An Author on Literature

If I’m So Smart, Why Ain’t I Rich?

Amazon Kindle

From an Amazon.com News Release, July 19, 2010:

  • Over the past three months, for every 100 hardcover books Amazon.com has sold, it has sold 143 Kindle books. Over the past month, for every 100 hardcover books Amazon.com has sold, it has sold 180 Kindle books. This is across Amazon.com’s entire U.S. book business and includes sales of hardcover books where there is no Kindle edition. Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the number even higher.
  • Amazon sold more than 3x as many Kindle books in the first half of 2010 as in the first half of 2009.
  • The Association of American Publishers’ latest data reports that e-book sales grew 163 percent in the month of May and 207 percent year-to-date through May. Kindle book sales in May and year-to-date through May exceeded those growth rates.
  • On July 6, Hachette announced that James Patterson had sold 1.14 million e-books to date. Of those, 867,881 were Kindle books.
  • Five authors–Charlaine Harris, Stieg Larsson, Stephenie Meyer, James Patterson, and Nora Roberts–have each sold more than 500,000 Kindle books.


Here Come The Paperless Books

by J. Neil Schulman
President
SoftServ Publishing Services, Inc.

Version 1.2
December, 1987
Copyright © 1987 by J. Neil Schulman.
All Rights Reserved.

Logoright (L) 1987 by J. Neil Schulman.


The SoftServ Concept

SoftServ Publishing Services, Inc., is a recently formed
company creating the new information-media service industry of
Electronic Mass-Market Trade Publishing. The types of Works
previously available only as bound books–novels, anthologies,
self-help books, biographies, cookbooks, etc.–will be made
available as text files accessible on computers, either by
purchase of disks or as downloads via telephone lines using
modems. Once available on computer, they will be available to
monitors, to printers, to voice synthesizers, and–ultimately–to
pocket-size electronic “book players.”


Introduction
Publishing: History versus Ideal

Publishing exists both as an historical development and as a
theoretical ideal.

We need not deal here with much of the history: it is too
richly documented elsewhere. Still, we can note that since it
began in earnest with the invention of movable type by Johann
Gutenberg over five centuries ago, it has been assumed that
publishing occurs when a composed Work is set into type or onto
plates, when type or plate imprints ink onto sheets of paper,
when those sheets of paper are bound together into books or
periodicals, and when multiple copies of those imprinted books or
periodicals are distributed and marketed to people interested in
reading that composed Work.

As a theoretical game, publishing is far simpler: it is any
efficient and desirable medium for a composed Work to be made
available to those wishing access to it. This implies two
ultimate players: the Author of the composed Work, and the Reader
of it. All other players are Mediators between Author and
Reader. Further, Author and Reader each have an idealizable goal
of transmitting the Work from one to the other with as little
mediation between them as possible.

The Author’s Ideal is to create a Work that fulfills both
some internal goal (such as self-expression) and some external
goal (such as proselytizing or making money), to inform all
potential Readers of its information or entertainment value, and
to have it unceasingly available to all Readers who desire it.

The Reader’s Ideal is to have as varied a choice of Works as
possible for information and entertainment, to have elegant tests
to determine which of those Works are desired (and filter out
those which are not), and to have such Works available, as
painlessly as possible, whenever and wherever desired.

This article will proceed on these assumptions as follows:

First it will analyze the process, then demonstrate the
failures–and note success where due–of the current Trade and
Mass-Market Book Publishing Industry in serving these defined
ideals of Authors and Readers. It will then analyze and
demonstrate how the currently emerging technological media of
Computers and Data Communication can more-closely approach the
ideals of both Authors and Readers.

Second, it will show how SoftServ Publishing Services, Inc., is
creating the new information-media service industry of Electronic
Mass-Market Trade Publishing.

Note that the new industry is not electronic book
publishing. We are here proposing a new kind of publishing in
which the very concept implied by the word “book” needs to be
redefined, delimited, and in some cases discarded. Creation of
any new industry should never be looked upon as anything less
than mightily formidable. In discussing publishing that has no
ultimate need for paper, ink, glue, or binding, this task must,
at the start, seem daunting.

Authors write–publishers publish, critics critique, stores
sell, libraries shelve, and readers read–books. When one begins
by telling Authors and Readers that what they have been trading
for the last five centuries are not really books but what has
been recorded and transported inside books, then one is likely to
encounter–at least at first, at least among a significant part
of the populace–the sort of incredulity and stubbornness that
manufacturers of Horseless Carriages received when what had been
readily apparent to any moron for thousands of years was the
primary importance not of the carriage but of the horse.

Ultimately, people decided that carriages pulled by
horsepower rather than by horses worked better for getting
around, but that horses would still have an honored place on the
racetrack and at the riding academy.

So, I expect, it will be with “Paperless Books.”

Bound books will still have their place in the hearts–and
on the shelves–of those who appreciate their history, the beauty
of the crafts used in making them, the almost sensual smells of
paper and ink. For certain readers, books will remain delightful
to look at, wonderful to hold. For certain authors, there will
always be something approaching ecstasy in seeing their names on
the title page of a book, their words shining off the semi-
glossed sheets bound within.

But the Paperless Book will come as surely as did the
Horseless Carriage, and for the same reasons. Automobiles were
far better than horses at getting from one place to another.
Given the commonality, and approaching universality, of computers
and modems, software is simply far better than bound books at
getting Works from Author to Reader.

Let us say a profound thank you to Herr Gutenberg for giving
us economically practical books. Let us next give thanks to
Caxton, Cerf, and Ballantine for giving us quality books, for
their times, in the largest quantity and lowest price possible.

Then let us proceed to doing what Gutenberg, Caxton, Cerf,
and Ballantine were properly doing for their generations: making
the bridle path between Author and Reader as short, smooth, and
straightforward as possible.


I.
Book Publishing Today

Who has not heard the phrase, “You can’t judge a book by its
cover”? Yet, the obvious truth to anyone who gives even a
cursory glance at the process by which books today are ordered,
distributed, and vended, is that often the only ways books are
judged is by their covers.

The process of publishing books today is not driven by what
readers wish to read or by what authors wish to write, or even by
what editors wish to buy for publication.

For trade hardcovers and trade paperbacks, the process is
driven, chiefly, by what the large retail bookstore chains–
Waldenbooks, B. Dalton, Barnes & Noble–are willing to order and
display on their shelves. Secondarily, it’s driven by what chain
retailers such as K-Mart and Bradlees are willing to order and
display. Using the horse-racing analogy, the aggregate orders
from independent bookstores show, but rarely place or win, when
it comes to creating display space for a book.

For mass-market paperbacks–in addition to the
aforementioned outlets–the ordering process is driven by what
newspaper and magazine distributors are willing to order,
warehouse, and send out with their trucks for their drivers to
stack on wire racks in supermarkets, convenience stores, and
airports.

Both trade book and mass-market-paperback retailing are
driven by the same basic assumption that is used for selling soft
drinks, soap, and toilet paper: display space is valuable. Put a
product up: if it sells fast, reorder; if it doesn’t move, pull
it off and ship it back.

Retailers consider book-purchasing largely an impulse “buy”
based on generic use (the category: Romance, Biography, Science
Fiction, or Self-Help), brand familiarity (the author’s name),
packaging (the cover illustration, promo copy, and quotes), and
promotion (advertising and publicity).

Aside from price, the only difference between trade book and
mass-market paperback publishing is that unsold trade books are
shipped back to the publisher’s or distributor’s warehouse while
unsold mass-market paperbacks–like unsold magazines–have their
covers stripped off and sent back to the publisher for credit.
Minus their covers, unsold mass-market paperback books are
destroyed.

The necessity of product turnover is such a major element in
book retailing that the shelf-life of 95% of published books
should be measured in the halflives of highly radioactive
isotopes.

The shelf-life of a hardcover book averages six months
before unsold copies are removed from shelves and shipped back to
the warehouse, there to be marked down to or below unit cost and
sent back to bookstores as “remainders.” One year after
publication, all but bestselling hardcovers are virtually
impossible to find in the chain retail outlets other than as a
remainder unprofitable to either publisher or author.

The shelf-life of a paperback book averages six weeks before
unsold copies are removed from racks, have their covers stripped
for credit, and destroyed. Eight months after publication–for
all but bestsellers–a paperback won’t be found anywhere but
independent bookstores. Even a successful paperback isn’t immune
to a retail book outlet stripping covers for credit against new
orders even of the same book. Thus are still-salable books
regularly destroyed by retailers and distributors eager to
improve their cash flow a few percentage points by putting off
payment to publishers for another month.

The retailing requirements of books today dictate–up stream
from retail outlets to distributors and publishers, from there up
stream to the publishers’ sales and marketing staff, up stream
there to editorial staff, and up stream ultimately to authors
wishing to be published–what can and will be written and
published.

And, overwhelmingly, what can and will be published is
severely limited by several basic rules of mass-marketing:

1) A product must be standardized at the lowest common
denominator to sell at mass-market quantities.

2) Mass-marketing is selling many units of a few products,
not few units of many products.

3) Start-up costs for a new product are high, so reduce
costs by limiting advertising and letting the product’s packaging
sell it on the shelf.

