I don’t often read Vanity Fair but the cover featuring Hollywood hotshots drew my attention last month, so I bought a copy for $4.95. The first thing I noticed was how thick the issue was. Then I saw the first 51 pages were of full-page ads. It looked like I bought a catalog of ads.
Page 52 was the first of several table of contents pages sprinkled through the ad pages. It was not until page 133 that I began to see editorial content. The vast majority of pages for the entire magazine is filled with edgy ads depicting attractively posed models with attitudes.
After flipping through the magazine I realized that looking at the ads was really the appealing content. It left me wanting for expensive products and something to actually read, but I admit I was entertained by the ads. It seems the magazine has turned these paper commercials into art. At least one publication looks to be doing well financially, judging by the heavy ad totals.
Interview With Author Scott Hastie
- Scott, what is your latest book about and what inspired you to write it? Although I’ve been published in the UK for over twenty years now in a variety of genres, including fiction and historical research, I would best describe myself now as a spiritually philosophic poet. I regard the over-arching theme of the most of my current creative output to be a personal and poetic investigation into the positive potential of the human spirit itself. A big enough theme for any writer, methinks! And it is this that lies at the core of my new collection, Meditations due to be published in April this year.
Not that I believe my work can ever be said to be some sweet or pastoral panacea, because it never shies away from pain or suffering – and is prepared to also explore the darker and more challenging aspects of life. This being, to me, the crucial axis of my enquiry and analysis (namely, the interaction and interdependence of the light and dark, of joy and sorrow, of love and loss, woven into the human condition) and one which lies at the heart of my work and my approach.
As a writer, I remain determined always to be challenging enough to reach deep into the core of experience - although I do also accept that, as my work has developed, then my voice has become more reflective and spiritual in its emphasis.
It has also always been terribly important to me, and at any time in my career, to be as simply expressed and as readily accessible as possible – a vital component of all my published work to date.
When reading my work, it becomes apparent how simple, often short line length structures also play their part – though still carefully shaped for emphasis and controlled rhythm & musicality that lifts key passages, enhances meaning and always looks to carefully draw the reader towards the concluding climax of any piece. The success of which, for me, is always a critical consideration and the key litmus test of success of any particular poem.
Rather unusually, it has never been my practice to title my poems – simply using the first word or two, or opening line as the unique identifier. I have always been ardent in my belief that, as far as possible, a poem should speak entirely for itself. Perhaps more so than any other art form, surely this has to be truest for poetry? Whose principal aim is to distil an experience or insight down to the absolute essence? To my mind the voice of the piece should therefore always be much stronger and clearer than any title, summary, artist’s commentary or critic’s voice could ever provide…
Beyond that, I have worked hard most of my life to deliberately avoid being influenced too heavily by academia and laboured mainly alone – albeit with the bright lanterns of what, for me, are the key voices like T.S. Eliot and Rainer Maria Rilke to guide me on my way. As also touched on above – in terms of how technically I approach the structuring of my work - then the Japanese Haiku tradition, with its emphasis on focusing down and distilling the essence of what you want to say has a key and continuing (if often not always expressly obvious…) influence on my work.
Personally, I will also be permanently indebted for the technical breakthroughs achieved the pioneering Scottish Concrete poets, Ian Hamilton Finlay and Edwin Morgan – which really helped me see a clear way forward for myself, in terms of beginning to develop a style I feel is my own.
Whatever anyone’s influences – in my opinion, the most significant challenge faced by any writer is to truly find their own voice and I get very weary of what sometimes seems like the endless procession of often technically and intellectually talented young writers, on both sides of the Pond, simply schooled to echo the styles and mores of whatever is judged to then be fashionable by a self-serving established literary culture. To some extent, this is inevitable, I suppose and it is perhaps unreasonable for me to imagine otherwise… but, as we will discuss later, I believe the transformative power of the internet has played a very valuable role here in loosening this particular stranglehold.
- Why should someone invest their time and money in reading your book vs literally a million-plus other options out there? Very good question! First and foremost, because I believe I have a unique voice that has been a long time in the making… I also write about the very business of living itself - in what I hope is a powerful, persuasive and insightful way, which encourages you to reflect on your own experiences, emotions, hopes and dreams. So what could possibly be more relevant to your life? And equally practical to enjoy too… in the form of short poetic pieces that allow you to just dip in, whenever there is time to reflect and the mood takes you.
And as we discuss later in the interview, what we are finding now is that people (even if materially blessed...) are increasingly aware that something vitally important is missing from their lives. They somehow hunger to feel happier and more fulfilled inside and it is this very dilemma that lies at the very heart of my work, looking to shine a light on possible ways forward. We believe that this explains the current strength of response to my work in the US in particular (now over 80% of my total readership!) as well as interest from countries like India and some of the Arab States, where spiritual preoccupations have long been prevalent
- How have you been marketing your writings? Since mid 2012 there has been a deliberate and probably long overdue attempt to properly exploit the platform the worldwide web offers and also to jump fully into social media – in terms of marketing my work. In the context of my career, this is all a pretty new departure for me and was, to be honest, something I was initially rather reluctant about. However I was very much encouraged to take the plunge and get fully involved by the people at Raygun Indust. who designed and launched www.scotthastie.com here in the UK.
