Archive for the ‘THE POWER OF TWELVE’ Category

The Literary Life

Monday, July 27th, 2015

In the 1950s and 1960s, I grew up in Westchester County, thirty minutes from New York City (think Don Draper in “Mad Men” for the  typical train commute), and I was the son of a book publisher 9k=living in the center of the literary world.  My dad would have frequent parties with other book publishers including Sol Stein, the founder of Stein and Day; Max Schuster of Simon and Shuster; Jovanovich of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich; Nat Wartels, the founder of Crown; luminaries such as Bennet Cerf of Random House; and many others whose names have receded into the mists of publishing history.  I remember the parties and the characters, they seemed larger than life and enjoyed every aspect of living with great emphasis on fine food and drink.  After all these years I forget many of their names, but their companies (such as Sterling) live on, now owned by larger corporations which have changed the publishing world and which, no doubt, in fifty years will in many cases have disappeared as well.

The literary life itself has changed.  As a society we do not cultivate great writing; we really don’t.  I am not sure if great writing is still possible.  And this is not because of technology, but in spite of it. More people are writing more books more easily than ever before. There are more writer’s groups,  more writing courses, more “How to be a Best Selling Author” seminars, and more access to getting books published than in any previous moment in history.  So the problem with the lack of great writing is actually neither access nor time to the tools and the profession. The problem, as far  as I can determine, is with the times in which we live.

There is much focus on commercial success and seeming relevance that it is rare for those who read to take the time to cultivate great writing.  Great writing takes time. Great writing takes  rewriting.  Great writing does not ensure commercial success.  The recent release of Harper Lee’s  “Go Set a Watchman” is a case study that proves why there is little if any great writing or great publishing at this moment in time. “To Kill a Mockingbird”  is a great book, it has withstood the test of time.  It will still be read fifty years from now, more than one hundred years after it was published. But I doubt that even five years from now “Go Set a Watchman” will be read. It is not great writing. It was not meant to be published; it required rewriting.  The rewriting is what created the timelessness of “To Kill a Mockingbird”.  The editor took time, months of back and forth with Harper Lee, hundreds of hours of thought and comment from both editor and author.  This could never happen today.  Both publisher and author can not  take the time to have a book percolate. There is too much financial gain or loss at stake.  And besides, is anyone other than a few literary critics or erudite publishing industry or academic specialists going to notice the flaws in books not truly gestated, not truly edited, but published for great financial benefit?

I write books myself and they are well written. One, “The Twelve”, has sold more than 500,000 copies. My authored books however are not great writing.  I was not motivated to write a great book. I hired an outside editor. I had a wonderful editor provided by the publisher. They did as good a job as the time and money allocated justified. Readers have enjoyed my books, and I receive wonderful compliments from them. For some my books have changed their lives for the better.  They are good books, just not great.  In the fullness of time my books are unlikely to survive.  Only truly great works of art survive.

I recommend that those of you interested in writing strive for greatness. It will not be easy, there will be distractions. You will have to find great editors and you will have to pay them.  You will have to allocate time. You will have to be unattached to the financial results.  You will have to cut back on your social media and dedicate all of your creative energy to the book itself and not the marketing. You will have difficulty finding a major publisher. But if you write a truly great book, your words may live forever.

Now, that would be a true literary life.

IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH

Friday, January 17th, 2014

I have the pleasure of working with Bill Gladstone, and today I received the following blog copy from him:images

We know that marriages are supposed to be commitments that are not just for the good times. We know that the postal service is supposed to continue rain or snow. But we often fail to realize that we are committed to our own personal journeys  in both sickness and in health. It is no fun being sick. I find it impossible to write or have in depth conversations when I am  ill. I just have the flu and it will pass but my level of misery is real.

So all of you out there, if you are well, celebrate the joy of life. If you have the flu like me, hang in there. Tomorrow will be another day and the joy of healthy balanced life will return. I still fail to comprehend why our biological systems are so frail. Perhaps in the future we will find a way so that no one ever needs to be sick.

Of course, I immediately wrote back that he should get Tamiflu, stay in bed, drink fluids, and that if he wanted, I would bring him chicken soup – all the requisite advice and offers we give to friends who fall prey to the flu.  What we don’t do often enough is to admonish our friends and loved ones, as well as ourselves, to avoid taking being healthy for granted; to stay at least as aware of our health as we are of celebrity gossip and other nonsense.

A few months ago, Labor Day to be exact, I returned from a visit to upstate NY coughing and sneezing – mostly coughing.  Writing it off to exposure to unfamiliar flora and fauna, I told myself I was just experiencing NY allergies.  Weeks went by, the cough grew worse, in fact debilitating, and I couldn’t seem to stay awake.  Finally, in late October I was diagnosed with pneumonia.

A week off, and I came back to work, determined to catch up, putting in a seventy hour week.  And I was actually surprised when at the end of that week my fever spiked yet again and my cough returned.  Hadn’t I been on antibiotics and taken them religiously.

So, what’s the point of all this?

