SIU grad makes it big with comedy website

Cracked.com editor opens doors for other aspiring writers

 

For Jason Pargin, getting a book deal, selling the movie rights and becoming a senior editor at a major national website never meant leaving Marion.

Pargin, who uses the pen name David Wong, is senior editor for comedy site Cracked.com, and his debut novel, “John Dies at the End,” has been adapted into a film starring Paul Giamatti. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival Jan. 23.

With the film now seeking distribution, Pargin said he’s completed a sequel novel that likely will come out at the end of the year.

Pargin, who graduated from SIU’s radio-television department in 1997, said for the better part of the last decade, writing was just a hobby for him.

And while he felt he had talent, he could never break into the business through the traditional routes, he said.

While working a number of jobs, including processing insurance claims, he had a personal website, Pointless Waste of Time, where he would post various pieces of comedy, he said. Every Halloween he would post an entry of what would become “John Dies at the End.”

In 2007, he started self-publication of the complete book, and a small print-on-demand publisher came to him offering to do a run of paperbacks, he said.

But one of those paperbacks ended up in the hands of director Don Coscarelli, who immediately contacted Pargin seeking the film rights, he said.

“I thought it was a crazy person contacting me,” Pargin said.

After getting multiple emails, Pargin said he replied and soon found himself negotiating contracts for the film. After the rights were sold, St. Martin’s Press approached him about doing a hardcover run of the novel, he said.

Around the same time, he was hired as an editor for Cracked.com, he said, though they didn’t even realize he’d gotten a book deal at that point.

At Cracked, he’s had the philosophy that there’s a massive pool of untapped talent out there, who, like himself, might not know how to get published.

“When article ideas from nobodies start coming in, who the hell am I to tell them no?” he said.

Pargin said almost all of the website’s content comes from freelancers, most of whom don’t have any publishing experience.

He said contributors pitch ideas, and as an editor, much of his job consists of going through every pitch and giving feedback to all of them, regardless of his having any interest in publishing it.

After pitches are accepted, the writers move to the next stage, and editors work with them to help hone their work the whole way.

Contributor Mohammed Shariff, of New York City, said he’d never written or published an article, or even pitched an idea, when he joined the website’s story idea forum and made a pitch.

“I could’ve written my articles and posted them on a blog, but that wouldn’t have given me any exposure,” he said in an email.

Contributor Pauli Poisuo, of Helsinki, Finland, said Cracked’s format of sourcing freelancers is part of a greater shift in the entertainment industry following the rise of new technologies.

“It’s a system where the biggest emphasis is ability, as opposed to the traditional system that is largely based on networking and reputation,” he said in an email. “There’s a huge wave of change in the entertainment field: the rise of the little guy.”

And just as Pargin started out as a nobody, he said many of the freelancers who’ve contributed to Cracked, some of whom were only teenagers, have gone on to have successful careers writing and editing for other sites.

Pargin said the freelancing strategy wasn’t part of any grand plan, but rather came from his own experiences as an unknown, hobbyist writer.

“That’s kind of based on me having spent seven or eight solid years writing with absolutely no success at all,” he said.

 


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