Publisher's Note: The personal views of the publisher, expressed here, do not necessarily mirror those of other contributors to this magazine. This is always strictly my own personal rant.
It Feels Good
Last month, I elaborated about my new strategy of dumping all the pseudonyms under which I have published. My reasons for using those names were strategic, and somewhat clever, not to mention something of an indulgence (and a shield against rotten tomatoes, should there be any), but the strategy has not delivered. A smart general changes strategy when the goal isn't being reached. The goal, in a writer's instance, is to reach a large number of people and sell many copies in order to keep sufficient food groups moving through the metro tunnels of his or her mortal coil.
Critical Mass The larger point of this change is what I call Critical Mass. It's a bit of an overused paradigm dating to the early atomic age, but it continues to succincty offer a relevant metaphor. The multiple pseudonyms (and over 22 websites) served to spread my effectiveness thinly over a large plane in conceptual space. I am now doing the opposite. Most writers are not show-people. Most of us are fairly reticent, and would rather retire to a quiet room and crank out reams of enjoyable prose. Most of us authors, in fact, plainly suck at writing a synopsis or a cover blurb for our opera (plural of opus.
Showmanship (or Not) For many of us who are not good self-promoters, the least we can do is put our real (and only) name in the spotlight. My theory of critical mass is that, if you reach enough buyers with a single good thing, word of mouth will start catching on and kick off a snowball effect of growth, sales, more readership, more freedom to write. Not only that, but readers who liked one book will probably read others. I have always believed in offering lots of free sample chapters. The theory is that, if a book stands on its merits and drives up enough interest and suspense, the reader will feel compelled to reach for his/her wallet and drive past the last free chapter to find out what happens in the end. Hopefully, we as the writer have crafted our ending well enough to reward the reader and deliver a sound story arc. That means the ending has to deliver on its promise. That will bring readers back.
Dan Brown is a good case in point for several reasons. I once read about 100 of the (thousand or more) comments left by readers at Amazon.com regarding (oh, let's say) The Da Vinci Code. This was his breakout novel. He had written several others that met with limited success, if any. A number of factors suddenly exploded with his The Da Vinci Code, and suddenly millions of readers were hungry to read anything he had done. Can his success be duplicated? I doubt it. I've already researched and plotted my own original novel in this genre (which is what Dan Brown has created), but (I'm not the first to wryly observe) most of us will over-research and over-plot and generally stifle what might be a good read. It is a unique blend of Brown's considerable talents as well as weaknesses that combined just perfectly to give the world a new publishing phenomenon. I'm sure publishers in past years were flooded with sincere but execrable imitations of Love Story or The Bridges of Madison County and the like. In fact, most of us as fledgling writers, in our youth, tried to write in the voice of Hemingway or Fitzgerald or John O'Hara or what have you. Each of those unique voices will not bear successful imitation. We can extract some general observations, however. Applying the Critical Mass yardstick to Dan Brown's accomplishment, we see that he uses his own name, and once his work caught on with The Da Vinci Code, readers couldn't get enough of his work. I doubt most of us can ever scratch the surface of such a commercial success, but I am just after enough scratch to buy my next beer and maybe a nice German salami in order to keep the blood sugar flowing.
In my new strategy, I don't even count on having a moderately large success, though it would be nice. My pragmatic side suggests, from experience already gained, that I can create a series of small successes, and they together will add up to put food and drink on the table. I write for the joy of it, so that's all I need to keep going and make me happy. It's a reasonably modest goal, but a shining one, and I feel good about it. More about all this in my next month's rant. Until then, be good, do good, and fell well.
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