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Interview with Avi Perry, author of “72 Virgins”
Avi Perry grew up in Israel. As a teenager and throughout his college years, he was a professional musician. He financed his student life with numerous gigs, playing with his Israeli band, writing songs, playing the various keyboard instruments, and enjoying listening to his performances on the Israeli radio (there was no MTV in late 60s Israel). He still plays and writes music, but as a hobby (at home), rather than as a line of work. During the Six-Day-War in 1967, he served in the Israeli military, in the field intelligence unit, and gained valuable and relevant experience in covert communications technology and a variety of spy craft and methods.
He has spent the past four decades in the US, first as a Ph.D. student, then as a professor at Northwestern University, a Bell Laboratories – distinguished staff member, and finally as Vice President at NMS Communications. He signed for early retirement in 2004 with the intention of writing a technical book. The title Fundamentals of Voice Quality Engineering was published by Cambridge University Press in 2007 and became very popular. Readers praised the book for its thoroughness and for my refreshing, unique and entertaining writing style, atypical among technical writers. Throughout Avi’s tenure at NMS, he wrote many short (humor-packed, peppered with company culture) satires, technical reports, white papers (published on company website), press releases, and more.
One may find more information on his websites (www.aviperry.org and http://www.aviperry.com ).
Welcome to Beyond the Books, Avi. Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?
72 Virgins is my second published book. It is however, my first published Fiction.
What was the name of your very first book regardless of whether it was published or not and, if not published, why?
My first book, Fundamentals of Voice Quality Engineering in Wireless Networks, was published in 2007 by Cambridge University Press.
For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it?
I sent 60 queries to literary agents whom I considered good potentials. I was rejected by 31, ignored by 28 and received one phone call from Bob Lieberman (I love you Bob) who liked my proposal. Bob, later on, told me that he had been amazed by his 100% success rate with my book. The first and only publisher, to whom he forwarded my proposal, offered us a nice contract and a nicer advance after having my proposal reviewed by 5 referees who all loved it.
How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows?
I got about five rejections before speaking to Bob. There were still 55 left in the drawer. I expected rejections; it’s part of the game. Consequently, I was not upset, worried or terribly anxious. I hoped for the best. I wished for the one (golden) call, which happened to turn up before anxiety had a chance to settle in. Other rejections came in even after I had signed the contract with Cambridge. At that point, they only made me crack a smile.
When your first book was published, who published it and why did you choose them?
My first book was published by Cambridge University Press. My agent selected this publisher as his first choice. He enjoyed some successes with them in the past, but it was not a perfect record. I had no input as to which publisher my agent would send the book proposal to.
How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?
I felt accomplished; and my wife fell in love again. We celebrated with a kiss, then a bit more.
What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?
I did not think I had to do much. After all it was in the hands of an experienced and a well established publisher. Still, I notified (via email) many whom I had known from my professional dealings in the past.
If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?
I would have supplemented my publisher’s promotion with a little more energy of my own.
Have you been published since then and how have you grown as an author?
72 Virgins is my second book. I have gained more confidence in my writing ability as a consequence of readers’ feedback. I braved this latest enterprise—fiction writing, only because people encouraged me. Before venturing into the writing I studied several of my favorite authors, trying to learn and absorb their special techniques, then reshape them into my own unique color and style.
Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up? What kind of mistakes could you have avoided?
I was never very good at social networking. This is probably the most important ingredient when you are striving for a celebrity status. A successful author must become a celebrity before he can claim victory.
What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?
Readers’ feedback is the most gratifying gift an author can hope for. I received plenty, and from very intelligent and highly professional people.
If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be?
I have gone through a variety of careers already. I was a professional musician, a Military Intelligence specialist, a university professor at Northwestern University, a scientist in Bell Laboratories, an engineer and a manger in AT&T and in Lucent Technologies, and a Vice President in charge of technology at NMS Communications. Now in my retirement years I have become an author. And I love it. It fits perfectly into my situation.
Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds?
I employ my rich life experiences and extensive knowledge in many aspects of life and science in all of my writings. I can reiterate the line – Been There Done That. I have no desire to do anything else other than writing.
How do you see yourself in ten years?
I hope I keep my energy close to the level where it is now. I hope I can continue to write for the next twenty years.
Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?
Writing, and writing well, is only a small step in the path to the Promised Land, where your masterpiece becomes published, then read by an audience, who may or may not recognize and appreciate your special talent. But even though you think you can write well, you might be shocked at the discovery that you are not perfect. I know. You were confident that your writing was flawless; your spellchecker caught and fixed your typos, your words and phrases were expressive, your dialogs were relevant, your punctuations and prepositions were the envy of your German-born English teacher. Hell, no! Those trifling errors kept sneaking into your manuscript. You didn’t realize it until your little fifth grader, after reading your Preface section, pointed out that she did not understand the sentence: “seize to exist.” “Shouldn’t it be “cease to exist” instead?” she asked. “And how do you “hit the breaks?” Shouldn’t you say—“hit the brakes?”