Even as quite a young and ambitious adult, I had also always been so conscious of all the other potential pitfalls there are out there for anyone seeking to write anything truly significant – be it the lure of fame or fortune, or the seduction of style over substance, for example… and, as always stressed by David Lidgate, my current mentor over here - particularly the importance of not wasting energies and ‘staying in the bubble’ - if truly serious about maximising the potential you have as a writer.
Having said this, I am glad I did listen to Raygun and we have since developed approaches that make this work for me, without literally taking more than a few minutes of my time every day… Even from my limited experience to date – and (like it or not!) there can be no doubt that options like Twitter & FaceBook (for general public) and even LinkedIn – 20 million members worldwide! (for peer group connections) are immensely powerful engines of international communication, who all do a great job at pointing to your work…. And as a result the web site, which also has a built in blog, for both general comments and responses to individual poems has exceeded all initial expectations, since it was launched in September last year.
Only four months in, and we are already trading at the level of around 250,000 hits a year – and this from a standing start and with no real marketing spend to speak of… There can be no doubt that the use of social media and also involvement with peer group promotion has played its part here.
Although my books have long since found their way to most countries round the globe – for me, as a writer, the key transformative effect here has been, perhaps for the first time, getting my work out much more effectively to a worldwide audience. And, of course, the surprises that come from this… For example, the scale of enthusiastic positive interest, now evident from the web site, from the US in particular and also from India and some Arab states has caught us off guard to be honest – but is obviously very welcome, nevertheless.
And I suppose, this represents the beginnings of an answer to the question some of you might still be asking: Why should MEDIA CONNECT be troubling themselves to interview a UK based poet? Surely no real significant commercial interest there! Well, my recent experiences in particular beg to differ and I now believe there is a vast and fast growing audience for such work – also with a huge range of commercial spin offs too – in terms or matching words & images, as you will see explored in scotthastie.com and which can also play out into postcards, greetings card, stationery, fridge magnets, badges etc. The list is endless…
- Where do you see book publishing is heading? To be honest, I am pretty clear and very positive about all this – and, despite the potential risk to copyright posed by global initiatives like Google Books, what a brave new world we are fortunate to live in right now as authors! Just twenty years ago, when I first got started, it would have been totally impossible for me to even dream of reaching the audience I do now, without huge investment from a major corporate publishing house. That is simply a fact!
So, as discussed earlier, internet availability supported by social media – all powerfully available - even to aspiring authors at relatively little cost - has literally transformed the literary landscape. And as an example of this, I would cite plans for my current new title Meditations – bearing in mind I have been successfully commercially published for many years now.
We believe the optimum way forward these days is clear enough. Consequently this title will initially be self published and independently financed and starting with three key product approaches:
Firstly – (mid price) a traditional printed soft back book – perfect bound, printed in relatively small runs – no longer any absolute need for extensive warehousing to achieve (as was so important in the past…) essential economies of scale – given the cost, efficiency and responsiveness of Print to Order technology. This edition to be sold & dispatched mainly on line through major players like Amazon & Barnes & Noble – with significant trade margins factored in.
Secondly – (low price) and perhaps the mainstay product here – an e format version, again available through on line selling platforms operated by the main players, but with much less margin.
Thirdly – (high price) a deluxe product, aimed at collectors and enthusiasts, featuring a signed, individually tailored inscription, bonus material insert & special bespoke packaging etc. We handle this sale line ourselves - so no loss of margin at all here – though cost of postal delivery would need to be factored in…
Then it’s just a case of seeing how we go, knowing that we haven’t had to make a significant investment to launch and get started and with the confidence of at least an initial modest profit on first run publishing, based on a live and current readership base – built on the internet.
Then, if sales build from there and do take off significantly enough to have some of the big boys (major corporate publishing house..) come knocking – then we listen… No urgent financial or logistical reason to sign up – given the job the on line trade outlets can now do for us on a self publishing basis (especially at e book margins…) However, if corporations are prepared to commit significant expenditure to a defined and agreed marketing budget, along with the costs of placing physical product on shelves in key markets round the world – then, and only then, would there be a strong rationale to sign the kind of contract that would have been every writer’s dream only ten years ago.
So that’s how we see publishing right now and time will tell if we are right or wrong! Check back on our progress in a year from now and see how we are doing….
- Any advice to a struggling writer? Depends on what you mean here really – struggling to write, or struggling to be noticed? For those beginning on the journey, the two most important elements are just to keep writing/refining your craft and also to be brave enough to just jump in the water and give your work early and consistent exposure to see if it has a resonance beyond your own life.
So much easier these days – so, why not dip your toe in the water by setting up a little blog and submit your work regularly to online and print journals.
Work hard to try and avoid cheating on achieving that resonance by simply echoing the fashionable style and themes of others – be patient, try to paint your own picture and find your own voice. If, via responses to your blog and submissions, you feel your work is beginning to have impact – then that’s the time to consider putting a collection together.
Unless you get a great unsolicited offer, don’t waste lots of valuable energy on trying to secure agents or often unattractive and modest publishing contracts. Self publishing doesn’t have the stigma it used to have, these days and the internet makes it an economically viable option. So just put your work out there and let your talent shine… Trust me, if it’s sufficiently commercial, then the market will come calling on you soon enough!
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Can Any Book Survive The Future? http://bookmarketingbuzzblog.blogspot.com/2013/02/standing-test-of-time.html
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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at email@example.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2013
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