Wednesday, February 11, 2015
When Authors Die: Honoring John C. Whitehead
Each day in America, about 7,000 people die, whether from illness, accident, murder, suicide, age, or other causes. Scores of them are authors. At today’s rate of 2,000 newly published books each day, we are likely to mourn the loss of hundreds if not thousands of authors decades from now on a daily basis.
One such author just passed away and he had been my client.
At the time I represented John C. Whitehead, he’d been retired from once serving as the long-time successful chairman of Goldman Sachs. He was running the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which in 2005, was helping to establish the September 11 Memorial and to rebuild the area devastated by the bombing of the Twin Towers. He had his memoir published, A Life in Leadership (Basic Books) and utilized the firm I work for, Media Connect (then known as Planned Television Arts), to promote him to the news media.
I read his obituary in The New York Times on February 9. He lived to be 92 and I’m sure he impacted many lives, having served in some powerful positions, including the Reagan State Department. He also served in the military and fought in World War II. He was the embodiment of The Greatest Generation, sacrificing for his country and later living the American Dream on Wall Street. He also led the boards of The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the Asia Society, and Harvard.
My friend, Steve Mariotti, who heads up the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship, has introduced Mr. Whitehead to me and I was immediately impressed with his story.
Now he is gone and like most people, leaves behind a family, memories, and some wealth. His legacy has already been defined by his life, set in motion by the deeds or misdeeds he had committed. But he will live on through his words. Every author has the chance to live another day every time someone reads his or her book.
I’ve had my share of clients (authors) due over the years, even one while I was working with her. I’ve also promoted the books of authors after they died. But it’s the books themselves that keep people alive and relevant. As much as authors feel they die when a book bombs in the marketplace or with reviewers, they get a second life when people discover their books long after they are gone.
What could authors do to position their books to survive their lifetime, to be relevant generations beyond the time they directly impacted?
Certainly writing a great book with fans to continue championing you helps. Get schools to make your book required reading is a good idea too. Or maybe, if you are wealthy, you create a foundation and leave funding for the continued marketing and promoting of your book long after you’ve moved on from this world.
Books give not only meaning and relevance to the world they write about, but to both the reader’s life and that of the author’s. Books capture not just our experiences and ideas, but our thinking process and approach to life.
Mr. Whitehead may have died, but his book shall live another day. Like all authors, his legacy will ultimately be defined by those who come to read his writings.
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