Thursday, December 29, 2011

Shock of the Old/New

Have you seen "The Artist"? It's an example of how to use old motifs to create a new experience. Not just that it's silent, but also the use of close-ups. WRITERS need to similarly reinvent/renew their art. If you don't put out work that does this, then what's the point?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What Ideas?

Once you decide you need ideas, the question becomes: which ideas?

Which leads to other questions. Such as: what are the ideas of the literary establishment? Are those ideas defensible? Is there room for them to be supplanted?

As always, the strategic thinker needs to be looking for openings on the literary gameboard. Openings in the culture-- within time and space-- that can be jumped through before they close.

Stop in a Barnes and Noble and glance at all the titles on sale, not just the new releases on the main floor, but also the shelves and shelves of novels in the Fiction section. This is the competition. Or, one can go onto GoodReads and look at the many thousands of titles, and thousands of writers, hanging out there.


This blog seeks to answer that question. Don't think it's at all easy, or that it can be done by doing exactly what everyone else is doing. (Getting a Facebook page, say.)

Having new ideas is one piece of the necessary package.

The next question: what are the best vehicles for those ideas?

Friday, November 18, 2011

New Ideas

The battle of literature is a battle of ideas. Having ideas is the first step. The second step is getting those ideas out to the general public. A difficult task.

The underground was always on the right side of the argument. The strong reaction we received was because the lit world feared what we were saying. They feared the truth of our message. We got into their heads and their consciences, and they didn't like it.

Ideas are ultimately the strongest weapon there is.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Going Moderate?

Is there an alternative to going full-out radical? You tell me. If moderation would work, I'd be for it. Moderation presupposes moderates-- reformers-- on the other side willing to work with us to democratize the art. Are there any?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Whatever attention the ULA got was due to our initial rebel/outlaw image. An image which was somewhat undercut when we finally got a website that unintentionally presented the "literary revolution" as quirky and goofy. We were better off as a mystery, offstage, seldom seen.

Part of being an outlaw is not compromising with anybody. In the 60's the Hells Angels beat up San Fran hippie anti-war protestors-- which made the protestors even more want to hang around with them. Why? Street cred.

The only thing the ULA had going for it was its street cred. Any attempt to accommodate the system weakened that credibility. You don't adjust to the other guy. You stay secure in your position and let them adjust to you.

The toughest, wildest, craziest, most balls-to-the-wall writers group ever seen. That's what the ULA needed to be.

Monday, November 7, 2011


THERE ARE a million writers out there, and 10,000 writers groups. To stand out from the pack, you have to be unique. Half of my supposed hostility toward MFAers is that they're the Herd, and the task is to stand apart from the Herd. In every way possible. (The other half is that writing programs lead to a dead art. See the decline of the American short story.)

The ULA was unique in many respects. We willfully stood apart. We shouted, "We're different!" In a store aisle of plastic gray bottles, we put a red bottle on the shelf. We didn't politely place the red bottle on the shelf. We threw it.

We weren't unique enough. Lisa Carver shrewdly pointed this out to me at our 2004 Conclave. We needed a unique look, a la the Beats. Something our own.

Our writing was consistent, as Pat King has discussed, but it wasn't new and it wasn't packaged as new. Our ideas were somewhat different, but not sea-change philosophically metaphysically different.

Everything, every aspect-- ideas, writing, presentation-- would need to give the lit world "The Shock of the New."

In this hypercompetitive time, it'd be our only chance.

Friday, November 4, 2011


For goals, I'd have big ones. No 100 followers on Facebook. No running a membership group like a hobby. No small-time thinking. Otherwise there's no point.

We'd have to get the ULA back to where it was as an organization. A player. Not on the sidelines. Remember: We had regular write-ups in Page Six. Attention other writers groups can only dream about.

Our first targets would be n+1, and the McSweeney's gang whose flagship now is The Believer. The two leading lit outfits. The idea: Target them and compete with them. Be different from them and be eager to beat them.

A question is whether there's any desire among literary undergrounders for a bold and ambitious strategy.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Why Do It?

Why revive the ULA? What would be in it for anybody?

The answer is that there's equity in the ULA name. Power and magic. Yes, it's well-hidden. It's diminishing. But when you look at the record, the outfit had an amazing if contentious history.

There's also this: Contrary to wishful thinking, writers can't just write. They need to get word out, somehow, about their writing. They need a vehicle.
Keep in mind I'm musing about all this. I have enough to keep me busy. It'd be a huge task. But it's a task worth at least considering. Coming close once was a heady experience.

