It's a strange and delightful fact that the Occupy movement which began last month on Wall Street was not born on Twitter or Facebook or a blog. Rather, the idea emerged from a dusty print-based medium that almost nobody cares about anymore (or so we thought), a format that dates back to the days of Husker Du and Pagan Kennedy. Occupy Wall Street was born in a zine.
Adbusters was founded in Vancouver, Canada in 1989 by Kalle Lasn, an Estonian-born filmmaker outraged by the insidious and deceptively "warm" television commercials the timber industry was running in the Pacific Northwest to cover its destruction of vast areas of forest. Adbusters began using humor and parody to highlight and combat corporate and consumerist groupthink, and over the past two decades has staged many events and campaigns: TV commercials that mock other commercials, "open source" sneakers resembling existing sneaker brands, a "Buy Nothing Day" to combat holiday shopping mania, fake tickets to place on the windshields of SUVs. The zine became a staple of bookstore magazine shelves in the 1990s, sharing space with other worthy indie publications like Bitch, Giant Robot, Bust, Maximum Rock 'N' Roll, Craphound and Factsheet Five.
Like many other media jammers such as Julian Assange, Kalle Lasn is stronger on vision than on charisma, and likes to keep a low public profile. He occasionally appears on TV, and wrote a book, Culture Jam: The Uncooling of America, in 1999. Unlike other media organizations with less political conviction, Adbusters appears to be truly opposed to mainstream success, and has resisted the temptaion to dilute its message in search of greater popularity. But the organization's intrinsic hostility to media respectability has sometimes left curious newcomers confused about its program, and has given its opponents an easy opportunity to dismiss the (clearly honest) organization as extremist, Marxist, sympathetic to foreign influences.
Returning to Romania, my native country after 30 years, made me feel like Rip Van Winkle. I didn’t fall asleep for that many years, but I did fall out of touch with my native country — and Eastern Europe in general — as I was focusing on my personal and professional life in the United States. My memories of my native country didn’t fade, however. I kept them alive through my fiction, the novel Velvet Totalitarianism that I’ve already written about on Litkicks, and that has just been republished in Romanian translation as Between Two Worlds (Intre Doua Lumi). The image of Romania in my head was also somewhat faded: a kind of black and white — or gray, more like it — snapshot of the communist country my family fled from in 1981. I described this dire image as vividly as I could in my novel:
While Eva waited for the pietoni (pedestrians/walk) sign to turn green, her eyes couldn’t help but focus on the poster of General Secretary Nicolae Ceausescu directly facing her. The dictator’s face was frozen into the larger-than-life image he wanted to convey: his hair was still dark, glossy and youthful; his brown eyes sparkled with a reassuring warmth; his sensual mouth smiled with compassion; his aquiline, Roman nose took away some of the face’s natural beauty but gave it an air of authority. Eva thought how different this man was, and his benevolent image, from the day-to-day reality facing most Romanians. She turned away her gaze with disgust, yet found no consolation in her immediate surroundings. That winter evening, everything looked gray—the streets, the dingy buildings, the people scurrying about. Even the falling snow couldn’t add a glimmer of beauty to the gloomy atmosphere. Disoriented snowflakes fell helplessly onto the ground and disappeared without a trace into the pavement. What a pity, Eva whispered to herself, thinking that during the past few years, Bucharest in the evening had become a depressing sight. The formerly lively capital, filled with dazzling lights, picturesque cobblestone streets, Napoleonic-style buildings and its very own version of L’arc de triomphe (Arcul de Triumf) looked anything but triumphant now.
The main thing I learned is that, once I publish a book, the book won't sit still. It will cry for my attention. Friends will email me sugggestions and errors to fix. Potential customers will urge me to produce non-Kindle versions, or paperback editions. Marketing and publicity opportunities will beckon. My super-fast one-book-a-month pace was designed to keep my project moving, but I quickly began to realize I was defeating my own goals by obliging myself to be always working furiously on the next book to come, instead of nurturing and marketing the books that were already published to the maximum extent each one required.
My lesson has been learned, and I am now hitting the pause button on my one-book-a-month plan. I have two excellent new Kindle publications in progress, but the next one will not come out in August, and the following one will not come out in September. These two new books are the first stab at the second phase of the Literary Kicks publishing plan, which involves not only producing books from selected content originally published on this blog, but also producing new and innovative editions of classic public domain works related to some of the interest areas and obsessions featured here. The books I had planned for August and September are very exciting ones (I wish I could tell you more about them now, but it'll have to wait). I think both books will sell well if published properly, but they're less likely to reach their potential if I rush them out. This is why I've decided to cut the fast pace, put the new books on a slower track to launch, and devote my current efforts towards improving the four books that are currently out.
"Ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe, and now you're really in the total animal soup of time ..." -- Allen Ginsberg, "Howl"
I'm proud to announce the publication of Beats In Time: A Literary Generation's Legacy, a selection of the best eighteen pieces about the Beat Generation from the Literary Kicks archives.
Here's the Amazon page where you can buy the book for Kindle (either a Kindle device or, if you don't have one, Kindle software available for free for all platforms). Here's more information about the book, including the complete table of contents.
