midlifedude

Man at midlife making second half matter

Archive for the category “author”

The Art (and Practice) of Self-Promotion

I attended my 35th high school reunion last weekend – but not for the typical reasons of reconnecting with old friends or catching up with acquaintances. I knew none of the few people I still am in touch with from high school would be there, and that I wouldn’t recognize the vast majority of attendees, let alone have had even known them in high school.

I went primarily to practice self-promotion and marketing, tactics at which I am not highly proficient, but which I need to improve to raise awareness of and generate interest in my two new books published by Sirenian Publishing. These are skills which I also will sireniancardneed in the future, as I plan to launch an independent counseling practice. Having just obtained Sirenian Publishing business cards, I wanted to see if I could work the two books I have authored into conversations and grease some palms with the information.

I’ll call my endeavor a success, having talked about the books (the novel Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet about a rookie sportswriter in Florida and the nonfiction political memoir Don’t Knock, He’s Dead: A Longshot Candidate Gets Schooled in the Unseemly Underbelly of American Campaign Politics) and given out cards to the eight or so classmates I spoke with at any length.

Sorry to sound so crass, Winston Churchill High School Class of 1981. However, it wasn’t completely an exercise in marketing, public relations and sales. I also attended to be social and with the thought of the possibility of meeting engaging people and establishing a new friendship or two.

It’s just that I know that I fall on the Introversion side of the Myers-Briggs personality inventory and that I don’t get energized by joining big crowds of people I don’t know in loud, cramped spaces. In fact, when I first walked into the reserved room at the restaurant and observed the scene of many strangers who 35 years ago had something in common with me engaged with each other in loud, animated conversation, my first instinct was to leave. I wouldn’t know anybody and I wouldn’t fit in, I thought. I walked straight past the crowd to the bathroom and then stopped at the far end of the bar and watched a football game on TV for a minute to compose myself, get in the spirit and prepare to plunge into the social melee.

It’s also that I associate high school with a difficult time of life that I never felt I could embrace – no fault of my high school classmates. Just before 9th grade, I moved, the result of my parents’ divorce years earlier and my mother’s struggles with her health and ability to function adequately as a single parent. I didn’t want to move to the new high school district, leaving the neighborhood and classmates I had known since kindergarten, and I resented it. It was difficult to adjust and break into cliques and friendships that had been established for years at the new school. I was an outsider and naturally quiet, and never really felt like my new high school or community were my places.

Luckily, just as I left my safe place at the bar to mill through the crowd and face my fear, I encountered a guy I recognized who was with his fiancé. We talked for 45 minutes while I drank a beer and they ate dinner. The ice was broken. That’s what it took to quell my anxiety, open up more, engage in the event and enjoy myself – while still subtly working on self-promotion (At least, I hope I wasn’t blatant. I think I had some tact.) All the classmates I met at reunion were exceedingly friendly and accepting, and I enjoyed conversations. I was grateful for that. As a former reporter, I asked people I met a lot of questions about themselves, so I wasn’t overly narcissistic about self-promotion.

The reunion was an event I wouldn’t have attended if I wasn’t an author. I just wouldn’t have been interested enough to make the effort. But the only way to become better known is to put yourself out there more, and when you do, good things you don’t expect and side benefits can happen.

I talked to a few people at reunion I would like to see again. They don’t even have to buy a book – but it would make me want to see them again more (final shameless plug)!

 

 

I Was a Journalist, Never Equating it with Being ‘Scum,’ ‘Low-life’ and ‘Disgraceful’

Donald Trump has called me a “phony,” “low-life,” “scum,” “corrupt,” “dishonest,” “disgraceful,” “disgusting,” “illegitimate,” a “horrible” person, a “terrible” person, and probably more. Those are just the insults I’ve heard him speak and seen in news reports.

The presidential candidate’s invectives are aimed at journalists – all journalists. He paints the entire profession with a broad brush, labeling it with a negative stereotype, just as he does other groups of people, like Mexican rapists and fame-hungry, lying women.

I was a journalist for 13 years after college, and hold a master’s degree in journalism. Though I am not employed as a journalist now, I am still a journalist and writer at heart. My second book, a nonfiction account of my run for political office, Don’t Knock, He’s Dead: A Longshot Candidate Gets Schooled in the Unseemly Underbelly of American Campaign Politics (a timely topic given the current abhorrent campaign!), is journalistic in nature, combined with memoir.

