Eliot Peper: “Cumulus” | Talks at Google

We’re here today at Google to talk with Elliot Peper
about his new book, “Cumulus.” My name is David Allison. I’m a product lead on a
product here at Google. And this is– RICK KLAU: I’m Rick Klau, former
product manager at Google, now a partner at
Google Ventures. DAVID ALLISON: And
this is Eliot Peper. Maybe we can start with just a
brief description of “Cumulus” and what it is, when it came
out, and why you wrote it. ELIOT PEPER: Sure. “Cumulus” is my fourth novel. It’s a standalone story. And it’s a science
fiction story that takes place in a
near-future Bay Area that’s ravaged by
economic inequality and persistent surveillance. So you could think of it
as where we are right now, but mapped out a few decades. And it came out just
about six weeks ago. So came out in the
beginning of May. And I’ve actually been really
surprised with the response, so it’s been fun. The story seems
to be resonating. And so it’s been a delight
to hear from readers. And it’s fun to
talk about it here. In terms of where
the book came from, or I guess the idea for
the story came from, I guess it’s sort
of like the X-Men. Every book or every story
has its own origin story. And this one was really–
I moved back to Oakland 2 and 1/2 years ago after
spending a long time elsewhere. So I was living in
Southern California and in East Asia, in Taiwan. And when we moved
back to Oakland, we just realized it was
a really interesting time to be living in the Bay Area. So I grew up in Oakland
and was raised there, and so it was fun to return
and see what had changed and what was the same. And like all of us who live
in the Bay Area are probably experiencing, there’s
been a huge economic boom here that has had many
wonderful, wonderful effects on the Bay Area. And that manifested itself in
our neighborhood and new art studios popping up all over the
place, new restaurants, lots of excitement. Renaissance areas
in downtown that had been honestly
blight for many years are now being redeveloped. At the same time, it
was a little weird because we live on a
nice, residential street. There are kids
trundling up and down it on tricycles pretty frequently. We have a lot of families
in our neighborhood. And we also have a lot of crime. So we have regular
shootings on our block. And I was walking with my
wife back home from BART a few weeks ago, and there
was a drive-by shooting 40 feet behind us. So we were literally dodging
behind the nearest brick wall we could find. And it was also– I
mean, it was terrifying. But it was also
really interesting, because the nearest wall we
could find was a doorway. It was like a nook that
went into a doorway, and whoever lived there opened
it up to see what had happened. They were like, are those shots? We’re like, yeah. The car was screeching
away right there. And they’re, do you
want to come inside? So we accepted
immediately out of terror. And it actually ended
up being wonderful. We got to know them. We hung out for 45 minutes. So it’s a really
interesting moment to be living, I think, in
the Bay Area right now, just because it’s a little
bit of a microcosm of some of the issues that we’re all
wrestling with, in our larger American society and
even beyond that. We’re really at the center
of the world in terms of all these wonderful
new technological marvels that we’re inventing and
getting out into the world. And that means a
real economic boom. But at the same
time, we’re really continuing to wrestle with
many of the same social issues in terms of endemic
poverty, racism, all of that kind of stuff
that for some reason we haven’t been able
to solve for, I guess. And so that, I
think, was what got me interested in thinking
about these issues and what was the
seed of this story. RICK KLAU: So talk a
little bit more about that. How much of the story
at its inception starts out with an
intention to communicate a particular caution
or worry versus you’ve got some technology that you
want to extrapolate from. Where could this go? How much did you know
about how the story ended? And I’m trying to avoid
giving any spoilers out for those that haven’t read it. But I think it’s
interesting that you touch on specifically, issues
of inequality in Oakland and factions that
develop, where Oakland becomes the literal frontline
of a battle between two different forces. Did you go in with
that in mind, or was that how the story found
itself as you fleshed it out? ELIOT PEPER: I don’t think I
had it that clear in my head. What was in my head was
more, what if we mapped some of these technologies out
a little further into the future and then combined that with what
if the US had a similar wealth disparity to Mexico City? So I’ve spent quite a bit of
time in the developing world. And so returning to the
US, I was like, huh, what if that got much more extreme? And so I think that was
the set up for the world. But the story is actually
a different answer, because I found that at
least in any of the books I’ve worked on, the
seed that starts this book is not necessarily
the same for each one. So and in this case,
it was this idea of these conflicts that
we’re all struggling with and these big, high level, world
level technology questions. But then once you actually
decide to write a book, like, I could written an
essay about those ideas, just with those ideas. But an essay is very
different from a novel. And so for “Cumulus,”
really, my first steps on the creative front were,
who is this book about? And it’s really much
more about the characters and what they’re thinking
about internally, where they’re coming from,
because you only experience the world through their eyes. So there are many
things that could be developed in this
