February 1st, 2012 / 2:54 pm

Tao Lin’s Big Kid Book Deal

I hope this is the last time I’ll find myself writing about Tao Lin. In July I wrote a lengthy story for The Morning News that delved into Lin’s publishing venture, Muumuu House, and looked at a few of the prominent (allowing for a loose definition of “prominent”) writers in his literary cadre. (The post engendered quite a comment chain on this very site.) Mere weeks later, Lin landed a $50,000 book deal with Vintage for his next novel. And that was when someone commented on the Morning News piece that they’d be “interested in an update on all of this” (presumably they meant an update from me) and wondered whether his deal would “change things.”

It does change things, yes. The fact that his next novel (it’s tentatively called Taipei, Taiwan) will come out under the Vintage label means that, like it or not, it’s going to get a lot more notice than his books have had in the past when published by Melville House. And that’s no knock on Melville House, which does a fabulous job both with publicity (the Moby Lives blog is fun and occasionally gets good pickup on Twitter etc.) and with the aesthetic look of its titles (see: the Art of the Novella series). But it’s still a tiny press. A book published by Vintage will be seen, not just by critics that have managed to avoid Lin and maybe still haven’t even heard of him, but also by mainstream readers, the Barnes & Noble shoppers who have definitely not heard of him and who read the Stieg Larsson trilogy. This isn’t to say they’ll pick up the novel and buy it, but it may catch their eye, they’ll take a look, and now they’ll know who or what a Tao Lin is.

I’ve watched Lin’s career since September 2009 when, as a journalism graduate student that still loved literary fiction above everything else, I decided to write my master’s project (which had to be a feature-length magazine article) on Tao Lin, his literary cohorts and, if you’ll allow it, their “movement.” Those within the grad program, or others that I told about what I was doing, for the most part thought it was a ridiculous choice. Others were writing lofty treatises on subjects like an Iraq war veteran adjusting to life back in the States or about an urban education problem in Harlem that wasn’t being addressed by the city (both of which are wonderful topics). But I knew I had chosen something that hadn’t been examined, fresh ground no one had yet dug up. I began interviewing Lin as well as every person associated with him. When I finally finished the story in May, I began pitching it to various respected publications that run well-reported, thoughtful stories on writers or writerly things, and I continually received responses from editors telling me that while the piece was well-written and interesting, they just would never run a story about this Tao Lin person. Eventually, Salon published a condensed version of the original that focused only on Lin, and later I was able to go back, add a bit more reporting, and write a longer story about the collective group for The Morning News.

My point in rehashing all of this is twofold: first, Lin has developed his talents over time. I still do not believe, and never believed, that he is what I’d call a good writer, at least not compared to the writers I read for pleasure: Roth, DFW, Irving, Didion, Chabon, Franzen, Tom McCarthy, Salter, or even Lorrie Moore and Lydia Davis, both writers that Lin says have influenced him. I do not enjoy reading his work and can’t imagine enjoying it unless it changes in a major way. Nevertheless, Richard Yates is indeed more adult, and precise—and I think that’s basically indisputable—than Eeeee Eee Eeee (the goddamn title alone, for instance, is a gimmicky, obnoxious trick that, at his current station, I do not believe Lin would repeat) or Bed was. And Taipei, Taiwan will almost certainly be more mature and developed than Richard Yates was. You can bet, too, that it’ll be widely reviewed, and in some of the same outlets that first rejected my reportage on him on the basis that they didn’t want to run anything about Tao Lin. That brings me to my second point: Lin has already, in two years, progressed to the point where now, a writer pitching a piece that takes a serious, analytical look at Lin’s work would be turned down not because the web site or magazine in question is afraid to cover Lin, but because it has already run a Tao Lin story, and won’t be doing another for a while. (Yes, one place I foolishly tried originally was the Times magazine, and yes, I did see it as a breakthrough for Lin when the Times reviewed Richard Yates, regardless of the fact that they panned it. Taipei, Taiwan will likely be reviewed in even more publications, many of them places that, like the Times, had not previously touched anything having to do with Lin.) And the sheer fact that Vintage was interested in him (and you can’t claim it was just a fluke, because Little, Brown and Harper Perennial were also bidding on his book) shows that they believe he’s worthwhile (even if, just to play devil’s advocate, they’re doing it because of the Web-buzz they’ll get).

I’ve even seen Lin progress in other ways outside of his published books. The series of drug-related drawings and descriptions he’s been doing for Vice, while ridiculous, is also hilarious and smart. He’s having fun doing it, and it’s showing a side of him—his complicated sense of humor—that many may not have known existed. (In fact, in my many in-person encounters with Lin, at least in 2009 and 2010, I found him to be nearly 100% humorless, though that’s in part a shtick, and in one interview he even said “I’ll probably kill myself before I’m 40.” I hope that does not happen but, bizarrely, perhaps embarrassingly, I imagine I’d be one of a small handful of journalists qualified to write his obituary).