The Car on Blocks

Right now the ULA is like a battered car up on blocks in somebody's backyard. A white-trash backyard overgrown with tall grass and weeds at the end of a dead-end street. A street of run-down shacks across railroad tracks from the big house neighborhood in the small-minded small town of today's literary world.

The four have jumped into the car, Jackman and Hendricks in back, Potter and Walsh in the front seat. They don't want to get the vehicle back on the streets-- the motor was last started a coupla times in 2009! They're content with the way things have been recently. Sitting in the car is enough for them.

The very lack of ideas and imagination in their conversation is striking. This causes me to think that what Frank and Jeff really want-- what they wanted when the team fell apart-- is control. They don't care if the car doesn't go anywhere as long as they have it. On that dead-end block. In that low-rent neighborhood.

Maybe not even so much their control, but that no one else have control of the once prized-and-gleaming speedster.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The ULA Brand

A question which needs to be thought about is: What's the ULA's image? What are its strengths and weaknesses? What should be the image to the public? Should the image be modifed, and if so, how?

One would have to know the new version's short-term objectives and long-term goals, and how the group's projected image/brand keys into those.

I for one believe the ULA, if brought back, needs to be completely reinvented. This isn't at all ten years ago. The world of media is vastly different. The task is 100 times greater, simply from the greatly increased noise about lit. The new look outfit would have to be 100 times better, with a strategy much more sophisticated than before.

To do less would be to resurrect an outdated oldies act.

Reviving the Underground Literary Alliance?

There's an ongoing email discussion taking place among four past ULAers about bringing the outfit back. The four are Jeff Potter, Tom Hendricks, Michael Jackman, and Frank Walsh. Is their idea feasible? How would you go about it?

The first thing to state is that, up to a point, the ULA was amazingly successful. As late as 2007 we were part of the conversation. The Guardian, one of the planet's major news outlets, included us as one of only three American lit groups worth mentioning in their overview of new lit, "Surfing the New Literary Wave." The other two, n+1 and McSweeney's, are extremely well-funded. How in the world did we get into that conversation? What caused our cred and buzz?

Was it our web site? Our membership list?

Or was it not our commitment to our cause, evidenced by the exciting "Howl" protest in NYC in 2006, and other actions which generated talk behind the closed doors of the established literary world? Talk that spread even across the ocean.

To know where you're going you have to understand where you've been.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Turned Herd

There’s no mileage for young underground writers in following the current Herd. At best, they can get in at the back of it (see Noah Cicero), and anyway, the Herd is heading off a cliff. Their ideas and their art are made out of tissue paper.

Construct a Counter Herd traveling in the opposite direction. This is what the ULA did, but we didn’t push our movement, the radicalism of the movement, nearly far enough.

98% of all writers are followers. They’ll follow perceived strength. There are ways to construct the impression—and the fact—of unstoppable artistic strength backed  by the force of new art and unbeatable ideas.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Finding an Open Position

To think only in the terms of the mainstream doesn’t work in an-already super-crowded field. If it’s too late to get with the dominant trend, an alternative is to do the direct opposite—to anticipate the inevitable reaction to the trend.

I see two areas right now where mainstream literati, including the acknowledged best and brightest, are following a poor strategy. My branding of my ebooks over the next few months will go in the opposite direction. In fact, I’ll vocally oppose the dominant narrative. Will it work?

My leeriness toward academy-trained writers is simply because they’re congenitally incapable of thinking outside the box. They are the herd.

The Beatles Effect

Abby Wambach and Hope Solo of the U.S. Womens Soccer team have become household names within the time frame of little over a week. It won’t last, because there’ll be no follow-up, but it demonstrates that the Beatle Effect remains possible. To think only in terms of fragmented markets and micro-niches is a loser strategy.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Growing the Market

WHEN Tiger Woods came onto the PGA Tour in 1997, the total purse money for golfers was $70 million a year. Due to Tiger's large profile, talent, and influence, ten yers later the purse money had grown to $280 million.

This is the kind of growth which can happen to books and literature in the culture. A few things need to happen first.

1.) Better products.
2.) More exciting writer personalities.
3.) Better promotion of the products and personalities.

This is what I tried to make happen, in a very primitive way, with the Underground Literary Alliance. It was good practice! But only that. The fact remains that the literary "pie" can expand in multiples.

Part of accomplishing this will be to adjust the supply/demand situation regarding novels and stories.

A.) The first end of this will be to narrow the immense supply situation. The market is flooded with books and novels. The way to do this is to create a product which stands out-- that doesn't look or sound like other novels, or be called one, even if a novel is exactly what it is. Crazy? No. The Beatles played rock n' roll, but it didn't quite sound like rock n roll, and they didn't look like past rock n' rollers.