I was a reporter for the Sarasota (FL) Herald-Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, a chain of

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The blogger on the right, at basketball game early in my career as a Sarasota sportswriter

community newspapers and several trade publications. Trump is smearing a big part of my identity with his talk about corrupt media populated by nothing but cretins. Of course, to use a favorite Trump rejoinder, he’s WRONG!…WRONG!…WRONG!

 

The Orange Man and some – but certainly not all – of his supporters don’t know diddly about journalism, what it takes to be a good journalist, what stirs the heart and soul of a journalist, and what many journalists strive for in terms of ethics, honesty, fairness and truthfulness in performing their job.

Hey Trump and your band of merry men, how about taking a break from insult-hurling and baseless fear-mongering and watch Spotlight, the Academy Award-winning movie about Boston Globe journalists who won the Pulitzer Prize following their relentless pursuit of the child sexual abuse scandal and cover-up perpetrated by the Catholic Church leaders that extended to the top of the archdiocese and other powerful authorities? Who was the scum there? How many priests would still be shuffled along to a new church to find a new crop of boys to molest without the journalists’ intervention?

At the risk of sounding elitist, I don’t expect many of Trump’s supporters to understand – but merely to react to what they hear as gospel. It is common for some of Trump’s supporters to take up their leader’s cry at rallies and yell and point fingers at journalists and tell them, without ever having talked to them, that they are corrupt and they “suck.”

Reporters and editors, on the whole, are smart, intellectually curious, open-minded and highly educated. They enter journalism because they like debating ideas, considering different perspectives, thinking conceptually, abstractly and idealistically, learning new things and educating others through expression. It would be rare for a reporter to get a job without a college degree. Fact is, the biggest cohort of Trump supporters are whites without a college education. I imagine they are some of the ones shouting down journalists with boos and obscenities as their instigator grins deviously at the podium. No clue what being a journalist truly is about.

Do journalists have biases? Yes, they all do. Everyone does. Journalists are human. Are more progressives (likely Democrats) drawn to journalism than conservatives? Probably. The profession appeals to crusaders and people interested in speaking for those who may not have a voice. Are there media outlets, including newspapers, known for being conservative as well as progressive? Yes, certainly. By and large, the media outlets reflect the prevailing ideologies and sensibilities of their communities.

The Arizona Republic, the state’s largest newspaper, had endorsed Republicans for president for the past 126 years, until breaking tradition this year. What happened when the newspaper broke ranks? Reporters, editors and even door-to-door subscription salespeople were greeted with screams, vitriol and even death threats.

The paper’s president and publisher wrote in a emotional and defiant column: “What is the correct response, really, to this:

‘YOU’RE DEAD. WATCH YOUR BACK.

WE WILL BURN YOU DOWN.

YOU SHOULD BE PUT IN FRONT OF A FIRING SQUAD AS A TRAITOR.’

[No, not LIES! Check the primary source.]

I have known and worked with many reporters and editors. By and large, they are tough-minded, persistent, constantly digging, obsessed with facts and public records, concerned with accuracy and driven by creating positive change, righting wrongs, exposing the truth and holding the feet of those in power to the fire.

I know how I acted as a journalist. And I repudiate Trump’s characterization. I strived for fairness; I made the extra call, even when I knew it would be uncomfortable, in an effort to incorporate all sides and views; I was as thorough and persistent as I could be; I tried to treat all subjects I encountered with respect; I fretted about my words and their potential impact; I was ethical.

I also tried to make stories interesting and readable for an audience. Editors demanded it – good, compelling writing, flow, telling a story imbued with some emotion and passion — saying something, moving readers. This is another aspect of journalism about which Trump and his ilk have no concept. Journalists are not merely fact-reciters. I tended to fall into this trap as a journalist until good editors beat it out of me – the lazy, “He said, she said” type of story going back and forth between two sides. Instead, journalists become authorities and experts on the subjects they cover, and as they get to know their topics and sources in depth, their expertise comes through in their writing as they sift through the facts, perspectives and opinions. If a journalist knows something to be true by virtue of their reporting and facts pointing to a conclusion, it’s part of their job as writers to say it with authority and back it up while also presenting opposing or different views.

Earlier this month, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued an extraordinary warning about Trump’s threat to journalists everywhere and to the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. In part, it reads:

“Guaranteeing the free flow of information to citizens through a robust, independent press is essential to American democracy. For more than 200 years this founding principle has protected journalists in the United States and inspired those around the world, including brave journalists facing violence, censorship, and government repression.

Donald Trump, through his words and actions as a candidate for president of the United States, has consistently betrayed First Amendment values…CPJ’s board of directors passed a resolution declaring Trump an unprecedented threat to the rights of journalists and to CPJ’s ability to advocate for press freedom around the world.”

