Monday, June 11, 2012

Part 2 of Strategic Planning: Non-fiction rules after all

Again, as I remember from the “world of work”, “strategic planning” is more about reviewing and planning your actual output than your ideas.  It’s like writing an “annotated bibliography” (two posts ago).  But then you constantly map out your ideas.  You have to know where you’re going to do another book.

Many visitors know that I entered self-publishing with my 1997 book “Do Ask Do Tell: A Gay Conservative Lashes Back”, reprinted it (on demand) in 2000, and wrote a sequel 2002 “Do Ask Do Tell: When Liberty Is Stressed” after 9/11.  Last fall, I added an e-book “Speech Is a Fundamental Right; Being Listened to Is a Privilege”, available from links on the right side of my  “doaskdotell” home page.  It loads as PDF’s easily onto an iPad.   You can get the first two books still from Amazon or BN.  Yes, I encourage you’re getting new copies, but there are used copies (cheaper) from reseller.  Or you can contact me (look at Blogger Profile), I have some inventory.  (I don’t do credit cards myself – it’s all outsourced – because of the personal information and PCIDSS standards.)

I get calls from iUniverse about selling these, but, as I noted, it’s hard to sell “aged” non-fiction.  Things change with time, that’s all. You need new stuff.  So as part of my “project” I do plan to offer the third booklet commercially for Kindle download, this fall.  (There is also a 1998 booklet, “Our Fundamental Rights, and How We Can Reclaim Them: A Psychological Approach” I have some copies, and for a while, there was actually a pre-9/11 version of DADT II).

Until 2005, I supplemented all the content in these books with a site called “” (an acronym for “High Productivity Publishing”), which for a time was mirrored on AOL Hometown (no longer exists, since 2008).  In 2005, I moved everything to a site called “”.  I also put some of my screenwriting experiments there, which led to the big “blow up” when I was a substitute teacher (see July 27, 2007 here). 
I maintained the material from the books with updates on my sites, keyed to chapters and pages or footnote numbers in the books.  So the chronology of the books, taken as a whole, provides a way to sequence and organize all of my material.  (In a sense, iUniverse marketing is right about that point, even with older books.)   I supplemented all this material with topic-specific “sidebars” (a term that used to be common in conventional newspaper sports reporting), which expanded to a “controversial issues” page and directory on the “doaskdotell” site, a number of essays on specific topics, one of which (teaching about homosexuality in public schools) was eventually published  (in 2007)in a Michigan publisher’s “Opposing Viewpoints” series (about “Teenage Sexuality”).  One essay that got a lot of quick attention was the one on filial responsibility laws.

The essays were rather like Wikipedia articles, constantly updated inline or with footnotes, but just by me.  I had long since added a collection of movie reviews, book reviews, and reviews of stage and musical concert events. 

In early 2006, I gradually replaced the use of a flat site with Blogger, on sixteen blogs, including media reviews and articles.   The main blog (this one) focuses on free speech and  Internet technology law.   Topics are provided by Blogger labels, but the external database organization remains chronological (in reverse).
What is all of this all about?  The 1997 book, as I have explained, was motivated by what I saw as a parallel between the way the debate on the gay military ban (leading to “don’t ask don’t tell”) was being conducted in 1993, and my own William and Mary expulsion some 32 year before.  Around that notion was a concentric body of ideas about a “tug of war” between individual rights and self-fulfillment, and the supposed or historic needs of the “common good”, particularly as filtered through the “nuclear family”.  The notion of “unit cohesion”, so critical to the military, also applied to larger society.  The sites and blogs would keep the coverage of all these interlinked issues coherent, with a certain personal touch, emphasizing my own observation or coverage (not available to main media) when possible.

I saw issues as connected (blobs rather than dots), to  be considered together, in isolation.  My “compendium”, even if based on my own life, seemed to provide a useful way to link issues that normally, even when researched in a normal way on sites like Wikipedia, seemed piecemeal, and that tended to invite “taking sides”  (or partisanship) and the balkanization of activism into small issues competing for money and sympathy.