B.) The second end is to do what the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein accomplished: Create overwhelming demand for the new look and new sound. Both will play off each other.

Tiger Woods obviously didn't look like your traditional golfer! He also presented a better product. He wasn't, really, a better golfer than Phil Mickelson or others. But he had a stronger will, more determined persona, and he worked far harder at what he did-- the first golfer to follow an extremely intense fitness program. His playing therefore looked different.

Tiger attracted people to himself outside the regular pool of golf fans. He created many new fans. This is what the new writer needs to accomplish.

It awaits to be done.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Off-Line II

To me, the idea of following what everyone else is doing is absurd. The trick is to avoid the mob. If the herd is going in one direction, I’ll go elsewhere.

There are an unlimited number of ways to promote a physical store. From street flyering, to holding readings—inviting “name” writers even-- which pays networking benefits, to continual special sales and events, to getting customers including local celebrities and/or literary celebrities photographed with the product being sold. It allows the ability to use ballyhoo. There’s more excitement to a store, and to physical products, than to just one more web site or ebook. More excitement means easier getting journalists interested. You can also better promote the authors themselves, if they’re charismatic, through personal appearances. The idea is to promote not just the product—the book, if you will—but the person behind it. There’s also the promotion of the idea of a new kind of bookstore—which this will be—at a time when people will be eager for that very thing, with the chains failing. It’s one way of many to leverage the store viz-a-viz writers, publishers, and all of literature. The store will be the access point for these people. They’ll want to get into it. This is just scratching the surface.

One goal is to reach and develop an entirely new audience, and I’ll do that through zeen/graphic novel hybrids.

Granted, ebooks seem to be the thing. I may jump on that bandwagon and delay my offline plans.

I’ve found that working online can be a crutch. It’s an excuse for not doing real hard work that promotion requires. I say that as someone who’s been working online the last so-many years, with meager results, while my offline activities were amazingly productive.

How long before the ebook market is saturated with too-many choices?

Finally, take a look at how Lady Gaga made it. She used social media, sure, but merely as a landing place. Success came from incessant personal real-world work.

There’s the counter example of Amanda Hocking, poster girl for e-books. It’s an amazing story—enough to make me reconsider the possibilities involved.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

About Ebooks

Everybody and his brother are talking about ebooks. My stance is: it’s too late to be first, so you have to be better.

Are there any historical analogies to be looked at? Phonographs?

(By better, I mean, branding.)

You’ll have to have better offerings—stories or short novels of guaranteed “quality,” by which I don’t mean literary quality, but punch, drama, fun. Excitement.


I’m curious about the physical instruments themselves—Kindles, Nooks, Konos, I-Pads Is anyone doing knock-offs? I’ve heard India wants to manufacture and sell these things for ten bucks apiece. Surely someone somewhere must be doing knockoffs. I’d like to know exactly how these things operate, the nuts and bolts. If anyone knows, please let us know.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

On-Line or Off?

I note that lit entrepreneurs are promoting the idea of literary “singles”—works of story length which can easily be sold and consumed. They’re doing this in two areas: on-line, and with print versions.

My ideas are focusing on print. Much more difficult to set-up, but I believe that the work involved will have a greater payoff.

The problem on-line is the massive amount of competition. All literary projects are converging on a single point: the computer screen. This is the consumer’s access point. It’s a small space, with room for only one project at once. It’s a narrow door to squeeze through. The line to get through the door, to get onto the space, is extremely long.

Sure, the first ones through the door will be successful. But everyone will follow. The Internet always becomes quickly consumed by the herd.

Off-line, there remain ways to place yourself directly in front of the consumer. This is my starting point.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Better Store

The main key to my plan will be a better selling vehicle. A better store. The big chains are hugely vulnerable. They do many things wrong, such as inefficient use of space, too many products, no focus, patrons not compelled to buy, and so on. Ebooks are now taking away a portion of their target bourgie audience. However, simply putting up a standard indy bookstore isn’t good enough. The New Store will have to be original in every way. It will have to be so successful it can be easily duplicated. This can be done. First, you need a line or two of exciting products. You need good location and the right targeted customers. Then you need to hype it.

TIMING: The timing is right. Store rents even in a trendy area like Philly’s South Street have come down. The trick is to catch the right moment, as the retail economy is about to pick up but as yet really hasn’t.

The right plan makes fast headway. I proved this with my promo strategy for the Underground Literary Alliance. For my next campaign I’ve looked at other aspects of the lit biz, and will get those aspects working equally well. Every aspect will feed the others, and be fed in turn. Classic synergy. The result will be the conquest of American literature.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Better Product II

The new product has to better. Better than anything we’ve yet done or conceived. This is in order to compete on two fronts.

