In 1934, a young North Dakotan named Arnold Samuelson went to South Florida to ask Ernest Hemingway how to write. He spent a year with the author, who offered bits of wisdom like “Get a good night’s rest” and “Don’t get discouraged.” Hemingway also told him that writing is a “damned tough racket. The only reason I make any money at it is I’m a sort of literary pirate.” Samuelson documented all of this in a manuscript, which was found by his daughter after his death in 1981 and posthumously published by Random House three years later.
Writing remains a tough racket, but getting published is somewhat easier. Around 2012, e-books helped set off a self-publishing boom. Among the many companies that work with authors to bind, digitize, and sell their work is Mindstir Media, which, in March, added a new service for authors: an endorsement from a Hemingway, in the form of a foreword and a 90-second promotional video.
“I’m Mariel Hemingway,” begins a clip on the company’s Web site, “a Golden Globe– and Academy Award–nominated actress and author.” She continues, “I’m also the granddaughter of world-renowned writer Ernest Hemingway.”
The endorsement costs $25,000. (The fee also covers additional services such as proofreading and a campaign run by the company to help your book become an Amazon best-seller.)
When I speak with Hemingway by phone, she tells me that her “grandpa would probably come up through the grave and slap me in the face or something” if he knew about her work for Mindstir. “Please don’t write that. What I’m trying to say is that I’m not riding on his coattails.”
Above Her Pay Grade
Hemingway, 59, whose Hollywood career dwindled in the 90s after a breakout role, at 14, in Lipstick (1976), and then a part in Woody Allen’s Manhattan (1979), credits her grandfather’s legacy for her reading habit. Hemingway, whose own books include the 2015 memoir Out Came the Sun, says she read Ken Follett, American Dirt, and Normal People over lockdown. “But then I went and read Anna Karenina,” a book on the handwritten list of musts that Ernest gave to Samuelson in 1934. “And then, of course, I did The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged again.”
Hemingway knows very little about the financial aspects of Mindstir. “That’s above my pay grade. I have no idea how they do all of that,” she says of the price tag for the package that includes her endorsement. She also doesn’t know the average profits a Mindstir author makes. “I have no idea. If people buy their book, then you could make that money back quite easily. You know?”
Around 50 percent of Mindstir’s authors recoup their investments. When signing up, authors select “packages” that range in price from $2,000 to $25,000. The most popular package is the Gold Package, which costs $5,099 and includes a higher royalty rate and 20 free paperback copies of the published title.
Hemingway says she decided to join Mindstir in part because it sounded like fun. She also hopes that Mindstir will “encourage writers to write,” and feels “literature is a lost art in many ways.”
Social media, in her view, is to blame, as is technology. Both are also culpable for the exclusivity of traditional publishing. “We live in a world where it’s hard to get seen. If you don’t have a clue how to do this world that we live in, this social-media craziness, the Internet, whatever, it’s very hard to be just Joe Schmo or Elizabeth Jones,” she says. “You put a Hemingway on the cover of your book, at least somebody’s going to pay attention.”
Hemingway says her “grandpa would probably come up through the grave and slap me in the face or something” if he knew about her work for Mindstir.
“Having a Hemingway, and then a famous Hemingway, to boot—it’s a great connection for sure,” says J. J. Hebert, the founder of Mindstir Media.
Hebert launched the company in 2009. Mindstir started taking clients in 2010, but its business doubled in the last year, when Kevin Harrington, an entrepreneur and former Shark on the show Shark Tank, signed on as the company’s first celebrity endorser. (Hemingway is the second.) His endorsement package also costs $25,000.
Harrington’s business acumen has helped legitimize Mindstir’s image across genres, but the former Shark tends to attract nonfiction writers, particularly of business guides. (A recent exception: Harrington did the foreword to Blessed to Have Been Abandoned: The Story of the Baby Box Lady, written by a pro-life activist and founder of a nonprofit organization that installs deposit boxes in hospitals and firehouses for unwanted babies.)
Hebert hopes that Hemingway’s involvement will help establish some literary credibility for the company.
“I think the biggest thing that’s attractive, at a glance, is her name. They’ll see Hemingway, and they’ll look up Mariel Hemingway and realize, ‘I’ve seen her in all sorts of movies and TV shows.’ Then, obviously, Ernest Hemingway is her grandfather,” Hebert says. “And he’s an award-winning novelist, probably one of the greatest ever.”
So far Hemingway has written the foreword to only one Mindstir title. It’s about a dog that sets the author on a “spiritual path of being aware,” says Hemingway, “and how people behave, and blah, blah, blah. It’s cute.” (When I ask Hebert if I could talk to the author of this book, he says, “Between you and me, that author might not be the best example. There’s definitely a language barrier there.”)
For the video component of the endorsement, Hemingway read the second paragraph of her foreword. “What else was I going to say?”
Clementine Ford is an Associate Editor for Air Mail