Friday, September 21, 2012

Prolific Author For The Movies Speaks Out

12 Questions With Warren Adler

Warren Adler ( has published his 33rd novel, The Serpent's Bite. He has had a long and interesting career. Below is an interview with the man who has penned two million words, had books turned into movies, and had his works translated throughout the world. He writes for the Huffington Post and is active in the literary community.

By the way, Warren came up with a list of the most evil women in literature and it ran in today's Huffington Post. The lead character in his new novel clearly ranks as one of the most villainous of all time:

He shares insights on publishing, writing, and his new book below.

1.      Warren, you have been a part of the literary scene for nearly half a century.  You are one of the elder statesmen for the publishing industry.  Where do you see the book industry heading? As I have been predicting ever since I first digitalized all my work more than a dozen years ago, and as I said when I introduced the SONY reader in 2007, as the first stand-alone reader at the Las Vegas Electronics Show, the publishing business will morph massively to cyberspace and considerably shrink the number of stores selling printed books, all of which has come true. What I did not foresee was the number of self-published books that would hit the marketplace and offer hard competition for traditionally published books. What is coming long-term, in my view, is a massive number of fiction books available on the Net, where it will be a challenge for any writer of fiction to be discoverable. Even major stars in fiction will find that they will have to work doubly hard to keep their brand in the eye of the reading public. Many will eventually lose their luster. The traditional publishers will not spend the marketing and advertising money to create new branded authors, although they are hoping, by publishing their first novels, to test the waters for their future brands.  There will be many flash-in-the-pan authors who will not warrant future investment in their careers. Indeed, authors of non-genre fiction like myself will be better off investing in their own branding, especially in today’s marketplace of fading print stores. Being discoverable as an author will not cut it without finding ways to penetrate the reading marketplace. This will grow more and more expensive as competition accelerates. There will be many frustrated novelists with hopes and dreams of fame and fortune.

2.      You have tried traditional publishing, Amazon exclusives, and self-publishing.  Which method works best?  The publishing method that works best is the one where the marketing is intense and repetitive. Traditional publishers cannot afford it. Amazon, too, will hope that their various methods of discoverability will work for its authors. The joker in the deck of course will be the mystery of “going viral”. In the end it is always word of mouth that will boost readership. For the non-genre author who dreams of being the next Hemingway, Faulkner or Fitzgerald, the stakes are higher than ever. The literary filters that brought their works to the general public are disappearing and what is taking their place is too scattershot, too numerous, too diffused. Information is too massive. Opinions do not have the same power as they had when media and information was limited. Indeed, the best shot an author might have of being publicized and discovered is if his novel is adapted to a mega-hit movie. My conclusion is that the only real hope today for an author is if he takes the reins of his own career and attempts to find a marketing solution to attract readers. For a totally unknown author the best outcome will be the satisfaction of becoming a novelist, a small following among friends and relatives and a hands-on approach with signings in the locality in which the author lives. Beyond that he or she will have to trust to luck and the prospect of spending a great deal of money for marketing.

3.      There are tens of thousands of books  published weekly in America.  What does one need to do to stick out and get discovered? They need to do exactly what I am doing: Banging the drum as loud as I can.  It is hard for today’s author to get heard and discovered amid enormous competition,  less shelf space, short promotional span, and an avalanche of competition on the internet.  I am setting the standard for such an approach but the outlay of money will do nothing unless there is a substantial backlist that might benefit the author. In my case the overspending on The Serpent’s Bite is designed to attract readers to my 32-book backlist. Nevertheless I trust to luck that the book will find its audience. In my opinion, it will be the harbinger example of what’s to come in establishing the non-genre writer’s career.

But discoverability is merely the opening gun. If word of mouth does not kick in all the promotion in the world will make no difference. Also, when you talk of 50,000 books, you are generalizing. Non-genre fiction is between a quarter and a third of all books on the Net. I write non-genre fiction, which further reduces the fiction numbers. Genre writers have the advantage especially if they are “factory” books, meaning books turned out by Patterson, Cussler and numerous romance novelists. These writers don’t write their own books anymore. They supervise their branded names and make enormous sums of money. Romance fiction is churned out by thousands of writers and follow strict formulas based on the needs and preferences of their readers. Sorry, that is not my goal or my interest. For me, the joy is in the work, which is everything. If a reader gets into my mindset and becomes a faithful reader what more can I ask? When all is said and done the novel is a one-on-one communication system. I have been lucky as hell making it a career. But then, one must consider that I did suffer through endless rejections of my work until I was 45 years old, when I was finally able to interest publishers. I immediately quit my business interests to concentrate on my writing career exclusively with single-minded devotion.

4.      What advice would you offer a struggling writer? I can only give advice to a “real” writer who puts his work above all other forms of activity. For him or her, the issue is not necessarily making a living but it is in the artistry, satisfaction and joy of the process. I do not agree with Samuel Johnson about only writing for money. A real writer writes because of his artistic need above all.