Four months ago I announced my intention to publish one e-book a month for the next year, thus launching a new publishing branch of this long-running website. I've released three Kindle books so far, right on schedule, and I'll be presenting the newest title on Thursday. Unlike your local train line, I've still never been late.
This is hard work, but it's going pretty well so far. The first of my three books seems to keep selling, and while the other two are lagging behind, my latest chapbook of selected literary essays did get a very nice review at Dead End Follies. Still, as I proceed I can't help feeling that I'm going both too fast and too slow. I'd like to explain what I mean by this.
I suppose it's obvious that I'm going too fast, because I'm publishing one book a month. Nobody publishes one book a month! I originally pledged to maintain this fast pace because I figure if I'm going to jump into the indie publishing business with both feet, I may as well do it Kerouac-style. I don't want to waste a lot of time triple-proofreading or worrying over spreadsheets. I want this new publishing venture to go, go, go.
Taking advantage of a Hollywood vacation my wife won at her office Christmas party this past December, I decided to visit a few West Coast indie bookstores with copies of my novel, Tamper. This was our first time in California and we loved everything about it. In between sightseeing and dining, I dropped in on four bookstores I had chosen from a list provided by L.A. resident Wanda Shapiro, author of Sometimes That Happens With Chicken, whom I recently befriended on Facebook.
First, I have to say, the printed book is far from dead. On the flight from Jacksonville, Florida and throughout our stay in the Los Angeles area, I lost count of the number of people I saw reading books (not ebooks) at the airport, on the plane, in the hotel lobby, in coffee shops, and on the beach. Once, on my flight back to Jacksonville, I saw no less than three people in a row, all reading books at the same time. I managed to sneak a snapshot of them with my iPhone before the flight attendant reminded me to shut the gadget down while we were in the air.
I've been pondering an article by Writer's Digest blogger and editor Jane Friedman, who is "getting frustrated with people who say they're bad at marketing & promotion because they're introverts". In the age of social media, Friedman reminds us:
... introverts should be over the moon at how lucky we are to live in an age when we can effectively market and promote by
- staying at home
- using whatever tools suit our communication style best (e-mail, IM, Skype, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
- crafting and controlling messages to our own satisfaction
- limiting interaction when needed
I see what she's getting at, and this is a good message for independent writers and publishers to hear. It's a message that feels relevant to me, because I've been trying to push myself to work harder on publicity and marketing since beginning an e-book publishing venture in April. I know how important this is, and I already knew (before Jane Friedman reminded me) that I wouldn't get where I needed to go without stepping way beyond my comfort zone in terms of self-marketing.
I've just spent three days at the biggest and most glorious nerd convention in New York City: the annual BookExpo America, or BEA.
This nerd convention is different from other literary nerd conventions like DragonCon and ComicCon in one major way: there, people dress up in costumes to try to look weird, while here editors, publishers, agents, writers, distributors, bookstore owners, librarians, critics and bloggers dress up in American Apparel or Urban Outfitters and try to appear normal for three days in a row. We're not fooling anyone: we're book professionals, and we're all obsessed.
The great thing about this gathering is the wide, unabashed enthusiasm for books. From 9:30-in-the-morning panels to 2 am Soho parties, BookExpo is an intense, highly social experience. But even if the passions are highly individual, much of the constant shared buzz is about business, about the hot titles coming out from the big publishing houses. I noticed a somewhat strained effort to manufacture the word that a new novel called The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach is "getting a lot of buzz", though the book looks a bit stiff to me, and I think some people may be getting it confused with last year's Freedom by Jonathan Franzen.
Last month I announced my new
obsession project: Literary Kicks will be publishing one e-book a month for the next year. The new book is now out! It's a literary book about poker, and it's called The Cards I'm Playing: Poker and Postmodern Literature.
I'm going to write about the book tomorrow, but today I want to share some lessons I've learned during my quick education as an e-book publisher. Part of the fun of e-book publishing in 2011 is a sense of community, innovation and adventure, and I hope the points below will help others who are launching their own e-book ventures.
1. Cover Art: I began this project with one absolute principle: any e-book published by Literary Kicks is going to look good. I don't understand why other e-book publishers put out such shabby-looking product. For the cover of The Cards I'm Playing, I'm proud to present a design by Vince Larue, an up-and-coming graphic artist from France. Working with Vince was a pleasure: I told him what I wanted, he sent a couple of quick sketches, and within 36 hours I had the final draft that you see on this page. I love this cover -- merci beaucoup Vince!
1. I've read a few good tributes to the late Beat/hippie poet Ira Cohen, a good guy I used to see around the East Village a lot. I did a poetry reading with him at the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus in 2002, but I never knew that Ira Cohen invented the 70s-era headshop art trend known as Mylar painting. (Photo of Ira Cohen from a video by Laki Vazakas).
2. You may have heard the news: e-books are hot. This time around, I'm on the bandwagon. I'll be attending the BookExpo gathering next week in New York City, and I'm sure electronic publishing will be the biggest buzz there. I'm a few days behind schedule with my new Kindle book ... the title and cover will be revealed soon. I'm very happy with the ongoing sales figures for my first Kindle book, Why Ayn Rand Is Wrong (and Why It Matters), and I'm proud that this book has remained in the top 100 Kindle bestsellers in the Politics->Ideology category for the entire month, and was #40 on the list this weekend.