, 2002


but I don't see the words "First Edition" anywhere

weird. i'm home now and the first words on the inside back cover of mine say

First Edition
McSweeney's Publishing

i did order it about a month ago though--thru the website. maybe they're already into the second run?

okay, not so weird. i just found this on ebay: According to the publishers (McSweeney's): "There is some confusion as to the number of copies made available. We would like to clarify that we printed 50,000 copies. Of that, there are 10,000 special editions, available only through our online store." The two editions were both printed simultaneously, the only difference being that the "special edition" is a stated "first edition".
posted by dobbs at 3:29 PM on October 11, 2002


FUCK! The edition I got wasn't the first edition! It's worthless. I thought there were only 10'000 printed. Crap crap crap.
posted by bobo123 at 5:10 PM on October 11, 2002


I just got back from his signing in Madison - his persona is about 180 degrees from what I imagined it would be. He came across as a very nice, down-to-earth, even somewhat shy and insecure guy. As a somewhat shy and insecure guy who tries to be very nice and down-to-earth, that made me quite happy to see. Plus, he drew a picture of a boat in my copy of Velocity, which made me happy.

side note - Kim Deitch also made my list of all-time-coolest book signers when he drew a caricature of himself in my copy of The Boulevard of Broken Dreams saying "Hey Aaron - hope you like my book!" That was a fun night - he and Dan Clowes (of Ghost World fame) were doing Q&A and signing at a great Madison bookstore, Canterbury Books. Did I mention I love my new hometown?
posted by UKnowForKids at 7:06 PM on October 11, 2002


Is the new book on Kazaa already?
posted by matteo at 7:53 AM on October 12, 2002


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