5.      In the late 1990’s you already saw how publishing would go digital a decade before the kindle launched.  What did you do back then that was unheard of? Do you see yourself as a pioneer in e-books? Absolutely. I am probably one of the first non-genre novels in the world who digitized his books. Frankly it was a no brainer. If the publishing world did not see it coming they were fools and they are now paying the price. But then they are now owned by conglomerates and number-crunchers. Reality is just beginning to make them change their business models. Many will not survive. Nevertheless I do believe that there will always be a place for the printed book, but its size will eventually be reduced by three quarters by 2020. In my opinion, too, it will not stop the avalanche of self-published books unless someone comes up with a business plan that finds a way to filter out the wheat from the chaff. The problem is that every self-published writer has hopes and dreams of breaking through and believes his work is exactly what readers are panting for.

6.      You already have over two million words in print.  How much of writing comes naturally to you vs. it being a labor?  Do you edit much or do you stick with your first draft? The secret of writing is rewriting. I rewrite constantly, over and over again until I am reasonably satisfied. I usually can’t tell if I got it right until I’ve written one hundred pages or so. It is at that point that I either abandon the book or slog on.

7.      Everyone has hopes and dreams.  In your new book, The Serpent’s Bite, it appears that if unchecked, one’s ego or lust for success and fame can threaten people and those around them.  Is everyone searching for their victory, even if at the expense of others? Not everyone. But the thirst for recognition is a powerful motivator, e.g. Facebook. For many people, the thirst for the unattainable is a destructive force for human nature. We are now deeply immersed in a celebrity culture and the uncelebrated yearn for the transient ego satisfactions of being “known by many” and “celebrated”. On top of the charts is the person who longs to be a movie star and how this longing and obsessive pursuit totally destroys one’s moral sense. In the case of the woman in my book, she will do anything it takes, including the murder of her father and brother to achieve what she believes is her ultimate goal. She is the epitome of evil. Another character in the book, the illegal Mexican wrangler, will also do anything to better his position. These characters illustrate the dangers of desperation. It is not easy to find the balance required to come to grips with compromising one’s goals and ambitions and reaching some personal truce, the so called “philosophic calm.”

8.      The Serpent’s Bite takes its title as a play on the famous William Shakespeare quote that was uttered by King Lear: “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.” Your book reveals two children who believe they deserve more from a dad who has offered love, guidance, and millions of dollars.  How hard is it to cut off a child?  As a parent, I believe that there is no greater, more obsessive love than for one’s progeny. As a committed father the protective role for one’s children is built into the human condition. A child who grows up without a father is missing a decisive link in his upbringing. A father who dismisses or ignores his progeny is depriving his offspring of something profoundly important. It is, of course, a two-way street, as King Lear and millions of others have discovered. A child who disrespects or dismisses his parents is also missing out on a profound relationship. I am a father who would never, under any circumstances abandon his children.   

9.   Your new book features one of the most evil female characters in contemporary literature.  Why is she so bad? Like Dorris Lessing’s character of Ben in The Fifth Child, a bad seed begins in the womb. Add to that the frustrations of an obsessive need for celebrity and you have the ultimate mix for evil. I hope that explains the character and motivation of Courtney Temple.

10.  The Serpent’s Bite deals with the taboo subject of incest.  Though you show the dangers associated with it you also scripted several erotic sexual scenes that, if you forgot for the moment are between brother and sister, stimulate the reader, leaving one just as conflicted as the characters.  Do you expect people to be repulsed or engaged by this?  Both. Incest is a recognized and much publicized aberration. There are numerous novels written with incestuous characters and thousands of porno sites that offer the subject for erotic stimulants. In today’s world few things are taboo. Google “incest” or “novels about incest” to see what I mean. But of all the taboos incest is still looked upon as the worst of all, hence my use of it to illustrate Courtney’s evil character. In my opinion it is not only legitimate to discuss but it is probably widely practiced. In the context of my novel it is just one manifestation of Courtney’s dysfunction.

11.  Your newest book also deals with the blind pursuit of stardom and the perils of celebrity, as well as issues of covering up secret lives and one’s moral boundaries.  How do you take all that is swirling around in your head and funnel it into a fast-paced, adventure novel that explores the depths of the soulless?  I wish I knew the answer to that but I am happy to be able to keep the reader’s interest. My style is honed from long years of writing stories. I am a fast writer, having been a newspaperman used to deadlines. In writing novels, I, too, am anxious to know what happens next. I can’t wait to find out. I never know how my books will end.  If I knew that, I probably wouldn’t write them. Another thing that is difficult for people to understand is that once a novelist creates a character, the character begins to work out his own destiny.  

12.  If nothing else, does The Serpent’s Bite, War of the Roses, and your other books have the reader feeling better about their lives as a result of seeing these reckless, violent, and angry characters play out lives of destruction and division? Yes, people see them as cautionary tales. I cannot tell you how many people have come up to me to say that The War of the Roses changed their lives by informing people it is better to compromise about material things in a divorce than let it get out of hand. 

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect (, the nation’s largest book promoter. Warren Adler, please note, is a client of Media Connect. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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