world that never were in the book,
because they weren’t relevant to the characters or
the characters never interacted with that. So I really think that if
you’re giving a TED talk or writing an essay, you can
talk about ideas in a pure way. You’re just literally talking
about the idea you have. But when you’re telling
a story, human stories are really about people. So I always try to come out
from that angle of what’s relevant to these
individual people and how are they
living in that world. And then to close that
out, one of the things that I find interesting about
these kinds of stories that’s very different than a
TED talk or an essay is that with fiction,
you don’t have to provide prescriptive answers to things. Like, if I read
an essay, I’m sort of expecting that the writer of
the essay has a point to make. If they don’t have
a punchy conclusion, I’m going to be sort
of disappointed. But with a novel, I think
one of the interesting things about novels as a
medium is that you’re able to wrestle with
difficult questions without feeling– without
necessarily reaching a really pretty, packaged
conclusion at the end, because honestly, we’re all
wrestling with this stuff. So I guess that’s sort
of how I think about it. RICK KLAU: So you continue
to do work in venture capital while also being
a novelist, which as someone in venture
capital, I can’t imagine having both of those jobs. But I do see one of the
interesting intersections in that you’re frequently
going to come into contact with ideas, new
technology, companies very early in their trajectory. How do you make an decision
about the technology that you want to
invest in or see exist in the world
versus the technology you want to write about? Is it binary? And with a great
idea, do you want to hold onto it so you
can write about it? Do you want to invest in
it and not write about it? How do you wrestle with that? ELIOT PEPER: Yeah,
that’s a good question. I don’t know that I’ve ever
been faced with the choice of, am I going to make an investment
decision about something that could create a
novel that I would write. That would be
pretty interesting. RICK KLAU: Get
your pitches ready. ELIOT PEPER: Yeah, exactly. I think that there is
a lot of similarities on how I approach thinking about
both kinds of work, though. When you’re an entrepreneur
or when you’re a writer, typically– well,
actually, this is more common for entrepreneurs. Often, entrepreneurs
are motivated by solving a problem
that they experience, or at least that they
see in the world. So something sucks for
you, so you’re like, I can make this
stop sucking for me and maybe there are other
people like me who would– heck, maybe they’d even be
willing to pay to help solve this problem as well. So you’re building a
tool to address that. And so that’s really
important, and I think that’s where many of our
greatest companies come from. They come from this very
almost intimate moment of figuring out that there
is something in your life that is frustrating you and then
figuring out how to address it. What’s interesting about looking
at a lot of entrepreneurs working on different
problems is trying to see how they fit
into the bigger picture. And that, I think, has a
lot in common with writing science fiction specifically. Because when you’re thinking
about making an investment decision in a startup
that is highly– I mean, by definition
really speculative– you’re not going to
have years of company financials to look at. At least if it’s an early
stage company, a lot of it is about what is the future
you’re trying to build and how does that fit
into how we already understand the world. And so I think that when you’re
making investment decisions in technology startups, one
of the most useful things that I’ve found to think
about is actually more like the history of science. So if you look back
and think about what the world was like before
the car was invented, it was a huge problem. In New York City, the biggest
social problem in the US was manure, because horses
were how you got around and they pooped everywhere. And so it made basically
urban living untenable. And people were projecting,
famous sociologists were projecting
that nobody would live in cities because this was
a completely insoluble problem. And then you have this
thing that just came out of left field that totally
changes all of the assumptions that we sort of bring
to bear in our lives and don’t even think about. And so that’s certainly
relevant for science fiction, because if you’re
writing science fiction, you’re trying to think
about how the world might be different in a way that sheds
a bit of a different reflection on the world we
currently live in. And if you’re making investment
decisions in new technologies, that’s where those
big changes come from. And so really, being able to–
I feel like being a good science fiction writer and perhaps,
you’d know better than me, but making good startup
investments, a lot of it is about actually reducing
the levels of the assumption that you bring to the
world, like actually trying to approach things almost
as if it’s for the first time. And I also think
that that’s part of what science fiction
brings to readers. So I love reading
science fiction in part because when I come
back to my normal life and I look at the
things I’m dealing with, I do it with a new perspective. It’s put my brain into a
different pair of pants. And now when I’m back,
I can be, like, oh, OK. Maybe I shouldn’t
make that assumption that I’ve always made. And I think that that is
really relevant for anybody doing venture investing, because
those are the opportunities you’re trying to seek out. DAVID ALLISON: So
without giving too much away in “Cumulus,” some of those