There are plenty of reasons to recoil in disgust with Trump. His blasphemous tirade against journalists – members of one of the institutions that truly does make America great compared to other autocratic, oppressive nations, like Trump endlessly pronounces – hits home with me more than some others.

Ink-stained wretches, nigh “scum” and “low-lifes,” unite!

Book Review: Pat on Back or Punch in Gut

If you’re going to ask someone to evaluate your written work, you have to be as ready for a punch in the gut as a pat on the back.

I got some of both in a lengthy, comprehensive review of my first novel, Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet. After reflection, as the saying goes, I’ve been able to “meet with Triumph high-resolution-front-cover-5243558and Disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same,” embracing both the barbs and laurels with ego holding steady.

On the recommendation of a publicist, I paid a small fee to a writer/editor who reads and reviews books by independent authors and posts her reviews on her EMP Publishing website and other sites, including Amazon.

I respect and appreciate the reviewer’s opinions and the details she offered to back them up. She split down the middle, giving a rating of 5 out of 10 to the novel about a rookie sportswriter’s adventures covering an intense season of high school football in a backwater Florida town and uncovering a conspiracy involving a powerful coach and elite program. She wrote:

“I grudgingly recommend this book for diehard football and sports fans, as the chapters covering anything and everything to do with this will be fun for them to read. If you like the ‘80s and constant cultural references (there are multiple nods to ‘80s songs, TV and films) that might be fun.

“If you like quirky, gonzo-pulp journalism stories, combined with ‘Friday Night Lights’ sports dramas (two genres difficult to mix), you might enjoy this book…

“If you can’t stand any kind of racism or prejudiced language, or you don’t care for misogyny, sexism or objectification and disrespect of women, this book is decidedly not for you.”

[Read the full review here.]

The words “racism,” “misogyny,” “sexism,” and “objectification” were initially hard for me to absorb. But after chewing them over, I embrace them. The book is intentionally irreverent, maybe over the edge in places. It is admittedly “politically incorrect,” and contains profanity and language that no doubt will be offensive to some.

The book released by Sirenian Publishing, based on my own experiences as a sportswriter in Florida, dealt a lot with race, as Florida, like many places, especially in the Deep South, grapples with segregation, cultural divides, abject poverty and clear perceptions of “right and wrong sides of the track.” I did the best I could to deal with black and white issues.

But the book’s content dealing with African-Americans – numerous characters in the novel were African-American — was not the subject of the “racism” the reviewer cited. She was flabbergasted by a chapter meant to be comical about a business relationship between the book’s protagonist Jake, a young Jewish soon-to-be sportswriter, and an Arab immigrant lingerie shop owner for whom he was hocking wares on city street corners to earn enough money to get to Florida. The relationship was feisty and based on mutual disrespect and profanity-laced insults, which the characters used as a sideshow to attract attention on the streets and generate sales.

Again, this was based on a real-life experience, but exaggerated ten-fold. But the reviewer hated it, citing several offensive passages of dialog.

On the citations of misogyny, sexism and objectification, I won’t plead guilty, but I acknowledge I can certainly be charged. Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet represents the point of view of a 22-year-old male and recounts his thoughts and dialog with his similarly immature, objectifying buddies. There’s a “raunchy” factor. I knew that some female characters in the book – but not all — exist mostly as the object of the male characters’ base desires. I’ve always been concerned about what female readers would think. Jake as much as admits that he’s a chauvinistic, sexist pig in this piece of internal dialog when he meets with the newspaper’s high-achieving, attractive female managing editor, cited by the reviewer:

“I pondered whether I should feel guilty for being such a chauvinistic, objectifying, dismissive sleazebag in the presence of a smart, accomplished, regal, and dignified woman, but I really didn’t.”

Beyond the initial shock of reading those inflammatory, culturally explosive words used by the reviewer, I had to remember to separate the author (myself) from the fictional characters portrayed in the novel. The novel does not contain my thoughts and opinions; it contains the thoughts, opinions and actions of made-up characters. The novel, I must remember, is not me; it’s a creative expression.

My aim was to strive to create believable, authentic situations, dialog and characters while still being humorous and somewhat outlandish and ridiculous in spots, stretching but not shattering believability. Real life and real people are not “politically correct,” and neither is Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet.

On the whole, I believe the novel is a funny, coming of age romp with a good sports story, insights into newspaper reporting, a conspiracy angle and buddy misadventure tangents.

Some readers may be offended and insulted, as was the reviewer. I understand and accept. But I don’t say I’m sorry and I don’t apologize.