In addition, his response to a recent controversy—the Marie Calloway “thing”—struck me as rather wise and impressive. I imagine that every single visitor to HTMLGIANT knows the first part of what the girl did and wrote, and who about, but later, in response to a tumblr post railing against the whole thing and mentioning Lin by name, he responded: “I feel like you probably read an amount of Marie’s story but didn’t think about the story when writing your post. I feel like your post described a view that you already had, from a prior situation, before knowing of Marie’s story—a view you then applied, in your post, to Marie’s story, in a manner that ignores the particulars of Marie’s story.” Yes, Lin is doing his usual thing here of overly simply/direct, almost autistic recitation of chronological events (see: the first paragraph of Shoplifting from American Apparel), but he’s also correct, and when you re-read the hater’s tumblr post, Lin seems especially on-point. He sounds downright reasonable and smart.

In case you’re wondering, no, I don’t think that his book deal means anything major for the other writers that surround him. As one of the commenters on this very site noted, there is a steep drop-off in talent from Lin to the best of the rest in his network (though, to be fair, Noah Cicero has been writing books for longer than Lin, and I quite like three or four of Ellen Kennedy’s poems). The others may think this is a big deal for all of them, but I can’t imagine it will do much to raise any of their profiles. If Lin is legitimately internet-famous and, soon, might break into the mainstream literary consciousness, then the best the rest of them can aspire to might be limited Internet fame.

The most succinct thing (and I’m aware this post has been anything but) I can say in conclusion is that when I mention Tao Lin to friends of mine who are intelligent, follow news and pop culture, and read fiction, the vast majority of responses are either that they have never heard of him or, when they have: “He’s some kind of writer in Brooklyn, right? And he was on Gawker a bunch?” After Vintage publishes his next novel, that’s going to change.



Daniel Roberts is a magazine reporter in New York, and tweets @readDanwrite.

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  1. Spencer Lewin

      yeah dude Phillip Roth

  2. Anonymous

      I enjoyed this. Although the writing on this site touches on various subjects, and can be enjoyable, it seems quite often its ultimate goal is to promote the writer’s cult of personality (HERE ARE MY REALLY INTENSE OPINIONS/SMARMY TAKE ON THINGS/IDIOSYNCRATIC INTERESTS).

      This felt more like a writer who took a step back from his/her subject, let it stand on its own, instead of trying to intrude on it every other sentence. But then again I guess that’s what good journalism ought to do?

  3. Matt Margo

      R.I.P. Robert Wadlow

  4. Mahmoud

      This, taken as a stand alone sentence, is hilarious : “there is a steep drop-off in talent from Lin to the best of the rest in
      his network (though, to be fair, Noah Cicero has been writing books for
      longer than Lin….”

  5. Brian M

      This is funny “..I still do not believe, and never believed, that he is what I’d call a good writer, ” b/c you’ve really put a lot of thought into Tao Lin and his novels while not thinking he is/ever will be a “good writer”. Why not just read and think of other writers? Why even write this? Seems confusing. imho

  6. Mahmoud

      It does seem like the idea behind this piece is basically “When Tao Lin is more famous, he will be more famous.”

  7. Anonymous

      condescending tone throughout

  8. Taylor Napolsky

      Pretty interesting article. Way different than most of the stuff on this site. 

  9. bmichael

      I’m a little disappointed I spent my time reading this. I’m sure (for like many reasons) you’ve seen Kicking and Screaming. I’d like $0.50.

  10. Anonymous

      “despite tao lin getting a book deal with vintage, daniel roberts still thinks he sucks”

  11. Paul Cunningham

      So. Much. Angst.

  12. Sugar Bear

      When Tao Lin is more famous, he will be Tao Lin.

  13. Sugar Bear

      Liking this comment is confusing.

  14. Sugar Bear

      Wait, when Tao Lin is more famous, I will be Tao Lin.

  15. K. H.

      “The others may think this is a big deal for all of them, but I can’t imagine it will do much to raise any of their profiles”

      Investigative journalism at it’s finest! We all know the #1 reason anyone becomes a writer (especially a writer trying new/not particularly commercial things) is to get MEGA FAMOUS.*

      *What I actually meant by this is that I think this article was very poorly written, reads with a generally petty tone and was not as interesting as I had hoped.

