FP: How did writers you initially contacted respond to your pitch of, “I will send you a tchotchke if you write a story about it.” Did anyone refuse? Are the participants your favorite writers? People who you thought would get the most buzz? Friends?
RW: Yes, some writers said they were too busy, and that’s totally fair — people are, after all, busy. And if you have a book due or you’re on tour, this is probably not the ideal way to spend your time. So, that happens.
The writers are basically people we wanted to work with. At the very beginning the writers we approached were people we had at least some connection to. It was almost like we were asking for proof-of-concept: “If we did this, would you participate? What do you think of it?” We didn’t know if people would just say, “That’s stupid.”
So it was great how receptive people were. But then it was even better when we started going to strangers. It’s pretty gratifying when you just contact some writer whose work you’ve admired, out of nowhere, and ask them to play along with something like this, and they say yes. Some of these people have just been incredibly generous, in my opinion, to get involved. Many could have very easily, and justifiably, said no. Or not even answered the question. (And, again, that did happen sometimes.)
We’ve also both gone through the process of asking others for their recommendations, which has led to some great writers neither one of us initially knew much about but that we’re now excited about working with.
The buzz side is so hard to figure out. It was more about thinking of writers we thought would come up with interesting stories — sometimes that means “big names,” but not necessarily. There’s nobody we approached because we thought, “Oh that person will generate buzz.” That’s really no fun.
FP: Which story/object has been the most popular? Are you surprised?
RW: Lydia Millet’s “chili cat” story was an interesting one: I thought it was a really nice story, but I thought the object itself would be a tough sell. But it ended up being one of the top bid-getters, I think it went for more than $22.
Susannah Breslin’s “Necking Team Button” story has the highest bidding right now [Editor’s note: the auction has since ended, with the button going for a cool $36.88]. I guess I thought maybe Kurt Andersen’s story would be the big early bid-getter, because he’s well-known, and because it’s a particularly amazing story. But Susannah’s story was also really good, she’s a very talented writer, and I think that object is cool. (Josh bought it at a flea market for 50 cents — the bidding is now at more than $36.) It’s also an image that’s been picked by a number of bloggers to represent the project. Same with the “smiling mug” that Ben Greenman wrote about — I sort of wonder if it didn’t come to symbolize the whole project in some way. Plus his story was just incredible.
It’s still early days but most things seem to be settling into the $10 to $15 range so far. What I’ve really been puzzling over the most lately is why some objects haven’t taken off in the bidding. With almost every object it takes a few days for the bids to build, but, for example, Jonathan Goldstein’s story about a toy toaster is great, and he’s a popular writer with a lot of fans. Plus the object has an interesting look — it could be in someone’s house in one of those Design Sponge pictorials. But as I type this, for some reason the bidding hasn’t really taken off. Curious.
As you can tell, I really, really like the stories we’ve published … But that’s why we did this!