Author Interview: ‘Too Many Politicians…Are Chickens and Weasels’

In advance of author Adam Gordon Sachs’ author-signing appearance Aug. 23 at Bethany Beach Books in Bethany Beach, DE, Sirenian Publishing sat down with Sachs to discuss his new narrative nonfiction book, Don’t Knock, He’s Dead: A Longshot Candidate Gets Schooled in the Unseemly Underbelly of American Campaign Politics. The book recounts Sachs’ amusing,FrontCover_FINAL_6283732 exhilarating and disillusioning travails during his campaign for a Maryland House of Delegates seat and takes an inside look at the sometimes noble, but often corrupt and incestuous world of politics from an Everyman perspective.

Sirenian Publishing (SP): Why did you run for the Maryland legislature?

Adam Gordon Sachs (AGS): I wanted to advocate for a few specific things I believed in that would make a difference: universal access to affordable, essential health care, eliminating the profit-mongering health insurance companies; campaign finance reform to reduce the undue influence of corporate and PAC money; redistricting reform to take the corrupt process out of the hands of self-interested politicians; a reduced tax burden for the middle class; and sensible gun control laws. And I wanted to be somebody important, something common to politicians yet none will acknowledge.

SP: Why did you write a book about your campaign experience?

AGS: There are many books about politics, but nearly all are written by journalists who are observers, academics who are researchers, or politicians, who are career political professionals and millionaires detached from the masses, with help from biographers. I couldn’t find any books written by an “Everyman candidate” – a political amateur with no political machine or huge bankroll who tries to crash through the iron gates erected to keep out such outsiders. How many people can relate to a Hillary Clinton or a Donald Trump or a Bush — pick any? Only the Elite of the Elite. I believed average people who ever considered running for public office could relate to my experience and could get a glimpse of what it would be like to step across that terrifying threshold to candidacy.

SP: What did you find encouraging about your campaign experience?

AGS: There are honest, well-intentioned, civic-minded people who want to contribute their talents, ideas and efforts by getting involved in politics for the public good. I viewed the majority of the 10 candidates in my Democratic primary that way. I also felt involved in something exciting and meaningful during my campaign. There’s nothing like a political campaign to make you feel engaged, stimulated, challenged and alive.

SP: What was discouraging?

The insiders – the entrenched political class and their loyal henchmen – rule the business. Through the power they have obtained through their positions, name recognition through years in public office, large campaign bank accounts, political relationships, allegiances, and loyal corporate, PAC and union donors, they have a path to stay in office in perpetuity and to a large degree determine who will join them when a seat opens. It was discouraging to realize how much the ability to raise money – or spend a lot of your own – impacts electoral success, or even to have any chance to win at all.

It was frustrating to discover the organizations that make endorsements dismiss candidates with little regard for what they may stand for in office, but because they have too little money to be considered “viable.” It becomes a vicious cycle: If you don’t have enough money, you don’t get endorsements. If you don’t get endorsements, you have more difficulty proving you are “viable” and raising money.

It was also discouraging to observe how detached most citizens are from public life, and how disillusioned they are about politics and elected representatives as a whole.

SP: What’s the biggest problem you see in politics at the state level?

Too many politicians, especially those in the Democratic majority party, are chickens and weasels. They’re more concerned about staying in line with legislative leadership – protecting their own hides — so they can stay in office, continue reaping huge contributions from corporations and special interests, and get promoted through the ranks, than in taking a stand for positions that leadership may frown upon but many citizens would support. For example, the legislature failed to vote on a bill in 2016 that would ensure a modest amount of sick leave days per year for working people, the fourth year in a row the bill has failed. Leadership, which is in bed with big business, doesn’t want it. It’s the same with reforms for which I advocated – health care for all, campaign finance, and redistricting.

SP: What did you learn about yourself during your campaign?

AGS: I learned that I am not aggressive, ambitious and driven enough to do everything it takes – and you have to do a hell of a lot – to win a highly competitive election. Really,, the race reconfirmed some things that I already knew about myself that are shortcomings for a politician: I am a substandard salesperson and self-promoter; too reluctant to ask people for money, help and favors; and lean toward introversion, or being a lone wolf in a game that demands extroversion and a massive team effort. Those traits are not a winning formula for success in elections. I equated my campaign style to a general going into battle without an army, or even a tank, an excellent plan for getting slaughtered.

SP: What does it take to be successful as a candidate?