4) Introducing a new product is risky, so reduce risk by
making the new product as much as possible like the products
already available, and selling them as “just as good.”

5) Moving a brand-name product around the store too much
loses sales, so keep it on the same shelf so the customer will
know where to find it.

These basic rules of retailing are filters which determine
what books are publishable today.

By rule one, a book must fit into a standard category or
appeal to the lowest common denominator: thus the necessity that
a publishable book be either a generic–science fiction, mystery,
or romance–or a surefire runaway bestseller. Thus is an out-of-
category book, other than those capable of significant publicity
based on the author’s reputation or connections, rendered
virtually unpublishable.

By rule two, effort must be spent promoting, advertising,
and selling only the product leaders: the books which are planned
from the outset to be bestsellers. (Accidental bestsellers are
all but impossible.) Thus the publishing industry’s reliance on
celebrity books, movie and television tie-ins, “formula”
bestsellers, self-help books, cookbooks, cute calendars, and
gimmicks.

By rule three, category books must sell themselves by
generic packaging and, in some cases–such as the general-fiction
category–author’s name, alone, minimizing the risk that
customers will perceive each new book as the unique product it
is. Corollary is that a different book package must be developed
and manufactured for each category into which one would wish to
shelve the same Work. This is rarely worth the effort and the
risk is almost never taken.

By rule four, literary invention is an undesirable risk.
This makes it necessary for the “uniqueness” of books to be
eliminated as much as possible, in order to make it possible to
sell them as “just as good” as the last one. (Book retailing
seems to have been unable to find a way to apply the marketing
technique of calling a book–vis a vis a previous book–“new and
improved.”)

And by rule five, an author with name-recognition value in a
particular category must be shelved in that one category whether
or not the new Work fits that category or not. Thus will one
find Isaac Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare shelved in the science-
fiction section of some bookstores where it might find a few
science fiction readers interested in Shakespeare … but far
fewer than shelving it in the theater section.

These are the market realities that a publisher must deal
with–by which an acquiring editor is placed in blinders and an
author is saddled–before that publisher decides whether a
particular Work has even the slightest chance of overcoming the
considerable costs of acquiring rights, editing, typesetting,
packaging, manufacturing, selling, advertising, publicizing,
shipping, warehousing, and (for paperbacks) destruction.

All these are endemic limitations on book publication, even
before one gets to the epidemic book-industry difficulties such
as coordinating availability of books with their advertising and
publicity, the mis-forecasting of trends, or the collapse of
marketing commitment for books already acquired–or even in
production–because the acquiring editor has left the company.


II.
How Electronic Availability
Changes Publishing Assumptions

Even before we get to the Author’s and Reader’s perspective
on publishing, we can demonstrate how electronic availability can
solve publishers’ problems with respect to distribution.

Much of this can also be applied as “retailer” benefits,
inasmuch as a percentage of consumers will prefer to do business
through already established retail channels.

1) The retail assumption of “scarce shelf space” is
eliminated at the outset: both storage space and display space in
electronic media are, for all practical purposes, unlimited.
“Shelf-life” no longer being scarce, there is no necessity of
“moving” a product or taking it off sale, or requiring that sales
be impulse “buys.”

2) Start-up costs and therefore start-up risks that are
caused by the book-manufacturing process are brought down to a
level that can only be thought of as “spectacularly low.”

The lengthy years between delivery of a completed Work to
the publisher and earnings of revenue which can be paid to the
Author can be reduced to several months, obviating the necessity
of large up-front “advances.”

Storage costs approach zero: about $1.00 per Work, period.

Manufacturing cost before placing a title on sale: $0.35.
(Preparation of the Work up to current publishing standards is
now the author’s financial responsibility.)

A grand total of One Copy needs to be published on disk
before the first sale is made: all further copies of most Works
can be placed onto disk in minutes; a copy can be downloaded via
modem in somewhat more minutes–but minutes nonetheless.
Availability to the consumer can better mass-market distribution,
while every order can be filled as if it were a special order.

3) There need be no out-of-print titles, no remaindered or
destroyed copies. Inventory is reducible to one copy per title.
Shipping cost per unit on disk approaches that of first-class
letters or–for download via modem–is costed directly to the
consumer.

4) There is no necessity of a time-limit on availability of
a title: costs can be amortized over a much longer time than for
book publishing.

5) There is no necessity of choosing one particular category
in which to publish a Work: it can be simultaneously published in
all marketable categories: categorization can now be inclusive
rather than exclusive, encouraging–rather than discouraging–
diversity in the marketplace.

6) Works no longer need to be placed onto inappropriate
“shelves” because of the author’s name value: cross-referencing
can make it available in all marketable categories.

7) There is no necessity of relying on surefire bestsellers:
twenty titles selling moderately well can produce the same
profitability as one title selling extremely well.

8 ) Finally, there is no longer any reason to reject any
worthwhile or interesting Work because of the risk: the risk of
publication approaches its being a non-existent market factor.

Virtually in one-fell-swoop, electronic availability manages
to eliminate almost the entire downside risk of publishing and
distributing Authors’ Works. As a consequence, the cost-per unit
to the consumer can equal and ultimately drop far below mass-
market paperbacks, while the unit profitability to publisher (and
retailer) can approach that of hardcovers.


III.
The Author’s Viewpoint

From the Author’s standpoint, the marketing of books is
almost always a nightmare rather than a dream. An Author’s most
brilliant Works are often unpublishable because they are unique,
or new, or cross categories lines, or because they are difficult
to describe in twenty words or less.

First Works, particularly first novels, are often
unpublishable merely because readers won’t know the Author’s
name, and therefore the book is unlikely to overcome economy-of-
scale minimum print-runs and produce a profit. This is
compounded if the first Work is also particularly unusual or
brilliant–which is often the case.

Certain categories of books–such as fiction anthologies or
short story collections–go in and out of fashion–if one tries
to sell one the wrong year, tough luck.

The author’s share of the proceeds from sales–called
“royalties,” under a contract in which editorial responsibility
is reserved to the publisher–is small: usually 10% for hardcover
(up to 15% royalty after sales numbers achieved only by a small
percentage of books); between 4% and 10% for paperbacks, with 8%
being the commonly achieved rate given the sales figures of most
paperback books. For books first published in hardcover, these
paperback royalties must be shared between author and hardcover
publisher, usually fifty-fifty. Usually only successful authors
are able to negotiate better splits. This often leaves the share
of paperback proceeds paid to author at 3% to 4%. Most states
collect more in sales tax on a paperback book than the percentage
received by the author who created it.

The publishing process itself is costly and time-consuming,
which, again, is why book publishers have the additional start-up
cost of paying an author advances against royalties in order to
acquire the right to publish their books.

A year is the average minimum from delivery of a completed
manuscript to first publication. A year after that is the
minimum for an author to see any royalties from the first three
months of sale, and if earned royalties have somehow managed to
exceed the advance against royalties given the author by the
publisher, a certain percentage will be held back by the
publisher against the possibility of bookstores returning copies
to the publisher’s warehouse.

Often these “reserves against returns” prevent authors from
seeing significant royalties for three or more years. Given such
delays, and the short shelf life of a book, authors regularly
figure that their advance is the only money they’ll ever see from
a book sale.

Except for bestsellers, advertising ranges from minimal to
zip. Publicity tours are likewise fantasy for anyone but the big
names. The average author is lucky to get a two-in-the-morning
radio call-in show. For that all-important day of glory–the
bookstore autograph signing–the author had better phone friends:
they are likely the only ones who’ll show up.

As for reviews, they are usually sporadic, and sometimes
nonexistent. A paperback original stands as much chance of a
front-page review in the New York Times Book Review as Jesse
Jackson has being elected … Pope. Even a respectable novel
published hardcover by a major publisher may find itself ignored
by every major newspaper, magazine, and book review in the
country.

But even success has its downside. An author who has had
any success at all in one category may find it impossible to sell
a book in another category. The author can, of course, use a pen
name … but then all the painstakingly acquired name value is
lost and it’s as if the author is publishing a first book.

This is a serious drawback to such a move. A beginning
author must often sign a publishing contract on a take-it-or-
leave-it basis, with publishers offering little advance money,
giving no guarantees, assuming the right to edit the author’s
Work any way they see fit, and taking high percentages of
subsidiary rights. It seems to an author like outright thievery
until one realizes that even stacking the cards this way, the
publisher is still more likely than not to lose money on the
book.

A few authors do manage to run this gauntlet all the way to
the bestseller’s list. Here is comparative paradise: high
advances, good distribution, prime reviews, real advertising,
publicity tours, movie sales. But for the vast majority of
authors, the bestseller list is a Shangri-La, never to be found.

No wonder it’s been observed that there are only four
hundred or so authors in this country of a quarter billion who
are able to make a full-time living out of writing.


IV.
Here Comes The Commercial

Here are just a few of the ways electronic availability will
be better able to serve Authors than the current book publishing
industry:

Author’s Problem 1: The Work is unpublishable because it is
too inventive, or doesn’t fit a publishing category, or the
author is unknown, or the book can’t easily be described, or that
sort of book is out of fashion.

