It has all the elements of a great story: seduction and betrayal, bitter after-regrets, unguarded rage. There's also pettiness, petulance and no small measure of vanity.
No, not author Joe McGinniss's latest book, but Joe McGinniss's latest e-mail about his latest book, "The Miracle of Castel di Sangro." In a lengthy missive to his publisher that leaked publicly this week, McGinniss pours out his emotions about the marketing--or apparent lack thereof--of his book. He even threatens to quit the book-writing game, a threat the best-selling McGinniss ("Fatal Vision" and "The Selling of the President") backed up yesterday.
It's not unusual for an author to whine about a publisher's efforts on behalf of his work, but it's unheard of for an author of McGinniss's stature to have his peeve spill over into public view.
In his e-mail, McGinniss upbraids his publisher, Little, Brown & Co., for refusing to expend more money to promote his account of a small Italian village and its rags-to-riches soccer team. He's specifically upset by a decision not to place "quote" ads containing critics' comments extolling the work. He also complains that Little, Brown reneged on sending him on a 14-city book tour, and wouldn't even shell out $98 for a publicity appearance in Raleigh, N.C.
Sounding more like a jilted lover than an overlooked author, McGinniss tells Little, Brown publisher Sarah Crichton, "But is this the end? Why, it's over almost before it began, and such a promising beginning it had seemed."
He adds later, with a verbal sigh, "After this experience--and I am speaking only of the past six months--I don't think I'll write another book. I just can't take the pre-publication and publication distress anymore, as the publishing business transmogrifies into something unrecognizable, somewhat frightening, and to me at least, more than a little odious."
It's unclear who leaked the e-mail, which was pinging around media circles this week, although publishing-industry conspiracy theorists believe it will stir up some of the publicity McGinniss craves.
A copy of the letter was obtained by The Washington Post from a media source; the New York Times and Boston Globe also received copies. Little, Brown confirmed its authenticity yesterday, and disavowed the leak. McGinniss himself also denied leaking it, though he did send copies to family and "personal friends."
Said McGinniss: "It was not intended to be a public document. It is my personal feelings about a process which seemed to me to end prematurely. . . . I am not the first person to notice this, and I won't be the last, but what troubles me is the fact that more and more multinational conglomerates are taking control of more [publishing] houses, and the effect that is having on quality and quantity."
Publisher Crichton defended the marketing of the book, saying, "We've published it enthusiastically and aggressively. We took out full-page ads in the New York Times and the New Yorker. . . . We've bought our way into Father's Day promotions in every chain in the country. You can't ask for a lot more than that. He's frustrated that things aren't happening in the way he'd like them to be happening."
"Miracle" began appearing in bookstores about three weeks ago, with generally favorable notices. The New York Times, for example, called it "an engaging tale well worth telling, rich in comic incidents, delightful characters and dramatic surprises."
McGinniss cites these reviews, commenting in his e-mail that they "make clear that this is not 'merely' a 'sports' book but a work that reaches far wider and deeper and attains a fair bit of what it strives for (besides being, I'm told, uproariously funny in spots)."
Publishing industry sources said Little, Brown, a division of Time Warner Inc., paid McGinniss about a $200,000 advance for "Miracle." But that appears to have been a bad bet: After briefly rising as high as No. 50 on Amazon.com's list of best-selling books, "Miracle" yesterday had slipped to the No. 942 position.
CAPTION: JOE McGINNISS
CAPTION: "I just can't take the pre-publication and publication distress anymore," McGinniss writes, "as the publishing business transmogrifies into something unrecognizable, somewhat frightening, and to me at least, more than a little odious."