Oops. This dumb spellchecker; it’s its fault, not yours. Well, you’d better find someone who would spare the embarrassment that would turn off your potential audience, joke about your silly writing style, and ruin your reputation for the rest of your irrelevant life. Your confidence got shaken a bit—you just experienced your first lesson on the way to becoming a published author.
Now, your mother always told you that you should not judge a person by their looks, but rather, by their character. You believed her, (only because you didn’t look like Brad Pitt with those ugly glasses), then applied the same logic to your book. Don’t judge it by its cover, you said to yourself. The contents, the real beef, is the stuff that counts. You didn’t care. Professionally designed book covers are a total waste of money, you reflected… Oh Yeah? Have you ever been to a bookstore? Have you watched the random browsers, the ones who pick up the most attractive book, the one with the red and blue front cover, turn it over to read the excerpt in the back, then rush to the cashier and flash their Visa card before it expires? Not to worry. Your publisher will take care of this little detail, unless of course, you are him. And if you are, then you’d better spend time and effort on this little detail. It’s the first impression you make on your potential audience; you would not get a second chance with this selective bunch. They must be ruthless, saving their reading appetite for shining objects, not minding true quality, like your book.
“But why does it take so long?” You ask your publisher. “Why so many months before it is published? You thought it shouldn’t take more than a couple.” You didn’t realize, but editing, typesetting, book cover design, proof reading, even pre-pub marketing, printing, distributing—all must take place before your book is tanned under the florescent lights of the bookstore, or displayed inside the shiny pages of the Amazon site. It takes time, and your publisher is not in a hurry, or so it seems. You ruminate—He must be lazy, unlike me. I could easily shave a couple of months out of his schedule, and still get it done. No. Don’t be an amateur. The publishing process does take time. And you’d better get it right, than fast and sorry.
Your book is finally ready. Your publisher sent you the allotted free copies he had written into your contract, so why did he set the publication date several months out into the future? Your anxiety is showing. You want to see your name displayed on the shelves in the local Barnes and Noble store. But wait, you need time for pre-publication publicity. Your publisher wants your book to hit the ground running. Books are like freshly baked bread. They taste better when they are fresh. Most books, like most movies, sell more copies on their first year after publication, when they are still fresh and hot. People like to buy new stuff. Go figure.
Your publisher does not want to spend money on advertising. How is he going to generate exposure? There are millions of books out there. How will anybody know about yours? He explains that paid advertising is much less effective that the free stuff. And you always believed that there ain’t such a thing as a free lunch. But he is right. He is not kidding.
Free publicity is not entirely free, although it feels that way. You haven’t thought about it, but here are some examples. Book reviews, press releases, media interviews, virtual or actual book tours, blogging, social networking—all can generate huge exposure if done well. They are not entirely free, however. Free copies cost money. Mailing, shipping, mailing lists, travel, PR agents, the time spent on blogging and social networking, online and offline listings, are not cheap. Some may be less expensive and more effective than paid advertising, but you will have to study and master the free advertising market before claiming victory. The biggest surprise you may be facing is your publisher’s unwillingness to go all the way and do everything possible to promote your book even when it’s “free”. You will have to invest your own time and money and “help” your publisher provide proper exposure to your book. The amazing part is that the more you do, the more your publisher will do. If your publisher foresees success, he will be more willing to invest and promote it.
And finally there are three more surprises, with which you will probably be facing. If you become a successful, published author, your fans will seek your attention. At first, it may seem like fun, but once you become a hot celebrity, the new status may yield all the known side-effects associated with the lack of privacy. Be careful of what you wished for. It may happen. Regardless of annoying fans, the positive part of success is the new respect you would gain from family and friends. The wife or husband will start bragging about you with their friends; they might even treat you with more respect; stop telling you to go wash the floors since you are not doing anything important anyway. Before you became a published author, writing down in the basement was not considered real work. It’s different now. She will stop telling you to go and get a real job.
Some friends will invite you over for dinner. They will want to be seen in your company, so they may invite more friends and call it a party. Some other friends may want to keep you all for themselves. They may do the opposite, invite you to a party where you’d be the only guest.
Well, it’s time to get started on your next book. You are not done yet. If you like your new status you ought to remind yourself that it is temporary unless you keep at it relentlessly. Hot dishes become cold after a while. Freshly baked bread turns stale two days following its birth. And authors lose their glow if their creations fade into the used books section next to the dumpster. So be aware. What goes up must… Not if it’s up to you.