SoftServ Solution: Send us your poor, your tired, your
huddled Authors yearning to breathe free! The cost of storage
and distribution of a Work on SoftServ is so low that there is
virtually no quality Work on which SoftServ can’t take a chance.
Additionally, SoftServ may sell an impressive enough number of
copies that traditional publishing may take notice and publish
the Work in book form.

Author’s Problem 2: The lion’s share of revenue produced
from sale of a Work is eaten up by retailers, distributors, and
publisher, leaving only crumbs for the Author.

SoftServ Solution: The SoftServ contract assumes–for Works
not yet published–that when the Author places the Work onto
disk, this is First Publication, making the Author the Work’s
Publisher. The Author/Publisher then places the Work on
consignment with SoftServ and contracts with SoftServ to provide
marketing and electronic dissemination services.

Pre-publication functions usually assumed in the publishing
contract to be the province of the Publisher will therefore
remain with the Author: editing, proofing, copyright, placing the
Work in a format suitable for publication–in this case putting
it onto a machine-readable form. The Author/Publisher may choose
to contract with SoftServ to provide these pre-publication
services, but SoftServ will charge for these services and apply
these charges against the Author/Publisher’s share of sale
proceeds. The Author/Publisher will be free to contract
elsewhere for these services, but they will have to negotiate
separate agreements.

Literary Agents may well decide to become “Packagers,”
preparing their client’s Works for publication through SoftServ
in exchange for a larger percentage than the usual agent’s
commission.

Book publishers contracting with SoftServ for Works they
control will find the process identical to a standard subsidiary
rights arrangement.

Because of the relatively low cost of electronic storage and
dissemination, a much-higher percentage of sale proceeds will be
paid to Proprietors than offered by standard book-publishing
contracts. The standard SoftServ contract will pay between one-
third to one-half of the proceeds to the Proprietor
(Author/Publisher), depending on how the Work is sold.

Author’s Problem 3: It takes a year or more before a
completed Work is published, and a year or more before royalties
are finally, received. Significant portions of revenue due
authors are held back as “reserve against returns.”

SoftServ Solution: SoftServ should usually be able to take a
completed Work in machine-readable form and have it on sale
within thirty days. Statements of account and payments of share-
of-proceeds for copies sold the previous month should follow
every thirty days thereafter. There will be no “reserve against
returns” because there will be no returns.

Author’s Problem 4: Loss of control over the editing,
packaging, and promotion of the Work.

SoftServ Solution: All these are the domain of the
Publisher, and for Works first made available on SoftServ, the
Author will also be the Publisher. However, at
Author/Publisher’s discretion, all these can be contracted to be
handled by SoftServ, either at cash cost charged against the
Author/Publisher’s share of the proceeds, or with percentages of
proceeds against sales dedicated to these purposes open to
negotiation.

Author’s Problem 5: Little or no advertising for the Work.

SoftServ Solution: Advertising can be handled either by the
Author/Publisher, or by SoftServ, and five percent of sale
proceeds will be set aside for that purpose.

Author’s Problem 6: Few reviews of a Work.

SoftServ Solution: While how long it will take for
newspapers and magazines to begin reviewing Works available only
electronically is a matter of speculation, it can be assumed that
the stodgy book-review media will take as long to review Works
available on SoftServ as they have to review mass-market
paperbacks: no time soon.

But additional review media already exist and can be created
for electronic Works. Reviews can be garnered from computer
bulletin boards, from fanzines, from computer users groups, and
those reviews placed on computer consumer networks such as
CompuServe, The Source, and Genie. SoftServ can find these
reviews and index them to the title of the Work, making a variety
of reviews available to potential consumers before they buy a
copy.

SoftServ will maintain both a reader’s review bulletin-board
electronic magazine called DisContents, wherein SoftServ readers
can list their opinions, and will start a professional electronic
critical review magazine, Pistols at Dawn!, wherein Authors and
Professional Critics can have at each other to their hearts’
content. It should be fun to watch.

Moreover, SoftServ will make available the first 7,500 to
10,000 words–approximately the first three chapters–of every
Work available free, and in addition will distribute SoftServ
Samplers to promote Works available on SoftServ.


V.
The Reader’s Viewpoint

From the Reader’s end, book-problems are more likely to be
annoyances rather than life catastrophes. Many of these itches
are so taken for granted that their elimination will be closely
akin to providing word processors to people who’ve used nothing
but typewriters: apprehension at first, soon followed by the
question, “How did I ever put up with it?”

Here are an even dozen common problems that the SoftServ
concept will eliminate for readers:

Reader’s Problem 1: Unavailability. Variations of: “Yeah, I
know you just saw the author on TV, but–”
“We don’t have it in yet.”
“We sold out.”
“The library only has one copy, and it’s out.”
“We just sent all our copies back to the warehouse.”
“It’s out of stock at the distributor.”
“We only have volumes two and three of the trilogy.”
More serious unavailabilities:
“Never heard of it.”
(Or the reader’s never heard of it!)
“It’s out of print from the publisher.”
“I haven’t seen a copy of that for years.”
“This library doesn’t have the budget to order
that many titles since Proposition 13.”
Most serious unavailabilities:
“The town council has passed a resolution forbidding
this library to carry that book.”
“The Campus Bookstore may not carry any book deemed by
the Student Council to be racist or sexist.”
“We burn books like that!”

SoftServ Solution: Works distributed by SoftServ can remain
in on-line storage permanently, available on a moment’s notice by
modem, twenty-four hours a day. They can be delivered directly
into the home, out of reach of all censorship short of cutting
off all telephone service or banning computers and modems.
Indexing of titles and cross-referencing with reviews stored on
SoftServ can make information about the Works also instantly
available.

Reader’s Problem 2: High price: “I’ll have to wait until it
comes out in paperback.” This leads to an additional
unavailability: many hardcover books never sell to paperback.

SoftServ Solution: SoftServ should be able to sell all but
the lengthiest Works at paperback prices, but offer revenues to
Authors equivalent to hardcover sales. Moreover, even when
scheduled for book publication, Authors could make their Works
available on SoftServ a year before the first printing.

Reader’s Problem 3: Misleading packaging due to category
requirements: “This novel is titled The Tomb but there’s no tomb
in it anywhere!” Or, “There’s a spaceship, a Bug-Eyed Monster,
and a Beautiful Babe on the cover–how come they’re not in the
book?”

SoftServ Solution: Works sold by SoftServ have no necessity
of being limited to one particular category. As a matter of
fact, the more categories a book can be indexed to, the better.
Current book publishing is category-exclusive. SoftServ
Publishing will be category-inclusive.

Reader’s Problem 4: Lack of variety: “After a while, these
sorts of books all run together. Doesn’t anybody write anything
original anymore?”

SoftServ Solution: Works sold through SoftServ need have
none of the retail market limitations on content, originality,
inventiveness, breaking category, or necessity of mass sales to
the “lowest common denominator.” The elimination of most start-
up costs and market risks makes even a first novel by a complete
unknown a potential money-maker. Because of this, electronic
publishing should produce a veritable renaissance in literature
by eliminating all retail-created limitations on publication.

Reader’s Problem 5: Storage space. Schulman’s First Law:
Books will exceed bookshelves.

SoftServ Solution: Given the storage capacities of current
diskettes, most people could keep their entire library in a
shoebox. When CD-Rom becomes industry standard, entire libraries
will be storable on one compact disk.

Reader’s Problem 6: Shipping weight of books when moving.
“Leave them behind? It took me ten years to build this
collection!”

SoftServ Solution: Take the shoebox (or CD) with you when
you move.

Reader’s Problem 7: Small type.

SoftServ Solution: Set your computer printer to print large
type.

Reader’s Problem 8: Difficulty of replacing worn-out copies.

SoftServ Solution: Print another copy. If you’re worried
that your diskette is getting old, make a new copy of it, too.

Reader’s Problem 9: Two people in the same household want to
read the same book at the same time, but don’t want to buy two
copies.

SoftServ Solution: Print out two copies. Or get a computer
with multi-user capability. Or even two computers, cheapskate.

Reader’s Problem 10: Difficulty locating a particular quote
in a book, or a particular scene, or a character.

SoftServ Solution: Global “string” searches could locate all
instances of a name or key word–a useful capability for both the
student and the professional.

Reader’s Problem 11: Illiteracy, Blindness, Poor Eyesight,
Reading Disfunctions, or English-language difficulties.

SoftServ Solution: For the illiterate or those with other
reading problems, works available on SoftServ could
simultaneously be displayed on screen as text and read aloud by a
voice synthesizer. Or just the latter. For the blind reader,
Works available on SoftServ could be immediately available to
Braille printers, dot-matrix printers using software designed to
print Braille, or any other equipment capable of accepting ASCII.

Reader’s Problem 12: Difficulties in judging a book by its
content, rather than by its cover, particularly: a) Obtaining a
wide variety of reviews of a Work–a comparison of opinions–
before purchase; and b) Difficulty of reading a significant
portion of a book–enough to decide on purchase–while standing
in a bookstore.

SoftServ Solution: Through on-line reviews available in
DisContents and the critic/author debates in Pistols at Dawn!–
all indexed both to Title and Author–the Reader will have access
to a powerful tool in determining which Works are worth purchase.