ideas are actually explored, right? You have this notion of fleet,
autonomous vehicle service. And you have a few
other things in there that maybe bend lines a
little bit in terms of privacy and that kind of thing. And I’m curious to talk
with you a little bit about your perspective on what
are the major changes that you see coming, say, in the
next 5 or 10 or 15 years. ELIOT PEPER: I, and I think
most people are pretty bad at predicting the future. So I always think
about it more as, how can you think differently
about the present. So some of the things
that went into “Cumulus” were that often, when
we look at the internet, we think about the
individual components of it. So here we might be thinking
about Google and YouTube or Spotify or now
Microsoft LinkedIn or whatever you
want to talk about. There are all of these
different essentially brands that we associate with
sections of the internet. But what I think is
really interesting is that that kind of
thinking makes a lot of sense when you’re not networked. So if you have a desktop PC
that has no network connection and you’re using
Microsoft, then really it’s OK to think about Microsoft as
the brains in that computer. But when you have an
enormous global network where all of those different elements
are constantly interacting, I think of it more
as just an ecosystem where all of those
elements are always interacting with each other. And just like in
economics, where you might have
microeconomics, which is the study of
individual behavior, individual economic behavior but
then you have macroeconomics, where you’re trying to think
about, if we take a step back and look at an entire
economic system, maybe there are different rules
that larger system operates by that’s different than
when you’re thinking about it at a micro level. I think the same is
true for the internet. We now have this massive,
connected piece of technology that goes everywhere
from the hardware that it’s running on all the way
up to consumer apps, basically. And when you’re thinking
about the larger rules that govern that ecosystem, it
just doesn’t make sense to me that– we have Marc
Andreessen’s quote, “software’s eating the world.” It doesn’t really make sense
to me why that won’t be true. So if we assume that
software does eat the world, that’s going to have
a lot of implications, and that’s really what
the story explores. RICK KLAU: One of the
interesting implications of the themes you explore
particularly in “Cumulus” is the degree to which
most of the power is held by corporations. And the state tends not to
have a lot to say or do. At one point even the
mayor is calling in the CEO of a company for help. And it’s been interesting,
in recent science fiction there seems to be a divide. You’ve got some authors who
see Snowden’s revelations and the all-powerful state that
is exploring and exploiting these technologies
to surveil and build massive infrastructure
around that, and then others who are seeing
declining power in the state and increasing power in
private corporations. I know the direction
you went in “Cumulus.” is that consistent with
where you see things heading? Where is the balance between
state and private power with technology
as the accelerant? ELIOT PEPER: Sure. Yeah, that’s a good question. So I guess on the
surveillance front, anything that is software is very easily
surveilled, because you can see it’s easy to track activity. And it’s much harder to do that
in the physical world, which is why before we had the
technologies we do today, the federal government
wasn’t actually, like, having a shadow of
each of us writing down, like, every letter we wrote. It just was not practical. But the minute that something
becomes more easier to do, it also becomes harder
not to do if you’re the one running that system. And then with the private sector
versus public sector divide, I do think we’re at this
really funny moment. When you read the
newspaper, on the one hand, you have our federal
government getting hacked, it seems like almost constantly
and losing reams of data that are really sensitive. And on the other hand, you
also have this narrative of the NSA being our Big Brother
and being so sophisticated that none of us, like
we can’t get out of it. And I think that both are true. I think one of the difficulties
of talking about something the size of a
government is that it’s made up of people, just like
Google is made up of people. And those people have
very different incentives and motivations from each other,
let alone from the public. And so I think I actually think
the inherent contradiction in that is more interesting
for storytelling than having a really
clear resolution to it. But I do think that the
modern world, how technology has impacted how
we live our lives is definitely challenging
the nation-state, the idea of a nation-state. So what many people
don’t realize, because when we grow up we
read the same history books and school and stuff like that. But nation-states are a
relatively recent idea, a relatively recent idea of how
to organize human societies. And it was pretty much
during the Renaissance that those ideas were developed. And if you go much
farther back than that, if you were an average person,
meaning you’re not royalty, so you’re in the
bottom 90% of society, like living in rural
France as a peasant, you didn’t really
have an affiliation to country or to nation so much
as just your local community, because they’re really
the only people you ever interacted with. You don’t read. You’re a member of your village. And you have a king that
you have to pay taxes to, but that’s the extent
of your social contract. It’s not a lot deeper than that. And if the Italian king