AGS: Extroversion. It’s difficult to be successful as a candidate if you are a private person and you don’t gain energy from constantly being around people, meeting new people, talking about yourself and being curious about others and their thoughts and concerns. If you lean toward introversion, you have to get in touch with your extroverted side and bring it out. You need confidence and the sincere belief that you will do a good job because you are smart, engaged and care about improving society and the effects of laws and government policies. However, I learned that you don’t necessarily have to stand for anything. You can just talk a good game, spout platitudes and feel good lines, and if you are properly connected and your bank account is fat, you have a great shot at success.

SP: Do you plan to run for office again?

AGS: No, never. I’m done. I always wondered if I could do it and relished the challenge, but now I’ve done it twice, the first time in 2006 for Howard County Council, with the same result. There will be no “third time’s a charm” for me. I can walk away with no regrets, because I know I gave it my best shot, and I understand the Herculean effort it may take to win, especially against incumbents, and I know I don’t have enough to give.

Don’t Knock, He’s Dead: A Longshot Candidate Gets Schooled in the Unseemly Underbelly of American Campaign Politics is available on Amazon in book or Kindle format: http://amzn.to/2az9j4O

Don’t Knock ‘Will Amuse Some, Infuriate Others’

The first review is in for my just-released nonfiction book about my campaign for Maryland delegate and a look at politics from the trenches, Don’t Knock, He’s Dead: a Longshot Candidate Gets Schooled in the Unseemly Underbelly of American Campaign Politics, and it’s a positive one.

The review comes courtesy of Jason Booms, a pollster and strategic communications FrontCover_FINAL_6283732counselor, and author of the Spartan Considerations political blog, which I followed during my campaign and referenced several times in the book.

Why am I pimping my own book on a blog about midlife issues? First, because writing a book was a lifelong goal that took until midlife to summon the commitment and perseverance to accomplish, when I realized “someday” might never come. (Don’t Knock is my second book; my first, a novel, Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet was published in 2015.) Second, I’ve learned that perhaps even harder than writing a book is marketing and selling a book. Just as in politics, as I learned through experience and detailed in Don’t Knock, He’s Dead, if you aren’t a persistent, unabashed and prolific self-promoter, you’ll never get anywhere in the public marketplace.

I’m pleased Booms wrote that Don’t Knock, He’s Dead will “amuse some and infuriate others.” That’s what I was aiming for: an account that pokes fun at the foolishness and shenanigans inherent in campaigns while also illuminating the questionable ethics, sleazy dealings and insider scheming that characterizes much of the business and its practitioners.

Here is Spartan Considerations’ July 26, 2016 review:

So I ordered my copy of Adam Gordon Sachs’ book, “Don’t Knock, He’s Dead: a Longshot Candidate Gets Schooled in the Unseemly Underbelly of American Campaign Politics” off of Amazon a few days ago. As you may know, he ran for Delegate in Maryland’s 12th House District in 2014.  

It is three parts campaign dairy, one part policy tract, one part biography, and one part of musings on politics as it is practiced, nationally and in Maryland, in the modern era.

As a big fan of the political campaign journal genre, I quite enjoyed Sachs’ tome. There are so many candidates for state legislature, yet one rarely has the opportunity to hear their stories.

Clocking in at around 340 pages, it is a surprisingly quick read. The chapters are largely short and story-driven, this is a good beach book.

There are, unsurprisingly, a number of familiar names in his narrative, including this author. If you like reading about local personalities and issues, then I highly recommend “Don’t Knock, He’s Dead.”

There was one editorial decision I found curious; he chose to provide sobriquets for candidates. It isn’t challenging to decipher who is who, if you followed the race. Some nicknames are complimentary, others less so.

I suppose I should disclose that I voted for Sachs, along with two others, in the vote-for-no-more-than-three lively multi-candidate Democratic primary election. And I wrote about his campaign, as did other bloggers who are also mentioned in Sachs’ work.

Overall, this is the kind of book that makes me think Mr. Sachs is unlikely to seek elective office in the future. His observations and anecdotes will amuse some and infuriate others. It reads like an honest account of his perspective on health care, campaign finance, and politics…so, in my opinion, it’s worth picking up.

Midlife Dude Blog Featured in Beacon

The Midlife Dude Blog was featured in The Beacon Newspapers, targeted at people over age 50 in the Washington and Baltimore regions, in a story headlined, “Bloggers Share Their Stories” by Carol Sorgen. Sorgen searched for bloggers who write about midlife issues and found MidlifeDude. Here’s the excerpt highlighting the Midlife Dude Blog.

Advice from a “midlife dude”

Adam Gordon Sachs blogs as the Midlife Dude about his kids, divorceAdam-Reb_Dan_LeanAtLake and career changes, among other topics.

