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Interview: Richard Hine, author of Russell Wiley is Out to Lunch

livingdeadbusinessmodel med 204x300 Interview: Richard Hine, author of Russell Wiley is Out to Lunch

In these first few years of the millennium the newspaper industry has been ajitter about its future: reports of failing, obsolescent business models, poor management, and a lack of understanding of the electronic sphere are rife. Outside observers have noticed it, but those on the inside have an even more interesting perspective.

Having worked for publications such as Time Magazine and the Wall Street Journal, Richard Hine was certainly one of the insiders: one who found himself standing on the Titanic as it sighted that game-changing iceberg that was the online world. Unable to watch in silence the ship as it went down, Richard set pen to paper. His novel Russell Wiley is out to Lunch (see our review), a no-holds-barred, biting examination of the publishing world, was the result.

It was a timely novel, but the problem with such novels is that they can often have a short lifespan. This was something that Richard considered in great detail when writing his debut. One of the most crucial decisions I made'for better or worse'was to set the novel in a specific time and place. The danger in doing that was that it would instantly feel dated, especially given how fast the media world, especially the social media world, is evolving, he says.

Richard decided that there was no way around doing so. The only way I could create a believable picture was to take a snapshot, to show readers exactly what was known at this specific time, and how, even as late as 2006, a year in which online videos and citizen journalism and social media were already reshaping the media world, newspapers were still being horribly mismanaged and making really dumb decisions.

Though some of the superficial elements such as the technologies mentioned have since changedMyspace has since bitten the dust, and Twitter and Facebook have risen to prominencetheres plenty that remains highly relevant today.

The office politics, the management panic, the over-reliance on dubious consultants seem as timely as ever, says Richard.

russell wiley is out to lunch by richard hine Interview: Richard Hine, author of Russell Wiley is Out to Lunch

Indeed, these motifs have been touched on by works such as Company'by Max Barry (see our review), How I Became a Famous Novelist'(see our review) by Steve Hely, and the recently released film Margin Call, and one cant help but wonder whether the context of the GFC has resulted in'increased public interest in the workings of a number of industries and sectors historically seen as arcane and opaque.

I think the global financial crisis is the ultimate expression of how out of control the world has felt in the new millennium. From 9/11 to the endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the Asian tsunami to the Japanese earthquake and nuclear meltdown, we've lived through one nightmare after another. But the financial crisis brought home the fact that the people'politicians, CEOs and bankers'that the world had trusted to run things at least semi-competently were at best useless and at worst the biggest, most corrupt, greediest thieves the world had ever seen, says Richard.

Richard adds that the collapse of the print media world was also simultaneously accelerating, so books about the publishing industry, such as Russell Wiley, were particularly timely.

These troubled times may be here to stay and I'd like to think books like mine will resonate with people who are trapped in career crises or troubled industries and might be asking both: how do I save myself?; and how do we save each other?

He adds, cheekily: I love Steve Hely's book How I Became a Famous Novelist. In fact, I'm the author of the top-ranked review on his Amazon page: How I Became a Famous Amazon Reviewer.'

Though the publishing industry seems to be treading water, Richard isnt optimistic about the future of print media.

I think most people who still see a light in the tunnel will soon find out it's just a train. Today, the internet is the newspaper. If you're online, you're not just accessing one news source. You're getting news from social media, TV news brands, print brands, bloggers and more. The biggest changes since my book came out are the growth of the iPad and the trend toward newspaper paywalls.

Richard points out that although some newspapers'such as The New York Times are doing a good job at forcing readers to pay for content on their smartphones and tablets, there are few newspapers powerful'enough to generate enough revenue from readers in a world where CNN and BBC News and The Huffington Post and The Guardian and many other real-time news sources are free online.

He notes that'putting up walls for online content simply doesnt work'unless a publisher is offering something radically different from the competitionand for most newspapers, where syndication is the norm, theres very little thats radically different.

Rather than turning to online newspapers, readers are increasingly looking towards trusted sources, as well as news links shared on Twitter and Facebook. But this shift brings with it its own issues.

 Interview: Richard Hine, author of Russell Wiley is Out to LunchThe danger to society is that there are too many people now in the I only trust'. category. In the US, that divides between the Rupert Murdoch/Fox News/Drudge Report vision of the world and The New York Times/MSNBC/Huffington Post ways of seeing things. It's creating a world of misinformation, ignorance, division, and bumper sticker insults offered as wisdom.

But although social media may be problematic in some ways, Richard acknowledges its importance in book promotion.

When my book came out, I did try to have as much fun as possible with it. My background is in marketing so I tried to create an entertaining website, and even got Amazon to pay for a crowdsourced creative contest which generated more than 30 video trailers, plus dozens of print ads and online banners.

Richard is also quite prolific on Twitter, and his tweets are notable for the fact that theyre often highly political. Do authors need to be sensitive about such things in order to avoid a potential backlash?

I think a lot of authors try to avoid taking overtly political stances, says Richard. Others, like Jonathan Franzen, believe that its the medium as well as the message that needs some serious rethinking. But Richard himself is a fan. I meet great people there. I'm always pleased when people on Twitter say they've bought and read my book. But I'm also pleased to be part of the Twitterati that's dedicated to education, reason, fairness, compassion, equality and, hopefully, saving the world.

Upon first venturing on to the Twitter shores, Richards main motive was to sell his bookI probably annoyed a lot of people, he admitsbut since then his approach to the social network has broadened.

My initial thought was to try to be pro-creativity, pro-fun, pro-arts. But I'm also pro-science, pro-reason, pro-tolerance, pro-fairness, pro-environment. In America today, everything is politics. If you want to support science, you have to take a stand against the party that wants to reject it. If you want to save the planet, you have to fight against the corporate interests that only want to drill more, exploit more, pollute more. If you want poor families to have food or seniors to have healthcare, you have to convince a majority that maybe hedge fund managers and billionaires and big oil companies don't need all their tax breaks.

Though Richard has put a good deal of time into building his Twitter presence, he does have some regrets about other aspects of his marketing approach.

The one thing I would have done differently is make clear to more people that my novel had not been previously self-published, because the perception that it had been may have detracted from its ability to get reviewed in print media, he says. Richards book was published by Amazon Encore, an imprint that was believed by many to be a vehicle for reprinting self-published works.

Even though they started out that way, they also now function like a regular publisher looking for and acquiring new manuscripts. They discovered me when I entered the'Amazon/Penguin Breakthrough Novel Award in 2009, and they offered me a publishing contract, he says.

As a result, much of the coverage Russell Wiley'received was onlinehence Richards ongoing support of bloggers and reviewers in the digital sphere.

I'm very thankful for all the bloggers who've reviewed my book and interviewed me, and if I can give a retweet or give a 'follow' mention here and there, I'm happy to do that,'but perhaps if newspaper reviewers had known my book was an original manuscript'not previously self-published'they might have been more interested in reviewing me. Especially, he adds, given'that my novel is set in the newspaper industry and addressed the much discussed topic of the Death of Print.

Richard is a strident supporter of bloggers and social media influentials when it comes to building buzz for a new bookparticularly one like his.

I'm not always sure how people discover my book, but it is always great to get feedback from readers on Facebook, Twitter or Goodreads. I especially like to hear that people who know the newspaper world well have enjoyed the book. One highlight was when Tim McGuire, the head of Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication let me know he was teaching my novel to his journalism students.

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