Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Clear Case Of One Man's Mission To Ruin It For The Rest Of Us

If you feel compelled to praise your novel as "a special piece of work" and compose a synopsis describing it as "a man's exploration of love, self, wilderness and LSD, and time spent masquerading as a ram" (grammatical errors aside), you may want to reconsider your career choice.

Rich Shapero is a former venture capitalist with entirely too much money on his hands and a sick desire to royally piss off those talented authors who legitimately desire to buck the endangered gatekeepers in order to traverse the route of self-publishing (whether through e-books or in general).  Not finding many takers for his book Wild Animus--a story about his life--Shapero has taken matters into his own hands and pocketbook.  Singlehandedly, he's launched his own publishing company, appropriately dubbed Too Far, where he's printed off several thousand books for distribution.  Now, if Mr. Shapero were to have stopped there then, despite Wild Animus' piss-poor reviews, he may have been able to garner the support of those authors who don't believe agents are necessary.  But no, oh no, he didn't stop there.  The books are printed, so what else does he need?  Why a way to get the word out about it, of course.  And what's the best way to get the word out?  Why to hire actors to dress up as rams and parade around like a bunch of idiots to market your efforts, of course.  Now why didn't the classical authors of yesteryear think of that? I mean, just think of how much more successful Jack London's The Call of the Wild would have been if he'd hired a gang of Saint Bernards to maul the heck out of unsuspecting readers.

For many people, Shapero's antics are amusing, perhaps somewhat comical.  In fact, there will be people who purchase his book based solely upon its negative press and the desire to take part in a literary trainwreck.  For us more serious authors, however, people like Mr. Shapero are the bane of our existence. They are the reason why this industry is a closed one; why agents and publishers are afraid to take a chance on new, unpublished authors.  This is also exactly why new authors who choose to publish their works on e-readers may not find the success they crave. Mr. Shapero has opened up a Pandora's Box of stupidity which will inevitably call others like him to action invariably creating a domino effect that will only serve to topple new authors in the views of society.

It would be a completely different scenario if Mr Shapero had the talent to go along with his wallet, but, if the reviews have any grain of truth to them, that's not the case either (although one person's crap may be another person's Twilight).  Indeed, Mr. Shapero has gone too far.

One highlight in the article--blink and you'll miss it-- is the following excerpt:
"Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Jeffrey Marx's book was turned down by a half-dozen publishers. He self-published the work, called "Season of Life," about a former professional football player turned minister. After he sold 14,000 copies out of his car and home, the book was picked up by Simon & Schuster. It was No. 10 on last week's New York Times nonfiction best-seller list."

This is a classic example of why e-publishing is currently such a huge success. A Pulitzer Prize winning reporter can't get published conventionally yet Snookie from The Jersey Shore had no problems landing a book deal.  What the F***.

Venture capitalist rewrites the starving-author story

With deep pockets and an even deeper belief in his inner Hemingway, first-time novelist Rich Shapero is taking vanity publishing to a new level.

The Silicon Valley venture capitalist wrote his novel, founded a company to publish it and then launched one of the biggest and most colorful individual book giveaways ever.

Shapero, 56, is spending nearly a half-million dollars to promote "Wild Animus," due in stores in early October. And he has a 13-city book tour planned.

Thousands of advance copies have been handed out at music festivals, food fairs and art exhibits. Actors dressed as rams -- a key character in Shapero's book -- have stampeded book industry events. Shapero paid for the creation of a directory of book clubs nationwide, and then offered books for free.
He also sent copies to interested members of, the online community of 250,000 bibliophiles. Members have posted reviews ranging from "Weird and different," to "One of the worst books I ever read."

Shapero is part of a self-publishing explosion that has enabled wannabe writers to print books on demand.
As fiction editor Jay Schaefer says, innovations in technology have "turned publishing into an open mike."
"Anyone can get up and do the equivalent of perform their book," said Schaefer of Chronicle Books in San Francisco, which is not affiliated with The Chronicle newspaper. "So there are a lot of books out there that to some degree would not have been published before."

Online publishing companies such as Xlibris and iUniverse offer aspiring authors services from copyediting to publishing and marketing. Bookstores are experimenting with kiosks that allow authors to print books while they wait.

