Now both of those blogs have received book deals.
Stuff White People Like contains a list of cultural totems, including gifted children, marathons and writers’ workshops, that a certain type of moneyed and liberal American might be expected to like.
“The No. 1 reason why white people like not having a TV,” reads the explanation under entry No. 28, Not Having a TV, “is so that they can tell you that they don’t have a TV.”
Readers discovered stuffwhitepeoplelike.wordpress.com earlier this year, liked it and forwarded links to their friends, who forwarded them to lots more friends. Newspaper columnists mentioned it, stealing some of the better jokes. By the end of February, the NPR program Talk of the Nation ran a report on it, debating whether the site was racist or satire.
And then on March 20, Random House announced that it had purchased the rights to a book by the blog’s founder, Christian Lander, an Internet copy writer. The price, according to a source familiar with the deal but not authorized to discuss the total, was about $300,000, a sum that many in the publishing and blogging communities believe is an astronomical amount for a book spawned from a blog, written by a previously unpublished author.
One of the first literary agents to troll the Web for talent was Kate Lee, who in 2003 was an assistant at International Creative Management, the sprawling talent agency, looking for a way to make her name.
When she started contacting bloggers and talking to them about book deals, many were stunned that a real literary agent was interested in their midnight typings. Her roster was so rich with bloggers, including Matt Welch from Hit & Run and Glenn Reynolds from Instapundit, that the New Yorker profiled her in 2004. Two years from now, the magazine noted, “Books by bloggers will be a trend, a cultural phenomenon.”
And two years after that?
“If I contact someone or someone is put in touch with me, chances are they’ve already been contacted by another agent,” Ms. Lee said. “Or they’ve at least thought about turning their blog into a book or some kind of film or TV project.”
It will be difficult for the publisher to make a profit, said Sara Nelson, editor of Publishers Weekly. Doing some back-of-the-envelope math, she figured Random House would have to sell about 75,000 copies, a total that would likely land the book on best-seller lists, to earn back its $300,000 advance.
But can 1.5 million hits, the number Random House says Mr. Lander’s site has attracted, be wrong? If a blog has lured that many eyeballs in the freewheeling terrain of the Internet, publishers are willing to take a chance it will attract attention in the bookstore, said Kate McKean, a literary agent with the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency, who is one of those now scouring the Web for new clients.
The site I Can Has Cheezburger (icanhascheezburger.com), which features lolcats, photos of animals with humorous, ungrammatical captions, debuted in January 2007. Three months later, Ms. McKean contacted the founders; by last August, they had chosen her over other agents, she said. The site has 1.6 million page views a day, she said, a fact noted in the book proposal she helped prepare.
After a bidding war among several publishers, Gotham Books signed her clients. Come this November, expect the I Can Has Cheezburger book on shelves. “It’s going to be predominantly photos but also will enlighten readers on the key memes of lolcats,” Ms. McKean said, referring to strange rules of grammar unique to the form.
On Wednesday, Mr. Lander, who is white, added his 92nd entry to Stuff White People Like: Book Deals.
“White people,” he wrote, “like having their dreams come true when they least expected it.”