Sunday, November 18, 2007

Randy Pausch, again

I've written about this man before, in this post. For those who haven't read the original post (and you should!), he's still dying of pancreatic cancer. But now, he's got a couple more months to live, and I am so incredibly happy that I'm crying. It's a strange thing, following the fates of individuals who are ill, whether it is Barbaro the horse (see posts from last year) or a real life human being who you've actually met in person.

I'm one of those people who get emotionally involved in everything I say and do. I don't know if I've always been like this or I'll always be like this, but for the moment, that's me. This is why I care so deeply about the material I represent; this is why every rejection hits me hard; this is why I find that I value deeply the friendships I develop with my clients. And this is why I write posts about horses fighting for their lives, and courageous men who give "last lectures" because they truly hit me deep down.

An author, not someone I represent, who I correspond with infrequently, recently told me that one of their closest relatives is very ill. And I couldn't reply to that author's e-mail because I didn't know what to say. I didn't know how to tell them how very sorry I was to hear the news and that my heart went out to them, even though they don't know me very well at all. I didn't know how to say that we all have to deal with the cards life deals us, and that sometimes we get really shitty hands, but that you just have to keep moving forward because there are some things we can't change. And I still don't know how to say it properly. I'm only twenty-six and I'd like to say that my life has had some gravitas to it, but then again, I'm not a sage of all wisdom.

But then I was reading Publisher's Marketplace today, and I came across this news item, which I'm exerpting below in full:

"Last Lecture" with Randy?
The NY Post reports on the auction for WSJ columnist Jeff Zaslow's book based on Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch's "last lecture," delivered in September by the 46-year-old computer scientist who suffers from terminal pancreatic cancer. "I'm dying and having fun," Pausch said in the lecture, "And I'm going to keep having fun every day because there is no other way to do it."

The Post says "the lecture became an instant hit on the Internet, with people calling and e-mailing Zaslow to say how Pausch's inspirational words had helped them deal with their own problems, made them appreciate their families more and encouraged them to let their kids be more creative." The auction, by agent David Black, is said to have reached $6.75 million in NY Post dollars.

And I realized that this is the one thing that I knew I could tell this author; that people like Randy Pausch exist out there, and that they touch such a chord in our hearts that we can do nothing but reverberate from the impact. Which is why this book is going to be so big and so special to those out there. I am not jealous in the least that I'm not representing such a big book deal because I am so happy that other people may be able to take encouragement from Randy's words.

It won't change the fact that the author's relative is ill, but at the very least, I hope it's something that can bring a small smile to their face.

For continued updates on Randy Pausch's condition and to view the "last lecture" in its entirety, here's his CMU webpage again, as well as the page chronicling his medical condition. Check out the Halloween costumes--they are truly appropriate. =)


Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Unfortunately, $6.75M or whatever the actual number is can't replace the man. But hopefully it'll mean that the publisher will help get his message out; it's much needed these days.

I was down near the CMU campus yesterday, in fact. We were visiting the new dinosaurs at the Carnegie.

Chumplet said...

I remember your earlier post about Mr. Pausch, and I think I mentioned that a close friend of mine passed away from the same disease two years ago.

She was a joyous person; I never saw her frown. She enjoyed every moment, and had the chance to visit South America during the last year of her life. We didn't feel sadness in her passing, only gratitude that we were lucky to know her.

When my little cousin lost his five year battle with Neuroblastoma, we felt somewhat the same, but there was sadness mixed in because his life was so short. Joy surrounded him, too.

Your comment about how you are affected by illness makes me wonder: How do you feel about representing novels that deal with similar losses? Would you shy away from them, or give them a chance to see if they contain an uplifting message?

Jenny Rappaport said...

chumplet, I don't actually think that it affects me as much in books or movies. Somewhere in my brain, as I imagine there is in most people's heads, there's a mental disconnect that realizes that this is fiction and not real life. So I can get immersed in a novel's story, I can feel deep emotions about it, but I actually rarely cry over books or movies.

So no, I have no problems representing deeply emotional books that deal with illness. One of my favorites as a child, whose title escapes me now, was all about a young girl who discovered through her dreams that she was really a reincarnated Egyptian noble/princess, and it helped her through the whole summer that her older sister was dying of leukemia.

dan said...