We have developed a quick-fix, give-me-a-pill-for-it mentality, and with that we no longer allow our bodies the necessary time to heal.  When I was a child, the doctor still came to your house.  If you were sick, he gave you cough medicine, aspirin, and sometimes an antibiotic. But what the doctor would really insist on was rest and fluids – for at least several days – emphasizing that the body needs time to heal itself.

These days, when we or our kids are sick we take our antibiotics and tell ourselves that twenty-four hours later we can and should get back to school or work.  Instead of allowing for the natural healing process to ensue, we depend on pills.  And that has expanded to depending on pills to enhance our moods, immediately cure our headaches, kick-start weight loss, and to tend to a myriad of other ailments we could otherwise attend to more naturally.

Modern medicine has its place.  It works wonders. But when push comes to shove, it is the natural ability of the body to heal itself that we must honor.

So today I am reiterating to Bill the advice he gave me in October and November. Get lots of rest.  Hydrate.  Don’t push yourself back to work too soon.  Give yourself time to truly heal.  And for those of you out there, keep this in mind the next time the flu or a cold hits you, too.  I know I will.

 

 

Love

Monday, January 13th, 2014

No topic in literature is more thoroughly explored than  love. We have  puppy love, sexual love, romantic love, parental It's_all_about_lovelove, the list seems endless. The first novel Don Quijote by Miguel Cervantes explored the nature of chivalry and the delusional love Don Quijote imagined he had for Dulcinea. In some way it seems appropriate that the very first major literary work about love explored the delusional nature of romantic love.

In the English language there is only one word for love but in other languages  there are sometimes as many as twenty different words to describe  different  types of love. In Spanish there is a clear  demarcation between carnal love—te quiero—and  platonic love—te amo. Of course the two can overlap.

In today’s world love is misunderstood more than ever. We have  shows on television such as The Matchmaker and The Bachelor which propose to help people  fall in love and form permanent relationships. In many  indigenous civilizations the idea of romantic love did not exist at all. Marriages were  primarily arranged  for the economic benefit of the  tribe  or the family and in many cases cross cousin marriage was almost obligatory to ensure long term alliances  among  families. (more…)

ACCIDENTAL BOOK PUBLISHER

Friday, January 10th, 2014

Many years ago when my literary agency, Waterside Productions Inc., was thriving as the epicenter for all books related tospinnaker_sailing_yachts the computer revolution, I was asked by my clients and  the publishers  to whom I was licensing  books from top-selling computer book  authors and experts why I had not created my own publishing company.  Although I  was generating millions of dollars in agency fees as a literary agent it seemed obvious that I could generate tens of millions of dollars of additional profits by becoming a book publisher and not just an agent. After all, we represented more than 25 percent of all the bestselling computer books over a period of close to ten years and many of the individual titles were selling millions of copies annually. Didn’t we realize how much money we were leaving on the table?

I did realize how much money I was leaving on the table, but I had learned about book publishing from my father who has started ARCO Publishing in 1936. ARCO was successful but never as large as it could have been. My father loved book publishing and especially making deals and finding new ways to market books. However, I saw firsthand the complications of having many employees, dealing with printers and warehouses, and having to accept returns from bookstores.  My father could have had a much bigger company but he turned down opportunities to purchase Kaplan when it was a small company and other companies that would have added revenue but reduced his ability to take time off from work and  focus on the casual atmosphere he had created, a lifestyle which included two hour lunches and the ability to leave the office in the middle of the day if he choose to go to a baseball game or other event.

Like him I have never put money as the only priority in running a business. I believe money was his primary priority, but acquiring it was not out of balance with other goals. In my case making money has always been an important priority but not my primary focus. My primary focus has been on working with people and ideas that excite me and allow me to express my own creativity. I found that being an agent rather than publisher allowed me greater diversity and fulfilled my desire to end each day without myriad details needing my attention on each book agented.  As a publisher you must constantly monitor the production and marketing of each book you publish. As agent it is really just about negotiating the right deal with the right publisher for each author with relatively little follow-up required once the deal is struck. Really an ideal scenario for someone with my desire and ability to balance fifty or more negotiations at one time but little capacity for or interest in the details of marketing each book once published.

But then along came the ebook revolution, and what is an agent to do? Except for our major proven authors, it is increasingly difficult to negotiate or even land book deals with the major New York houses. Everyone wants proven, low-risk publishing opportunities and no major publisher can afford the luxury of developing new authors. Authors whose books I could place easily five or ten years ago now are passed on by the major houses. Rather than force these authors self-publish I decided two years ago to create Waterfront Digital Press. My concept was to publish ebooks only and see which books created enough buzz  so that we might, at a future time, be able to approach large traditional publishers to take over both print and ebook publication.  We might not make much money with our ebooks, but we would allow authors to market themselves in a professional manner by introducing them to top PR and marketing services which they, rather than Waterside as publisher, would have to fund. In exchange, we would  pay out 70 percent or more of all ebook-generated  revenue to our authors. This is the reverse of a standard publishing agreement, but we felt we were really co-publishing with our authors and that they and not us were doing the heavy lifting. The other advantage with ebook publishing is that we would have no inventory and no returns. (more…)

Money

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Time, space and money. I was going to follow up my discussion of time with a discussion of space, and I still may write urlabout space in a future blog.  But I thought money, especially at this time of year, was a better topic. Space is a strange topic and not easy to write about, especially from the perspective of deep reality in which there is the high probability that space, like time, is actually an illusion. Money, although also an illusion, is easier to understand.

