Gone are the days when a writer can hide behind their work and live in a thatched roof cottage sipping a stiff glass of bourbon. Legendary authors like Thomas Pynchon who became just as famous for their literary work as for their notorious reclusiveness are a thing of the past. There hasn’t been a picture of the Inherent Vice author since the 1960s! We live in a new era where in order to stay relevant the writer AND their work needs to be front and center. Because let’s be honest, outside of the literary elites, do you even know who Pynchon and J.D. Salinger are?
I spoke with Nicolas Cole, an entrepreneur and the author of Confessions of a Teenage Gamer (2016) about the book world, its future, and the struggles of being a writer. Cole with the likes of Peter Kozodoy, are a new breed of writer laying their own path and diverting from conventional wisdom to find success with the written word. I felt it appropriate to begin the interview on his…beginnings.
BookTrib: How did you get started as writer?
Nicolas Cole: I always had a passion for writing. In fact, I went to Columbia of Chicago enrolled as a creative writing major. Now, back when I told people I studied creative writing they were all but convinced I was going to end up serving Starbucks for the rest of my life.
I knew once I got out of school there was going to be challenges. But, I had this great professor and he had a line that imprinted itself on my brain. He said, “The art of writing isn’t dying. It’s just going digital.” When I graduated, I got a job as an entry level copy writer in Chicago to pay the bills but then I discovered Quora, which is kind of like an information forum. I found that these writers were providing so much knowledge such a wide variety of topics. People were using that website to compose some excellent pieces of work. So, with my professor’s words ringing in my head, I built an audience through Quora.
BT: Why did you write Confessions of a Teenage Gamer?
NC: My formative years as a teen striving to be a top gamer is a time in my life I frequently reflect on. I wanted to chronicle my life as a series of memoirs so I began by telling the story of a kid (me) who has a dream of being one of the best gamers in the world. I also wanted to shed light on the misunderstood video game industry particularly on the sacrifices gamers and designers make to achieve their goals. I also find nonfiction to be therapeutic and keeps me open to the rest of the world. To answer your question, there were several reasons.
BT: What is one thing you look for when you sit down to write?
NC: Well the first thing I need is a cup of coffee before I sit down in front of my computer. I can’t imagine how anyone can get their writing done without it. The next thing I do is go through my journal. This is common for many writers but I approach it in a different way. I kind of look at journaling the way a pianist does with music. They practice their scales before they tackle Beethoven’s 9th symphony, it helps clear their head. I think that if you journal regularly and focus while you write a bunch of shit, you can find that one sentence you can work with. What I look for is how I feel when I’m in the process of writing to guide what I will do next.
BT: What is one thing you look for when reading a book?
NC: This speaks to the lesson I learned when reading and writing on Quora. These guys were providing copious amounts of knowledge but in a fun way. So, that’s what I look for in a book. If it strikes the balance between teaching and entertainment, like Malcolm Gladwell. I always encourage myself and others to read fiction too because you can get so much value out of something that’s totally made up.
BT: What do you say to an aspiring writer?
NC: So many writers in their 20s jump right to the blog and churn out piece after piece and do nothing else. I think that’s the worst thing you can do. When you make a website or a blog, no one knows about you or your writing. All that hard work is going out into empty space. I have known plenty of super-talented people who burnt out because no one was reading their stuff and they didn’t see the point anymore.
Instead of throwing stuff into the ether without any type of return, use the social media sites that are already available to you. Share your blog post on Facebook and Twitter. Get your writing out to a social environment and gather a following. And if your stuff is good, people will start paying attention to who you are.
BT: But you know how neurotic writers get about their work. What happens if they published a piece and, looking back, are totally embarrassed with how bad it is but it’s now available for the whole world to see?
NC: I get that. We’re all self-conscious about our work. Find me someone who says they love the first short story they published and you’ll find a liar. When it comes to writing and publishing your work, particularly when starting out, people don’t judge on where you were but where you are.
BT: When the Kindle tablet came out, it was a game-changer for the publishing industry. What do you think is the next big thing for the book world?
NC: Without trying to sound too set in my ways, I think that where we’re at in the pub industry right now is where we’ll stay for a while. It’s still so new with tablets, audiobooks, and digital readers. What I will say is that people can underestimate the potential of digital spaces from a writer’s point of view. Sometimes we writers rely too much on the publisher to be the driving force in getting the word out. These days, one component to a successful book is how much you can market yourself. When I wrote my memoir, I decided to do it all on my own by marketing to the audience I built on Quora. On Amazon I got as high as #2 in two categories. I’d say I did pretty well for a debut.
BT: It would be wrong of me not to ask you what your favorite book is, but that’s clichéd. Final question: What book or books do you always extract value from when you go back to read them?
NC: Two come to mind, Portnoy’s Complaint by Phillip Roth and Nabokov’s Lolita. I think those two are masters of tone and style. They write great stories but their language keeps me just as interested. I recommend them to anyone who is serious about being a writer.