Late this afternoon, I am very proud that Titles Bookstore and the McMaster Library are joining together to host a special evening with McMaster Alumnus Terry Fallis. From 4:30 to 6:00 PM today a gathering and celebration of this innovative and landscape-changing author will be held on the 4th floor of the Mills Library in the Lyons New Media Centre as he launches his novel The High Road.
What better place than a "new media centre" to celebrate a McMaster graduate who broke the mold by venturing into the land of published author a whole new way, by boldly charting a course not before seen in Canada and by helping one of Canada's oldest publishers journey into a whole new frontier for publishing.
It was in 2005 when Fallis, who calls himself a "serial procrastinator" finally wrote a novel he'd wanted to write since 1978. It was called The Best Laid Plans and was about a burned-out political strategist plan to get out of politics by managing an unelectable candidate in a federal election in order to kill his credibility -- except the plan goes awry when the candidate, a grumpy old professor, becomes unexpectedly popular with the voters.
In 2006 he started sending it out to agents and publishers but wasn't getting any response. So he decided to build an audience for the book and self-publish it.
Starting in January 2007 he podcast the novel, chapter by chapter for free and an audience of thousands of people from all over the world started listening. His audience continued to grow and the self-published book was released in September 2007. The book was stocked by several different forward-thinking bookstores (ahem, like Titles Bookstore McMaster University) and a launch for the book was held at McMaster.
In March of 2008, everything changed, as The Best Laid Plans was nominated for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour.
Within a week, Fallis had an agent, and shortly after winning the award on April 30th, 2008, he had a publishing contract with McClelland and Stewart. The Best Laid Plans was published and relaunched under the M&S imprint and the sequel, The High Road was released in September 2010.
Fallis and McClelland and Stewart made publishing history when the publisher allowed him to begin podcasting the entire novel, again for free, chapter by chapter, in the summer of 2010.
And now Terry is touring with his new novel, which people are buying in boatloads and proving that the traditional publishing world doesn't have to be stagnant and old, and that even a 100 year old publisher can take a bold risk, embrace new technology and new media and be successful.
Of course, the bottom line, IMHO, for why this is successful isn't the technology, nor the "hey that's neat" factor. Yes, it's how Fallis initially got the attention of readers and publishers alike. But just getting attention isn't enough. First, your novel has to be GOOD.
And the fact is that Fallis is a solid writer. His novels are well-written and hilarious, with just the right injection of sentimentality when you least expect it. When I first started reading The Best Laid Plans I was struck with similarities between Fallis and John Irving. There are bizarrely humorous moments in both of his novels that actually made me laugh out loud. And there are beautifully written passages that I've stopped to re-read and then read aloud. (I call that John Irving-syndrome because Irving was the first author whose prose made me do that when I discovered the phenomenal novel A Prayer for Owen Meany all those years ago)
I can't wait for today's event at McMaster, the very special announcement from the library regarding Fallis, and I'm revelling in watching Terry's amazing success.