took over your area, you’re paying taxes to them. And they’re going to
probably force your children into military service
if they want to. And so the idea
that we are actually part of like a nation-state
that has geographic boundaries and that has a much more
articulated social contract is pretty new. And right now, the idea
of the nation-state was developed when
geographic boundaries made a big difference. So almost all economic
activity was contained within those boundaries. It was very easy to regulate
people crossing the boundaries or goods crossing
the boundaries, because everything was physical. But today, that’s
changed enormously. The internet doesn’t
respect those boundaries. Many of the challenges we face
don’t respect those boundaries either, like climate change
or a million other things. And trade hasn’t respected us
boundaries now for decades. So we live in a world where
the governance systems that we have set
up don’t actually align with how humans
act in the world exactly. And that that’s an area where I
think there’s a lot of tension, and there will continue to be. So to close the loop, that’s
where those ideas came in. RICK KLAU: We want
to take questions. I’m happy to pass
the mic or repeat. AUDIENCE: Hi. So “Cumulus” maps a bunch of
technologies from today out, as you said, a couple decades. But conspicuously absent
are a bunch of technologies that we find promising
today but aren’t there– virtual reality,
embedded computing, augmented humans,
genetic engineering, et cetera, et cetera. Can you comment on that absence
both as a science fiction writer as well as an investor? How do feel about those
technologies growing from here until the time of “Cumulus”? ELIOT PEPER: Yeah, that’s
a really good question. I’ve never been
asked that before. I feel like storytelling,
at least for me, is pretty inherently selfish. I’m writing and following
my own enthusiasm. And whatever I tried
to write and follow other people’s enthusiasm, the
results just don’t hold up. And so one of the
things that that makes me play with when
I’m writing a story is I don’t try to do everything. Because if I do, it
just becomes scattered and it gets sort of unreadable. And so with “Cumulus”
specifically, you’re right. There are a host of
things, like many of the ones you
listed and many more, that simply aren’t
even discussed. And that wasn’t
because I intentionally had a list going of, like, I’m
going to use this and not this, and this and not this. It was just that I went with
where the story was taking me. In terms of expectations about
where the world might go, I think that many of
the things you mentioned are very interesting. And if you want to read good
science fiction about them, I highly recommend
Ready Player 1 by Ernest Klein for
virtual reality. Human augmentation– Ramez
Naam has a wonderful trilogy called The Nexus Trilogy that
really dives deep on that one. And pretty much if you took any
of the list you just described, you could probably find a
good set of science fiction that wrestles with
those questions. And mine don’t. So I dont know how
I can answer that. AUDIENCE: So we’ve heard
a lot about the ideas that motivate you as a writer. That’s super interesting,
I think, to a lot of us at Google. I’m also curious just to
hear from you personally. You’re obviously involved in
a lot of non-writing things. Why do you write, and
how did you get started? ELIOT PEPER: I’ve always
been a very heavy reader. I love reading. When I was a kid, I
always had piles of books out from the local library. So I’ve always been
fascinated by stories, and I really enjoy
experiencing them. But I didn’t do– I mean, I
did creative writing in class, in high school English
and stuff like that. But since leaving high
school, I basically did no creative writing at
all, and went through college, went to grad school, started
doing some work in startups, and then for a VC firm. And I had done no
creative writing, but I was writing a
lot of email [LAUGHS] but certainly no fiction. And then what happened was
because I was getting involved in the startup world
and entrepreneurship, I was reading a lot
about that world. And there’s an
enormous body of work that is business nonfiction
and entrepreneurial nonfiction. And a large component
of that body of work is memoirs or lessons
learned, where maybe a successful
entrepreneur decides to share what they’ve
learned by, I guess, by building a
successful company. And then there are also
more analytical works that are trying to take–
if we look at the world, this is how we can
understand it, approach. But I couldn’t really
find much fiction. And that was very
frustrating for me, because I like reading both
nonfiction and fiction. And it was also
frustrating for me because living in
the startup world and working with a bunch
of these companies, there’s a lot of
human drama there. You have people who really have
very strong convictions who are putting a lot
on the line to try to realize a dream that
they’ve come up with. They’re pushing everything to
the max, usually their bank accounts, their
personal relationships and everything else. You have fortunes won and lost. You have all of
this stuff, which to me seemed like a great
canvas for adventure. But really, I could only find
these business books to read. So my thought was,
well, if I want to read the book
that doesn’t exist, maybe I’ll try writing it. And that’s how I– so
I literally opened up a Microsoft Word document
and just started typing. And that was how I started
writing the first book. Now it’s sort of different. Because I’ve really enjoyed
the creative process of those first books so much,
I look at storytelling a little differently. But that’s how the
first one got started. DAVID ALLISON: Now you
