Monday, October 22, 2012

THE STORY SO FAR: PART 47

HOW CAN A NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLING AUTHOR ENGAGE WITH HIS OR HER READERS?

NEW BOOKS, THIS BLOG, REPLYING TO YOUR E-MAILS, AND MY HUMUNGOUS NEW WEBSITE IS A START.

BUT, WHAT DO I MEAN BY ‘HUMUNGOUS?’ HOW ABOUT OVER 500 PAGES – AND COUNTING?

I have thought about this matter a lot because I know perfectly well that without my readers, I would have scant credibility as an author. They – you – validate my work, reward me financially by buying my books, and – mostly through your e-mails – keep my spirits up during difficult times. I find it impossible to express my gratitude adequately. The operative word is “impossible.” It can’t be done. But, I can try – and perhaps I can come close.

Clearly the best way to try is to write more books. That is what you all want; and that is what I can supply. However, when traditional publishing ruled the roost, I was entirely dependent upon them – publishers – to take my manuscripts and and turn them into printed books. I have written many books since my first three; but they have not been published.

Despite achieving considerable success – both in sales, and in critical acclaim, and in becoming a New York Times Best Selling author – I was dropped by by my leading publisher. In the U.S. Best Selling authors mostly – are made by corporate entities. The reader is relevant, but  only up to a point. Primarily, weight of money wins. As with politicians, candidates for success are backed financially, and sheer weight of money normally punches through. The wishes of the masses scarcely count because it is a simple fact that, with enough money, they can be manipulated.

If you find that depressing, you have my sympathy; but it is important to face up to the reality that advertising, propaganda and and all the other tools of propaganda – work; and work devastatingly well. 

Let’s return to the specifics of my situation: My publisher wanted a mega best selling author, but decided I was not to be that person; so it switched its investments elsewhere. The reasons involved the sacking of my champion inside the firm, financial irregularities in the company’s books, personal chemistry (or the lack thereof), and the fact my editor and I were – to put it politely incompatible. For reason that have never been clear to me, he loathed me from Day One and was – as my then agent so memorably commented: “Not someone you want to have lunch with.” I did not share the same initial animosity, and tried to work with him. Eventually I realized that I was dealing with someone with serious hostility issues, had him removed; and, as a consequence, made an enemy for life. I have never regretted my decision. I had no choice in the matter.

Hell hath no fury like a senior editor scorned. Worse, he soon went on to become a major figure in what had become an overly concentrated publishing industry; and so I was blacklisted. There wasn’t a formal blacklist. Instead, the word was put out that I was a good writer “who did not sell.” I was damned by faint praise. Such a condemnation was highly successful. As with the movies, there is a lemming-like quality about today’s traditional publishing, and if an author is damned by one influential figure in the industry, he is likely to be damned by all. The quality of one’s writing has nothing to do with it. The real point is that backing a controversial author could jeopardize one’s career. True – you could be right; but, more to the point, you could be wrong; and that was – and remains -a career breaker. In a world where there are always fresh manuscripts, and which has become corporate and risk averse, why take risks? Besides, herd instinct is strong.

I might well have given up writing except that I suddenly began to get fan e-mail – and in quantity. My e-mail address hadn’t even been in my first two books (and traditional publishers are notoriously bad at passing on traditional letters). However, I did manage to get my e-mail address into the paperback addition of my third book; and that opened the floodgates.

Suddenly, I was receiving hundreds of an e-mails, and soon it was thousands. All loved my writing; and all wanted more books. How could that be reconciled with the views of publishers? It was academic. No publisher was interested in my fan mail. It counted for nothing as far as they were concerned. To this day I remain shocked by that. Surely one should listen to one’s customers?

I was na├»ve. Where corporate entities and corporate culture are concerned, group-think wins nearly every time. It does because that keeps your job safe. In effect, fear is what drives and dominates much of corporate culture. It is authoritarian, ruthless, and normally mindless; and one’s constitutional right to freedom of speech does not apply within the corporate environment. In the land of the free and the home of the brave, when you work you are decidedly not free –and very few are brave.

It strikes me that we need to think much more than we do about the institutions that rule our lives. Corporatization, in its present form (an important qualification)  is crushing this country; and many others. I’m not against Capitalism. I just think its excesses need to be smoothed away, because any system based upon unfettered greed just has to be flawed. It is also ridiculous. There is so much more to life. 

In order to put bread upon the table, and because I was motivated by 9/11 and a desire a help my adopted country, I worked on military matters for some years (invaluable research for future books as well) and then Amazon launched the Kindle in late 2007 and changed everything.

I am normally quite perceptive, but I will confess I was slow to understand the full significance of e-books and related matters initially. Then it finally dawned on me. My God! I can publish and market my books myself.

Shame on me for being so slow, but, to be fair, there were reasons; and the transition from author to entrepreneurial author who publishes his own books, and those of others, is no small thing. An author – his personal cares apart – merely has to worry about writing (Heaven as far as I am concerned). An author publisher has a mass of commercial concerns as well. In particular, he has to ensure that the books he publishes sell. They don’t have to be Best Sellers, but they do have to pay the rent.

Such thinking – prompted by many thousands of fan e-mails – led me to examine how I could improve my communication with my readers. This blog is but one example. Next came the idea of sharing the events that had turned me into a writer, and molded my writing, in the form of the kind of web site which you could either dip into for five minutes, or explore for hours – if you were so inclined. It would be written like a long conversation with a friend. Why not, indeed? Most readers write to me as if they know me and somehow think of me as a friend; and I try to write back in exactly that way. Beyond that, virtually all the readers that I have met in person have become my friends. I seem to attract some fascinating people as readers (and am rather proud of that).

The end result is a web site which is over 500 pages long, but carefully indexed through links so you can read as much or as little as you feel inclined. If you like my writing, and have a sense of humor, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

When will it appear? I have learned not to be too precise where computer projects are concerned, but since some exceptionally talented individuals are working on it, I don’t thing it will be too long. I’ll keep you advised through this blog.

Dear Readers: Think of my humungous blog as a humungous “Thank you!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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