Today, for the first time in the 21st century, I am once again an author.
My new book, "Bill & Dave: How Hewlett and Packard Built the World's Greatest Company," was officially published at midnight today, April 4, 2007, by Portfolio/Penguin.
Out of curiosity, I even checked at midnight on Amazon to see if the page for the book had popped over from "pre-order" to "order," and whether all of those pre-orders suddenly got counted and (hopefully) catapulted me up near the top of the best-seller list. (Yes, no.)
As with any milestone event in one's life, the publication of "Bill & Dave" offered a moment to reflect -- particularly on my first book, written almost a quarter-century ago -- and how that experience compares with today. It's a chance to ponder what changes have taken place in society, and in technology, since I wrote "The Big Score" in 1984.
I've written a total of seven, or 13, books. That indeterminacy is due to how one defines authorship. For example, I once hosted the public television series "A Parliament of Minds" in which I interviewed more than a dozen of the world's leading philosophers. The two university professors who produced the series and hired me to host decided to publish the book under their own names -- and indeed not to even tell me about it, despite the fact that almost every word of it is mine or my guests. So, even though you can't find that book under my name, I count it is as mine, dammit.
Then there is "One Digital Day," which was one of those classic "day in the life of" coffee table photo books created by Rick Smolan and his team. It's most assuredly his book, but since I wrote all the essays, I also count it as mine. And, of course, there are the three collaboration books -- "The Virtual Corporation," "Virtual Selling" and "Intellectual Capital" -- that I co-authored with pretty famous guys. They go on my list, but they also go on theirs -- and readers continue to assume that I was merely the dumb scribe (wrong) and they were the illiterate visionaries (also wrong).
In the end, it doesn't much matter. When you start out in the writing business, your dream is to get out of the day-to-day newspaper and magazine writing, which you assume gives your creations a limited life-expectancy, and finally get into the world of book writing, which is really important -- and immortal.
That dream usually dies when you first see your book on a remainder table. And if not then, then when you find a used copy for sale for a buck on eBay or Amazon -- worse yet, if it is a book you autographed for a friend. But worst of all is when you find one of your books being de-accessioned by your local library in a fundraiser. Until that moment, you always assumed that even if the public forgot you, that your work would still live on in a library somewhere, perhaps to be rediscovered and celebrated by some future generation.
One of the great ironies of the Internet age is that traditional ephemera, such as newspaper articles and diary entries, now live on forever in indexes and blogs. Meanwhile, given the short shelf life of modern books -- basically, six weeks nowadays -- and the decline of traditional library stacks, modern books only live on for a few years at most. Indeed, if you really want your prose to survive this century, you might be better off writing a successful blog that enjoys a lot of technorati links.