I recently met with Gary Renard the author of the Disappearance of the Universe and other bestselling titles that challenge our concept of time and space. In addition to being a wonderful author, workshop leader, and speaker, Gary is also a stock market day trader. He has done extremely well day trading lately, as have others with stock investments over the last year. 2013 in fact was the year in which the stock market reached new highs on almost a daily basis.  Gary seems to have the money issue figured out, at least for the present. (more…)

Time

Monday, January 6th, 2014

Time is one of the most interesting concepts we can explore. Arriving at a new year always make us think of time. How is it imagespossible that a new year has started? What happened to the past year? For those of my generation we ask what has happened to the last decade? And when we reflect we may look back and wonder what happened to the last fifty years.

Where did the time go? Did we use it wisely? How much time do we have left? Will we accomplish all that we  set out to accomplish in our youth? Will anyone notice if we do or don’t? Will it really matter if we leave this planet with  “things left undone?” (more…)

A TIME FOR HEROES

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

I met with a new client this week, Susie Anthony. Susie is an amazing woman. She was highly successful in her early1154746963_e0eb5e94a6_o thirties, her success culminating with her working for the fifth wealthiest man in the world, a Japanese businessman who was also a Samurai. Working with him, Susie learned a great deal about business, the super wealthy and the ancient wisdom of Japan.  But what she primarily learned was that wealth and power, as attractive as they were, were not ultimately satisfying her soul or her sense of purpose. After a few years Susie  became  addicted not just to the glamour and wealth and power, but also to cocaine.

Susie’s first book, Map to God, explores her journey and explains what she calls “the code”. She approached me with the idea of writing The Super Hero Code which would include stories from fifty or more of the famous business people, actors and visionaries with whom she has worked in the last two decades, sharing their stories as examples of how each individual is, in essence, a hero with their own code which they have followed to reach success in their chosen field and in their life. (more…)

Lucky 2014

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

Today is the first day of 2014.  Where has the time  gone? The digits in 2014 add up to seven. We all know that seven is asparkling_2014_lights lucky number. No doubt  2014 is going to be a very lucky year at least for some of  us. After all every year seems to favor some of us whether it’s a lucky year or not.

Can there ever be a year that favors all of us? Are we really living in a zero sum world or might it be possible that everyone can benefit at  the same time?  Why is there so much conflict in the world and what can we each do in our  individual lives to ensure that good fortune is the norm and not just an anomaly for the fortunate few? (more…)

SECURITY

Monday, December 30th, 2013

We are living in a world in which security is becoming more and more expensive. If we add up the costs of our military, TSA, CISCO_Security_Istana_01Homeland Security, police, prison guards, NSA, FBI, CIA, and private corporate security firms throughout America, I am sure we are spending trillions of dollars on keeping ourselves safe. And strangely, I do not  think people feel safer today than they did fifty years ago when the amount of money being spent on security was much less. Consider, too, that this much more being spent is not just in actual dollars but in percentage of our gross national productivity as well.

One of the aspects about security that is most troubling is that nothing is actually produced in economic terms.  I value my time and it has always bothered me that billions of work hours are lost going through security lines at airports and elsewhere. Those hours are never returned and can never be converted to productive use of time. More damaging yet is that the herding of people, all of whom are assumed potential threats until proven otherwise, is often demeaning and creates a culture of submission in what we hope is still the home of the brave and the land of the free. (more…)

The Culture of Entitlement

Friday, December 27th, 2013

So soon after Christmas I am hesitant to play the Grinch, but I have become increasingly disappointed by the growing sense of entitlement that our culture has created. It seems everyone thinks they should be permitted to have whatever they want whenever they want no matter what they actually contribute to society.  This is not the way our founding fathers ever envisioned what it means to be an American.

We can go back to the original Homestead Act for the first entitlements that were granted. Titles to land were granted to thousands of Americans willing to work the land. Back in those days working the land did not mean that you had tractors and trailers. You worked the land with your hands and had tools, with some mules if you were lucky, and you built your own home, your own fences and barn and everything else you might need to turn uncultivated land to crops or cattle-raising property. Basically your land grant entitled you to the opportunity to work sixteen hour days and create a legacy for your children and grandchildren.

Today the level of entitlement is out of control. I am not just talking about federal programs to help the poor.  A minimum level of food, housing, education, health care and freedom to create is a necessary entitlement for all members of society. What is concerning me is the level of entitlement our public servants feel they deserve.  Just a few days ago another case was discussed in our local San Diego newspaper of a former police officer who was requesting that her $200,000 plus annual retirement payment be considered in part disability payment and thus not subject to normal taxation.  She requested this because of disabilities she had developed while serving on the police force for thirty-plus years. In this case the police officer happens to be a woman. Because of the privacy act she does not want to have her specific disability revealed. (more…)