  16. Anonymous

      if Tao Lin were a blog post this article is pretty much a comment that says “first”

  17. Anonymous

      I’m always a bit disappointed when I read these articles that there isn’t much discussion of Tao’s poetry. I get that novels are the only commercially viable form of literature, but still… Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is such a good book. 

      It has a unique voice, it’s insightful (never mistaking quirkiness for substance in the cutesy style that typifies young poets), and it’s really beautiful. Such an amazing book to be written by a young poet– it’s not even primarily about romantic relationships (which is sort of unimaginable for a poet under 30).

      It’s the best book of poetry by a young poet maybe since James Tate wrote The Lost Pilot. In some ways, I think Tao’s style/message translates better into poetry. For a new reader, he might actually be more accessible through his poetry than his fiction– how many writers could you say that about?

  18. postitbreakup

      $50,000 seems like a pretty inflated advance for any writer who hasn’t been on bestseller lists or had a longer, more distinguished career; I really wish publishers would stop using advances for publicity, and pay 5-10 lesser known authors with that money, instead

  19. leapsloth14

      Not sure I learned a lot here, but then again I already knew a lot of Mr. Lin. I do think he’s funnier than most people give him credit for. I find most of his prose unreadable, but rather like his poetry. I like his imagination, too. And his energy. I sort of respect energy artists, people who get things done.

  20. postitbreakup

      that is what I have (begrudgingly) come to respect about Tao Lin, his energy

      nobody can say he hasn’t been working his ass off, whatever they think of the work

  21. postitbreakup

      I saw it as more detached/disinterested than condescending

  22. Craig Ronald Marchinkoski

      lin’s a writer, and thus far, he has not been a story teller.
      stories are not for everyone. i get that. but as a reader, i have left behind beckett (how it is) and started to appreciate something more like steinbeck (east of eden). while that might sound lame, it’s what i have begun to admit to myself. but. i will never deny malloy. that shit blew my head. and i do still love lorrie moore. but if i’m going to continue reading lin’s prose with excitement, i want a story to emerge from the writing. i have not read a complete book of his poetry. but. the poems i have read, are what one commenter said, full of energy and imagination. yes. and that is to be applauded. “when you ballin everybody want to be your pal.”i found the shot at the other writers associated with lin a bit gauche – as if the writer was searching for an argument. seems like that’s a shit trick to continue to try to pull off. at least with a straight face. at least on this site. or is that to be expected? lin and friends bring the traffic?i would never want to deny any writer success. i hope millions of people buy lin’s next book. i hope millions of people buy other peoples’ books, too.  

  23. Nick Mamatas

      I recommend five swats to the bum for every parenthetical remark in the original post.

  24. Anonymous

      Why is it so hard for this site to have a real discussion on the merits of those writers work

      Shouldn’t we try to nail that for the fans first and for something called credibility before we assume the mantle of universal feeling

      I dug this article, it did not seem manipulative in any way and the writer’s perspective was solidly expressed

  25. David Fishkind

      where is the delillo plug in your fav writers list? where is delillo anywhere? we will not forget you delillo.

  26. .

      Yeah, what the literature needs more of is haughty dweebs with Opinions.

      Also, you act like Lin isn’t well known and that you’re some kind of gatekeeper. Eeeee Eee Eeee.

  27. BppOperator

      Exactly. Who are you? I want to know you in a real weird way.

  28. William VanDenBerg

      Yes, disinterested. I can’t figure out why the author chose to write about Lin, aside from him being “fresh.” I’m not a huge fan of Lin’s, but I also didn’t write a masters project about him.

  29. Anonymous

      Probably because it didn’t make sense to him? I’ve always found the most interesting topics are the ones you struggle to understand but want to understand.

  30. Anonymous

      Lilzed between this comment and your other one about Marie Calloway I think we might be working on the same wavelength.

  31. Sugar Bear

      Sugar Bear wants to know you in a real discussional way.

  32. Anonymous

      Not even “want to” understand. It should be an innate desire to want to understand something you don’t understand.

  33. Brittany Wallace


  34. Karen Caldecott

      “but later, in response to a tumblr post
      railing against the whole thing and mentioning Lin by name, he
      responded: “I feel like you probably read an amount of Marie’s story but
      didn’t think about the story when writing your post. I feel like your
      post described a view that you already had, from a prior situation,
      before knowing of Marie’s story—a view you then applied, in your post,
      to Marie’s story, in a manner that ignores the particulars of Marie’s
      story.” Yes, Lin is doing his usual thing here of overly simply/direct,
      almost autistic recitation of chronological events (see: the first
      paragraph of Shoplifting from American Apparel), but he’s also
      correct, and when you re-read the hater’s tumblr post, Lin seems
      especially on-point. He sounds downright reasonable and smart.”

      actually he seems to be saying that you can’t criticize something for ideological reasons.

