-- Interview with N. Frank Daniels
N. Frank Daniels is an American writer who has published two novels: Futureproof (HarperPerennial) and Sanctuary (UpCreek Press). He is an unusual novelist because he has utilised the power of social media, especially MySpace. After self-publishing his first novel Futureproof at websites which offer Print-on-Demand publishing opportunities, the novel appeared as a book on lulu.com. Daniels started marketing the book online because he was "too driven", he started by sending free copies to the top reviewers and literary stars and asking them for reviews. Eventually he got an endorsement from James Frey, a controversial memoirist. After he successfully sold thousands of copies online, traditional publishers started noticing him. Eventually HarperPerennial offered to publish him. The News on Sunday talked to him online after following him on Facebook. His story is yet another proof that virtuality has become more important than so-called reality. Excerpts of the conversation follow:
TNS: When did you start writing Futureproof? How long did it take for you to finish it?
N. Frank Daniels: I started writing it in 2003 and it took about two years.
TNS: I thought of talking to you after I found a copy of your book online. I hope you are okay with that.
NFD: I think authors that freak out over that sort of thing are counting the wrong pennies. I’d rather have ten voracious readers read my stuff and only two buy anything than have nothing I have written end up in anyone’s hands.
TNS: So how closely does Luke [the protagonist of Futureproof] resemble you?
NFD: Luke is -- I guess you could say Luke is a certain version of how I saw myself at that age, mixed with what other people saw in me as well as just my way of trying to create a messed up yet sympathetic character. Many people have written to me and said that they would get angry at him for continually messing things up, but they stayed with him to the end of the book because they wanted him to succeed, to overcome. Perhaps because he was not completely spiritually bankrupt I guess.
TNS: That is your success too. Because you succeeded in making them sympathise with him.
NFD: I hope so; I haven’t received any hate mail yet, so I take that as a good sign.
TNS: What does HarperPerennial mean when they say it was originally a self-published novel?
NFD: That means that I published it first, on my own, without a publisher. Then I spent months gathering a readership on Amazon and Myspace and because of all that interest, HarperPerennial became interested and offered to publish it. This social media and cyberspace marketing makes finding readership much easier, though the obstacles are far greater.
TNS: But how did you publish it yourself? How does that work? Hemingway also self-published his first collection titled Three Stories and Ten Poems.
NFD: Well, Print-on-Demand (POD) is relatively new. It wasn’t around in Hemingway’s day. There are many POD companies out there where you can place your books and they will print when there is an order placed on the book. Companies take a pdf and keep it on file, then when someone orders the book, or 100 books, they can print out the exact specified number. They take a cut, the author gets a cut, the reader gets a bound book.
TNS: How did you come up with the idea of using social media/networking sites to promote your book? I mean that shows a great will to succeed.
NFD: I did have a great will to succeed. I lived, ate and breathed getting my book in the hands of readers and finding a publisher but it destroyed my marriage and family in the process. I guess one can be too driven.
TNS: Did you start using these sites after you self-published or earlier? To promote your work, I mean.
NFD: I started using MySpace before I self-published to promote Futureproof. This was in 2005, Facebook and Twitter weren’t in existence yet.
TNS: Do you think writers are finding new ways of dealing with the power of the publishers through blogging and social networking?
NFD: I think the same thing applies to any artist trying to promote his work. You are up against the same set of issues, as far as getting people to know about your product in a cluttered market. There is no easy solution to marketing
TNS: So these are only the new tools of survival. The game has not changed, the toys have. Has your life changed after you were contacted by HarperPerennial?
NFD: Exactly. In some ways it seems easier to reach people specifically because of social media tools. But the reality is that everyone has these tools at their disposal, and people don’t want to be marketed to on these things. My life has completely changed, but not because I got a book deal, in many ways I squandered the opportunities that having a book deal should have offered me. My life has changed because I was just so depressed all the time, often suicidal, I even wrote a blog post about it.
TNS: A silly question: who is your favourite author(s)?
NFD: I don’t have one favourite author but I do appreciate Buk [Charles Bukowski] to a degree. But I dislike how he basically just threw everything out there, didn’t ever really edit anything.
TNS: Is his work a departure from the work of the Beats Generation, in the sense that their world, as of Buk’s, was devoid of any message of hope.
NFD: I was very inspired by the Beats, so I disagree with you there. I don’t think you can look at everything produced by the Beats and say that it is devoid of hope. On the Road, probably the most famous Beats novel, is full of hope
TNS: I mostly know about the Beats through Buk and Ken Kesey.
NFD: Bukowski’s work, though not a true part of the Beats canon, is not what I would consider bleak. I see Buk’s work as basically just a guy talking about his world and its ups and downs.
TNS: I found Factotum and Post Office to be very bleak novels.
NFD: Well if we are going to talk about Ken Kesey, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I know that it can be seen as bleak, but think about it: chief breaks out and Mcmurphy inspires all the other inmates!
TNS: Yes. True. I never thought about it that way.
NFD: Don’t get me wrong, these books and most of the Beats library is focused on how the world tries to strangle creativity and snuff out true humanity and that’s true. But, man, there would be nothing to live for if we weren’t fighting that state of things. The whole point of Buk writing and writing is to continue to live despite the state of things. It’s inherently hopeful, if only for that reason.
TNS: Yeah and he survived that stupid post office job and the FBI visits while he was writing More Notes of a Dirty Old Man: The Uncollected Columns.
NFD: I get emails all the time from people (mainly 16 to 22-year-olds) who tell me that Futureproof made them see that they can survive anything. So the message is inherently hopeful.
TNS: So you look at your work as a redemptive meditation on the bleakness of human lives?
NFD: I think books like Futureproof, which are admittedly hard for someone to read, to wade through all the crap, are necessary as testaments to the unbreakable survivalism of humanity. There has to be redemption, even if only from within, or else what’s the point of anything.
TNS: What about the self-cutting scenes in Futureproof? Where did this come from?
NFD: It’s fairly common.
NFD: Not as much with males as with females.
TNS: How do you see the world moving forward? Your vision of hope with all the wars and divisions? America in Afghanistan? Drones killing people from invisible heights etc. What is your message for Pakistan? We are not all fundamentalists.
NFD: I think that human beings are naturally combative and that divisions will always exist but If people can get beyond personal choices such as religion and just live with a view of hope and care and concern for every other human being then we will all be better off.
I do not believe that all Pakistanis or Afghans are fundamentalists. Look, anyone who lives his life with any sort of fundamental viewpoint is wrong.
I think that if everyone adopted a humanist standing and viewpoint, which is to say live and let live, then we would all be better off. The difference between what I am advocating versus what fundamentalists advocate is that my ‘solution’ doesn’t involve forcing people to do one specific set of things.
TNS: I was prodding you for this.
NFD: That’s cool. I can go for hours on a humanist rant.
TNS: I bet you can, but we both are busy people.
NFD: It seems so obvious. I just don’t understand why it has to be this difficult exactly.
The article was published in The News on Sunday on July 02, 2017 under the headline "I’d rather have ten voracious readers read my stuff and only two buy anything”.