2.21.2011

Success

Real death for a cause:

“We appeal to every Muslim, within the regime or assisting it in any way, to recognize that the killing of innocent human beings is forbidden by our Creator and by His beloved Prophet of Compassion (peace be upon him). Do NOT kill your brothers and sisters. STOP the massacre NOW!” - a statement released by a group of 50 prominent Libyan Muslim religious leaders.

Nothing like death:

Me pitching to agents
Pitching to agents at the San Francisco Writer's Conference. But you wouldn't know this, hearing the fear and buzz in line, waiting for the door to open. There was even a guy behind me making a loud noise, several times, that sounded like Tuvan throat singing. Everybody has their own way of warming up. When authors from the session before were finished and walked by, they told us, "It'll be okay. You'll do great."

It wasn't. I pitched to three agents who didn't have claws and fangs but rather, were begging for a thirty-second cheap Super Bowl commercial. I believe in my project but Asperger's makes it hard for me to talk anyway, let alone sell. I tend to blurt and tell people exactly what I think, filter-free. I know this so I prefer people to talk first so I can read them and create a filter. At a pitch, you talk the whole time. Bad start.

Lying is even more difficult, not that I wanted to lie, but a sales pitch is like a movie trailer. Don't you feel cheated when the movie trailer gave away the funniest lines?

I wanted to say, "Imagine Napoleon Dynamite stumbling through junior college, on a mission to become a cop."

The more I waited in line, the more I thought about how stupid that sounded. My character is as different in as many ways as he is similar. They both share the tight curly hair and a lack of social skills, but my character is impulsive and crazy like that guy your best friend went out with for two weeks while everybody asked her what the hell she was thinking? And isn't Napoleon Dynamite so five years ago?

After three three-minute stammering pitches, I pretended to get a drink of water and instead kept walking out the side door. I skipped out to the quietest bathroom downstairs and hid until I could put on a confident face. At breakfast, I sat next to a beautiful, poised woman so I pretended to be her while walking out the front door of the conference and all the way home where it was safe.

Didn't my story make it into the finals of the Indie Publishing contest, sponsored by the SFWC? I could have bragged about that to an agent. I heard one guy mention he was in the finals every time he talked to someone, even after the winners were announced and he wasn't one of them. Who wants to be that guy?

There was another guy. At every Q&A session, he came up to the microphone holding his self-published book and handed it to the panel to pass around before asking his question. He never got around to asking a question. Instead, he pitched and pitched and pitched. I saw him so many times I could see his book cover graphic in my sleep. That graphic was embroidered on his tie and his shirt too, and he wore them every day.

While stumbling through my first pitch, I saw him pitching at the next table over. Not only was he wearing his logo-filled tie and shirt, not only were his book, cards and newsletters piled on the agent's table, but he was pulling license plates out of a bag. These were the same license plates I'd seen the day before on a big ass car parked directly in front of the hotel; custom plates with the title of his book.

That's the opposite of Asperger's. I'll bet he becomes very successful.

2.16.2011

Bye-bye, Borders

We are living in the middle of a revolution which, if you think about it, is perpetually true: we made tools, we learned language, we upgraded to indoor plumbing and then wireless internet. Now, though, we can't grab a table at Borders, sit uncomfortably close to a fragrant homeless guy, and read all the magazines for free. Not after today. Borders is bankrupt. How did that happen?

Don't blame me unless you blame milkmaids for factory farming.

Books are what your grandparents lined their walls with, using them for insulation almost as much as for intellectual stimulation, as demonstrated by the accumulated dust. Books are like albums, like 8-tracks and cassettes and paper towels. We have iTunes now, and washable towels (again). We share: solar and wind rather than coal and oil. After reduce, reuse, recycle, and repair, sharing is the fifth R (regift?). The future is not full of business models based on one-time use commodities. Sure, $30 hardback books can be shared, but not on YouTube.

Borders used to be the future: they stole it from the little, independent bookstores they stomped on and crushed while laughing all the way to the bank. Once king of the hill, they sat there, forgetting that revolution is dynamic. When you're in your fortress, complacent with achievements, ignoring every reason to improve, you're easily overtaken. It's simply a matter of time.

Even Barnes and Noble, the other king of the hill, jumped on the Nook.

Borders had this great set-up, like a library only with better refreshments, and all they had to do was capitalize on that. Charge something - a little bit - like a library with a entrance fee. But basing your business model on selling expensive hard-backed books? How is this commodity different than landlines, ice boxes, or physician house calls? Who would fund a business model based on those?

Borders had a good run, capitalizing on a product invented in 1450 with hardly an upgrade. Books predate the Dutch Tulip Bulb Bubble of 1637, indoor plumbing, and the exorbitant pay of CEOs who drive their businesses into the ground while collecting more pay than all the bottom wage earners put together. 

The next revolution might not be so easy. Or, thinking positively, not so hard. Instead of losing places to hang out, we might lose exorbitantly paid future-ignoring CEOs. Revolution is also evolution.