  35. Dave P

      “I still do not believe, and never believed, that [Lin] is
      what I’d call a good writer, at least not compared to the writers I read for

      The author is conflating ‘good’ with ‘pleasurable’. Yes, what is pleasurable is good, but only in the subjective sense of ‘good for the person who is pleased’. It isn’t tantamount to objective good. To put it another way, one chooses what to read for pleasure on the basis of it being pleasurable, NOT because it’s ‘good’. Good writers certainly can be pleasurable to read, but they can also be Thomas Pynchon.

      Also (different, pretentious thought) – I think what is called ‘alt lit’ may be working toward an expansion of what is considered ‘good’ or proper literature, as all artistic movements do.

  36. Anonymous
  37. deadgod

      feel like that Daniel Roberts has mixed – mostly negative but judiciously open to change – reactions to Tao Lin’s writing

      feel like that mixed feelings are sometimes not processed as ‘mixed’

      feel like that for someone to be somehow intrigued by someone else’s passion for something that the first someone isn’t passionate about doesn’t merit astonishment

      (feel like that what’s interesting about other people is often not what they do, but rather that they’re passionate about doing it; feel like that someone’s energy might often be more compelling, to some particular observer, than what results from their energy)

      feel like that some people reject more interest in somebody else’s energy than in the results of that energy without awareness of the performative contradiction of their energetic rejection

  38. shaun gannon

      gimme a lil kiss

  39. postitbreakup

      whoa skim this people it’s insane

      makes me exhausted just thinking about all the uppers and/or manic insanity it must have taken to write something like this

  40. Anonymous

      Yeah. We’re out there.

  41. Anonymous

      Any reason?

  42. reynard

      holy crap

  43. Anonymous

      I don’t read much fiction…like i don’t even know all of the authors that you mentioned as your favorites… most of my friends are also not well read…but many of us know about Tao Lin…So to me he seems popular. Is Tao Lin really not that popular? Can someone with more perspective elaborate on where muumuu house ‘fits in’ to the literary world… Are there other small publishing houses that sell similar runs of books? Are there tons? few? I dont know i feel like every person who reads contemporary literature would have read tao lin but maybe my perspective is limited. Also, if anyone could  recommend other contemporary literature for young adults that is good and as unpopular as Tao Lin, i’d be interested in checking it out, thanks!

  44. morgan

      I’m a neuroscience graduate student in my mid-20s studying language in the brain. I also gave up on being a composer a few years ago, but still avidly follow the worlds of classical, experimental, and electronic music. I am also a stupid kid who grew up in the suburbs eating mac-n-cheese and watching the Simpsons. I also struggle with internet addiction, increasing reclusiveness, and chronic depression; and can never quite shake the feeling that although I’ve done all right for myself, I am doomed to failure and will die alone. Judging me by a quick appraisal of my appearance and demeanor, you would probably classify me as a hipster. I would make the argument that I fall within Tao Lin’s ‘target demographic.’ I feel like part of the negative reaction to Tao Lin stems from most people’s semi-automatic negative reactions to stupid kids from the suburbs like me. For me and others who might fall somewhere in this classification, reading Tao Lin feels kind of like you’re hearing the first person who’s ever told your story. [diatribe about Hollywood/modern literature’s fetishism of outdated modes of human behavior and their disproportionate/unwarranted disgust for [ex-]suburbanites/young and struggling urbanites]. To hear someone examining what it means to be a human in the 21st century with a fresh voice is more than refreshing. It’s cathartic.

  45. Sugar Bear

      to have a real discussion, all real and discussionary.

  46. lorian long

      everyone in the world is so sad everyone will have saggy boobs everyone will poop their diapers when they get old enuff everyone will die who cares who cares who cares

  47. Anonymous

      “Out there”? More like “Everyone else needs to catch up.”

  48. BppOperator

      Lilzed, you’re just on some real shit 100% of the time. I almost put 99.9, but.

  49. Anonymous

      For myself, I know the friends I turn to for my writership make the best discussers

  50. Anonymous

      I feel strong knowing you exist

  51. Anonymous

      Hello Operator. Thank you that means a lot to me.

  52. Anonymous

      Probably the nicest thing said on this website. Know the feeling’s returned and thanks.

  53. tao LIn

      “After Vintage publishes his next novel, that’s going to change.” <– thIs 'never' pans out.

  54. marshall mallicoat

      thank you @tao_lin_at_88

  55. marshall mallicoat

      @tao_lin_at_88:twitter is tao lin from the future and has doc brown

  56. Sugar Bear

      My favorite discussions have never happened.