Adam Gordon Sachs thought there would be other “midlife dudes” (which is the name of his blog at https://midlifedude.wordpress.com) who might be interested in reading about a 53-year-old man facing a career change, growing kids, divorce and more.

“I’m familiar with that time of life,” said the 53-year-old Columbia resident. “I’ve got a lot of material to write about.”

A former journalist and public relations executive, Sachs is now pursuing a degree in pastoral counseling. He published his first novel last year, titled Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet. It’s about a rookie sportswriter, and is based on his own experiences. He plans to publish another book soon, based on a political campaign.

Writing a blog is not only a way for Sachs to build a following as an author, but also to share his thoughts and experiences on growing older, and to hear from others interested in sharing theirs.

“The Internet has really opened up the world to meeting like-minded people,” Sachs said. “You no longer have to be limited to a five-mile radius.”

Like Collins, Sachs is a self-taught blogger who set up his blog on WordPress. He tries to post consistently, at least once a month, but he doesn’t labor over the writing. “I keep the posts short, perhaps 400 to 500 words, and I write them fast,” he said. “This shouldn’t be painful or stressful.”

Though the blog focuses on personal aspects of his life, Sachs is careful about what he posts. “You have to judge how much personal stuff you want to give out,” he said.

For example, while he doesn’t always ask his kids’ permission to write about them, he does take their feelings into consideration, and doesn’t post anything that would show them in a bad light.

Forget Donald and Hillary. Here’s an Everyman’s Campaign Story

Don’t Knock, He’s Dead: A Longshot Candidate Gets Schooled in the Unseemly Underbelly of American Campaign Politics, is set for release August 1 under Sirenian Publishing.

Forget Donald and Hillary; they’re in another stratosphere from the rest of us riff-raff. You’ll never experience politics from their perch, but you can vicariously through the lens of author and Everyman Candidate Adam Gordon Sachs, who describes the glory, outrage  and lunacy of politics over his campaign to be a real somebody, a true Man of the People.

For anyone waiting for just the right time to throw your hat in the ring, you know, someday, when everything is perfectly aligned and your finances are in supreme order, and your employer gives you essential flexibility and full backing, and your family has attained impeccable stability, and the moon eclipses the sun, cicadas emerge after 17 years underground and the Chicago Cubs win the World Series and tFrontCover_FINAL_6283732he time is right to run, someday, Don’t Knock, He’s Dead will either inspire you or disavow you of that foolish notion forever.

Primary election night, and I had nowhere to go. Ordinarily not a big deal, except I was a candidate, and candidates always have somewhere to be, somewhere their supporters are gathering in anticipation.

In the galaxy of campaigns, I was the ring, not the Saturn. But for a year, I was in the orbit of a rollicking, 10-candidate race one observer called a “three-ring circus,” experiencing politics’ exhilaration and disillusion, its meaningfulness and corruption.

Don’t Knock, He’s Dead recounts my longshot bid for Maryland delegate in the dog-eat-dog, incestuous, narcissistic world of campaign politics. It’s the unvarnished story of an Everyman’s challenge to break into a Byzantine, sycophantic business, where cozy relationships, cronyism, influence, backroom deals, power plays and horse-trading rule the day.

For anyone who’s wondered whether it’s worthwhile to run, imagined what it’s like or stepped to the precipice of candidacy, Don’t Knock takes you into the trenches.

Sirenian Publishing also is the publisher of Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet, a fictional story of a rookie sportswriter in a football-mad Florida backwater covering an intense season of high school football and battling wills with the ruthless, win-at-all-costs coach from the town’s ruling family. Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet is available on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1cYG5vP

Don’t Knock, He’s Dead: An Unvarnished Look at the Unseemly Underbelly of Campaign Politics

The second book under the new publishing company Sirenian Publishing, a real-life, first-person account of a longshot, shorthanded political candidate for the Maryland State House who learns the lessons of the dog-eat-dog, incestuous, narcissistic world of campaign politics up close, is set for release August 1, 2016.

Don’t Knock, He’s Dead: A Longshot Candidate Gets Schooled in the Unseemly Underbelly of American Campaign Politics, takes an unvarnished look at what it’s like for an amateur, DSC00069under-funded candidate without the assemblage of a political machine to try to break into the byzantine world of state-level politics, where cozy relationships, cronyism, influence, backroom deals, power plays and horse-trading rule the day.

