Ron Hogan helped create the literary Internet by launching Beatrice.com in 1995. In 2010, after writing about the business side of publishing as a senior editor for GalleyCat for several years, he briefly served as the director of e-marketing strategy for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. His most recent book is Getting Right with Tao, a print edition of his popular online “translation” of the Tao Te Ching into modern vernacular. Hogan is also the author of The Stewardess Is Flying the Plane, a visual tribute to ’70s Hollywood, and a contributor to the New York Times bestseller Not Quite What I Was Planning and the critical anthology Secrets of the Lost Symbol.
Hogan frequently speaks at book festivals and publishing conferences about how the industry can capitalize upon social networking tools and other transformative trends. Today, he speaks with Write On! about his process, the importance of social networking, common mistakes writers make, and more.
What led you to launch Beatrice.com? You started way ahead of the website game. What did you know that it took the world a while to catch on?
Well, I read an article in WIRED magazine in the mid-1990s about a new piece of software called Netscape, and how it was changing the way web pages would look, and I decided, “I want to do one of those.” After a very brief experiment with doing a literary magazine, I settled into doing Q&A interviews with authors, and did that for a number of years until I began blogging in 2003.
What is your favorite part of running Beatrice.com? The greatest challenge?
Talking to authors is still one of the best parts of coming up with the things I write about at Beatrice, followed closely by reading the books. The greatest challenge has been doing the blog around everything else I have going on; for a number of years, Beatrice took a backburner to another website I’d been hired to run, the publishing industry news column GalleyCat, and it’s only since leaving that job that I’ve really been able to bring Beatrice back up to speed.
Why did you write Getting Right with Tao? What was your creative process?
I started writing the pages that became Getting Right with Tao back in the ’90s, shortly after I’d read the Tao Te Ching for the first time and had my first exposure to Quentin Tarantino and David Mamet. The creative process, which took place in fits and starts over several years, involved comparing as many other English translations of the TTC as I could find, distilling what they all seemed to be saying, and then putting that into the voice I had come up with.
How has your article-writing differed from your book-writing? Are there any similarities?
Well, it’s shorter. Other than that, it’s still just as much work.
What are 3 of the more common mistakes writers make?
1) They call themselves writers, but they don’t write.
2) They forget that there’s more to being a successful writer than just the writing.
3) They waste valuable time thinking about their Amazon sales rank.
What can a writer do to set him or herself apart from the rest of the writers trying to “make it”?
First, work even harder on the writing, and make it that much better.Second, if you’re trying to “make it” as a writer, you’re not just an artist, you’re an independent business owner, so you need some business sense to go along with your craft.
Why is it so important for writers to take part in social media?
You don’t write in a vacuum. You need readers, and as wonderful as it would be for people to just discover you over and over again by happy accident, it doesn’t work that way very often. You need to be out there where your potential readers are, get to know them, and let them get to know you.
What do you know now that you wish you knew at the beginning of your career?
I sorta wish I’d known just how lame the TV show Prison Break was going to get towards the end, because then I wouldn’t have started watching from the beginning and I guess that would’ve freed up an entire week’s worth of writing time, all told.
Beatrice is still going strong, and I’m talking to my friends at Channel V Books about a new project we could do together that draws more directly on the site’s legacy of more than a decade spent talking about great books and great writers.
Tags: Beatrice.com Channel V Books GalleyCat Getting Right with Tao Getting Right with Tao: A Contemporary Spin on the Tao Te Ching Literary Internet Ron Hogan Wired magazine