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Recent Work By J.E. Fishman

Of all parts of books publishing, there is no element that consistently causes more ambivalence than the publicity program. When we undertake marketing and it doesn’t achieve our goals, at least we have a pretty ad or some other sales material to show for our efforts. With publicity, however, all we’re paying for is someone else’s time and effort. If deployment of that time and effort results in zero publicity hits, the only evidence we have in the end is a lighter bank account.

Poker players will tell you that there’s a sucker at every table. If in the first few minutes you can’t figure out who the sucker is, you are the sucker.

One of the easiest mistakes one can make in business and in life is to assume that just because some big things are changing that means everything is changing. Every boom and bust cycle in history has affirmed this disconnect, but one need look no further than the second-to-last bubble — the Internet bubble — for a subject with relevance to the independent publisher boom.

My friend John Moore is an entrepreneur with an excellent record of picking successful companies and managers, investing in them, then nurturing the ones he controls and profiting from this activity. John is CEO of a small exchange-traded company called Acorn Energy that has absolutely nothing to do with book publishing, but if you have a few bucks lying around, I’d suggest that you buy the stock (ACFN: NASDAQ). (Full disclosure: I have bought shares and also received a few options for helping him out on some projects.)

What is a website good for? I don’t ask that as a rhetorical question. A website, we all “know,” is something every business — and every author aspiring to sell books — absolutely has to have. But before anyone throws up a website, it’s worth asking what exactly that website should be accomplishing.

When I was in college, we English majors used to learn a concept that is often expressed in the Latin epigram, ars celare artem — usually translated as, “true art conceals art.” (This phrase is often attributed to Ovid, but Wikipedia says it wasn’t him and The Yale Book of Quotations, which I normally take to be definitive, doesn’t mention it at all.)

Craft. If there is a concept in the arts more overlooked by novices, I don’t know what that concept is.

We non-architects look at a building by Lorenzo Piano, say, and note the play of light, the relationship of lines, the creation of space, the height or sprawl, the novel use of materials…but we rarely wonder about stress loads, geometric ratios, how he hid the plumbing, where he placed the fire exits. Yet without those things, too, the building doesn’t work.

Every year, my friend Ben DuPont and his colleagues gather fifty or sixty interesting people in a room for what they call the Non-Obvious Dinner. Participants eat for free, but there’s a catch: everyone has to bring along — and be prepared to defend — a prediction of something significant that they expect to happen within the next ten years. And that prediction can’t be something we can all see coming from miles away.

About twenty years ago, when I was a literary agent, I picked up a new client who had previously signed a book deal with a small publisher. The client and I had bigger ambitions for his work, so the next book would be something more commercial, we hoped, but he had this prior deal and he was determined to see it through.

In his first book (co-authored by journalist Dori Jones Yang), Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz admonished: “Don’t be threatened by people smarter than you.”

(Full disclosure: I represented the book as literary agent.)

Howard went on: “There’s a common mistake a lot of entrepreneurs make. They own the idea, and they have the passion to pursue it. But they can’t possibly possess all the skills needed to make the idea actually happen. Reluctant to delegate, they surround themselves with faithful aides. They’re afraid to bring in truly smart, successful individuals as high-level managers.

In a recent email to some of his supporters, Richard Nash (formerly of Soft Skull, now of Red Lemonade and Cursor) provided the following short history of desktop publishing. Richard, by the way, is a mashup kind of guy, so I’ve left his mashups exactly as he wrote them:

“When asked to discuss Publishing 2.0, as I often am, I immediately reply that we’re actually nearing the end of Publishing 2.0. Why? Because Publishing 2.0 begins in 1985, in July of that year to be precise, when Aldus Pagemaker, the first desktop publishing software solution, went on sale.

Consider the phrase, “Money is no object.” We all know the gist of its message, but what does it really mean? Whoever said money was an object in the first place?

On December 8, 2010, after consulting my accountant and an attorney friend, I made a few mouse clicks and entered my credit card information and created a limited liability company called Verbitrage LLC.

It used to be that one had to hire a lawyer and pay thousands of dollars to establish a company. I know because I’ve done this in the past. Today, in most cases, lawyers will tell you just to use an online service, which sets you back a few hundred bucks. That’s what I did.

A few years ago, I decided to devote myself full-time to writing fiction. The idea wasn’t to lie around in bed all day with a laptop or pace the kitchen looking for ideas on the shelves of the fridge. I planned to show up at a discrete office (as I always have) and apply myself to the task of writing like anyone with a “real job” — which is to say eight to twelve hours a day, five days a week or more, mostly at a desk.

“In the beginning was the Word.”

Those are the first words of the New Testament, of course. They also constitute the opening epigram of Primacy, my thriller set to publish this fall. This reference has special meaning for the premise of the novel, which I’ll get to in good time, but it’s worth noting its significance for all acts of creation.