Don’t Knock, He’s Dead peels back the curtain to find political practices of questionable ethical standards to be routinely performed to strengthen and enrich those who are entrenched insiders and well-versed in political gamesmanship:

  • A candidate who is a member of a powerful “team slate” drops out on the deadline date to withdraw, only to be replaced two days later on the candidate filing deadline by her husband.
  • An entrenched state senator with a massive “war chest” uses his largesse to distribute a quarter-million dollars to more than 40 other candidates and political slates over a four-year election cycle to strengthen allegiances.
  • A wife who is a high-earning lobbyist represents several of the same industries – and in some cases, the same organizations – that make large political contributions to her husband, the powerful chairman of a state Senate budget committee.
  • A longtime state delegate with leadership positions on several House health care committees receives 60 percent of her campaign contributions in a year from health care and health insurance interests.
  • A state senator who lost a bid for Congress resigned his Senate seat more than a year early to become an uber-lobbyist, spreading his remaining campaign account into more than 80 contributions to more than 60 different political candidates and slates to solidify his future business relationships on his way out.

The race the longshot candidate entered became a rollicking free-for-all populated by 10 Democratic participants, including two “carpetbaggers,” ranging from a plastic surgeon to a disbarred attorney to a legendary state senator’s daughter to the sitting governor’s former speechwriter to an 80-year-old cantankerous former judge, a contest labeled by one observer as a “three-ring circus.”

And as in any political contest, things got contentious and nasty, resulting in criminal charges against one candidate for smearing another amid a long-simmering feud, and a malicious mailing campaign in which one candidate accused two others of being stooges for a union.

What you will find in Don’t Knock, He’s Dead, if you’ve ever had the aspiration to run for a high-stakes public office, or even wondered what a political candidate must endure, is what it’s like to spend every weekend and many weeknights until dusk knocking on doors of strangers; to be ignored by political organizations supposedly responsible for fairly evaluating candidates to make endorsements; to feel poor and unsuccessful among more financially-connected candidates; and to be targeted for barbs by highly opinionated, unfiltered bloggers.

If you’ve ever considered subjecting yourself to scrutiny and the whims of uncensored public opinion; debated whether it would be worth the time and effort to run for public office; stepped to the precipice of throwing a hat in the ring and then backed off with either regret or relief; or still have a dream to make a difference in people’s lives by entering politics—you know, someday, when everything is perfectly aligned and your finances are in supreme order, and your employer gives you essential flexibility and full backing, and your family has attained impeccable stability, and the moon eclipses the sun, cicadas emerge after 17 years underground and the Chicago Cubs win the World Series and the time is right to run, somedayDon’t Knock, He’s Dead is an account of what it’s like in the trenches of an election as an entourage-less, DIY, working-stiff candidate.

Sirenian Publishing also is the publisher of Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet, a fictional story of a rookie sportswriter in a football-mad Florida backwater covering an intense season of high school football and battling head-to-head with the ruthless, win-at-all-costs coach from the town’s ruling family. Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet is available on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1cYG5vP

The Writing Life: Pay to Play

I was thrilled when I saw an e-mail in my inbox from a publisher I had queried about acquiring my debut novel, Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet, about a rookie sportswriter covering an intense season of high school football in a football-crazed backwater Florida town. The publisher had written me immediately after I had submitted my query to say the synopsis and sample chapters looked promising and to have patience while the editor reviewed the material.

When the publisher’s follow-up acceptance e-mail arrived about six weeks later with an attached “Publishing Agreement,” I thought I had threeyardscovertriumphed over long odds as an unknown author by persuading a publisher to acquire my book. I had wanted to progress from a self-published author to one backed by the heft, resources and credibility of a traditional commercial publisher, which I believed would open more doors and opportunities to bring the novel to a broader audience. I expected there would be a payment for my work. But when I read the agreement, I realized it wasn’t quite that simple.

The experience has been part of my indoctrination into the complex, confusing and rapidly evolving world of book publishing. I discovered there would not be a dime coming my way up-front from this operation for the blood and sweat I poured into crafting the novel over three years and had already self-published, paying thousands to a self-publishing company to edit and format the book, design the cover, and prepare it for print-on-demand, e-book and distribution channels. In fact, the Publishing Agreement included a non-negotiable provision requiring me to pay about $1,300 for the publisher to essentially re-do many of the same tasks I had already undertaken to produce a self-published book.

That’s where my real education began. There are various kinds of publishing companies – self-publishers, indie publishers, vanity publishers, subsidy publishers, hybrid publishers and traditional/commercial publishers. The publisher I was dealing with called itself a “hybrid” publisher. Without going into great detail on the distinctions between the breeds, this basically meant that this particular publisher acts something like a self-publisher, but looks for books of a certain quality and rejects much of the sub-standard work that comes its way. This supposedly distinguishes it from a vanity publisher, so-named because such a publisher will publish anything of any quality by any author vain enough to pay for the service. The hybrid publisher functions like a traditional publisher in that it has access to certain distribution channels and performs some marketing functions to represent its titles.

