Tom Clancy & the New Media Revolution
One of my first jobs in Hollywood back in the day was as a lowly Associate Producer for a morning TV talk show. As with any typical gabfest, we had our share of authors touting their latest books, and one of my jobs was to read through them to determine if the author was ‘show worthy’.
Most were not.
But one day, a thick galley copy landed on my desk. It was called RED STORM RISING, the second novel by a still relatively unknown author by the name of Tom Clancy. As it so happened, the writer was aligning his book tour so he could be at the Paramount Studios (where we taped our show) to visit the set where they were shooting the film from Clancy’s first novel, THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER.
During the day of Clancy’s visit, my job was to make sure he arrived safely, got through security, was escorted in and out of makeup and then over to the Green Room (which was brown) where he awaited his turn on the program.
Having never met Tom before, I was surprised to greet a man who looked very much like the Maryland insurance salesman that he was: thick, dark glasses and a very quiet demeanor. But what I remember most was an air of self-assurance, as if he knew a whole lot more than anyone around him (which was certainly the case). I also got a quick autograph of Clancy’s book, which I treasure to this day.
The reason I’m reminiscing about Tom Clancy (who passed away this week at the age of 66) is the fact that he became one of the most successful writers of his generation despite having none of the great media tools we have today. Back in the 1980s, Clancy was an unknown author who was rejected by every major publisher when shopping around RED OCTOBER. That book, which eventually sold millions of copies and launched a whole series of novels and movies, almost never saw the light of day because the publishing world was too entrenched to give a new author and genre a chance.
Fast-forward a couple of decades and technology has completely removed such barriers. With on-demand printing and distribution through even the largest online platforms such as Amazon, literally everyone who has a story to tell can write, publish and distribute their content. And beyond book publishing, authors are now multimedia juggernauts with their own video promotions, web content and podcasts. They can build and connect with an unlimited fan base anywhere in the world, and are able to circumvent the traditional means of content distribution if their content is good enough and finds an audience.
But perhaps the greatest lesson from the life of Tom Clancy is that success never came easy for him, even after 100 million books in print. Talking to a group of aspiring writers, Clancy said: “I tell them you learn to write the same way you learn to play golf,” he once said. “You do it, and keep doing it until you get it right. A lot of people think something mystical happens to you, that maybe the muse kisses you on the ear. But writing isn’t divinely inspired — it’s hard work.”
No matter the technology and adeptness at social media, enduring success in the creation of content is still fundamentally about effort and perseverance.
Take it from a Maryland insurance salesman.