Andy Kessler and Seth Godin convinced me to self publish. Although Seth first suggested it, it was Cory Doctorow who gave the compelling reasons for making the online version of hackoff.com: an historic murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble available free.
The online serialization of the blook (sic, see below) hackoff.com has begun at, of course, hackoff.com. The hard cover edition’ll be out around the beginning of the year.
In the days when my father, Bernard Evslin, was alive and a well-published author, vanity publishing was the refuge of untalented dilettantes. My mother, Dorothy, also published, is still writing and I can sense her skepticism although she is supportive.
When I was a kid I always thought I’d be a writer because my parents were, never really considered anything else. I wrote for school literary magazines and newspapers, edited same, chronicled the angst of my inept teenage courting, and collected rejection slips for soft porn from Playboy and SciFi mags alike. Recited my own poetry in a black turtleneck from a stepladder at tea dances (really) and coffee shops. Started writing a couple of novels but always outgrew the protagonist before getting halfway through.
“Earn your living at something else,” my father said, “and then you can write what you want.” He was often bitter. Most writers hate their publishers and are, at best, ambivalent about their agents. He’d approve if this end run on traditional publishing succeeds.
So I got a job as a programmer.
In the next forty years I wrote lots of programs, some of them pretty good. I wrote documentation, half of a novel, love poems, company press releases (to the dismay of everybody), brochures, op eds, magazine columns, patent applications, court briefs (well, co-wrote), letters to the editor, as much of my company’s prospectus and annual reports as the lawyers would let me get away with, ad copy (lousy), brochures, macros, spreadsheets, search engine queries, and ad libbed all of my own speeches to the dismay of the AT&T speech writers. I must have written a zillion emails. But I wasn’t an author, not in the way I meant to be.
I had meant to take my father’s advice concurrently and ended up taking it serially. Almost as soon as I retired as CEO of ITXC a year ago this summer, I began work on hackoff.com. I had a ringside seat in 1998-2003. It’s fun to tell the story. It’s more fun for me to do it in fiction than any other way.
What’s a blook?
A blook is a book serialized on a blog. Although you need a good wireless connection and an anti-glare screen to read it on the beach, it does have advantages over a traditional book. The faux company site, the wiki (which we’ll find more uses for), the user forum, and the contest in which you can win free prizes (from thinkgeek.com, of course), are just a beginning. We’ll be adding features to the blook as we go along.
The first question you may have is “why would anyone distribute a book on a blog?” Good question. There are four reasons. First, blogs are where the readers are. Second, readers find blogs without the help of traditional gatekeepers; blogs are “discovered” and become successful (or don’t) in an interesting democratic way. Third, online distribution makes it economically feasible to distribute free copies of the book. Fourth, an online book can do things a print book can’t.
The technologies like RSS (real simple syndication) which have grown up around blogs are helpful in keeping up with the current episode of serialized blook. You can subscribe to hackoff.com and get new episode by email or in feed readers like Yahoo, Bloglines, and newsgator. Users may have fun tagging and commenting on individual episodes just as they do with other blogs. We’ll see.
Some people certainly prefer to read physical books; for them the blook may only be a way to sample and decide which “real” books to buy and bring to the beach.
More information on blooks and why you need blookmarks is here.
I thought I made the word “blook” up but I wasn’t the first. Jeff Jarvis made it up before I did. The students at J. H. House Elementary school in Conyers, Georgia published Our ABC Blook on Blogging on a blog platform. Tony Pierce called a physical book on how to blog a “blook”.
Back to my mentors:
Andy Kessler wrote about his success in self-publishing Wall Street Meat here. He shares my impatience with a publishing process which can take a year for no apparent reason. Both the book and the column are worth reading.
Seth Godin was kind enough to personally give me the good advice he posts here for first time authors. Boiled down, you’ve gotta promote yourself because your publisher isn’t gonna do it. So why do you need a publisher to get in the way?
Cory Doctorow says: "For almost every writer, the number of sales they lose because people never hear of their book is far larger than the sales they'd lose because people can get it for free online. The biggest threat we face isn't piracy, it's obscurity." This is in a story by Kevin Many here in USA TODAY. Cory practices what he preaches: his latest book Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town is available for free download under a Creative Commons license here.
Jeff Jarvis is also writing a book beside blogging prodigiously. Like me he thinks that the Internet and blogging will change books and isn’t sure how. “It’s about finally fulfilling a career-long dream to write a book because I do respect the form,” he blogs here. Me too.