The Thin Reads Interview with Joseph Bottum
In the space of little more than a year, Joseph Bottum has churned out four e-book singles. That just might make him one of the world’s most prolific e-book single authors.
And the title isn’t meaningless. The financial rewards of his labors have allowed Bottum to carve a new career as a self-sustaining author with a growing fan base who has unshackled himself from the demands of a 9-to-5 job. He’s created this new life with his family in the unlikely outpost of Hot Springs, South Dakota.
His 2012 e-book single output began in January 2012 with the publication of “The Gospel According to Tim,” which examined the Tim Tebow phenomena. He went on to publish “Pulp and Prejudice: Essays in Search of Books, Culture and God,” which tapped into his professional and personal interest in religion. Then came “Summer of 43,” which was the inspirational story of New York Mets pitcher R. A. Dickey (number 43), followed up by the November 2012 release of his first fictional foray “Wise Guy.” That effort quickly climbed to become one of the best-selling fictional e-book singles of the holiday season and joined another single, “Dakota Christmas,” which was a memoir of the holiday season in South Dakota, as one of his most popular stories. “Dakota Christmas” sold 65,000 copies in the space of three weeks in December 2011. It was so popular that Random House bought the copyright. The single is no longer available but it was rewritten as one of five chapters in his 2012 print book “The Christmas Plains,” which examined the meaning of Christmas.
The assignments from Amazon (which is not paying Bottum any advances; he gets a cut of sales) are not always frictionless. Bottum. Amazon editor-in-chief David Blum originally balked at Bottum’s desire to write a piece of fiction for Amazon Kindle Single imprint. “We went back and forth,” recalls Bottum. “He didn’t say yes automatically.”
Nonetheless, he has nothing but praise for Blum and Amazon especially for the platform Kindle Singles gives to relatively unknown authors like himself. “They could publish nothing but well-known authors,” he says.
Blum approached Bottum about the Tim Tebow story because of the powerful religious currents in the quarterback’s life. “I wrote it with religious elements, but he was also an athlete,” says Bottum. Amazon also wanted Bottum to write a Kindle single about New York Knick guard Jeremy Linn, who became a media darling in February 2012. Bottum declined because of his workload. And the Linn story quickly became yesterday’s news.
But Bottum didn’t reject Amazon’s idea to write a Kindle Single about 38-year-old knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey. He was approached in the spring and they wanted the story available by the All-Star break. “I really had to bang that out,” he says. Bottum wrote it in two weeks. It hit the virtual storefront on July 4, 2012.
Religion and writing have always been mainstays of Bottum’s life. He was the literary editor of The Weekly Standard for seven years. Then he became the editor-in-chief of the print journal First Things for five years. But about two years ago, he moved his family from Manhattan to his summer home in Hot Springs, South Dakota, a town of 4,000 tucked in the southwest corner of one of the country’s least populated states. And that’s when he started banging out e-book singles.
Bottum plans to keep busy writing in the near future. He’s working on a full-length book on the political theory of American religion, which he just completed for Image/Random House. And Kindle Singles figure to play a key role in his work output for one simple reason: “The Amazon editors keep coming back to me to write stuff,” he theorizes. And if his stories continue to sell, Amazon should be coming back to him for a long time.