I am in Taiwan, writing here. danny bloom, Tufts 1971.
RIP, Dr P. A great man!

One thing i am curious about since you are in the biz, is exactly how did the book come about? i mean, was Jeffrey Zaslow a friend of Dr P and why was he at the lecture, or was he at the first lecture or not? how did he get the info then to write the column in the WSJ? Did someone at Carnegie Mellon call him, JZ, and suggest a story idea? And was David Black the agent a friend of Jeffrey and did they think BOOK right away?

I ask just because i am curious how a lecture was written up almost immediately by a newspaper columnist in another city, and how the column got read by an agent, D Black, and how he contact Jeffery and said BOOK! I cannot find any info on this and I just wonder, what was the actual real genesis of this book? Do you know? can you shed any light on the backroom deals that were made and HOW they were made?

that said, he was a great man, it was a great book, and god bless Dr P


dan said...

You might want to take a peek at this new blog. it might be completely wrong, then again it might be right. your POV?


Sunday, July 27, 2008
The publishing backstory of "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch (with Jeffrey Zaslow)

-- Randy also has
written down his advice for his children, things like: "If I could only give
three words of advice, they would be, 'Tell the truth.' If I got three
more words, I'd add, 'All the time.' "

(from a May 2008 newspaper column by Jeffrey Zaslow)


As news touched readers around the world in late July 2008, that Dr Randy Pausch had died of pancreatic cancer, the book that he dictated to Wall Street Journal columnist Jeffrey Zaslow -- THE LAST LECTURE -- was in the headlines again, too. The book is a bestseller, printed now in over 30 languages worldwide, and its life-affiriming message has touched millions of people.

There were a few critics of the book, who became known as naysayers, but for the most part, the book -- agented by David Black, of the David Black Agency in New York, who was also the same agent for Jeffrey Zaslow even before THE LAST LECTURE became a book deal snagged by Hypersion Books, the same publisher who issued TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE, an earlier bestseller about life lessons which was also translated into over 30 languages worldwide (and written by Detroit News columnist Mitch Albom, who also uses David Black as his agent) -- the book became a widely-celebrated bestseller for all the usual reasons: it was well written, it hightlighted life lessons from a very insightful and popular professor dying of cancer at the age of 46, Randy Rausch, and its message was upbeat and universal.

This backstory is a postive backstory, and it hoped that nobody will take this backstory in a negative way. But the way the book came to be, and the way the book was hyped by the media when it first came out, and even now, well ... there's an interesting publishing backstory from the publishing industry. This has never been reported before in any blog or newspaper in the USA. Most readers of the book could care less who the book came to be, and most of the reading public could also care less about this backstory.

Maybe just a few people in the publishing industry will take notice of this and respond. But again, in memory of Dr Randy Pausch, a very good man, with a very important message, who often told people "tell the truth, the real truth", this blog post is meant merely as an interesting book world story.

So how did THE LAST LECTURE become a book by Hyperion, the same publisher who issued TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE, and agented by David Black, the same high-powered agent who agented TUESDAY WITH MORRIE by his client Mitch Albom? Well, a week before the last lecture at Carnegie Mellon University, where Dr Pausch taught, and where he got his PHD, a fellow alum of Carnegie Mellon named Jeffrey Zaslow, who was and is a columnist for the Wall Street Journal and lives in Michigan (and who also had a contract with David Black the book agent for an earlier book that he had to put aside in order to do a rush job on THE LAST LECTURE)....Jeffrey got a phone call a week before the last lecture, which was set for September 18, 2007 at Carnegie Mellon University, from Clare Ansberry, the bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal in Pittsburgh, who herself had been notified about the last lecture a week before it happend by some public relations people at the university, and Clare suggested to Jeffrey that he come to Pittsburgh to attend the last lecture sesssion and write a column about it for the Wall Street Journal.