Today, my biggest concern is the “sustainability” of the focus on the rights and wholeness of the individual, as opposed to the group (or family) – with particular focus on how this tension affects those who are “different” and somehow controversial.  That starts out in the area of “discrimination” and moves into areas like preserving the global technological infrastructure that has made modern individualism possible.  The debate on gay rights follows, though not precisely, this tension; and the logical connection between libertarianism and “equal rights for gays” became conspicuous in the 1990s. Indeed, in the more distant past (and in some parts of the world, even today), the issue for gays is not equality as HRC or SLDN now see it, but fighting off prohibitionism; and this now seems perplexing to a society once it embraces “personal responsibility”.  But in more localized societies surrounded by perceived or real enemies and common perils, it is understandable that people would connect the emotional world of marriage and family with a belief that families need to demand loyalty from their own “outliers”.   I certainly described all this from a certain intellectual distance or parallax in the 1990s; my own period of eldercare (and substitute teaching) made it much more personal.  One danger is that global catastrophe can bring this “tribal” situation back.

The “chapters” of the first book more or less suggest how the chronological organization works, but would need to be revised to include more recent history since 1997.  The “chapters” would run roughly like this now:  college expulsion (early to mid 60s); military service and draft (late 60s); “Second coming” (1970s); the AIDS challenge (1980s); DADT (early and mid 1990s); free speech and global communications (late 1990s to present, including COPA, SOPA, DMCA, Section 230, etc); gay marriage, eldercare, demographics, filial responsibility (same period); national security, 9/11, environment, and sustainability (same period).

The “video”, or documentary film that I plan (call it “Do Ask Do Tell: The Documentary” for now) would explore this “biggest concern” by presenting an “argument” and backing it up in a somewhat mathematical fashion that I described here in my Feb. 4 post (and more background Nov. 13, 2011).  Part of the support (or “reasons”) would come from my own life, with video or pictures of places where relevant events took place, along with interviews and possibly dramatizations (in “short film” format).  

The “argumentative” presentation would be preceded by a biographical sketch, setting up the chronological thought train through the “chapters” suggested above.

So then I would have a “non-fiction” package comprising a video-film (DVD or streaming) and books (Kindle).  With some “creative” business modeling, they could be priced as a package.

What happens, then, with my web presence and “online reputation”?  I know that there is a lot to question, to criticize.  For example, if I want to get into the “big leagues”, should I continue publishing with somebody else’s “free service”, with the risks and loss of “due process” that can ensue? Perhaps not, but the practical question is more nuanced and experiential than one might think, when this question was talked about a lot in 2008 in connection with the spam blog problem.  It is possible to imagine, for example, that I have only one blog (one hosted space), updating readers on new reviews or essays placed on a conventional site, and then cross-referenced with an “inverted list” database technique that emulates Blogger or Wordpress “label” capabilities.   This could be made technically quite simple, inexpensive and fast-to-load, and probably take me about two weeks to do in a reasonable fashion.   (For media reviews, there are actually some advantages, as the blogs have some items broken apart artificially, such as with the “disaster warnings” blog.) Another obvious question is whether older  (redundant or out-of-date) content should be removed or somehow otherwise archived.  But major essays would need to be rewritten or overhauled, maybe once a year, as they could quickly get out of date, since issues (like gay marriage or DADT) frequently change, although older history remains intact.

