I could start this riff by confessing how much of Mark Twain's oeuvre I have yet to read. Given the limb I'm about to go out on, that might even be wise. But without claiming any particular expertise in his writing nor in depth knowledge of Samuel Clemens's life, I feel compelled to convey an impression I have of his character. More to the point, how that character might react were he to find himself launched into today's publishing world.
My admiration of Twain's work spurred me to write in my teens and early twenties. His short stories and essays, especially. But over the decades since, it is more the stories about the man that have struck me.
Here's a guy who worked wherever he could make a buck, on riverboats, as a miner, writing along the way, lecturing, doing stand-up comedy (before it was called that), investing in publishing, failing repeatedly, and never halting his production of this, that, and another piece of written work.
He wrote travel, tall tales, novels, novellas, poetry, autobiographical truths and untruths. He hustled himself on stage, had his work sold door-to-door like brushes. He tried anything to put himself in front of readers and earn a living. After declaring bankruptcy later in life, he toured the world as a speaker to earn enough to pay back his creditors even though he had no obligation to do so.
What I wonder is this: how would a guy like Mark Twain react to today's sea change in the world of publishing? Would he bemoan being expected to market his own work? Would he complain about paltry advances? Would he blame publishers or retailers or greedy readers for wanting his work for pennies on the dollar?
Can you imagine Twain on Twitter?
He'd lash out with style, I imagine. He'd skewer them all. Then he'd bust his ass figuring out how to make the upheaval work in his favour. He'd be traditionally publishing, self-publishing, and have a finger in three different kickstarters at once.
A man who pens his autobiography well into his final years, but insists it not be published until after his death, isn't a man afraid of effort. Or of trying something new.
Twain spent his life crafting ways to deliver his thinking, his opinions, and his wit to an audience he clearly loved. I'm convinced he would have thrived in today's publishing environment. Not only by his words, but by his work and his entrepreneurial creativity as well.
What do you think? Would Twain be wailing at the darkness or would he light yet another candle? And what other literary greats would thrive in today's crazy strategic inflection point?