Tuesday, April 14, 2009

412. The John Brockman Theory of Getting a Book Published

The John Brockman Theory of Getting a Book Published:

(1) Establish a multi-media platform (built-in audience either acquired through your own hard work or cheating by being on the Colbert Show or Oprah Winfrey Show).

(2) Be a pain in the xss. Be pushy and persistent. Never go away. Show your face and then they'll eventually feel obligated to give you a chance.

(3) Lastly, and most importantly at the core, "Pretend to be Great." And if you are great, then don't pretend. Just be yourself. Be great. (As Lady Gaga said, live a lie, until it becomes the truth).

And then, you won't be hunting for agents, the agents will be hunting down you. Given the economy right now, writing books doesn't make money. It's not the business to be in. You chose the wrong business to be in (but it's not about money! It's about communicating something down to the roots!) It has to be far beyond writing books. We no longer have the luxury to start people's careers off as a writer anymore; there is no possibility to take in newbies unless they have a worldwide built-in audience already. It's just reality.

I suppose the "above" could be a poem. Of all things, I was able to scratch off an ancient line on the to-do list (back in fall of 2005, over three years old, I suppose). Instead of going all the way to New York, New York came all the way to me--or close to me--Arizona at least. It had always been a dream to meet the great science literary agent, John Brockman, and his son Max (also a literary agent) as a Cherry on Top, but I am elated to say that I met both of them amidst the desert cacti of Scottsdale, conversed with them somewhat briefly, shook their hands, looked at Brockman, Sr. square in the face--he had this skeptical, entrepreneurial look in his eyes, as if he were at the Edge of the unknown, a rustic pioneer--but in this case, in the world of book publishing--New York. In the world of making science... popular... making scientists... household names. And he is one of the ultimate gateways that make such an endeavor feasible. The ability to make the Brockmans far beyond static pixels on a computer screen--real, living, breathing creatures, humans, even kind, gentle humans who didn't shoo me off and look down upon me as if I were a waste of time--which is what I feared tremendously what would happen (maybe being in Arizona--far away from the usual working grounds--helped). Ever since I met--errr, encountered--Dr. Jared Diamond (twice), I made an erroneous assumption that all famous scientists were overall "jerks" (he LITERALLY flicked me off like a booger insect smooshed in the line of sight of Dr. Diamond's window of life; I felt ugly, I felt like a failure) who had no time to speak to Nonames as myself (due to the fact they are always bombarded by so many people). And this entire Origins Symposium proved to me that Dr. Diamond was more so the exception than the rule.

In essence, I caught up with a to-do list item, and felt a leap of progress in my own life. I had come to Brockman's conclusions in my own terms, but it was just great--more than great--phenomenal--to hear my own personally-discovered conclusions come from the horse's mouth. If I met Mr. Brockman back in 2005, I would have not understood what he said to me a week ago. But then again, back in 2005--under the Bush regime--the political and economic and media distribution climate was VERY, VERY different--and Mr. Brockman probably would have not told me what he said to me a week ago.

I don't mean to make this sound like I was touched by an angel, because I was not. But I was inspired, and I was fundamentally, basally, motivated by Brockman's words. Now, whenever my confidence falters, I tell myself, I speak to myself, "Victoria, you are great. Victoria, you are great. You don't need to pretend. You are great, whatever that means." It doesn't matter what it means--it just perks up my confidence. My being a female (with built-in programs), my confidence tends to waffle much more than I like it to.

After meeting the Brockman Duo, somehow I felt certified by something. I met in the flesh the highest of ranks, the highest of all possible endeavors, and through this, I somehow established a clear vision. Go for the best--play the video game of society's shifting, illusory dominance hierarchies--gamble and play the game of luck opportunity meeting a prepared mind--because there is nothing else to do than become what you are supposed to be come, and find the context of people and places that will allow you to become what you are supposed to become.


The more and more I am involved in the science journalism and popular science crowd, the more and more I am realizing there are TWO distinctive flavors of popular science. One flavor is called POTPOURRI SCIENCE. More like GEE-WIZZ science, or science that is BASIC, ABSTRACT, that might be educational in terms of distant questions (where we come from, our origins) or challenging our beliefs (science versus religion, brain scans documenting thought processes of the existence of god), and may verge to the fringes of practicality (new, close-to-market-ready technologies as well as science-medicine-health). POTPOURRI SCIENCE is 50% cool, gee-wiz fun facts that help us enhance our storytelling abilities at the next corporate cocktail party, and 50% pragmatic, or ethics-challenging, usually at the interface of science-religion, technology, and human health. I think this is where the Brockman Duo are mostly involved. BUT THEN THERE'S ANOTHER FORM OF SCIENCE JOURNALISM THAT I WOULD CALL IMPLICATIONS FOR ENTIRE SOCIETAL-POLITICAL OVERHAUL--and this is when you combine science, technology, human health, and environmental health. Then, it seems like in this realm of "environment" there are entirely separate magazines and publishing houses that handle these issues. Scientific America even started an Earth 3.0 sustainability magazine, separate from the rest of Gee-Wiz science. The worst part is that Environmentalism comes in all sorts of flavors (spectrum-Hollywood-Environment)--from the science side (who have ethical issues in terms of the role of science and society) (pragmatic scientists involved in data collecting and practical management, ranging to obscure, off-the-wall physicists who burned out from their careers and decided to meditate about environmental problems, but are not in tune with biology whatsoever) to the non-profit organization side, in which science can be misinterpreted, science and religion can mesh together (all that new-age-spiritual-bullshxt), and emotions can run amuck in decision-making (those dxmn enviroettes! rational versus emotional tree huggers). Then there are independent fishermen, who will still be harvesting food and surviving disaster after all the cards of the economy fall).

I honestly don't blame the existence of these two flavors of journalism and popular science. Because one flavor is more "standbackish" and how-does-science-enhance-individual-lives (almost like a Martha Stewart for science), and the other flavor of science implies the direct link of science and activism, or learning something new and changing behavior. Some magazines like SEED and New Scientist and Wired do not separate Potpourri Science from Societal Overhaul Science, but other magazines--like Discover--keep it centralized on Potpourri Science.

I am surprised that I detected this trend... and now, to formalize this knowledge, I will have to collect "official statistics" and get it published in a scientific journal. BLAH!


For a while I had psychological turmoil and drama with literary agents and publishers, but now I have come to terms with this whole industry. I have come to a truce. The first truce is the marketplace of storytelling has dramatically changed and publishing companies are riding a wave to which they do not know what to expect to happen. An entire industry is undergoing a scientific experiment... so I feel for them, because my life is that way too. The second truce is I saw the behind-the-scenes operations of a dependent publishing company (which held a partnership with a major New York publishing house) and what I saw was equivalent to the antiglamorous textbook morgue basement barracks of a university bookstore: a massive room full of stockpiles of books. I mean, there was nothing romantic about it at all. Maybe it would have been cooler if the actual "printing press" were there. And the last truce is a universal one. As soon as I place expectations on other people, I start to become very unhappy with myself. My null hypothesis in all aspects of my life is barbarianism: "expect nothing from nobody." But the world over time has continued to prove me wrong! My goal as an experimental social scientist in the world of publishing is to find just one or a few people who actually have made me resort to the alternate hypothesis: "expect something from somebody." Always, always, ALWAYS, expect the worst and hope for the best. And as Randy Olson said, "Don't be the Randy of the group." That optimist, that expecter of great things... Always always always... a well of pessimism with a streak of optimism.

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