June 07, 2004

An Offer I Couldn't Refuse

Time to 'fess up. Something really interesting happened with this blog two months ago. I chose not to write about it in April, and I chose not to write about it in May, but the time finally seems right to do so. Here goes:

The brianstorms blog is going to be the cover story in this week's new edition of the San Diego Reader. It comes out Thursday morning!

As far as I know, this is a first. I am not aware of any other bloggers anywhere whose work has been re-published in a major metro area print publication, but, not just that, re-published as the cover story. This has got to be historic, don't you think? [UPDATE - 8 June - It turns out that this isn't a first. Amazingly enough, the San Diego Reader contacted another San Diego blogger just a few weeks earlier, and on 4/29/2004, ran a cover story featuring a month's worth of content. I completely missed this until today.]

Some recent issues of the Reader.

What follows is the story of how it happened. First, a bit about the Reader itself.

1. Cosmetic Surgery Weekly, a.k.a. The Reader.
I don't know what the Reader's revenues are like, but judging by the four-color high-quality hard-stock cover, the number of pages per issue (200+ in each of the past few weeks' editions), the fact that this is a large-format stapled newspaper, and the sheer volume of advertisements, I conclude this has got to be a revenue monster.

The advertisements tell a lot about San Diegans. Too much. If a Martian landed in a spaceship and picked up a copy of the Reader to better understand San Diegans, he might go away thinking we're a bunch of desperately vain, hyper-ennui sufferers, perpetually dissatisfied with our aging, sagging-in-all-the-wrong-places bodies. It's downright embarrassing. Just look at the ads:

Bariatric surgeons . . . Cosmetic Surgery . . . Hair extension . . . Hair coloration . . . Hair removal (with lasers!) . . . Photofacial Skin Rejuvenation . . . . Wrinkle reduction . . . Botox ($135 per area!) . . . Microdermabrasion . . . Diamond Dermabrasion (now with oxygen therapy!) . . . Glycolic Peels . . . Lasik eye surgery . . . Teeth whitening . . . Tatoo Removal . . . Massage therapy . . . Back pain . . . Neck pain . . . Ultrabronz(tm) High Pressure tanning booths . . . Breast augmentation . . . Breast reduction . . . Breast lift . . . Liposuction . . . Restylane and Hylaform treatments . . . Tummy tucks . . . Forehead and brow lifts . . .

On and on and on and on and on. Page after page after page after page of beautification services. Oh! And then there's the cell phone companies! Dozens after dozens after dozens of cellphone ads, many fullpage or doublepage. Just think: you could be chatting on your shiny new cellphone while you're sitting in traffic on the way to your mircrodermabrasion appointment!

Come Thursday, the words of your humble scribe will be tucked among these ads. How exactly my words will interest or intrigue readers so perpetually and desperately in need of facials, facelifts, and body modification, I don't know.

So how did this all come about?

2. The Offer
On April 12th, I got an email from a Jim Holman, who identified himself as the editor of the Reader:

To: Brian Dear
From: Jim Holman
Subject: Re: You in the Reader

Dear Brian,

I have been on your blog site and would like to run your blogs as a story in the Reader.

Just write about your days over a month's time, give us 8000 words that will give us enough typical days-- uncensored, not tailored to fit our readers-- just the authentic Brian-blogger.

Willing to pay $2000 for these 8000 words plus 20-30 postage-stamp-size photos sprinkled throughout the story.

Please email text and photos to me and I will pay upon acceptance (please send jpegs of photos and send separate from text).

Jim Holman
San Diego Reader

3. The Reaction
My first thought: scam. I mean, who is this guy? Why is he writing to me, right out of the blue? I don't know him from Adam. And, if this guy is from the Reader, then why was he using what appeared to be a personal email address (not sdreader.com)? So, I looked up the phone number for the San Diego Reader and called.

I asked for Jim Holman. The receptionist wanted to know what this was regarding. I told her I just a moment ago got this email from Mr. Holman saying he wanted to pay me for an article and I am calling to see if this is for real. She put me on hold and then sure enough, I was talking with Jim Holman.

4. The Deal.
He said he'd been reading my blog and was fascinated with this new form of publishing and he loved my writing and said, for the next 30 days just write stuff like you have been writing, forget about the Reader, and then collect it all together and submit it and if I like it I'll pay you $2000. I asked about rights: what kind of rights does the Reader ask for? He said first-time serial rights. (Come to think of it, I never did get anything in writing about that.)

So I thought, someone's willing to pay me $2000 for an 8000-word digest of a month's worth of this blog? Cool!

So I said yes.