  57. Anonymous

      Tao Lin is still internet famous?


      I don’t think so.

  58. herocious

      his new novel is going to have ‘autism’ in every sentence

  59. Anonymous

      OK make a fake email address and post it here and I’ll invite you to free private chat room

  60. Anonymous

      Make a fake email address and post it here and i’ll invite you to a free private HTML GIant spinoff chat room

  61. Sugar Bear


  62. Anonymous

      i didn’t mean a 100% fake one, i meant one that’s functional but that you don’t mind posting on the internet

  63. Sugar Bear

      Deal but I’m at work right now so I can’t. I’m a slave. I typed salve instead of slave and almost kept it.

  64. Sugar Bear

      You’re the tails to Tao Lin’s heads. Same narcissism. No real solution.

      Best part of your post is the part you didn’t write.

  65. tao LIn

      “a human in the 21st century with a fresh voice”

      ‘I’ thInk ‘you’ mean: a[n] [american] in the [first few decades of] the 21st century voice [who’s never known substantive hardship, an american unaware of his actual place in the world, and american bound to find out by 30 or so]

  66. tao LIn


  67. Anonymous

       What the fuck is good journalism?

  68. Anonymous

      You’ll note the question mark at the end of my sentence! The question mark indicates: “I’m not sure what good journalism is.”

      But if I had to take a stab, it sticks to the facts, does not lie (redundant), and there’s no evidence of a self-important writer in the article.

  69. Anonymous

      I missed the question mark.  My bad.

      But yeah.  Good journalism is like your mother having sex: you think it happens, but doubt it.

  70. Anonymous

      After reading this
      churlish review, I thought that closing my browser window would make my fit of
      anger go away… yet here I am (again) posting this comment:
      Tao Lin is not a good
      writer; he’s a great writer, and becoming one of my favorite writers.  His writing is ambitious, amusing, and
      dark.  Lin takes his sentient
      readers along cleverly crafted realities, and finds a way to implicate them,
      too.  His outrageously on target
      satire is rousing and sophisticated. 
      Through irony and empathy, Lin addresses and confronts themes of gender
      identity, conformity, ethicality and morality, and relationships between
      mankind and nature.I’m a female in my
      mid-twenties, and getting my M.S. at Columbia University.  I have been a fan of Tao Lin’s work
      roughly since 2007, upon discovering his novel Eeeee Eee Eeee (which I found to
      be brilliant first novel: epic, funny and dense), and have been an avid
      follower of both his writing and his web-personality since.Tao Lin has a very wide
      ranged audience and his voice will be heard and praised, I believe, with or
      without the Vintage label.  One
      should probably think twice before sanctimoniously claiming to have intelligent
      friends that have not heard of someone so awesome as Tao Lin (it might make you
      sound ignorant—or just make you sound like an asshole… just a thought).

  71. Anonymous

      whoever reads this comment, and doesn’t realize it’s a paid placement/sockpuppet account, then i don’t know what to tell you.

  72. postitbreakup

      damn, thought you were just being cynical, but she has no other posts, and her twitter account has only two tweets, both about tao lin & one of which is a link to this comment


  73. A Depressed Hamster

      i felt nicely energized/pleasantly confused while reading it

  74. Rachel Pigott

      Sorry to disappoint… but I am indeed a real person… who’s just a fan… that felt very opinionated yesterday.  I wish I got paid for having opinions though– I have a shit ton of student loans!

  75. Rachel Pigott

      Definitely slightly creepy (shhh… don’t divulge my internet crush).  I’m new to using Twitter… and posting comments to articles.  I do have a blog and Facebook though, if that gets me any cool points?

  76. shaun gannon

      what are they?

  77. marshall mallicoat

       rachel pigott is a fbi agent in disguise

  78. Anonymous

      It’s great that you love Lin’s work and so passionately defend it. All well and good. The only point lost on me is what’s sanctimonious about a person noting that their friends don’t know Lin. It’s an objective statement of fact for that person, and I don’t see how its use shows either ignorance or arrogance. Seems to show neither, just a factual, albeit personal, detail shared for the purpose of making a point. YOUR friends may know and adore Lin (sure sounds like it) but how would that negate any possibility that someone else’s don’t? Are you really trying to suggest that every intelligent person everywhere has heard of Tao Lin? (and because he’s “so awesome”?!?). And that any claim that there are people who haven’t heard of him is implausible? If so, you’re deluded.

  79. Anonymous
  80. Jeff Hoiland

      so.. is htmlgiant the ‘bro pack’ of literature or like… lol hahaha…hehehe…lol…