Beanie Babies & Books

Also: want a free book?


Hello my adorable sign ups! (in Substack parlance, “sign ups” are the free readers, and “subscribers” are the paying ones). I am gearing up for a fall of heftier, in-depth and, of course, ranty newsletters—once I get through this flurry of tasks that will consume the rest of September—and I’m here today, upon the advice of various Substack-related marketing emails, to encourage you to ‘convert’ (blech) from free to paid readers of this now 3 year old (!) newsletter. So here’s my offer:

Become a subscriber for $24/year or $4/month, then send me an email ( with your snail mail address, and I’ll send you a *free* copy of So You Want To Publish A Book.

And you already-paid up subscribers? I see you; I appreciate it; you’re awesome.

Over the weekend I read a history of the beanie babies craze. I found it absolutely fascinating, not only because I understand the impulse on both ends: the businessman who figures out that scarcity can be the key to profits, and decides to ‘retire’ products to create demand on the secondary market (which gins up demand on the primary market for flippers), and those who got caught up on it, the dream of riches that stem from identifying value that others have overlooked (in the beginning, of course). During the weekend I also fell into a rabbit hole of thrifting, a longtime hobby of mine. Finding a first edition in a stack at Goodwill is not significantly different from finding a Princess Di beanie at a toy store in the late ‘90s. Nor are these actions all that different from owning a rare bookstore. But we think of beanie buyers are vastly different from those who sell first editions of Harry Potter in wood-lined stores.

There’s a new beanie-esque craze happening now—look up Rae Dunn. Look at eBay sales figures for Rae Dunn. It’s crazy, and it’s understandable, and it’s an astoundingly compelling story for me because it’s complex, a social-novelesque phenomenon. I want to write about beanies, Rae Dunn, capitalism and its hidden sources of serotonin, my thrifting hobby and I how I play games with myself to prevent it from becoming an obsession, and how all of this isn’t that different from what drives me as a publisher. I think I would be able to write a pretty good work of longform cultural criticism and it would be fun and fulfilling for me to write it. But, like other writing projects I’ve written about here, and told friends about, I suspect it’ll remain in the drafts folder, because when I consider blocking off time to do so, I think—as, say, Ty Warner would have—that it’s best to focus on my business. Thus my love for this newsletter, which I give myself permission to do, and gives my writing muscles a 7 minute workout of sorts.

There are moments when much of my job bores me—entering info into databases, scheduling tweets, going through hundreds of names in a media spreadsheet. But when my job is the most exciting, it is so for reasons not that different from the experience of finding a piece of signed Swedish art glass in the back of a shelf in Value World: it’s the discovery of hidden value combined with the promise of future, higher, realized value. Value, of course, can be various: literary, cultural, financial, historical. If the value I imagine in that object—vase or manuscript—doesn’t combine at least two of these connotations, chasing it feels vacuous, like it would if I were lining up at TJ Maxx before it opens to grab the latest Rae Dunn mug, or getting into beanies at the bursting edge of the bubble, or working at a publisher focused on selling books by a former Trump press secretary. But I understand why people do it. I just need my drive to include those other values, the non-financial ones, because I prize those very highly.

Related, probably, to all this reading and thrifting, is my current focus on our Spring ‘22 titles, which are currently like loaves of challah in the second proofing stage, full of promise , and I am getting hungry thinking about them, but also I really hope I don’t fuck up the dough so they end up overproofed or underbaked ((can I just add here that i’ve never been good at analogies in my writing? It’s something about the way my mind works, or doesn’t; I’m in awe of those who are good at it). Because, of course, each book Belt publishes is a new beanie baby—a new animal, with a new personality—aimed at consumers, who I hope will shove each other to get them as they land on the market, and those who lost out will pay five times as much on, and, even better, anyone will be reading them for any reason, for free, in ten years, or one hundred.

But enough of this tortured line of thinking and bad analgoies—books are dough and they are also stuffed snails!—and to the minutiae that create the reality effect. I had lunch with Craig Calcaterra yesterday, and we talked about what we will do between now and April when his book drops, and what he most wants from the reception of the book—riches? prestige? more Cup of Coffee Substack subscribers? a really great party? A review in a fancy outlet? To be part of an ongoing conversation about sports? to leave a legacy? —and I found it challenging and fun to develop a list of things to do based on our discussion of his responses. We also talked about ideas for a subsequent book; perhaps the most satisfying part of my job is working with authors on more than one book, and I hope Craig joins this growing group. At my most arrogant I imagine I am creating a ‘school’, and in a few decades some literary twenty somethings will try to collect the first editions of all of our Notches titles, or all our city anthologies, and they will haunt rare book stores or Goodwills searching for them. But don’t tell anyone about this, because it’s terribly embarrassing, the grandiosity.

Oh and hey—as I prepare my fall newsletters, I’d love to hear from you! What topics would you be interested in hearing me riff about? I love hearing from you guys in the comments. And don’t forget: I’ll send you a free book if you click this here button and then let me know your address.