BACKGROUND: Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Adam Henig attended California State University, Chico, majoring in political science with an emphasis in cultural and international studies. After graduation, he pursued his interest in African American history and literature. In addition to his upcoming publication, Alex Haley's Roots: An Author's Odyssey, a book reviewer, Adam's writings have appeared in theSan Francisco Book Review, Tulsa Book Review and Blogcritics.
SYNOPSIS: In 1977, when the New York Times declared that the television mini-series Roots was the “most significant civil rights event since the Selma-to-Montgomery march of 1965,” its author, Alex Haley, became America’s newest “folk hero. ” His book was on the Times' Best Seller's list for months, and won the Pulitzer Prize. His story had captivated a nation and then the world. From Idaho to Israel, it seemed everyone was caught-up in “Rootsmania.” Alex Haley was on his way to becoming the most successful author in the history of publishing. That's when his troubles began.
Within a decade and a half following the publication of Roots, Haley managed to alienate most of his fellow writers and at the same time squander most of his wealth. When he died at the age of 70, his estate was auctioned off and his iconic book went out of print. What happened? Based on interviews of Haley's contemporaries, personal correspondence, legal documents, newspaper accounts, Adam Henig investigates the unraveling of one of America’s most successful yet enigmatic authors.
The Nook: What inspired you to write a book about this particular person?
Adam: My interest in Haley begun when I watched a few clips of Roots in my eighth grade history class. The mini-series, like for so many others, was my introduction to the cruelty of slavery and its inhumane treatment. Roots also sparked a lifelong interest in African American history and culture.
About five years ago, I was watching Roots on television and ended up sitting through the entire twelve-hour series, from start to finish. Afterwards, I wanted to know what had happened to Haley. So, I did what most do and turned to Google and Wikipedia.
I was astonished to discover that there had not ever been a biography published about the well-known author. In our celebrity obsessed society, I had assumed that everyone who had ever made an appearance on television, let alone write a mega best seller, had a biography. Apparently, that was not the case with Haley.
Having always wanted to be a writer, but not having found a subject that I wanted to spend time on, I began digging and never stopped.
The Nook: From what I read about you and your project, the eBook length is 52 pages and 15,000 words. I also read that you are pro micro-publishing. Please explain what this is and how it may be different from digital or self-publishing eBooks.
Adam: As reading devices have evolved, from the bound book to the eReader and tablets, so have our reading styles.
Digital publishers such as Amazon and Byliner have taken the lead in recognizing that readers are still interested in reading books, but, in many cases, prefer doing so in shorter spurts of time. Instead of reading an 800-page biography about someone's entire life, for example, you can now read about a specific event in that individual's life in a much shorter timespan. Hence, the creation of Amazon's Kindle Singles/Apple's Quick Reads, which is a collection of shortened ebooks (priced between $.99 and $4.99) that range in length from 5,000-30,000 words or 30-80 pages.
And since the manuscript is shorter, micropublishing allows writers over time to publish more eBooks on a variety of subjects--as opposed to spending years on a single subject. Also, micropublishing is almost always digitally-based, but can be published by either the author or a publisher.
The Nook: Since you explored this subject in 15,000 words, could you share how long your writing and publishing process took? Does your book focus on a particular book or period of time in Alex Haley's writing career?
Adam: Once I completed the research, which took about three and half years, I spent the next two years writing the manuscript and preparing it for publication. Having not published a book, I greatly underestimated how long the process would take. The writing involved many, many rewrites. When I was comfortable with the finished product, then the real work began--how do I publish it?
In the digital age, thanks largely to Amazon, the traditional methods of finding agents and publishers, in hopes of having a book on the shelves of bookstores across the country, is no longer a necessity. Even the vanity houses have lost their relevancy.
Regardless, self publishing remains a daunting task. My biggest fear was that I'd spend an enormous amount of time and money only to have no one read or buy a copy of my book!
Ever the researcher, from books and articles to blogs and Twitter feeds, I spent time sifting through as much material as I could, figuring out what worked best for me, especially since most self publishers write fiction. The majority that write nonfiction are in different genres such as "How-to," cookbooks, "Self-help," business, or memoir. This made it even harder since there was not much of a precedent.
In the end, I created a marketing plan that was continuously (and to this day) being revised. I rejoined social media (twitter.com/adamhenig), created a website (www.adamhenig.com), and reached out to as many reviewers and news outlets as possible.
As for the focus of my eBook, since it is only 15,500 words, it was impossible to capture Haley's entire life. Thus, I wanted to focus on the initial question when I began this endeavor--what happened to Alex Haley after Roots? He went from being the most popular writer on the planet to literal obscurity over the course of a few years.
The Nook: You describe your work as "not the traditional life and times hard copy biography." Please explain why you described it this way, and if you learned anything particular about writing in this genre.
Adam: Orginally, I was planning to write a full-length biography, which usually ranges from 350 to 800 pages. Due to time constraints and a limited budget, it was unrealistic. Typically, a biography covers the "cradle to the grave" story. In Alex Haley's Roots, my focus is a particular time period, from the moment the Roots mini-series aired on television in 1977 to his death fifteen years later and the demise of his legacy.
Writing, like anything else, takes patience. Writing biography also requires lots and lots of research, so be prepared that it's going to take longer than you think.
The Nook: The synopsis of the book partially states that Alex Haley squandered his wealth and alienated his fellow writers. What surprising facts do you feel that you learned about the publishing business and Alex Haley as a person?
Adam: Truthfully, the publishing business operates like any other business and maybe that was the surprise. Their focus is to make money. With that in mind, once a publishing house gets behind a product (i.e. Roots), the company will push it until it runs out of steam and then move onto something else.
As for Haley, I was disappointed how ill-equipped he was to handle his newfound fortune (he was 55 years-old when Roots was published), his self-imposed alienation from his family and his inability to bounce back after Roots. He seemed to have given up and rode out his fame to the very end as opposed to taking on (and completing) a new project. He left so many stories unfinished when he died.
I do admire the adversity Haley overcame as an African American magazine writer working in a white-dominated industry. In the 1950s and early 1960s, there were few non-whites in the business. Before Roots, Haley had written for Reader's Digest, Cosmopolitan, Coronet, Boys Life, and was the inaugural correspondent for Playboy magazine's "Interview" section. Unbeknownst to him, he was a trailblazer.
Social Media: www.twitter.com/adamhenig