The SoftServ Sampler concept, mentioned under heading IV,
will also provide readers with free copies of the first 7,500 to
10,000 words–approximately the first three chapters–of every
Work available–another powerful tool in judging Works by their
content, not by their cover.

In addition to all these solutions to already-existing
problems, there will be one primary reason why Readers will come
to SoftServ to find the Authors they wish to read: That’s where
the Authors will be.

Given the overwhelming problems that SoftServ is able to
solve for the vast majority of Authors, and the much-higher-share
of proceeds-per-sale that will be available to Authors as
compared to traditional book publishing, the market will surely
gravitate toward even bestselling Authors placing their Works on
SoftServ then selling them to book publishers.

And given that many Works–even by name Authors–will remain
unpublishable as books given the high costs, high risks, and
limitations of book publishing, SoftServ will often remain the
one place where Readers will always be able to find a book.


VI.
Publishing a Work Through SoftServ

The process of publishing a work through SoftServ will
parallel that of publishing through print media.

An Author will write the work, and is free to engage
whatever editorial help is necessary. SoftServ will be
interested in seeing the Work only when it is finished and ready
for publication, and will rely on established authors, literary
agents, and publishers to prepare the Work up to publishable
standards, copyright it, place it into machine-readable form, and
format it to SoftServ’s electronic requirements.

At the point where the Work is ready to go, a Marketing
Agreement will be signed between the Proprietor of the Work and
SoftServ. SoftServ will place the Work on its host computers,
list it in its electronic catalog of available Works, and
publicize it to the electronic marketplace.

Works will be available through SoftServ both in electronic
“soft” versions in magnetic or optical media, and, if the Work is
not in print as a bound book, the Work will also be available as
an unbound “hard” copy.

For each copy of the Work sold through SoftServ, SoftServ
will collect from the purchaser, deduct its sales commission, and
forward the proceeds to the Proprietor. Statements and proceeds
will be sent once each month.

SoftServ will also sometimes handle subsidiary rights to
license the Work for traditional print publication such as in
book or magazine form, through a book club, or on tape.

For Works available on SoftServ that are also available, or
soon to be available, in published book form, SoftServ will make
the book version available direct-mail to its customers through
electronic orders from the SoftServ Electronic Bookshop.


VII.
Buying From SoftServ

Buying Works from SoftServ will begin with a sign-up
procedure to establish an account and a Personal Identification
Number (PIN) on the system. A start-up kit will then be sent
which includes a properly configured SoftServ Reader Program with
the PIN embedded in it, as well as XModem software to be used for
electronic modem communications with SoftServ, documentation, and
credit toward the purchase of two Works. Modem communications
with SoftServ, including access to the electronic catalog and to
place orders, will be available at 300 bps, 1200 bps, or 2400
bps. The customer will be responsible for all communications
charges, whether by telephone or through a computer network such
as the Source, CompuServe, or GEnie.

If the customer does not have a modem, a hard copy of the
catalog may be ordered and orders for Works will be able to be
placed either by mail or by ordinary voice telephone.

Once the SoftServ customer has a Reader Program for her or
his computer, the customer will be able to place orders with
SoftServ, either for the Work, or a SoftServ Sampler, to be
downloaded immediately via modem–at either 1200 bps or 2400 bps,
24 hours a day, 365 days a year–or mailed on disk. All Works
purchased will be in crunched, encrypted form and keyed to the
PIN number in that particular customer’s Reader Program: these
Works will not be accessible without the Reader Program or by any
other Reader Program. This is both to protect against pirating
of Works, and to be able to assure both Author and Reader that
the Work is authentic, and hasn’t been cut, edited, re-written,
censored, bowdlerized, or otherwise screwed up.

The customer will be billed for all copies ordered, and will
be allowed to make up to several hard or soft copies for personal
not-for-commercial-resale use.

SoftServ will also be experimenting with selling diskettes
and hard copies through retail outlets such as bookstores,
computer & electronics stores, copy shops, and department stores.


VIII.
The Bottom Line

Judging by how well it can serve the needs of Authors and Readers
as compared to the problems of book publishing today, there seems
little doubt that Electronic Mass-Market Trade Publishing is an idea
whose time has come.


My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available for sale or rental on Amazon.com Video On Demand. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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A Philosophical Conversation with Robert A. Heinlein

In July of 1973 the grandmaster of science-fiction writers, Robert A. Heinlein, granted me a rare interview. The full interview is in my book The Robert Heinlein Interview and Other Heinleiniana, and an audio version will be released through Sound of Liberty/ARTC.

Here’s a little of what we talked about. — JNS

Robert A. Heinlein with J. Neil Schulman. Photo by Julius Schulman. Copyright (c) 1973, 1999 by J. Neil Schulman. All rights reserved.
Robert A. Heinlein with J. Neil Schulman.
Photo by Julius Schulman.
Copyright © 1973, 1999 J. Neil Schulman.
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust.
All rights reserved.

SCHULMAN: Do you believe time travel is possible or is it merely a fictional device?

HEINLEIN: There is no basis for belief or non-belief in this question, Neil. We don’t have any data from which to work. There is at present no satisfactory theory of time. We haven’t the slightest idea of how you might get your teeth into the fabric of time—whatever it is. Time travel, as of now, comes under the head of fantasy, inasmuch as it requires one to postulate something about which we know nothing. I do not regard time travel as either impossible or possible. I have no opinion about its possibility or impossibility because we have no data on which to make a judgment. But it makes an excellent device for telling stories, particularly stories that speculate about the condition of mankind and his future, and so forth and so on; it’s been used almost entirely for that purpose, including A Connecticut Yankee In KIng Arthur’s Court which is very largely a social and political pamphlet expressed in story form, to go back to a time-travel story of the last century and one which doesn’t even use a time machine—it just postulates it. And the same thing is true, of course, of H.G. Wells’ Time Machine and his When The Sleeper Wakes. In both cases he was using a time-travel device in order to permit him to speculate about the human condition.

HEINLEIN: “I’d like to know more about your theory that ‘no matter how individualistic you feel, you are really only part of an evolutionary organism.'”

SCHULMAN: Did I quote you correctly on that?

HEINLEIN: You’ve placed a little emphasis in there: “really only a part of.” What i believe I said—the book is across the room and I’m not going to dig it out—was that “you are part of an evolutionary organism” not “really only a part of.” Difference in emphasis, do you follow me?

SCHULMAN: Yes.

HEINLEIN: Just as you are J. Neil Schulman and you are also part of the population of an area known as New York City. But it isn’t a case of J. Neil Schulman being “really only a part of” New York City. You are J. Neil Schulman and you also happen to be one of that population group called by that name. Now, there is a matter of emphasis here. You say, “Can you prove this?” Well, I can’t prove that you are “really only a part of” but I observe that you are only a part of. No emphasis on it, we simply observe it. You have parents. You have at least the potentiality of offspring. I assume that you go along more or less at least with evolutionary theory.

SCHULMAN: To a certain extent.

HEINLEIN: …Yes. We simply observe that we are part of this continuing process.

SCHULMAN: Now, I think what I was asking here was the more philosophical question…in other words, I can see that I have parents and come from an evolutionary chain.

HEINLEIN: Yes.

SCHULMAN: But the phrase “evolutionary organism” seems to suggest that you have one being with central control or something…or at least some central plan.

HEINLEIN: I don’t mean to imply that. Evolutionists differ in their notions as to whether or not there is any central plan or whether the whole matter is automatic, or what it may be. All I really meant is that although we feel as if we were discrete individuals, if you consider it in terms of four dimensions with time as the fourth dimension, you are part of a branch…a branching deal, with an actual physical connection going back into the past and physical connection extending into the future until such a time as it’s chopped off. If you have no children then it’s chopped off at that point. I have no children myself, however I’m not dead yet, either. I think, however, you are more interested in a later part here: “if so but we retain free will, why should we place the welfare of the whole organism above ourselves?” The question as to whether or not you place the welfare of your species—your race—above yourself is a matter for you to settle with yourself and for me to settle with me.

SCHULMAN: On what basis?

HEINLEIN: [Quoting question] “If you say it’s something you can’t justify on a purely rational basis, then what other basis is there to justify it?” That’s what you’re getting at; you’re trying to make it as either/or here between rational and irrational.

SCHULMAN: Well…rational and nonrational in any case.

HEINLEIN: All right. [Long pause] Uh, I’m trying to phrase this clearly. And you say this last question leads up to this next one: “Is there ever any justification to accept something on faith? How can you prove this since by doing so you are inherently rejecting reason as final arbiter?” Now, there are a lot of implications in your question, a lot oh hidden assumptions in your question.

SCHULMAN: I suppose so.

HEINLEIN: Yes, indeed. All the way through this I can see that you regard yourself as a rationalist and you regard reason as the final arbiter on anything.

SCHULMAN: Well, I’m basically starting out with Ayn Rand’s Objectivist epistemology.

HEINLEIN: Well, I’m not going to comment on Miss Rand’s epistemology; I have notions of my own. Have you read anything by Alfred Korzybski?

SCHULMAN: No, I’m familiar with his work only through your own; you’ve mentioned him quite a few times.

