I would like to begin today’s blog with the first page of a book proposal I wrote five years ago. Here it is:
You’ve never been comfortable in your own skin. You’ve always looked upon the world as a strange, uninviting place where your talents are not fully appreciated. You’ve been late to class, perhaps multiple times, hand frozen on the doorknob, terrified to draw any attention to yourself as you walked to your desk. There may be one, perhaps two things you master that set you apart from the unwashed masses, but they sure as hell never got you a girlfriend. You look into middle distance during dinner and a half hour speeds by. You fret about your physical appearance, but always get distracted en route to doing something about it. You know the Midpoint Formula, or Clytemnestra, or the capital of Chad, or the THACO of a White Dragon, or C++. You know that Sappho was actually a bisexual.
You smell, or at least you once did. You still hate your 3rd grade P.E. teacher. You lusted after many; most did not return the favor. Nobody gets you. Or if they do, they are of a small, disturbed following. You masturbate brilliantly. You are capable of infinite sadness and unbelievable ecstasy. You wish to be left alone; you wish to be discovered.
Revel in it, plant your flag in it, do not shy away from it.
You are a DORK.
You may never be happy. You may save the world.
And this book is for you.
What followed was a proposal: nine mapped-out chapters, the book’s audience, the tone, the logistics, everything you needed to understand both scope and humor. I’d been doting on this idea since about 1996, collecting newspaper clippings, taking notes, writing bits of chapters, interviewing great geeks of our time. I even designed massive graphics, including a chart of every kind of nerd (Dungeon Master, 2nd violinist, car enthusiast, ham radio operator, college radio DJ, etc) placed on a spectrum with cool visuals.
I’d gone back into the 19th century and mapped all dorks and their journey to the present, touching on racial stereotypes, the blessing of being ostracized and the curse of being loved. I was going to write the history of dorks in America.
Elizabeth Wurtzel’s then-recent cover of her book “Bitch” looked like this:
So we thought it’d be funny to make a book called “Dork” with a cover like this:
and yes, that is a slide rule and a calculator watch
It’s always good to accompany a book proposal with one of your articles appearing somewhere else, so I pitched a nerd-flavored idea to Salon, which ran a week later (see a less-funny edit here). My awesome lit agent sent the proposal to the big publishing houses, and… well…
“Hasn’t this been done before?”
“We really don’t think a book on ‘nerds’ will sell at this point.”
“It feels like familiar territory.”
“We don’t really know what this book is about.”
This was during my Year of Career Failure™ anyway, so the responses were unsurprising, but INFURIATING nonetheless. No, there was no other book on dorks/nerds/geeks released in the last decade, certainly none with my angle. And they “didn’t know what the book was about”? What part of “the peculiar history of dorks in America” was so fuckin’ hard to understand?
Here we were, in the middle of a huge culture tectonic-shift that gave the technically-minded and socially-inept more power than any could ever imagine… and they didn’t see a book in there? In disgust, I threw my proposal in the drawer, and within weeks, we were summoned to Los Angeles to do this fascinating thing called “write for television”.
I have oft whined about getting scooped on my projects, a phenomenon that has happened so many times now that I’ve almost stopped caring. But yesterday I saw something that made me actually clench my fists: one of the hot new bestsellers on Amazon is American Nerd: The Story of My People by Benjamin Nugent. Currently ranked #2 in the Social Sciences bestseller list, and the subject of a glowing article on Salon, the place that had run my nerd story so many years ago. My article is even linked at the bottom of the page.
The only sound worse than sour grapes is a kitten being strangled. So I’d like to err on the side of graciousness, as it’s obvious Benjamin Nugent is a very good dude and has written a great book. And there’s some succor in knowing I was right: there was a book there, and it was going to be a hit.
But for chrissake, what does a spaz gotta do to get a blowjob around here?!?