This is the first of two articles based upon an interview I did with R.A. Salvatore, New York Times bestselling author.
In this one, we explore his take on ebooks, publishing, and the world at large. I can only say that I was so excited to be offered the interview and just about wet myself during it. This man is cool. And not just in a nerdy, book-loving kind of way. I mean, he is passionate about everything he does. Needless to say, this is officially a highlight in my life. Not just a quick hello and scoring his signature…this was an hour of just the two of us chatting about a wide variety of things. I’ve been reading his work for twenty years and getting a chance to speak candidly with him was awesome. We discussed his take on electronic books and media, his preference between digital and physical books, and even why he hates talk radio!
So without further ado, I present to you answers to questions you didn’t even know you wanted to ask.
Geeks Of Doom: First of all, I want to say thank you for taking the time to talk to me.
R.A. Salvatore: No, Thanks for the interest.
Geeks Of Doom: I ran a Waldenbooks for about ten years and in our store we had you outselling everyone else in the fantasy section.
R.A. Salvatore: Wow, that’s amazing. I took a big hit when Waldenbooks was trimmed down and then went away. If you remember The Legacy, it was the first hardcover we did. That was because Waldenbooks called and said “want a hardcover from Salvatore. That was TSR’s first hardcover. Waldenbooks ended up selling something like 43,000 copies. I gotta tell you, the book signing tours are not as much fun as they used to be. Now it’s just so different out there with all the mall stores closed.
Geeks Of Doom: There’s actually not a true bookstore within about a hundred radial miles of my town.
R.A. Salvatore: Yeah and they’re counting on the internet to pick it all up, but it won’t.
Geeks Of Doom: I remember, as a child, Waldenbooks was my point of interest. I would go to the one or two books I was after but then would find five or six others. You can’t really do that online.
R.A. Salvatore: Exactly, you can’t do that on the internet. You’ll get lost. I’m hoping someone picks up the niche that’s wide open and starts opening some bookstores in malls again.
Geeks Of Doom: How do you feel about the e-book market and what’s been done as far as moving away from the dead tree book to digital versions?
R.A. Salvatore: I think I’m neutral on it, I’m just waiting on it.I think it’s great that a lot of people have access to books quickly. And it certainly helps when you’re on a plane going on vacation. You bring a book with you and you get on a plane and you find out after a chapter that you hate it. What do you do? On a Kindle or a Nook you just click to another book and read that. I don’t read that much because I’m writing all the time. And when I’m writing, I’m not reading because it interferes. So, for me, I like the old standard hardcover book in my hand…or a paperback on the beach. That’s the way I prefer it. But again, I’m neutral because it is what it is and it’s not going to change. If people want it, that’s the way it will go. If people don’t want it and reject it, the model will fall away. I think they want it.
Geeks Of Doom: I find it very convenient to have several hundred books at my fingertips.
R.A. Salvatore: I have two fears about it, though. The first is, without the publishing, without the publishers and the bookstores, the guidance that readers get won’t be there. Because you’ll have more people just self-publishing, which is not a bad thing. If you’ve written a book and you want to publish it, publish it. But for the readers, you used to be able to go into Waldenbooks and the manager would get to know you and the would know your tastes. “Oh, you like that? You should try this!” And without the filter of the publisher, nobody is saying “these are the books that should get published.” Now, were they always right? No, of course they weren’t. But without that filter you could have anarchy trying to find a book to read. So some guy publishes a book. His friends, his family and himself, under pseudonyms, go put twenty-seven five star reviews under it. Saying all the right things about the book and it might be a piece of utter crap.
And then the second fear I have as we go towards e-publishing and people reading on their smartphones and stuff, is that we’ll be looking at shorter content. So will the medium. For example, the technical medium itself, e-publishing. The fact that you’re reading it on a phone is going to change the structure of the story. For example, the short story is going to come back in vogue. Because they’re $0.99 micro-transactions. And so will the power of the purse drive short stories where they should be novels? I have a fear about that. I’m not sure everybody has sorted it out yet. So we’ll see how it goes.