Of course, I know I have flouted custom and previously expected practice, even from self-published authors.  Typically, someone writes a book, and sets up a website to sell it and link to reviews, but often offers little content “for free”.   Non-fiction “public policy” books  typically become obsolete in a couple years, so some authors get into the cycle of rewriting them with updated versions.  So I, as noted before, kept the material up online with “footnote files” at first and then various other essays, and eventually “The 16 Blogs.”  So, one asks, why not require someone to buy the book first to see the updates?  I could say we all know that doesn’t fly competing in a world of “free content” – although recently some newspapers have indeed tried to reverse this reality with paywalls, with questionable success (and a few marginal papers have gotten into mass litigation – the Righthaven saga).  Frankly, in a world of online content, “cookie cutter marketing” and the “always be closing” mentality doesn’t cut it.  You have to respect your readers’ brains, or else there would be no reason to write at all.  You need critical mass with your content itself, not just short term numbers.  If your calling is “Aliens” you need to find a number of “other earths”, not just one “Gliese 581 G”.  (For the related questions about social media, listservers, and "white listing", see the entry April 8, 2012 on this blog.)

Offering “free” content does enable me (or anyone) to “make a name for myself”.  Some would say that, without “stake” or “standing” in the form of responsibility for dependents (family) and without enough income from “fame seeking” to support others, I (or anyone) would be just creating risk (for myself and others connected to me) with no increase in capital to cover it.  That was the perspective that came out of my October 2005 “incident” when substitute teaching when my supposedly “self-incriminating” screenplay short surfaced.  That comports with modern B-school thinking, that in a conglomerate of companies, every line of business must be separately profitable in the short term always.  Applied to book publishing, that would mean that every book must make money on its own, and come down when it stops.  (That’s what happens to television shows, measured by Nielsen; what about the same for the web?)  The “conservative” moral mindset is that the creative activity, when public, is supporting a family, or supporting other people.  I could answer this by saying, media is not like other business, any more than health care is.  Exposure and “fame” eventually is everything. That’s why writing anonymously (as for Wikipedia) doesn’t cut it either.  Would I like to join forces with an AC360 or a Huffington?  Yes, but (already at age 68) I would never get the opportunity until I had both the complete product and the “fame”. 

I’ve been “out there” with a lot of “free content” under my name since 1997, the time of my first publication, and been up almost all the time, with content that is quick to load and often ranks in search engines above much more complicated corporate sites  -- paying nothing for placement.  And I persisted.  I think that without my doing so, we just might not have had DADT repealed, or COPA struck down, or even the wins in Lawrence v. Texas or marriage cases.  It makes a difference when somebody “doesn’t go away”.  It “keeps them honest”.

And the emphasis in my “message” is shifting, away from discrimination (in public policy) to sustaining the infrastructure that makes globally conscious, individualistic life possible.  Everybody talks about climate change, but there are many more “inconvenient truths” where we must be proactive to protect our way of life.  As Fareed Zakaria recently pointed out, we have done so thus far, despite the many problems that sound existential.  But we must keep out guard up against many other threats, such as space weather (hardening the power grid much more than we have) and “demographic winter”.  A “guided compendium” like mine, by remaining visible, helps keep the pressure on.

To be successful as I have outlined here, I need two “things”.  First, I need the “freedom” to continue, using the model I have followed.  There can exist many points of failure, such as a breakdown in downstream liability protections for providers, insurance issues, or business model exhaustion experienced by service providers, or a total failure of infrastructure, whether from nihilistic terrorism or natural catastrophe (as huge coronal mass ejections or solar superstorms).  Without that freedom and capacity, at age 68, I hardly have much of a place in the world, I cannot become a role model out of nothing, or by being someone else's "huckster".  Second, given the “freedom”, I must be able to do the work, and master the technology (in the music scoring area, for example, there is still a challenge).

There is definitely a dark side to all this.  I am driven to a veneer of “global citizenship” in part because I do not like to be solicited to enter into personal relationships with individuals whom I cannot “value”.  On the surface, this (tendency toward upward affiliation) sounds like my libertarian-driven “right”, but it cannot be sustained well in a world where everyone must belong to a “local group”.   A value system like mine can become just as self-righteous, virtue obsessed and “exclusive” as that held by any religious fundamentalist (any faith at all).  Unbalanced and unchecked in a culture, it can eventually lead to a tendency toward fascism, just as can more conventional corruption of a familiar authoritarian power structure.  And it took a certain degree of coercion to make me look at where I could be headed.  

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