HEINLEIN: Only through my own. You haven’t read Science and Sanity, for example?

SCHULMAN: No, I haven’t.

HEINLEIN: And you’re not familiar with his epistemological approach?

SCHULMAN: Only what you yourself have mentioned.

HEINLEIN: Let me invert these questions a bit. If you’ve read Stranger in a Strange Land, you’ve probably gathered what I think of faith. I do not regard faith as a basis on which to believe or disbelieve anything. On the other hand, Neil, there are many things—practically all of the important questions of philosophy—are not subject to final answers purely by reason. In my opinion, they are not subject to final answers simply by reason. This has been gone into a considerable extent by philosophers in the past, and there’s even a term—a technical term—for that called “noumena” as opposed to “phenomena.” Phenomena are things that you can grasp through your physical senses or through measurements made with your physical senses through instruments and so forth and so in other words, phenomena are things that we can know about the physical universe. Noumena translates as the unknowable things. The unknowable things: What is the purpose of the universe? Why are you here on this earth? What should a man do with his life? All of those wide open, generalized, unlimited “whys.” There are all noumena, and consequently they are not subject—consequently by definition—these things are not subject to final answers simply by reason. My own attitude on that is shown a bit in several places in this last book [Time Enough For Love] in which Lazarus Long indicates that he hasn’t been able to find any purpose to the universe any more significant than gametes using zygotes to create mare gametes. He expresses it that way in one place, then he turns it over, turns it upside down, and expresses it another way to the effect that as far as he knows, there’s no more important purpose to the universe than making a baby with the help of a woman you love. And yet obviously neither of these things are answers; they are just expressions of what Lazarus Long happens to like. Now, do you happen to like chocolate malted milks?

SCHULMAN: Uh, yes.

HEINLEIN: Now, do you like them better than strawberry malted milks?

SCHULMAN: Yeah, I would say so.

HEINLEIN: Can you justify that by reason?

SCHULMAN: No, I would say that it’s a purely subjective judgment.

HEINLEIN: That’s right. That is correct. It doesn’t involve faith and it doesn’t involve reason.

SCHULMAN: But I’m using internal data; there is data which I am acting upon.

HEINLEIN: That’s right. The internal data tells you that you like it better…but it doesn’t tell you why. This applies also to a great many things about the universe: it’s your own internal, subjective evaluation of it, not any final answers given by reason or rationality.


My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available for sale or rental on Amazon.com Video On Demand. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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Glenn Beck’s Libertarian Thriller — The Overton Window

The Overton Window
by Glenn Beck with contributions from Kevin Balfe, Emily Bestler, and Jack Henderson
Simon & Schuster Threshold Editions / Mercury Radio Arts
June 15, 2010
Hardcover:
336 Pages
ISBN-10: 1439184305
Kindle Books Edition:
288 Pages
ASIN: B003LL2Z4Y

The Overton Window book cover

As an author who as early as 1987 handed out my booklet titled Here Come the Paperless Books! at the yearly convention of the American Booksellers Association — let me say that I read The Overton Window on my Windows computer using Amazon.com’s free Kindle-reading application, having ordered the Kindle Book edition of The Overton Window with One-Click shopping from the Amazon.com Kindle Store.

I was reading the novel seconds after ordering it. — JNS

It’s probably no surprise to anyone who’s read my books, but I’m a long-time fan of what might best be called the Paranoid Thriller.

“Paranoid Thriller” isn’t a book publishing category. You won’t find such a classification in the Library of Congress, or in the shelving system of Borders or Barnes and Noble. Amazon.com has the most cross-referenced indexing system of any bookseller I can think of and even it doesn’t seem to have that as a sub-category of fiction.

Technically — because these stories are often set in the “near future” or “the day after tomorrow” or sometimes in an alternate history — the Paranoid Thriller is a sub-genre of science fiction. But usually, beyond the element of political speculation, there are none of the usual tropes of science fiction — extraterrestrials, space, time, or dimensional travel, artificial intelligence, biological engineering, new inventions, scientists as action heroes, virtual realities, and so forth.

I’m sure even this list shows what an old fogey I am when it comes to what’s being published as science-fiction these days, which within the publishing genre has abandoned all those cardinal literary virtues of clarity, kindness to the reader, and just good storytelling in favor of all those fractal fetishes that previously made much of “mainstream” fiction garbage unworthy of reading: dysfunctional characters, an overwhelming sense of helplessness and despair, and of course hatred of anything ever accomplished to better the entire human race by old dead European-extraction white men.

The Paranoid Thriller is an atavistic throwback to earlier forms of literature. There are suspense plots, adventure, a focus on characters driven to make decisions by intellect rather than addiction, and — God bless them! — often enough a happy ending after you’ve ploughed through the wreckage caused by the miserable wretches who actually make life decisions based on the gulf oil sludge that passes for literature in those committees who for the last few decades have been passing out once-worthy awards to writers who if they tried to tell a story around a campfire would soon find themselves alone, talking to the coyotes.

And with some poetic justice eaten by them.

The Paranoid Thriller is not actually based on any emotion, much less fear. The Paranoid Thriller is specifically a type of intellectual libertarian literature, the purpose of which is to sound a clarion call to wake up the sleepwalkers among us who have been hypnotized by government-run schools, socialist-dominated universities, misanthropic organs of popular culture, and cynical destroyers of all sense of public honor or decorum for fun, profit, and sick love of power.

The Paranoid Thriller is the literature of liberation — and often enough, the cinema of liberation as well.

The Paranoid Thriller is step-brother to the Dystopian novel, such as Yvgeny Zamyatin’s We, Ayn Rand’s Anthem, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and George Orwell’s Nineteen-eighty-four, and brother to the espionage novel — everything from Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels to John Le Carre and Tom Clancy’s spy novels; and at least kissing cousin to alternate history thrillers like Brad Linaweaver’s 1988 Prometheus Award-winning novel, Moon of Ice, about a Cold War not between the United States and the Soviet Union but between a non-interventionist libertarian United States and a victorious Nazi Germany.

Some good examples of the Paranoid Thriller?

In books, let’s start with Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here, the story of an American president who rises to power by enforcing a Mussolini-type fascism in America, published three years after the movie Gabriel Over the White House enthusiastically endorsed such a presidency, well into the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who did it for real, and a year after Adolf Hitler became the Führer of Germany.

Three years before Jack Finney’s novel The Body Snatchers was serialized in Colliers, Robert A. Heinlein’s 1951 Doubleday hardcover novel, The Puppet Masters crossed genre between futuristic science-fiction and the Paranoid Thriller — in effect creating an entire new genre of Paranoid Science-Fiction Horror — in which unlike H.G. Wells’ invaders from Mars in The War of the Worlds who had the decency to exterminate you, the alien invaders instead jumped onto your back and controlled your brain making you their zombie.

But then again, Heinlein had already created the Ultimate Paranoid Thrillers in his 1941 short story “They” and 1942 novella “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag” — over a-half-century before The Wachowski Brothers’ 1999 movie The Matrix — in which the entire world is a vast conspiracy to convince one man of its reality.

Jumping two decades forward I’ll use as my next example Ayn Rand’s 1957 epic Atlas Shrugged, in which the Soviet-refugee author warned how the United States — by following the path of a kindler, gentler socialism — could end up as the fetid garbage dump that had devolved from her once European-bound Mother Russia.

The Cold War gave us several classic Paranoid Thrillers about either attempts at — or successful — Soviet communist takeovers of the United States.

We had Richard Condon’s 1959 brilliantly ironic novel — adapted into a wonderful movie in 1962 — The Manchurian Candidate, about a Soviet agent who controls both her son — a brainwashed assassin — and her husband, an anti-Communist United States Senator loosely based on Joseph McCarthy who comes close to securing his party’s nomination for president.

Less well known were the pseudonymous Oliver Lange’s 1971 novel Vandenberg, about a Soviet takeover of the United States, or In the Heat of the Night author John Ball’s 1973 Soviet takeover novel, The First Team, in which a single undetected American nuclear submarine holds the hope for forcing the Soviets out of their occupation of America.

Likewise, fears of appeasement of the Soviet Union led to Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II’s 1962 novel, Seven Days in May, about a Pentagon General’s attempt to overthrow the President — which two years later Rod Serling adapted into a Burt Lancaster/ Kirk Douglas movie directed by John Frankenheimer, who two years earlier had directed Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, and Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate.

Television gave us the classic Patrick McGoohan 1967-1968 paranoid thriller TV series, The Prisoner, granddaddy to all the knock-offs of people kidnapped by mysterious forces and transported to gilded cages and danger-filled islands.

Movies gave us:

The Parallax View (1974)
Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977)
Rollover (1981)
Red Dawn (1984)
JFK (1991)
Wag the Dog (1997)
Murder at 1600 (1997)
The Siege (1998)
Arlington Road (1999)
Josie and the Pussycats (2001)

Yes, Josie and the Pussycats — though played as a comedy — eminently qualifies for the genre.

I could go on and on — Wired-magazine-founder Louis Rosetto, Jr.’s pre-Watergate-written Paranoid Thriller novel of President Nixon’s coup d’etats, Takeover — published in January 1974 just six months before Nixon was forced from office; John Ross’s 1996 post-Waco/post Oklahoma City bombing novel Unintended Consequences.

