American in Spain

Almost Published

October 24, 2009

Two weeks ago, I was contacted by someone claiming to be a contributing editor to a book that is about to be published, asking if I would accept money in exchange for permission to republish a blog post of mine in their book that may or may not sell millions of copies in over thirty languages. Here's the email I received (hyperlinking mine):

Hi Erik

I am a contributing editor of Secrets of The Lost Symbol, a reader's guide to Dan Brown's new novel, which will be published in December.

I am writing to request permission to re-publish your blog post Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol is Anti-Science as part of our book.

Secrets of The Lost Symbol will comprise a range of interviews, essays, and articles from scientists, historians, thinkers and writers about the major themes embedded in the novel. It will be published by William Morrow/HarperCollins this December. We expect a print run of 100,000.

Our previous books, which include Secrets of the Code and Secrets of Angels & Demons, have sold more than four million copies and been published in over 30 languages. (If you would like to learn more about those books, and their list of contributors, please see:

We are still finalizing the content of our book. But we wanted to explore whether you would be interested in allowing us to republish your article for a fee of $250?

Many thanks And best regards


Okay, so a number of thoughts are running through my head at this point. On the one hand, someone is offering me $250 for about 2.5 hours of work that I already did with no expectation of compensation! Awesome.

On the other hand, say this publisher sells his books for $9.99, they pay 100 authors for their essays, and they sell four million copies. Hold on, let me get my calculator. That comes out to... Cost: $25,000, Revenue: $39,960,000, and Profit: $39,935,000! And they want to pay me $250!!?

In my other publishing negotiations, at least I've at least been able to get a free copy of the book! So I responded thusly, from my hotel room in Bordeaux:

Very interesting! A few questions...

Attribution will be my name and the URL to my post?

What will you do with hyperlinks? Some of my points are made with a simple link. Footnotes with urls? Even so, I'd like to flesh out the 9/11 point with a summary of the linked page's conclusion, before you take your copy.

How about $300 and a copy of the book? Can you ship to Spain?

Sent from my iPhone

Those are all reasonable things to say, I think. That was on a Saturday, and it took him until the next Tuesday to respond. Luckily I was busy with tourism, so the wait wasn't as excruciating as it could have been.

Hi Erik

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you.

Our editors have spent the past few days running through the table of contents for their book and discovered that they do not have enough room for all of the articles/essays they initially hoped to include. I'm afraid your blog post is one of the items that they have, regretfully, had to pass on.

Many thanks for your willingness to work with us. And best regards


Doh! I responded to confirm that my rejection was unrelated to me trying to get an extra $50 out of the deal and confirm that at least some of the essays they will publish cover the Anti-Science angle. He confirmed that:

Hi Erik

No, not at all. The money had nothing to do with it.

Our big problem is space. We've simply reached a critical stage where the book had to be rejigged. Unfortunately, a large number of pieces, including yours, didn't make it through the other side.

We do have a number of pieces on the science angle - including some big name writers. So never fear!


And so I join the enormous club of people who have had their hopes raised and rejigged by professional editors. Oh well. I still stand by all my points in that post and it continues to get a fair amount of traffic from internet searches. If anything this incident has motivated me to spend the time in the future to criticize pop culture phenomena when they deserve it.