The venerable Kirkus Reviews announced last week that it will begin reviewing self-published books -- for a $350 fee. The announcement marks the first time in the company's 71-year history that individuals can pay to have a book reviewed.

"There are more people who want to be authors than readers," said Michael Cader, a book packager who writes the newsletter PublishersLunch, which has a daily circulation of 28,000.

He referred to a recent survey by the National Endowment for the Arts, which found that the percentage of Americans who read books has steadily declined over the last two decades, while over the same period, the number of people taking creative writing courses increased by 30 percent.

Cader said that an estimated 175,000 books were published in the United States last year. That doesn't include the tens of thousands of self-published books. While the vast majority of self-published books never make it past the author's coffee table, some manage to attract the attention of mainstream publishers.

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Jeffrey Marx's book was turned down by a half-dozen publishers. He self-published the work, called "Season of Life," about a former professional football player turned minister. After he sold 14,000 copies out of his car and home, the book was picked up by Simon & Schuster. It was No. 10 on last week's New York Times nonfiction best-seller list.

"There are a number of successful books that began life as self-published books," Cader said. "But, attention doesn't equal sales."

Cader said he hadn't heard of Shapero's book. But when told of some of the author's publicity efforts, he remembered a "Wild Animus" encounter.

"I was at the Book Expo America in Chicago and heard of these people dressed as sheep or something who jumped in a fountain, I think," Cader said. "I was aware of it and tried to stay as far away as possible."

Steve Zeitchik, news editor at Publishers Weekly, said, "You've always had vanity publishing, but what's happened over the last few years is that it's now very easy with these new technologies to print books even one at a time. What makes a difference in (Shapero's) case is there is a lot of money involved."
Shapero, a managing partner at Crosspoint Venture Partners, a leading venture capital firm, has applied a Silicon Valley recipe to publishing: He gathered a group of imaginative, think-outside-the-box types, convinced them of his mission and launched a crusade. He describes himself as "pathologically independent."

Sitting at a conference table in the office of his new publishing house in Woodside, Shapero called his novel "a special piece of work," and said there's "a lot going on in publishing that needs to change."

He made oblique reference to the days when Walt Whitman could walk around and hand out books and said his quest is to deliver "great truths which are hidden." Hemingway accomplished this with "The Old Man and the Sea," he noted.

"I am doing this because I feel it is important to me and might be important to others," said Shapero, who is wide-eyed and boyish-looking. He said his days as a venture capitalist -- he was called a "Guru of Growth" by BusinessWeek -- are numbered. Writing is his future.

His special piece of work, as he calls "Wild Animus," has a first printing of 50,000 copies. A typical first printing for a first-time author is between 5,000 and 10,000 copies. Marketing budgets covered by traditional publishing houses hover at around $1 per copy, one-tenth of what Shapero is spending.
Shapero says that his gratification will come from readers who connect with the book. He said he worked on the story in three different periods in his life. He opted not to go through an agent or to a publisher because he wanted the work to be entirely his own.

"I wanted to preserve complete artistic control," he said.

The book is about a man's exploration of love, self, wilderness and LSD, and time spent masquerading as a ram. It begins at UC Berkeley in 1969 and heads north to Alaska.

Shapero graduated from UC Berkeley in 1970 with a degree in English literature and in more recent years took off on a 400-mile solo hike in the Alaskan wilderness. He describes his Alaskan explorations as meditations in transcendence and "a test of human endurance and the human spirit."

"It's about love and the quest for love," Shapero said of his book.

The spacious offices of his publishing house, called Too Far, were empty save for two employees. Shapero said he plans to publish books by other writers, but couldn't give specifics.

"I want to be a source of content for things that explore life's mysteries," he said. "That could be about the source of love and surrender and what surrender means. These are things that are critically important to me, much more than world affairs or the state of my bank account."

He plans to devote the next two months to promoting "Wild Animus." He promises the street theater and publicity gimmicks will continue: "We still have a few tricks up our sleeves."

His enthusiasm is untempered by some early reviews. One newspaper review stated, "After the first hundred pages, the reader will figure out that the essential elements that comprise a novel are missing."

"My objective isn't to change the world," Shapero said. "I can't reinvent our culture. But with Too Far, my objective is to publish what I find important."

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

To quote Cee-Lo Green, now ain't that some shit? Just more proof that money can buy everything except talent and class.