In that sub-genre of the Economic Paranoid Thriller we have financial writer Paul E. Erdman’s 1976 Paranoid Thriller The Crash of ’79 (Erdman had good reason to be paranoid — he’d served time in a Swiss prison for financial fraud); and Nixon-administration economic mavens Herbert Stein and his son Benjamin Stein’s 1977 novel of America suffering from hyperinflation, On the Brink.

My own 1979 novel, Alongside Night, just misses being in the Paranoid Thriller category only because hyperinflation and government conspiracy is only the launching point for a novel which is mostly an exploration of how the principles of the Declaration of Independence might be implemented by a “new guard” other than re-upping the Constitution of the United States after its failure to maintain a limited government — as is the endgame of Atlas Shrugged and the novel I come here today to review, The Overton Window.

Let me start by saying that everything the mainstream critics will say about this novel is true. It’s talky. I expect the words “preachy” and “didactic” to be used a lot. There are long speeches — even by the main villain, who like many destructive people are disappointed idealists. Events of the novel seem to have been picked not because they advance the plot but because they’re popular topics in the news. It quotes the Founding Fathers as if they’d written the Bible.

Screw these critics all to hell. These are what make a novel worth reading.

Why in the name of God would anyone waste a moment of their precious reading time on a novel that doesn’t have ideas, doesn’t have characters who are capable of making coherent speeches, doesn’t have an author who thinks he knows something worthwhile and has a passion to gift you with them?

What the mainstream literary critics use to condemn novels like The Overton Window are the very virtues that makes them literature.

Think I’m sounding defensive here?

No, I’m on the offense, and have been ever since these same bogus standards were used by uncreative drones to make lame attacks on my novels, three decades ago.

Here’s how I answered them in my article “There Are Two Sides to Every Review” published August 10, 1980 in the Los Angeles Times Book Review:

1. “The writing is heavy-handed.”

The author says things explicitly.

2. “The story is melodramatic.”

The book is strongly plotted.

3. “The plot is contrived.”

The plot is original and intricately logical.

4. “The novel is polemical.”

The novel has a discernible theme.

5. “The novel is preachy.”

The theme phrases a moral proposition.

6. “The book’s intent is didactic.”

The plot demonstrates practical consequences of the theme.

7. “The author manipulates characters.”

The characters do things that fit into the plot.

8. “The characters are two-dimensional.”

The characters are only shown doing things that fit into the plot.

9. “The book is Pollyannish.”

The author finds things in life that make it worth living.

10. “The story depends upon coincidence.”

Events in the story logically coincide.

11. “The book is a roman à clef.”

The characters are so realistically drawn, they can be confused with real people.

12. “The characters are unrealistic.”

The characters are shown being heroic, moral and intelligent, while the critic views his own character as cowardly, amoral and stupid.

13. “The author has no feeling for his subject.”

The author portrays things differently from what the critic thinks they are.

14. “The characters give speeches.”

The characters are capable of expressing a coherent viewpoint.

15. “This character is the author’s mouthpiece.”

This character makes more sense than the others.

16. “The book is utopian.”

The author thinks things can get better.

17. “The book is an exercise in paranoia.”

The author thinks things can get worse.

I find myself here — as both a novelist myself and a critic — having to be didactic, myself. I have to teach you the very standards that need to be used when criticizing a work of literature. I have to arm you with the very tools necessary to understand what it is that critics are trying to steer you away from — and why.

Critics who are not themselves practitioners of the art they are writing about are — with rare exceptions, caused by a dedication to reason and honesty above all else — the enemies of art. Without the ability to create it themselves, they are wannabes sitting on the sidelines envious, spiteful, and on a mission to destroy that which they, themselves, do not have the power to create.

The failed artists — the one who gave up — tend to be the most dangerous of all.

Adolf Hitler was a failed painter. His hatred of Jews likely started because a Jewish art teacher had the strength of character to point out his failings.

Saddam Hussein was a failed novelist. As dictator of Iraq he self-published his novels and his minions forced people to buy them.

The Roman Emperor Nero played the lyre while Rome burned.

And Bill Clinton was either a failed saxophonist or someone who didn’t have the perseverance to find out if he could spend his life supporting himself doing it.

The critics who were never artists and the critics who are failed artists don’t like art that clearly communicates. They thrive on murk and obscurity. They shrink from any sort of standards. They hide behind a doctrine they’ve invented called deconstructionism, which when you strip away the academic veneer of respectability means that a work of art has no objective meaning at all, but means only what an audience member imagines it means.

Sonny boy, I did not go through eight drafts of my first novel — and more recently fourteen cuts of my first movie — because I don’t think I am capable of refining what I’m trying to communicate to my audience down to the subatomic level. Screw Heisenberg and his uncertainty principle when it comes to the business I have chosen to be in.

If my art does not communicate precisely and absolutely what I intend it to mean, either I have failed as an artist or I have failed to find an audience worthy of me.

My father did not practice the violin for hours every day for over half a century because he was satisfied with being sloppy in front of an audience without an ear to tell the difference. He heard the difference — and on that day when his strength and agility and hearing had failed him and he could no longer perform to the lofty standards he had set for himself, on that day he began to die.

The Overton Window is told third person from several viewpoints, the most important being Noah Gardner, whom we meet on his 28th birthday — and what an eventful birthday it is, having him stopped in a New York City cab by Halliburton-type security contractees protecting political candidates in town, and arrested at a Tea party type meeting taking place in a beer hall — and I’m sure the authors picked that meeting location pointedly.

Noah is the scion to a New York public relations firm into everything from making pet rocks a fad to saving politicians from sex scandals. Noah’s father is a cynical bastard who is smart enough to see the writing on the wall from previous misuse of power, but not smart enough to understand that when the game of musical chairs which is the world economy stops he won’t be conducting the music any more. Noah’s possible salvation lies in a chance meeting with a beautiful young libertarian woman who begins to seduce him away from the dark side.

An “Overton Window” is what’s called “the realm of the possible” in politics — it’s that which is on the table for current discussion. So if you’re in the business of politics, job one is moving the Overton Window in your direction — getting what the public can accept as possible to include your agenda. If your agenda is total control, you create incidents that scare the public into incremental losses of their privacy and liberty. If your agenda is expanding freedom, you create loopholes for people to escape through.

If you’ve come to this page expecting me to tell you anything more about the story or characters of The Overton Window, think again. Anything more I tell you would be a spoiler.

Trust me, I’d love to be able to tell you why the Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse in Las Vegas, Nevada plays a part in this plot. That was the exterior we used for the office of Jack Goldwater’s supervisor, IRS Deputy Commissioner Lewis Heinlein, in my movie Lady Magdalene’s.

Oh my God — there’s even a sequence in Pahrump, Nevada — where I filmed most of Lady Magdalene’s — and where I live!

Some Star Wars references, even. Sam Konkin, Victor Koman and I did produce the very first Star Wars fanzine, The Force.

Spooky. More than one place in the novel gives me an eerie feeling of déjà vu.

Ayn Rand told her readers that an author’s job is to present facts instead of predigested conclusions, and let the reader make up their own minds.

But my telling you about the plot and characters of a novel by someone else isn’t my job. It’s the authors’ job. Let them communicate their images and events to you. Let their words — not mine — be your first introduction. I do not intend to broker the experience of reading The Overton Window for you.

I gave you my standards for judging a work of literature. By these standards I find The Overton Window to be an important work of literature, expertly crafted, relevant to our times, presenting solid values, and on the same mission that I am to liberate this country from the critics who are incapable of creative work yet feel themselves capable of standing in judgment over it.

The critics of The Overton Window will not need to read the novel to condemn it, and many won’t even trouble themselves. They already know all they need to know because they’ve listened to its producer, Glenn Beck, speak to them on his television and radio shows.

The Overton Window is a trenchant and uncompromising critique of power brokers who can not create life but feel themselves competent to rule over it. It is a novel that wants the free will that God gave each of us to be once again free. If that’s not literature then to hell with literature. If that’s not a good enough reason for you to read a novel, nothing further I say to you will make any difference, anyway.

As it happens, I have many disagreements with Glenn Beck — both with the content of his presentations and sometimes with his method of presentation. He’s been on a journey. This novel is a strong indication to me that he’s going in the right direction.

None of anything negative I might perceive in the author is reflected in The Overton Window. Glenn Beck is his best self as a fiction writer — and the collaboration of producer Kevin Balfe, editor Emily Bestler, and novelist Jack Henderson — known for his own previous novel Circumference of Darkness — only enhance Glenn Beck’s first outing as a thriller writer.

On June 2, 2010 Glenn Beck praised my novel Alongside Night to the three million listeners of his nationally syndicated and satellite radio show.

I guess this review is the beginning of a mutual admiration society.

As a Prometheus-Awards laureate in 1984 and 1989, I recommend to the next Libertarian Futurist Society’s Prometheus Awards Nominating Committee that The Overton Window be placed into consideration for the “Best Novel” category.

Mr. Beck, welcome to the libertarian fight. This time I know our side will win.


Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Libertarian Ideals from the 2011 Anthem Film Festival! My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available free on the web linked from the official movie website. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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Draft Glenn Beck to Play Dr. Martin Vreeland in Alongside Night!


From FR33 — The Freedom Activist Network
and the Facebook Group

On June 2nd Glenn Beck spent several minutes telling the three million listeners of his radio show about how great he thought Alongside Night is.

Now I’ve done the math and what I’ve come up with is that Glenn Beck’s popularity — mixed with his fondness both for being in front of cameras and actually liking Alongside Night — just might add up to production funding for the movie — if I play the right card.

The card I’m playing is asking him to take the role of Dr. Martin Vreeland in Alongside Night.

Beck is a stand-up comic. His IMDb listing shows that he was on an episode of Cheers. He’s the right age and physical type to play the role.

To begin with, I’d ask someone like my lead actor in Lady Magdalene’s, Ethan Keogh — an alumnus of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and the Groundlings, as well as being an acting coach — to fly to New York and work with Glenn Beck for a week or two before we even started rehearsals.

Then I’d work with make-up and wardrobe experts to craft a new look for Glenn Beck so he’d fit the role of the Nobel laureate like a glove. I’m thinking longer hair, a distinguished looking beard, Armani suits and Gucci loafers.

With prep like this I’m sure I can direct Glenn Beck to a great performance.

The fact is, Dr. Martin Vreeland is the viewpoint character in Alongside Night for all the arguments in favor of retaining limited constitutional government. The words I’ve written for the character fit Glenn Beck’s minarchist views — if not perfectly, close enough for him to feel comfortable with the dialogue.

I’m aware that the novel of Alongside Night is probably outside Glenn Beck’s comfort zone when it comes to its treatment of sex between its teenage characters. In my screenplay adaptation, the action moves so quickly there’s no time for teenage sex. Problem solved. The film will likely get a PG-13 that will play well in Salt Lake City.

And if Glenn Beck does accept the role the publicity will drive Alongside Night — and its core pro-free-market/pro-Declaration of Independence ideas — into the mass media.

To launch this viral campaign I’ve produced a new YouTube Video. It’s a winner. Watch it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I51sxpY8CAo.

I also blogged about it at http://jneilschulman.agorist.com/2010/06/a-very-personal-message-to-mr-glenn-beck/.

Glenn Beck’s email is me@glennbeck.com.

The call-in number for his show (on the air between 9:00 AM and noon EDT) is 888-727-BECK.

Please reblog this, send it out to anyone who’s a fan of Alongside Night and wants to see the movie made — and made right by the guy who originally wrote it.

And if you’re not a fan of Glenn Beck’s politics, please don’t spend a second worrying about it. He didn’t write the script, isn’t directing the script, and as an actor he’d be saying the lines that I wrote for his character in the script.

Agorist Cadre … charge! :-)

Neil

Alongside


My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available for sale or rental on Amazon.com Video On Demand. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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A Very Personal Message to Mr. Glenn Beck



Dear Mr. Beck,

Five days ago — on June 2nd, twelve-and-a-half minutes into the second hour of your radio show — you spent about five minutes telling your listening audience about my novel, Alongside Night.

Here’s a transcript of what you said:

The [novel] was written in 1979. Alongside … Morning? Something like that. It reads exactly like my show. It does! You know what the story is? A guy who is an economic expert has been saying “The economy is collapsing! The economy is collapsing and the government is going to seize control!” Everything is out of control. He lives in New York City. His son is called from school. He’s told that your father has died; you’ve got to go home right away. He takes out these blue notes because hyperinflation has come — his father was right — hyperinflation has come. He’s bartering with the cab driver to be able to get home. He’s bargaining with him — “How many blue notes do you have?” — because money is over. He gets to the apartment and Dad is standing there: “Listen. Go get the gold. We gotta get out.” “But, Dad, they told me you were dead.” “We’ve got to get out; it was a ruse to give us time to get out.” The son goes and gets the gold that he had hidden in New York, puts it in a belt, starts to come back … and Dad and the family now are gone. Been picked up by the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice has built concentration camps! It’s an interesting read! I don’t remember who wrote it. It doesn’t take you long to read it. I read it in a day. I don’t think it’s a big book. I read it on Kindle. But it’s good. I don’t agree with everything in it. But it’s a good read and written in 1979! Phenomenal! Phenomenal!

This blog post is to offer you the acting role of Nobel-Prizewinning economist Dr. Martin Vreeland in the movie production of Alongside Night. I have a screenplay ready to email to you as a PDF file.

Alongside Night launched my career when it was published hardcover in 1979 by Crown Publishing, with endorsements on the dust jacket from A Clockwork Orange author Anthony Burgess and Milton Friedman, who’d endorsed it even before he won the Nobel Prize in economics three years earlier. The novel won the Libertarian Futurist Society’s Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 1989 — the first year of its eligibility — and in 2009 Ron Paul endorsed it.

Alongside Night was my first novel; I spent the subsequent three decades learning additional skills, so today I am not only a novelist whose work has often been complimented by other impressive people — fans of my writing have included Charlton Heston, Dennis Prager, Professor Walter Williams of George Mason University, Michael Medved, and the dean of science-fiction authors, Robert A. Heinlein — but I’m one of the few novelists who has crossed over to become not only a screenwriter but also a director whose first feature film, Lady Magdalene’s — starring the original Star Trek‘s Lt. Uhura, Nichelle Nichols — has already won two film-festival awards.

Following up on Lady Magdalene’s I decided to make a film production of Alongside Night my next project. My line producer is Emmy-Award-winning producer, Sascha Schneider.

First, here are those three endorsements on the novel:

“I received Alongside Night at noon today. It is now eight in the evening and I just finished it. I think I am entitled to some dinner now as I had no lunch. The unputdownability of the book ensured that. It is a remarkable and original story, and the picture it presents of an inflation- crippled America on the verge of revolution is all too acceptable. I wish, and so will many novelists, that I, or they, had thought of the idea first. A thrilling novel, crisply written, that fires the imagination as effectively as it stimulates the feelings.”
–Anthony Burgess

“An absorbing novel–science fiction, yet also a cautionary tale with a disturbing resemblance to past history and future possibilities.”
— Milton Friedman, 1976 Nobel laureate in Economics

“J. Neil Schulman’s Alongside Night may be even more relevant today than it was in 1979. Hopefully, the special thirtieth anniversary edition of this landmark work of libertarian science fiction will inspire a new generation of readers to learn more about the ideas of liberty and become active in the freedom movement.” –Congressman Ron Paul

In May 2009 Alongside Night was voted Freedom Book of the Month by the Freedom Book Club. When originally published it received rave reviews in Publishers Weekly, the Los Angeles Times, the Detroit News, and Reason magazine. It’s frequently compared — sometimes even over — Atlas Shrugged, because my novel is short, far less didactic, and has teenage lead characters.

Like the novel which you’ve read, the script of Alongside Night is set in the immediate future when the dollar has collapsed on international markets, current economic trends are bottoming out, and the country is in both political and economic turmoil.

The viewpoint character is 18-year-old Elliot Vreeland, whose father, Nobel-winning economist, Dr. Martin Vreeland, is the key to getting the United States foreign loans to issue a new gold-backed currency — but Dr. Vreeland and Elliot’s mother and sister have gone missing.

After a night out in New York on his own — and almost getting arrested by the feds at an anti-federal-spending demonstration his father was scheduled to speak at — Elliot seeks out the help of his friend Phillip Gross, and Phillip’s uncle — a former Mossad officer — to find his missing family, and they put Elliot in touch with the underground pro-free-market Revolutionary Agorist Cadre.

In the underground headquarters Elliot meets Lorimer — a young woman his own age — whose father, it turns out, is the FEMA official who may have kidnapped Elliot’s family and put them in a Guantanamo-type secret lock-up.

More action, adventure, and tight suspense follows.

Both the novel and my screenplay adaptation are chock full of entertaining ways I’ve found to embed pro-free-market and libertarian ideas, by making them plot-dependent. In his classroom Elliot presents a YouTube video titled “Economics in One Minute” based on his father’s book on free-market economics, to which his teacher says, “You boiled down his complex theories into a lucid series of pop-culture clichés.”

On May 21, 2010 I blogged a short humor piece — Alongside Night Author to Sue United States for Copyright Infringement — which is now reprinted all over the Internet, in which I announced my intention to sue the United States government for infringing the copyright on Alongside Night by copying its plot about the U.S. economy melting down. The article has gotten me great notices and a lot of people actually want me to file the lawsuit! :-)

Because of my humor piece, over 100,000 copies of the PDF edition of Alongside Night were downloaded from my website in the five days following publication of my humor piece. This brings the total current count of downloads since release in June 2009 to 197,876 as of this morning. This makes my three-decade-old novel a brand-new viral success story.

Of the 11 customer reviews of Alongside Night on Amazon.com, nine of them are five-star.

Full info on the novel on its official website and its Facebook Group. The movie poster is lower down in this post.

In addition to having a successful career as a novelist and journalist over the years (the Wall Street Journal also called me a pioneer of electronic book publishing as early as 1989), I also wrote one of the best-remembered Twilight Zone episodes when CBS brought it back in the mid-80’s, titled “Profile in Silver.”