He said, just do something like April 13th to May 13th, then send me something in mid-May and we'll see. I said ok and that was that.

My next thought was, BLOG IT! But then right after that I thought, nah, until I see the check, and until I see that this is for real, I'm gonna just forget about it and keep doing what I've always been doing with this blog.

5. From the 13th to the 13th.
So for the next thirty days, I blogged. It's all here, just click on the archives for April 2004 and May 2004. I wrote about Lindows, electronic voting machines, black boxes in cars, weird voicemails, my dog's 9th birthday, phone bill scams, getting back at direct marketers, an author's book signing, the Treo600 I bought, what if San Diego got hit by a 3000-ft-wide meteor, hawk-cams, campaign contributions, a local Startbucks, gas prices, politics, and on and on.

6. Bleh.
So a month passes by, and on May 13th I looked back on the past 30 days' worth of material and thought, Bleh! Who'd wanna read all this stuff? Isn't it kinda stale now? I mean, the only thing worse than yesterday's newspaper is last month's blog entries, right?

Why am I doing this? Who bothers reading all this stuff anyway? I was in no mood to go back and select 8000 words' worth of blog material. Which words to select? Which ones to throw out? Ugh.

So I put it off. I was busy doing a startup company and this Reader thing was just not a priority. I wasn't in the mood to submit this stuff and get rejected anyway.

Days passed. I kept putting off submitting something to the editor.

Finally, early in the morning of the 18th I fired up Microsoft Word, fired up my browser, and copied and pasted 30 days' worth of blog stuff into a Word document. Of course, Word being Word, it was a nightmare: it was not easy getting all those images in, and it took a lot of time to place them in the text where they belonged. I was breaking one of the rules already: Holman's original email had explicitly stated, send the images separate from the text. Ugh. I was concerned the images would wind up detached from the blog entries they were originally connected to, so I just embedded them anyway. Anticipating that they might want them as separate files, I saved them all off in a directory.

I didn't even bother to edit the resulting Word document for typos. I was so sure this whole effort was for naught, I figured, why bother. What-ever, I thought. So I just saved the Word document, and sent Jim Holman an email with the Word file attached:

To: Jim Holman
From: Brian Dear
Subject: Re: You in the Reader


Attached is a Microsoft Word doc with about one month's worth of selected blog material from the Brianstorms.com blog.

Perhaps you could read it over and let me know what you think. FYI my cell # is 858-xxx-xxxx in case you want to call.

- Brian

7. Didn't He Tell You?
Later that day, the 18th, I went to a San Diego meeting of the Tech Coast Angels, a group that funds selected (emphasis on "selected") local startup companies. So I went, was very underwhelmed with the group, and went home and blogged about the event. I kinda liked this story, which I called "UpAgainst.com", so I thought, maybe Jim will too?

I sent him an email suggesting he consider that story as well for the article. (Of course, if he accepted it, that would mean we'd be way over 8000 words, as that story alone was about 1300 words.)

An hour later, I got a terse reply: "Ok, thanks."

At this point I figured, ok, get back to work, forget this blog stuff, the Reader is never going to print this stuff. I mean, why would they?

But then an hour later, I got an email from Frank Glaser, the Art Director at the Reader, asking me to please send him all of the image files separately so that he won't have to try to extract them from the Word document.

Waitaminnit. The Art Director's involved now? Why would the Art Director get involved unless the editor had accepted the story?

I grabbed the phone and called Frank's number. I told him I'd just gotten his email, and I was wondering . . . did this mean Jim Holman had ok'd the article? Was I in?

"Didn't he tell you?" Frank asked me.

"Um, no!" I said.

I told him I'd call Jim directly and confirm. So I called Holman's extension, reached him, and sure enough, this was a go. He liked the material, was still fascinated with the whole blog phenomenon, and was going ahead with publishing it. He told me I'd be hearing from his managing editor and, he added, "I think they're already cutting the check".

8. The Check.
Checks are good. Especially $2000 checks. They really did send one. First I had to call one of their accountant folks and give them my SSN and mailing address, but they did cut the check and they did send it and, well, here it is:

9. Shouldn't That Be Action?
At this point I began some back-and-forth email with the managing editor, Heather Goodwillie. She was spotting typos here and there, and at one point, wanted to know if the title of my blog entry from April 15th, entitled Startup in Acton, That's All They Got contained a typo or not. Shouldn't that be "Action"?

I wrote back:

Nope, it is actually "Acton". It's just a pun, albeit a very obscure reference: it's the opening lines in the lyrics to a song called "Stardom in Acton" by Pete Townshend, which goes,

Stardom in Acton,
That's all they got

Acton is just a suburb of London. The song is actually kind of appropriate for describing an entrepreneur launching a new company, hence "startup in acton"....

