It’s that time of the year again: Dickens season. I love the holidays despite my dark nature. We don’t mince our holiday spirit around here. We celebrate Christmas, tell our kids Santa’s real and we have a Christmas tree not a holiday tree, although I’ve considered a Festivus Tree. I also go on a Dickens bender.
One would read this and figure I’m talking about the obvious Christmas classic and I do revisit A Christmas Carol every year and always take something else away from it. But, it’s his letters I like to read. Like Twain, Dickens was one hell of a letter writer and some of his most interesting and entertaining stuff is contained in these scribblings to friends, family and business associates. These writings more than any others in his body of work give real insight into his motivation in life and work. I also look for any new biographical material showcasing his amazing grasp on the business of making money from his craft. Believe it or not, people are still writing about Dickens after lo these two centuries.
Dickens as a youth was himself the classic Dickensonian waif, dirt poor with not much of an education and forced to go to work at a very young age, which fostered a tremendous passion to succeed. Dickens became extremely creative in monetizing his endeavors while also studying the wants of his readership and tailoring his work to their desires through his innovative use of serializing his work. By putting out portions of his novels weekly or monthly he could capitalize on the feedback he would get from readers in the interim. It also created anticipation, which is always one of the best marketing tools. Think iPhone launches. Often Dickens would gently change a characters’ nature based on information he received from readers between installments thus allowing him to create a better product – very innovative for the times.
When I first learned this, hell – I don’t know, probably in high school, I remember thinking that’s not very sportsmanlike. There’s no risk in that, like shooting fish in an aquarium. That’s not art, its just business. It’s funny that a guy like me – in commerce all my life, hadn’t caught onto that idea immediately – the guy was driven to make money. I think my young self was probably a lot more romantic about writing and I wanted to think all my heroes were just literary genius’s who weren’t in it for the money. I realize how stupid I was now that I’m trying to make a living in a writing career.
I don’t think anyone would argue that Dickens was a pretty successful guy. But, just imagine how successful he would be if he was starting out in 2013. Blogs, social media, the Internet in general – Dickens would be a billionaire! He wrote like crazy so imagine with the advantage of instant feedback from his readers and all the other tools of modern society how much output he would have today. His business model applies today more than ever before. In a world (Don LaFontaine just possessed me for a second there) where self-publishing is becoming more and more the norm and author’s are gaining success by doing their own marketing thanks to social media, a dude like Dickens would succeed like the dickens.
Imagine what a day for Dickens would be like now. Wakes up in the morning, checks his Facebook, pops off a private message of “f u 2” to Charlotte Bronte then tells his followers in a little synopsis what he’s working on today and to be sure to read his blog post and like his author page if they haven’t already. Then he spends a couple minutes coming up with hashtags to plaster all over everything for the day. He spends half an hour putting up his WordPress and Tumblr posts and tweeting about it at exactly the right time for his demographic, followed by checking out his sales rankings on Amazon from where he goes to Bookbaby to see if they owe him any dough for last month’s book sales. Reluctantly, he goes to Goodreads to see who has added his work to their list and decides whether or not to forgive Virginia Woolf and add one of her books to his list (she wasn’t THAT bad to him after all). By this time Dickens has to ramp up the webcam and tell the servants to be quiet because he’s conducting a webinar on how to be a successful writer in the 21st century. After that, he takes ten minutes to check all his blog views and traffic. Everything is up of course because, well, he is Dickens. Now, it’s finally time to write. He whips out a blog post for tomorrow with awesome content and hashtags because again, he’s Dickens. The next few hours are for the big works followed by dinner where he infuriates his wife by checking the mobile apps on his iPhone tapped into his social media numbers. Then it’s a sherry in the parlor followed by a few notes typed into Evernote for tomorrow’s ponderings before popping off to bed.
Oh yeah, you bet your ass Dickens would rock this age.