1.) To compete within the already saturated literary/publishing scene.

2.) To compete within the hypercompetitive, extremely noisy general culture.

The new product will need to look and sound radically different, Xtremely different, from all else considered remotely literary. If it doesn’t give upon first encounter the Shock of the New, then it’s not exciting enough. We need to reach high in order to achieve high. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Developing Stars

MY ORIGINAL CONCEPTION of the Underground Literary Alliance had four legs.

1.) Activism/Noisemaking.

2.) Gathering in One City.

3.) Lit Stars i.e., the “Zeen Elvis.”

4.) Zeen Shops.

#1 was all we carried out. We never developed a single young star—yet this is a necessity if every part of the campaign is to work together. For instance, in the zeen store, I’d need to sell posters of said star or stars, which will in turn hype the zeens/books. The person will have to be striking enough for this to work. I also couldn’t fully access my promotional abilities without a good focus. The main candidate bailed extremely early. It’s amazing we got as much attention as we did, given the fact we had no one except supporting characters to promote. We could’ve easily doubled the noise.

Where are the ambitious young writers?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Underground Problems

In conception, the Underground Literary Alliance was a great thing. The idea, in part, was to create a big tent which all undergrounders could use for their own benefit. It was a plan toward necessary cooperation.

Right now there’s enough talent out there for underground writers and artists to compete with the established literary world. What’s lacking is direction and cohesion. We’re a collection of random molecules bouncing aimlessly. We need to get moving in one direction.

What’s lacking is a structure or format so that what benefits one benefits all. There needs to be a synergy, so that underground projects benefit other underground projects, and are benefitted in turn.


1.) First, the underground needs to present itself as a single movement.

2.) It needs a critical journal which explains that movement.

3.) It needs avenues of publicity for the movement, across the spectrum. Its own websites, radio programs, publications, stores—each of which will be tied together in some way, either through presenting or advocating a particular aesthetic, or, as the ULA attempted, through uniting around a particular name.

There have to be individuals willing to take one part of that need. No one person, or small group of persons, can do it all, yet the ULA tried to do it all. No one person can write, and promote, and distro, and sell. If we all “just write,” there leaves time and effort for nothing else.

Yet if we don’t work together we’re nowhere.

What’s the solution?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Ballyhoo Works!

We saw that with the Jets/Patriots football game, where all the trash talking by the Jets created enormous interest in the game. When the ULA was going gangbusters we did our share of trash talking. Given the opportunity, we would've mopped the floor with the established literary pretty boys in the same way the Jets ultimately did when the game was finally played.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Could the ULA Be Resurrected?

For this to happen it would have to be remade. It would have to once again embody the new-- not the familiar, and the ULA after six-plus years had become familiar. The key to the ULA's attention was being as unfamilar and unpredictable as possible.
I have a plan to create a selling machine. I know how to sell. Whether I could somehow incorporate the ULA into that projected machine would require thought and study.

I don't know if the ULA could be the centerpiece. Not as it stands now, anyway. The ULA was never expected to be fronted by old guys, who were/are better fit for supporting roles. There's a difference between paying homage to a movement's roots-- and putting those roots at the front. B.B. King wasn't playing to sold-out stadiums in the Sixties. The Beatles were. The question is whether you want to be perceived as new and exciting. I didn't create this youth-centered society. I'm trying to live in it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Money on the Table

I SOMETIMES THINK that underground writers are the stupidest people on the planet. There’s a hundred million dollars on a table waiting to be picked up, and no one will go near it. It’s possible for a lit movement to be bigger than McSweeney’s. Bigger than the Beats.

Of course, to do that, writers would need to moderate their solipsism and their egos. They’d have to realize that simply writing what’s in fact therapy ruminations or diary entries isn’t good enough. The missing person in the equation is the reader.

They’d also have to be willing to let Promotion drive the bus. As soon as the ULA kicked Promotion out of the driver’s seat, the ULA bus stopped moving. Anyplace.

The minute we start competing, which means behaving as if we had a team in the National Football League (the literary buy-in for lit is way cheaper), things will get exciting.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

It’s All Hype


When I was running the ULA, I tried to get the members to understand the notion that p.r. wasn’t 10% of the campaign, or 50%, or 90%. It was all of it. Every other aspect, from books to shows to personalities, should’ve conformed to the publicity. Or, the hype wasn’t there to serve the product. The product could only exist to serve the hype. Otherwise it was a waste of time. This is a completely counterintuitive, radical idea.

In the ideal campaign, which I’ve sketched out in greater detail, the product itself will be hype. Yea, even the writing.