Sunday, March 23, 2014

Getting on the Bestseller List

Always Writing: Getting on the bestseller list: captures a modern dilemma, one we could paraphrase as the 'Loneliness of the Long Distance Blogger (and most other sorts of author)', the central problem that confronts those of us who write - how to get noticed. With writer sites like and its ilk there today are many more ways to get your writing out in front of a few people, but it remains devilishly hard to get sufficient people to find and read your stuff that you can truly feel 'successful', let alone make serious money.

Perhaps, as this blogger Neil Ostroff suggests, the thrill of being a creative artist is enough for many writers. I however tend to feel that if your are not getting widely read then (a) you are not being effective in promotion, (b) speaking to a tiny constituency, and/or (c) have nothing interesting to say to society. We now live in a Long Tail world where  messaging to a tightly defined group where we are accepted as a guru seems the only option for that vast majority of authors who do not have blockbuster potential. A generalist commentator like myself has only a slight chance of being picked up by the diminishing number of print and online journals that go beyond news gathering to informed and fluent comment  on the broader social and political issues of our time.

Yet interpreters of this age of explosively accumulating data are needed more than ever. In this information explosion the days of the well-rounded individual who can converse sensibly in company about most of the topics that affect our daily existence are coming quickly to a close. Schools nowadays at college and university level aim to produce specialists not intellectual generalists. They have no choice. There are so many new academic disciplines, and each has a knowledge base expanding by the minute.

As a result the ability to aggregate knowledge from different spheres into a broadly coherent thesis that can be understood by everyone with a secondary or at least post-secondary education, a capacity that has always been rare, is today much more so. Yet some of us do need to try, or all hope is lost for achieving a consensus of opinion on the key issues that affect how we live our lives on this planet. Topics such as global warming, managing the rights of minorities, appropriate use of armed force, genetic engineering, and prudent fiscal management of a nation's resources all have such a mass of available data that, without commentators who have the ability and the courage to suggest what that data may mean for us, the 'Common Man (and Woman)', our society is doomed to an ever widening gap between experts and those who are not, with potentially dire social consequences.

As a career entrepreneur in the bio-science and medical arenas I experienced first hand the rapidly increasing inability of those of us seeking to commercialize scientific discoveries to explain them effectively to society so that the population at large understands their utility. The witch-hunt against any product that might be or contain a GMO, i.e. a product of genetic engineering, a campaign pursued especially aggressively in Europe, is just one example of seriously counter-productive general ignorance. Yet without some scientific training to really appreciate manipulation of genes for social benefit, a discipline with a very long history stretching back to the first domestication of plants and animals, is no easy task. It is essential that some of us try to write to foster that understanding in a world where large numbers of people still have a medieval view of causation, one that is faith-based rather than data-based. The problem we have is how do we get noticed in the raging torrent of new writing on all things trivial and non-trivial? That is the central question for those of us who try. I suspect there is no ready answer for the likes of me.

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