Aries 28 °
So picking up on the previous post, I was thinking I’ll have to share my publishing history with a new agent. the question is how to give them the whole story without seeming crazing and boring them to death. I will really have to distill it all to some kind of timeline but I figure I might as well kill two birds and just diarrhea-write it all out here so that I’ll have something to distill from and anyway there are probably some funny cosmic things that will come out in the airing, and, more importantly, and most probably: I need to exorcise some of the thoughts and feels around the whole subject of publishing from which I suffer a bit from PTSD.
Where to begin: Astrology was always a hobby and a passion growing up and something Stella and I found we shared when we first met. Part of our original shared starry philosophy was hinged on the fact we felt that males and females of the same were actually very different signs—we would later articulate that as: men and women of the same sign draw on separate energies and archetypes. But we were nineteen so cut us some slack.
Fast forward another decade and we are living in the West Village in NYC and Stella is working in fashion and I am acting a bit while mainly writing for magazines and newspaper about entertainment and fashion for the most part. I would take “runway reporting” jobs in Paris and Milan to coincide with her being in those cities during fashion weeks. After hours, we would meet friends and read their astrological charts for fun. Many friends were stylists and editors for magazines. And as some moved up the mastheads at their jobs they would be in a position to hire us to do astrology features.
Wec ame up with our pennames stella Starsky + Quinn Cox (Stella Star Sky….Quinn Cox, a viable verbal massage of the word Quincunx) to disguise ourselves, mainly, from other editors at other publications I wrote for like the New York Times. After a few years of writing features for dozens of magazines one friend became the edtior of Teen People and approached us to write a regular column. We said we would if it could be a his-and-her format, befitting our gender philosophy on the subject, which was a great fit as Teen People was positioned to be the first unisex teen publication, geared to both boys and girls. It was a huge hit—both the magazine and the column. For our entire tenure there over the next several years our column ranked first among all the magazine pages with readers in market research and focus groups. We didn’t dumb down for teens, you see. We treated them like thinking adults. It was an aspirational column that kids cut out and pasted in their lockers and such.
Teen People was a huge success. At the time Ellen Degeneres had this joke where she said God’s waiting room had two publications: Guns & Ammo, and Teen People. The fact is that not just teens were reading it. It was a major guilty pleasure for adults, particularly urban influencers working in publishing, the arts, fashion and entertainment.
One such reader was Rob who had his own imprintat William Morrow. Now, the funny thing is: we knew Rob socially through a mutual close friend who died at thirty ,to whom Sextrology is dedicated—there is a major cosmic story regarding her which I’ll try to fold into this as I contemporaneously (a word contemporaneously made popular by the news of Jim Comey and his FBI memos) forge ahead, my fingers slightly ahead of my brain. I will try. Anyway we were visiting with Rob one day when he launched into praise about this horoscope column he read (secretly) in Teen People. Um, we admitted: That’s our column. After a big No Way! conversation, Rob intimated he was interested in finding these authors—us—to see if they—us—would like to write a book—would they!—us—and could we tailor it toward an adult audience and include sex and sexuality in the content. But of course. So we put together a proposal—we first blurted out the working title Sextrology on the beach with Rob in East Hampton—and he hooked us up with an agent whom we secretly called Lady Chardonnay because she seemed to perspire it after climbing the three stories of stairs to her office each time we met her—we always arrived earlier than she did.
Lady Chardonnay got a large sum for the sale of Sextrology, which I always wondered if Rob found ironic since he introduced her to us. It was a whopping sum expecially since we were first time authors and writing on the subject of astrology. But we weren’t complaining. In fact the book was worth every penny and has gone on to make our publisher millions. I should say that soon after we got the deal, Harper Collins bought William Morrow and desolved Rob’s imprint. He was gone which was scary and Lady Chardonnay (said she) tried to sell the book elsewhere before apprising us of the situation: that even though Harper cancelled most of Rob’s contracts they wanted to keep Sextrology (probably because it had sex in the title); and that we would be a “Harper Resource” book which was not great news. Harper Resource published things like updated editions of The Joy of Sex but otherwise they were kind of a dry resource book imprint at their core. Ut oh.
Starsky + Cox were determined that Sextrology would break the mold on astrology; that it would redefine the genre, that we would be dragging the subject out of the occult aisle and plop it smack dab in the designer display window. We had a design clause in our contract that allowed us to direct the look. I already said it was supposed to be a hardcover but the publishers lied about that and tried to conceal the fact they were making in paperback. The publisher and editors who inherited our book didn’t want to hear how we were going to launch the book at fashionable stores around the world, that celebrities (and royalty) would attend our events, that we were going to have early adopters of the book in mover shakers, intellectuals, artists, fashion designers, and other authors who referenced our book for their own works. They certainly didn’t think that we were the start of an entire new movement which is now, a dozen years later, known as Mysticore or the Now Age. They couldn’t believe we decided what our book looked like, let alone that we were given six figures for our first foray. They fought us at every turn and made our lives really miserable. Our editor lost a quarter of our manuscript “at the gym”. Yeah, you’ve no idea the litany of issues we encountered and why? Because when you’re not a known commodity or, more acurately, a celebrity you are treated like fucking dirt in publishing. But we were undaunted. And we proved “our people” at Harper wrong at every turn.
And I performed a Jedi mind trick on them as only a Libra can: A year after publication I contacted them about our contract and said “you see this bit about ‘electronic rights’ I’d like those reverted to us—and they did it! So before ebooks became a thing we had already got the rights back to publish the ebook of Sextrology ourselves. Of course that didn’t stop our publisher, on two ocassions, from trying to publishing the ebook themselves, losing our paperwork, doubting the rights had been reverted to us, taking the opportunity again to treat us like shit before they had to eat their words. Though publishers never truly apologize. Just last year I saw a new Sextrology ebook was going to be hitting the market—from our publisher!—it was every Amazon site in every country accepting pre-orders. Do you know how much of my time went into getting them to shut that shit down? They don’t care. They get a paycheck and flop around their offices caring little about the fact they might be messing with your livelihood and intellectual property. Harper Collins, in case you didn’t know, is owned by Rupert Murdoch.
So, okay our friend to whom the book is dedicated, the person who introduced us to Rob. She died around her 30th birthday. And we all to gather at her house to say goodbye but she died before any of us got there. But we all gathered anyway for the weekend. And Rob was there and that’s where we truly bonded. There was this friend of hers from her writing program at Binghamton called Peter. We bonded all together about a dozen of us that weekend and then went our separate ways. Email wasn’t even really that much a thing. Well, when we got our book advance we bought a house on Cape Cod in a sleepy little town that hardly anyone ever goes to. There was one bookstore in town and road down to the main beach. First, before I tell you the kicker I will tell you that I saw my then ancient history professor from B.U. there. Professor Schumann was heading to the beach one day and I recognized him from 1983 when I asked him if I should try to transfer to a better school in the U.S. or study abroad in France in Grenoble. He urged me to go to Grenoble which he called the Harvard of France and so I went and that’s where I met Stella. But if that isn’t weird enough: Upon moving to this town we went to the bookstore which had just opened that same month. Of course, Peter was the owner. We had moved to a town on Cape Cod with the money we got from a book deal from Rob with whom we connected at our friend’s passing and when we got to the town her best friend from her writing program had just opened a book store there.
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