But the bottom line about this type of hybrid publisher, I learned, is that it doesn’t assume the risk to make or lose money by selling new authors’ books. Any revenue that comes through sales for the hybrid publisher is likely gravy. The hybrid publisher’s bread is buttered through selling its publishing services to eager authors. That is the bigger incentive and target for the hybrid publisher’s resources, not necessarily marketing and selling the new authors’ books.

So now I have a choice to make. Would I earn back my investment by having the backing of a legitimate publishing company, or would I have no better sales than if I continued to soldier on by myself? Would it open more doors – book signing appearances and placements in bookstores, for example — or lead to more book reviews? Hard to say. Do I want to grant various rights and interests to the book to this publisher and diminish my control for a fairly small royalty? In exchange for what, exactly?

While stumbling in the dark, I discovered another option that intrigues me: Forming my own imprint, or publishing operation, as a sole proprietor. That will take more research, but I like the idea of full creative control – and it looks like I will have full responsibility for promotion and marketing anyway, whether I go with this particular hybrid publisher or not.

For anyone sticking a toe in the rather arcane book publishing industry waters, I can’t offer expert advice. I’m still learning. I can only offer the time-honored, sage warning for solicitors and buyers of any services or products anywhere: caveat emptor.

An Authentic Conversation at College Reunion

In a previous post about participating in an author signing to promote Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet at my Colgate University college reunion, I challenged myself to break out of my comfort zone and strike up conversations with people whom I had never met or barely knew.

I’m an introvert on the personality tests, but not so far from the extrovert side of the measurement. I just have to be in the right mood, or make a conscious effort to be more outgoing.

My social experiment went pretty well. I hung out with an old friend I had known since middle school and two of his college friends, who I had not known before. I sold one book on the spot just by introducing myself and talking with a classmate, who got out her cell phone and ordered from Amazon before we departed (at least she said she did).

Colgate University Reunion Torchlight Procession

Colgate University Reunion Torchlight Procession

I talked with one drunk graduate 25 years my junior about his entrepreneurial idea to launch a website to help locally-owned retail businesses in small towns to increase their online sales, and a drunk nurse who turned out to be the daughter of the owner of a popular pub in the college town. I’m counting the drunkards even though they tend to babble on endlessly, just because I stuck with it long enough to learn about them.

But the most interesting conversation of the reunion weekend came out of the blue. I was hanging out with my new buddies in a side room where the soda dispenser was located during our class dinner, not feeling much like mingling in the main hall because I was enjoying the company of these guys. A woman walked in who I recognized. I had never known her well, but I knew we lived in the same dorm freshman year and must have had many mutual acquaintances from that time.

I introduced myself and we wound up talking by the soda machine for maybe five minutes. There was nothing spectacular about that. Anyone can chit-chat about the weather, where they live or their job for five minutes. What was exceptional about this conversation compared to any other I had at reunion was the depth of the content in a time so short that it would normally be reserved strictly for small talk.

She told me she was going through a divorce after about 20 years of marriage and three sons. I replied that I had experienced a similar situation, except with younger kids and a shorter marriage. I asked if she was the one who wanted the break or if it was mutual. She responded that she didn’t want a divorce; it was at her husband’s initiative. I said mine happened the same way. She acknowledged that divorce “sucks.” I asked her how her sons were handling it. She responded that the two older ones seemed OK, but the youngest, a teenager, was having a hard time coping with it.

Then she told me what was weighing heavily on her mind as part of the divorce package: she was faced with selling her house and moving within a month or two. Again, I told her I had been through a similar scenario. I wished her the best in handling a difficult time of life. She knew I had participated in the author signing and expressed an interest in the book, so I took down her e-mail to correspond later.

And then we said goodbye and she left the room. I saw her again at breakfast the next morning, but from a distance and only long enough to wave hello. And that was that. I did e-mail her with information about Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet after I got home, but didn’t hear back.

This woman invited me into the most consequential happenings in her personal life during a brief encounter. Why, I don’t know. We could have just as easily talked about nothing for five minutes, or just said a quick hello and gone separate ways. I was grateful she engaged in a conversation with meaning.

I got to know her – the real person with real life issues – just a little, and it felt genuine to make an authentic connection, as brief as it was. Such authentic conversations in which someone dares to reveal something personal and meaningful are all too rare, and makes life and personal interaction so much more lively and interesting.

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