The Author as Entrepreneur: A Q&A with Warren Adler

by  on August 2, 2012
(Article originally published on

Author of 32 novels, numerous screen plays, short stories and plays, at 84 Warren Adler could be content to enjoy his success—but there’s no retirement for artists, especially not artist-entrepreneurs. And especially not in the digital era.

We’re pleased to offer 28 of Adler’s eBooks through our Vook Store (you can see them here). They’re available via our Vook reader on any mobile device or computer. Familiar to many as the author of The War of the Roses, Adler’s insight into his career, particularly his constant innovation, is an encouraging example and an absolutely realistic appraisal of the challenges and opportunities facing any author trying to connect with an audience today.

To celebrate Adler’s debut on our store, we conducted a Q&A with him over the phone.

Vook: You’re one of the few big name authors I’ve seen walking the floors at DBW. Why are you so interested in digital?

Adler: It’s taken me about a dozen years to really figure out what is happening—and I’ve just begun to figure it out.

Obviously the publishing business is in a vast revolution, as I immodestly predicted tweleve years ago. Which is why I got the rights to all of my books back from all the major publishers and began to explore self publishing.

Vook: Why did you think you could have more success on your own? You were having a great career going the traditional route.

Adler: The idea of mass for writers of my type, I do not consider myself a mass market author, I’m a — I don’t even know the definitions of literary — I’m a literary commercial hybrid. In the terms of what I write about. The idea of mass is over. Everything is going to be fractionalized. Which means we’ll have pockets of followers. It may order the return of the small book shop. The mass market bookshop will eventually shrink. As Borders did. The world is changing rapidly and I’m finding pockets of readership. And in today’s world, if the author doesn’t begin to market his own books, he’ll be crushed by the marketplace. He has got to take an active role.

With publishers, ultimately, it’s not their money. And my books are my money. It’s my investment. Twleve years ago – I had written 27 books. The publishers were doing nothing to promote the backlist. And it was very easy to get the reversals from the publishers at that point. Because all of the books that I had published were done before all of this began. I was able to quickly get them reversed.

Vook: What prepared you to undertake that? Not a lot of authors were acquiring their backlist rights in 2000.

Adler: I started to write books a long time ago. My first wasn’t published til I was in my middle 40s. I owned a radio station, an advertising agency, a magazine.

I had experience being an entrepreneur. I knew marketing. I was able to discover or try to find a niche for marketing my books. Now that I’ve found it and am willing to invest in the marketing for it, I think that my legacy will be preserved. My sense of it was as soon as this business matured the publishers wouldn’t let you do this anymore. They would demand the ebook as part of the deal. They didn’t do that in the early days.

I’m also discovering the back list is not a dead item. You can promote your backlist with the same marketing skills that you promoted the front list. They’re not dead anymore.

Vook: Are you encouraged by digital or put off?

Adler: It’s like having a second career. I don’t say I have all the answers. You guys are doing something new. When you get up in the morning, it’s all new. I do believe readers will continue to read. Because that’s a way in which – that will never go away. We need the story telling from the bible onward, and even before, writing on caves, something deep in the human psyche.

I think books generally have a good future. The best seller lists are no longer operative. They’re becoming obsolete. The NYT devotes five pages to best sellers list and they admit that they do it for advertising purposes, but it’s a waste. Those five pages could be used to review many more books.

Vook: How did you get started as a writer?

I wanted to be a writer since I’m 16 years old. I majored in English. I was inspired by my freshman English teacher, Don Wolf. I graduated at 19 from college. I was poor. But I knew I wanted one thing in life. I was passionate about wanting to write stories. And I loved my English literature courses. And in the class that professor wolf taught, was William Styron and Mario Puzo. Enormously talented people. We bonded. We had kitchen sink readings. I was really inspired by my fellow writers. We published three books of short stories. I also had another problem. My father was always unemployed. So I was determined never to work for anyone. I was able to get up at 5 every morning and go to the office at ten because I was the boss.

And I did it all my life. By a strange fluke I got my first novel published. It was calledOptions. I changed the name later to Undertow. It was based upon a roman clef about a senator who had an affair. The way in which he worked to get his reputation back. I lived in Washington for 35 years and that’s a den of iniquity. I had an advertising agency in Washington and I handled a lot of different things. I named Watergate — that was my claim to fame.

I wrote about what I knew. And I went to a lot of places.

Vook: What keeps you going?

Adler: I consider myself an artist. And if you’re an artist you go no matter what. You do it because you have to. I can no more stop writing than I can stop breathing. That’s what a real writer or artist knows in his gut. Write what you know but write.