My resume is on IMDb. My bio with all my links is here.

Alongside Night‘s line producer, Sascha Schneider’s, IMDb page with his credits is here.

Alongside Night is listed on IMDb here.

I believe your participation in the movie of Alongside Night can be wonderfully useful in spreading the ideas and ideals of the American Revolution — by putting them in a modern context for the American people — especially the teenagers who go to see action/adventure movies with characters their own age.

Sincerely,

Neil

J. Neil Schulman
Executive Producer/Writer/Director
Alongside Night


Alongside Night Poster #1 Copyright (c) 2010 Jesulu Productions. All rights reserved.


My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available for sale or rental on Amazon.com Video On Demand. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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Glenn Beck on Alongside Night: “Phenomenal! Phenomenal!”


On June 2, 2010, Glenn Beck opened the second hour of his syndicated radio show by saying:

From high above Times Square in Midtown Manhattan this is the third-most listened-to show in America. My name is Glenn Beck.”

Glenn Beck

In the second hour of his June 2, 2010 show, about twelve-and-a-half-minutes into the hour, Glenn Beck told his third-largest listening audience about my 1979 novel, Alongside Night.

Mr. Beck didn’t remember the name of the book’s author.

He didn’t remember the title exactly.

But he sure as shootin’ remembered what the book was about.

Alongside Night 30th Anniversary edition

The other one was written in 1979. Alongside … Morning? Something like that.

It reads exactly like my show. It does!

You know what the story is?

A guy who is an economic expert has been saying the economy is collapsing, the economy is collapsing, and the government is going to seize control.

Everything is out of control.

He lives in New York City.

His son is called from school. He’s told that your father has died; you’ve got to go home right away.

He takes out these blue notes because hyperinflation has come — his father was right — hyperinflation has come.

He’s bartering with the cab driver to be able to get home. He’s bargaining with him — “How many blue notes do you have?” — because money is over.

He gets to the apartment and Dad is standing there: “Listen. Go get the gold. We gotta get out.”

“But, Dad, they told me you were dead.”

“We’ve got to get out; it was a ruse to give us time to get out.”

The son goes and gets the gold that he had hidden in New York, puts it in a belt, starts to come back, and Dad and the family now are gone. Been picked up by the Department of Justice.

The Department of Justice has built concentration camps!

It’s an interesting read! I don’t remember who wrote it.

It doesn’t take you long to read it. I read it in a day. I don’t think it’s a big book. I read it on Kindle.

But it’s good. I don’t agree with everything in it. But it’s a good read and written in 1979!

Phenomenal! Phenomenal!

But that’s kind of where America is headed. As a journalist it kills me. Is America worried about something? [*snorts*] No, not at all.

To listen to an MP3 audio of the above, click here.

The podcast of the Glenn Beck Show is available to “Insider” subscribers at http://www.glennbeck.com.

The free 30th Anniversary PDF edition of Alongside Night is still available for download here.

To read about other people who have been excited about Alongside Night, go here.

Mr. Beck, thank you very much.

Oh … Mr. Beck. One more thing?

Go take a look at this IMDb page. Alongside Night is now being produced as a movie.

Here’s the poster:


Alongside Night Poster #1 Copyright (c) 2010 Jesulu Productions. All rights reserved.
Go to the Alongside Night Official Movie Website



Psst! Alongside Night! Pass it ON!


Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Libertarian Ideals from the 2011 Anthem Film Festival! My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available as a DVD on Amazon.com and for sale or rental on Amazon.com Instant Video. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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J.D. Salinger: The Catcher in the Sky


There is no character in literature that I instantly identified with more than Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s 1951 novel, The Catcher in the Rye.

Salinger passed away this week, at the age of 91. A comprehensive and accurate article on his life and work is on Wikipedia.

On November 6, 1999, I wrote the following five-star Amazon.com review of The Catcher in the Rye, with the subject line “A story of a grief observed”:

The Catcher in the Rye is one of the half dozen books which I’ve read over a hundred times in the 30 or so years since I first encountered it. Being a troubled teenager when I read it, I identified with Holden, and when I became a writer, it was hard for me at first to shake Holden’s narrative voice and find my own. I’ve studied the book to death, and read most of the critical books about it and its author, J.D. Salinger, but somehow everyone has focused on the book’s language and Holden’s teenage alienation, without ever getting their brains around the central point to the book.

Holden Caulfield is a teenage boy who’s lost his younger brother, Allie, and is terrified that something equally horrible might happen to his younger sister, Phoebe. All his obsessions — the title of the book itself — have to do with his inability to deal with the grief of his loss, his distrust of a universe that could do this, and his wish that he could wrap his arms around innocent children like his lost brother and protect them forever — protect them from falling off a cliff as “the catcher in the rye.”

You can see this influence most visible in my earliest finished short story, “The Second Remove,” published in my anthology, Nasty, Brutish, and Short Stories.

It’s not just The Catcher in the Rye that I read and studied. Excluding the bootleg release of Salinger’s uncollected magazine fiction, I read everything by and about J.D. Salinger that was carried by the New York Public Library.

I read the novel Shoeless Joe by W.P Kinsella — a novel in which the viewpoint character, who is also named Kinsella, kidnaps J.D. Salinger to take him to a baseball game, and I corresponded with W.P. Kinsella about Salinger. When Shoeless Joe was made into the classic movie Field of Dreams J.D. Salinger became a fictitious novelist played by James Earl Jones.

Another great movie, Finding Forrester, also fictionalized J.D. Salinger, as a reclusive one-novel author played by Sean Connery.

I have a cousin who roomed with J.D. Salinger’s daughter, Margaret, at college and who visited with J.D. Salinger, and through her parents I received a lot of inside information about the reclusive author.

Very early in his career, Salinger met Ernest Hemingway, who took the younger writer under his wing, corresponding with him for years afterward. But J.D. Salinger did not pay this forward, shunning correspondence from younger writers for most of his life. I was one of those younger Salinger-influenced writers who tried and failed.

J.D. Salinger is one of four authors I’ve considered my literary quartet of major influences, the other three being C.S. Lewis, Robert A. Heinlein, and Ayn Rand. Lewis died when I was ten, and I never got the chance to correspond with him, though I have met and corresponded with his stepson, Douglas Gresham. I interviewed Robert A. Heinlein in 1973, and we became friends to the end of his life, and both he and his wife, Virginia, were generous in their friendship. Also in 1973 I had the chance to argue on the phone for about four hours with Ayn Rand.

J.D. Salinger was the only one of the four alive during my writing career with whom I never managed to make a personal contact.

I’ve told friends — only half-jokingly — for many years that I intended to write a novel that combined Salinger’s approach to writing young characters with the approach Robert A. Heinlein took in young-adult novels like Between Planets and Tunnel in the Sky — and that I was going to title the novel, The Catcher in the Sky.

I consider J.D. Salinger to be one of the greatest fiction writers who ever lived, as a storyteller, as a master craftsman, as a stylist, and as a creator of lifelike characters. He also had a lot of virtues as a human being. But he was deeply flawed in his choices of how to relate to people who admired his work, and with other writers.

The other three writers in my quartet — C.S. Lewis, Robert A. Heinlein, and Ayn Rand — were all generous with their admirers, and maintained friendships with other writers. All of them were bestselling authors during their lifetimes. All of them had followers as fanatically devoted and persistently intrusive as J.D. Salinger. All of them managed the consequences of celebrity with far more grace and basic human decency.

When it came to dealing with the world, J.D. Salinger was as mean as Ebenezer Scrooge … and no Jacob Marley managed to save him.

J.D. Salinger’s contemptuous regard for his fans is best reflected in his decision never to allow a film adaptation of The Catcher in the Rye. This is usually attributed to a bad film adaptation of his short story, “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,” made into the mawkish 1949 Susan Hayward soap-opera, My Foolish Heart — which also featured Kent Smith, who the same year played Peter Keating in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.

But that explanation won’t wash.

J.D. Salinger achieved in his lifetime the ultimate bargaining power for the filming of his work, equal to Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling. He could have handpicked the director, the cast, and demanded he be an executive producer with name above the title, and could have had not only final script approval but his own final cut of the movie — something Ayn Rand demanded for Atlas Shrugged and never achieved.

It was just stupid for J.D. Salinger not to choose a Clint Eastwood, a Martin Scorsese, a John Hughes, or a Cameron Crowe to shepherd The Catcher in the Rye to the screen while he was still alive. The movie will eventually be made, even if the world has to wait for the copyright to expire in 2046. Now, the immortal J.D. Salinger will have no more say about who adapts his novel to the screen than William Shakespeare has about Romeo and Juliet and Charles Dickens has about A Christmas Carol.

I’m pretty sure that whatever restrictions Salinger’s will or trust (if he did not die intestate) imposes on his heirs, executor, or trustees — regarding the sale of his literary rights to the movies — would not withstand a court challenge.

So we just might see Taylor Lautner play Holden Caulfield — directed by Clint Eastwood or Martin Scorsese — after all.

I, for one, can’t wait.


My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available for sale or rental on Amazon.com Video On Demand. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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