Even the way people react is different online. People online will be quicker to mock someone for a reading choice. Or quicker to demean or quicker to throw outrageous praise on something. You don’t know who you’re talking to on a message board or who you’re reading in an Amazon review. Is it the author telling you that his own book is wonderful? Or is it a competitor or someone who has a personal grudge against the author telling you how much it stinks? There are a lot of potential pitfalls. And it’s sad to see that structure that was out there, of the book publishing industry and book retail industry, changing so dramatically, so quickly, before we have an understanding of what it really means.
Geeks Of Doom: There’s nothing like walking into a room loaded with books. It’s a warm, friendly feeling. Books are like old friends, you just don’t want to get rid of them.
R.A. Salvatore: Yep, they’re pieces of furniture in your house. I agree.
Geeks Of Doom: You just signed another contract for quite a few more Drizzt books, is that correct?
R.A. Salvatore: I signed up for six books and I think Neverwinter is the first on that contract.
Geeks Of Doom: Do you foresee yourself doing more after that. There’s a huge gap between the last series and this series. It just seemed like you might be creating some distance between them.
R.A. Salvatore: They did that. They advanced the world. I had to go with it. The world went a hundred years in the future and all the books had to be set there.
Someone asked when the last Drizzt book would be finished. I replied “the day before I die.” Now will Drizzt still be around or in it? I don’t know.
Geeks Of Doom: I ran across your writings for the Daily Kos. Are you still contributing to them? Is that something you do regularly?
R.A. Salvatore: Every now and then I’ll put something in there. I said on my Facebook page that I stand with the protestors in Wisconsin and I got a ton of hate mail. I had several people on my page say “I’ll never read another one of your books.” It’s like, guys, look… I don’t care whether you’re a hardcore conservative or a hardcore liberal, we all really want the same thing. We want the world to be a better place for our kids than it was for us. We may disagree on how to get there. I’m just a person who likes to debate. It’s not value judgement. When did politics become bloodsport? I’ve voted Republican and I’ve voted Democrat. When did we get to the point where we can’t even have a conversation?
And I absolutely despise talk radio. I was introduced to talk radio the day after 9/11, while I was driving Geno (his son) to school, the forty-five minute drive to high school. I didn’t want to listen to music after what had happened, I wanted news. So I put on the radio, I was flipping through and I discovered this channel in Boston that was Right Wing talk radio. And I’d never heard such objective and such viciousness on the public airwaves in my life. It disgusted me. I call it Anger Porn Radio, because that’s all it is. They are just poking you, they are just trying to get you mad. They’re trying to get you upset, they’re trying to get you to hate somebody. It’s not just on the Right, by the way. Certainly the Right has built quite an infrastructure of doing that, of this kind of poking the bear…Anger Porn. It’s so destructive to a person’s life. It’s so counterproductive to having a good and happy and contented existence where you leave the world a better place than you found it. And that’s not who we are supposed to be. So that’s my stand.
Geeks Of Doom: I can appreciate that on all levels. That’s well said.
R.A. Salvatore: Put it in your story then.
Geeks Of Doom: I’m going to if you have no problems with that. I’d love to add it in there.
R.A. Salvatore: Strip away all the labels, whether you’re talking religion or politics, 99% of people really do want the same thing.
Geeks Of Doom: I’m really glad I got the chance to speak with you. You’ve been one of my favorite authors for many, many years and I look forward to reading everything you have coming out.
R.A. Salvatore: Thank you so much, this was a lot of fun. I went to your site today. Very cool. I look forward to the articles.
Geeks Of Doom: Thanks a lot! Bye.
R.A. Salvatore: Bye.
Tune in for the second part where we discuss his take on writing, all things Forgotten Realms, and more!