You can find the lyrics to the full song here (scroll down a bit): http://www.wdkeller.com/index21.htm

Thanks for catching that and asking. Let me know if there are any other copy questions.

"Thanks a lot," she wrote back right away, adding "our proofer will love it." (I guess the proofer's a Who fan! :-)

10. Curiouser and Curiouser
I remain very curious how the Reader, a print publication after all, is going to deal with formatting 30 days' worth of blog material in their publication. I asked them if they'd let me peek at the layout before they went to print. "NO," was the reply, in all caps. How are they gonna handle URLs? Especially the really long ones. I'm envisioning the typical superlong URL snaking its way through ads for laser hair removal, skin rejuvenation, liposuction, and microdermabrasion . . . We'll see.

I'll post a photo of the cover on Thursday once the issue hits the newsstands. If anyone outside of the San Diego area wants me to send them a copy of this week's issue, email me at the address shown at the far bottom of this page (I'd ask that you pay for postage, but I'll be glad to pick up a copy and send it to you).

One other thing . . . Christian Crumlish asked me on The WELL if he could have the scoop to this story, and I gave it to him. Here's his writeup on the Reader deal.

Posted by brian at June 7, 2004 05:00 PM | TrackBack


Congratulations on getting into the San Diego Reader with your blog! It's so cool when putting stuff out there gets interest like that. Keep up the great work!

Posted by: James Park at June 7, 2004 05:50 PM

This is just so freakin' cool. In all the time I've been bloggin' I've been thinking that, dang, there's some really good stuff being put out to the world at large. And, as a former magazine guy, I thought, sheesh somebody ought to be grabbing these guys and making regular features out of it. (Okay. Okay...somebody probably is doing that already but still...)
Anyway, this is way cool.

Posted by: Jerry at June 7, 2004 06:32 PM

Brian, congrats! I've enjoyed reading your stuff. Great material for the Reader.

Posted by: Chris St. John at June 7, 2004 06:57 PM

Too, too, too cool, Brian! A first and a bunch of money. Too, too, too cool.


Now, truth: you blog any differently? (Or did you not believe it so it didn't matter?)

Posted by: Bruce Umbaugh at June 7, 2004 08:41 PM

Congrats, Brian! This is a very cool story-behind-the-story. If I ever run my online course in blogging again, I may link to you as a reading assignment. :)


Posted by: Kynn Bartlett at June 7, 2004 09:48 PM

I just got into Blogging about 3 months ago. I was addicted the first day. I linked to Boing Boing and was going to pass the blog about you to read the next but decided "what the heck".

I am glad I did! I like your style and can see why that cat paid you for it.

Congrats from a newbie thats digs your words...


Posted by: Robert at June 8, 2004 06:10 AM

Wow! That's totally awesome! Congratulations! I would love to get a chance like that...

Posted by: Ryan Waddell at June 8, 2004 07:54 AM

I think I noted elsewhere that Laurie Anderson said, "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." I don't know what that makes your latest venture, but bravo for the impressive media cross-pollenation. Plus, You joined the Legion of the Boinged, baybee. Way to go.

Posted by: mack reed at June 8, 2004 08:29 AM

From a fellow blogger- tres cool! You go, er.. man.

Posted by: jkendrick at June 8, 2004 09:39 AM

The Reader did another cover story about a blogger in San Diego a couple of weeks ago. Maybe it's a new monthly cover theme? Congratulations.

Posted by: Mike at June 8, 2004 11:11 AM

Is this just a cheaper way to get content?

Posted by: peter caputa at June 8, 2004 01:47 PM

Hey Brian. Very cool! Congrats on the publishing. Great job on the blog. Keep it up!

Posted by: Don Kim at June 8, 2004 03:38 PM

Thanks everyone!

I have learned that indeed, there was another blogger who was in the Reader. Here's the URL to the page where she writes about the fact that she had the 4/29/04 cover story:


I'll have to figure out a way of getting that back issue. I'm curious how they did things in that issue.

Posted by: Brian Dear at June 8, 2004 09:28 PM

Very, very cool. Congratulations!

You've given a ray of hope to bloggers everywhere!

Posted by: david at June 9, 2004 08:18 AM

Hey Brian,

This is awesome. I cant wait for Thursdays Reader to come out. Congrats!


Posted by: Kristin Ulrich at June 9, 2004 09:06 AM

I write for The Reader. Everything seems to be in tune with my dealings with the pub. I enjoyed both your blog and your blog on the blog. ;)

Posted by: Worf Poe at June 11, 2004 11:47 PM

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