Jeffrey thought this was a good idea, and he asked his editors at the WSJ if he could go. But the airfaire was $850 round trip from Detroit to Pittsburg, and his editors said "sorry, no money for this trip. Just call him after the lecture and try to do a column from that phone chat." But Jeffrey decided to drive to Pittsbuerg to attend the lecture. Did he tell his agent David Black about this interesting lead? Did he tell his friend Mitch Albom in Detroit about this exciting trip? This blog does not know, but maybe Jeff or David or Mitch will tell us someday. It's not important. Just part of this very interesting, savvy, positive backstory...

Jeff even called Dr Pausch the day before he went to the last lecture, and they chatted on the phone, a day before the lecture. Jeff went. Two days later, his column appeared in the WSJ on September 20, appearing nationwide in the newspaper, and setting up a nice PR "word of mouth" and "word of bloggers" campaign nationwide, too. That means Jeff attended the lecture on Tuesday, wrote the article on Wednesday and handed it in to his editors, who scheduled it for publication the very next day.

Did David Black the literary agent know about this pre-deal PR work that was going on? Had Jeffrey talked or emailed to his agent, David Black, about the impending trip and how it might make a great newspaper column and even a great "book" in the future? We don't know. Maybe. Maybe David Black didn't know anything about this. But in the book world, everyone knows everything, and if Jeff had the same agent already as Mitch Albom had, and David Black had agented TUESDAY WITH MORRIE, and Hyperion had published TUESDAYS to great success, it might be possible that David Black and Jeffrey Zaslow knew something might work out well for this lecture story. It's very possible they discussed this beforehand.

Fast forward. Jeff wrote the column. It was well-received by the reading public and by bloggers nationwide. The PR people at Caregie Mellon put out a video of the last lecture the same day that Jeff's article appeared. The media world lit up, with emails from NYC to LA to Hollywood to Oprah lighting up the mediascape. Dr Pausch was booked for Oprah and other shows. All in a matter of days!

Two months later, the book deal was announced. By Hyperion, publisher of TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE. With David Black as the agent of record. With Jeffrey Zaslow, friend and colleague of Mitch Albom, as the ghostwriter. The book deal for THE LAST LECTURE very likely fell into place the day the WSJ column by Zaslow appeared in print, with the agent and the author and the publisher knowing full well what they had. A very powerful book with a very powerful message, published by an expert in these kinds of books, agented by an agent who was a pro with these kinds of books, and ghostwritten by a popular WSJ newspaper columnist from Michigan, who once ghostwrote the Anne Landers advice column, winning the job over 10,000 other hopefuls.

So this is a great backstory. When Zaslow wrote about the book his public articles, he never mentioned, before the book was published, that he got a call from the university sponsoring the lecture a week before the date, or that he spoke with the professor before he attended the lecture. He knew this, and his friends and agent knew this, but he didn't give a full disclosure in his September 20 column. He made it sound as if he just happened to go to this lecture 500 miles away. He also didn't mention that he was an alum of Carnegie Mellon and that Dr Pausch was also an alum of CM University. Mere details. Not important for a newspaper column. The public did not have to know all the details. Not then. Not now. It's just publishing industry shop talk.

So a few questions remain. Why didn't Clare the bureau editor send a Pittsburg reporter to the last lecture, instead of asking CM alum Jeff to come all the way from Michigan to cover the story? Did Clare know that Jeff was an alum of CM? Did she know Jeff very well, or did she just have a passing acquiantance with him as a national columnist for her newspaper? Had they ever worked together before this? Did she know that Jeff also employed David Black as his book agent, the same agent that Mitch Albom used for TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE? Or did Clare not know any of this. Possibly.

I guess the most important thing here is why didn't the first newspaper column by Jeff about this tell readers that he was an alum of CM, too, and that he also had the same agent as Mitch Albom, the famous TUESDAY WITH MORRIE agent David Black? And that Jeff was already at the time working on a different life story book with David Black, which he has postponed to ghostwrite THE LAST LECTURE book? I mean, why was none of this information made public before, or at least acknowledge, or even offered? I had to dig and dig and dig to connect all the dots and here they are: connected.

Again, to repeat: it's a great book, by an important man with an important message for these times. This blog post is not in any way meant to be negative or taken negatively. It's a mere PR backstory that some people might want to know.

"Dear blogger: You're hearing hoofbeats and thinking zebras when they're really just horses."