You know, there really is a lot to get excited about with the whole power of social media and networking thing. No doubt about it. But for as much as so many of us want to be pioneers, in a lot of ways you can really only go so far as the industry is ready. As my friend Terry Hawkins says, “If you’re the only guy in town with a telephone, there’s no one to talk to.”
The idea of trying to be so ahead of the curve that you literally have “no one to talk to” relates to the concept that Dan Cafaro and I explored with the release of my debut novel, The Director of Happiness. On first blush, it seemed pioneering, entrepreneurial, and that it might even generate extra buzz. The strategy, as detailed in a previous post would justify the publisher’s expense to cast it into print form and distribution, but also have a built-in audience (those who had already invested in it as readers and donors). Then there were these little problems to consider, like: (a) Do people want to read the vast majority of a novel on their computer (which is where it would seem most would); (b) Can you spin the novel through the book review circuit once it’s been released (or mostly released) online?; (c) Is it worth the risk for one’s literary debut? In other words, would it not be seen as a second-class citizen, having to develop funds on its own to justify publisher expense? Or, on the other hand, would it seem like we were giving it specialized attention over the other Atticus authors, especially if the book were a success?; (d) And if the project failed, beside the public humiliation, what then exactly, especially after so much of the novel had been previously released?
Those were mostly my concerns, anyway.
One unexpected creative direction came out of resolving another issue: How can we keep the original readers interested in purchasing a copy of the book in print form if they’ve already read it? The first solution was to keep them hooked, and not release another section until a certain goal had been made. Another was to at least keep the last two chapters from being released online (but that didn’t seem completely fair). Yet another was simply give the project more than a two-month deadline to fulfill its funding goals. But other than “cutting off” content, I had another idea. What about at certain levels of donor funding, the author agrees to write other perspectives? The Director of Happiness was a monologue in the voice of the “Cool Hunter,” J.J. Fleming, about 48,000 words plus another 10,000 worth of footnoted material. He addresses his thoughts to his “Director of Happiness,” and the focus of his thoughts are on his wife E. What if I gave voice to one or both of them? How would that change the novel?
In the synergy of brainstorming, Dan got really excited about what the Director Happiness might have to say, and we both agreed it would make the title of the novel even more compelling. Not only that, but she had a lot to say. I had no idea how formed the character already was in my mind, and how much must have been unconsciously brewing. We’ve both decided to hold off production until we see how her perspective works in contrast and relationship with J.J. Fleming’s and go from there.
In some ways it’s back to the drawing board inasmuch as I’m writing a whole new perspective for a novel that I had polished and copy-edited to near “perfection.” Now that I’m over 2/3 done with her POV, though, I couldn’t be happier. It adds a compelling layer of complication and sophistication to the story, and ironically enough, came as a result of trying to be a part of innovative strategies for getting a book you believe in “out there.”
Ahead of my time? Maybe not. But I’m thrilled with where my first novel is headed both literally and figuratively.