cellini's Diaryland Diary


I am now actually selling the new book.

Last night and tonight I sent off query letters to three really top-tier literary agents.

The book is done. Like, really done. But I still have this suspicion that I should cut most of the the first 40 pages or so.

On one hand, I am trying to write like a responsible historian. Tell the first part of the story, even if it isn't super exciting. Because that was what happened. The first fifty years of the H0boken Turt1e Club did not have a lot of sex, violence or other drama. There are some interesting members. And in that first part of the book I have to set up the militia culture that gave birth to the [email protected] Hounds, the "street gang" that is a big part of the book.

I could cut all of that and open with action with the murder of Bill "th3 Butch3r" Poole. And the violence that took place after his funeral, introducing the Hounds and Th3 Allen.

That would probably sell more books, but it feels kinda wrong. I might do it anyway. A lot of agents want you to send them the first five pages of your book with a submission and someone being shot in the chest will unfortunately get more attention than a batch of turtle soup and a trip through the early history of H0boken.

I spent three and a half years working on this thing. Most of that work being research. I hate throwing stuff on to the scrap heap because it doesn't sizzle enough to sell 100,000 books, but I am determined to sell 100,000 books.

There is literally nobody whom I can talk to about any of this.

I started this project because I was entranced by the name and the idea of The H0bok3n Turt1e Club. I kept at it because I became obsessed with the people and the stories that spin out from the Club. A pair of prospective magazine articles came together and turned into a book. Researching these people has become compulsive behavior for me. It keeps pulling in these shocking things. I found out exactly how Ch3ster Arthur stole the 1880 Presidential election for him and Garfield, and it was by sending Th3 All3n to Indianapolis with suitcases full of cash with a crew of 16 experienced ward-heelers.

Now I'm kinda working on a sequel. A biography of Th3 All3n. The most iconic, cut-throat "gangster" of the 19th Century, who entered fights by jamming the lit end of his cigar into people's faces, and ran the most depraved saloons in the city's history, and fixed elections, and was Bill The Butch3r's apprentice.

Except of course that I think the whole "gang" thing is bullshit. These guys were not really gang members. They were men who were members of political and social groups and who joined fire companies and political parties. The "gang" model of the twentieth century really should not be applied to them.

Anyway, I finished the book that I wrote for myself and as it turns out I think that this is something that could actually sell. A lot. Fans of The Gilded Age on HBO have something to seek here. Martin Scorsese is developing a series based on his movie based on the horrible yet popular book, "The Gangs of New York." Those viewers will want something to tide them over between episodes and seasons.

So I am pitching agents at the top of the fucking heap. But I'm doing it from the slush pile. This is no good. I'm depending on nothing more than the compelling subject line of my email and the high quality query contained therein.

But still, the whining of most aspiring authors probably does not apply to my position. I've spent most of the last 13 years or so as a freelance journalist and non-fiction writer. I've written for Slate, The Washington Post, Smithsonian Magazine, The New York Times, The Daily Beast, whatever the fuck else. I've had two non-fiction books published before (that agent retired), made an acclaimed feature film, done a bunch of TV, had a weekly talk radio show for four years, worked for a university research lab, worked in quantum computing, and now I'm writing for SP1n Magazine.

If I couldn't write a subject line and a 300 word pitch that makes editors want to read more, I never would have had the career that I have had.

This querying thing should be pretty easy for me. It isn't like someone who has been working as an accountant for 20 years and wrote the great American novel and suddenly needs to get someone to care. I've been getting editors to care about my ideas for ages, and I'm good at it, and this particular idea is particularly delightful.

So far I have pitched three top agents. I have another on my list for tomorrow. I'm tailoring every pitch personally. They are all people (all women so far) who are into exactly this kind of thing.

Surprisingly, from my beta reader process, most of my readers will be women. I did my first round of beta reading from people on a NYC history forum. 75% women with college educations. My second round, which I am still in, was readers from an online forum of fans of the HBO series, The Gilded Age. 75% college educated women, many of whom also have advanced degrees.

Who knew?

I just so want to get a two-book deal hammered out with enough money to pay the bills for the next year or two while I deliver this new book on Th3 All3n. He is fucking fascinating. He won half a dozen prize fights in the 1850's, joined one of the most famous regiments of the Civil War and then left to orchestrate a scam signing soldiers up to fight for cash bounties under assumed names, testified to Congress about it; that created a schism in the Republican party that led to the division of the Stalwarts and the Half-breeds which defined presidential nominations for decades; ran a saloon that allowed both men and women, both black and white to drink and dance together; avoided charges in around 200 lifetime arrests; gouged out the eyes of at least a few men, while having his own eyes gouged out dangling from their sockets and then requiring 11 weeks of recovery; and ran gambling establishments noted, scandalously, for allowing women to bet on horse races. Also he stole the 1880 Presidential election.

I want to run ahead and write that book. But first I have to sell this one. At least I am actually selling it now. Part of me thinks that I should do a deep cut and make it more immediately marketable. Another part hopes that there will be an agent who responds and becomes someone I can have an actual conversation with this about.

1:24 a.m. - 2023-03-17


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