just use Google Docs. ELIOT PEPER: There you go. DAVID ALLISON: I don’t know
if we have other questions from the room. I had one follow-up
to that, actually. I am curious– so with TV
shows like “Startup U” that focuses on Draper’s
program, and also things in the news like, for
example, the Theranos story– in some
sense, it seems to be that nothing you
could possibly write would seem stranger
than those stories. ELIOT PEPER: It’s
very frustrating. DAVID ALLISON: Right, right. And I’m curious– you’ve
written four books now. How have you learned
to basically adapt or tune the story lines? Because they come across to
me, having read all of them, they come across to me as
actually quite believable. Everything fits together. It’s vaguely plausible
and you go, OK, I see it. Whereas when I read about
Elizabeth Holmes’ story and I read about Theranos, I
was like, that’s impossible. I can’t possibly believe
that that actually happened. And I’m curious
to see basically, how have you developed a sort of
mechanism for tuning the story? ELIOT PEPER: So basically,
what you’re saying is I’m not imaginative enough? DAVID ALLISON: I like that take. That’s good. Yeah, it’s a criticism. ELIOT PEPER: I’m
always blown away– I think fact is stranger
than fiction always. Another one that
really blew me away was when the Pamana
Papers scandal came out. My first trilogy focuses
on financial crime. And so I was like, wow. This is way better. I’m trying to think about it. I don’t know that I try to
come up– the thing that I care most about in the
creative process is actually not really
the plausibility of either any technology that might
be involved in a story or even the plot
of a story so much. I really think that the
most important piece for me as a reader when
I’m reading a book is that characters
are consistent. Because if you have characters
that you believe act in the way that they would, even if
you were in their shoes, you might act differently,
but if you really believe they’re
acting consistently, you can almost go
along with anything. Because we’re in their lives. Fiction allows us to get inside
of someone else’s life, inside of their heart. And so if you’re with them
and you’re on their journey, so that’s the thing that I
actually pay the most attention to in the creative process,
not the larger world issues. It’s much more personal. And often, that can be very
frustrating when I fail at it. So if you have a
critical decision that doesn’t feel consistent,
that can really throw off a whole story. And so those are the things
that I try to pay attention to in the creative process. RICK KLAU: You have been
very open in engaging the community of readers who’ve
grown around these books. Similar to David’s
point, I think there are small moments
for me that are really the ones that lend the air of
verisimilitude to the story. I remember in “Uncommon Stock”
reading about their first term sheet negotiation. And it’s a very minor detail. It might have been a couple
of sentences in a paragraph. But I’d seen that exact
situation play out with inexperienced entrepreneurs
who really got taken for a ride from unscrupulous investors
who were exploiting the imbalance of power
that existed at the time. And hearing you,
almost as a throwaway, it made it very easy for
me to live in that world and believe that you knew
what you were talking about. What other pieces
of feedback have you heard from your readers that
surprised you or informed future writing that you’ve done,
or do they become your sources for future stories? ELIOT PEPER: Absolutely, yes. So I totally agree with you,
and to follow up on your point, I think that those
little details actually do much more for, I guess
you call it worldbuilding or for verisimilitude than
the bigger ticket stuff, than the big
explosions, or things that are obviously descriptive. And so knowing that, I
try to really research a lot to support those
kinds of details in a story. So a good example
is in exit strategy, which is the final book
in my first trilogy. During that book,
the startup that has been active since the
beginning of the trilogy goes through an IPO. And they’re also going
through this climax of discovering this
international conspiracy at the same time. And I’ve never been
through an IPO. I don’t know what that’s like. I’ve never been through
it in any way or form. But I knew that the
protagonist, she’s the CEO, it has to feel legit. I’m certainly not going to
walk through the IPO process, because that’s going
to be really boring. But she has to have a few
experiences or thoughts about it that feel right. And if you go on Google
and research IPO process, it’s totally unhelpful,
because you’re going to find things that
are like white papers written by law firms that explain
how the process works. That doesn’t tell me
anything about what would be inside a
founder’s head as they are going through that experience. And so I ended up reaching out
and asking for introductions to CEOs who had been through
that process multiple times and interviewed them. And I actually really
enjoyed the interviews, because I would make
a terrible reporter, because I don’t take notes. I don’t record anything. But for novels, it’s
excellent, because I would talk to them
for about an hour, just ask about what
their experience was. And you discover
these funny things that when you’re on
your road show, which is when you’re flying
around and pitching all of these large
institutional investors that would participate in your
IPO, you’re always on the run, because you’re
giving presentations after presentation all day long. And you always get this
terrible rubber chicken, you know, like the kind
when you’re at a conference and it’s totally tasteless. So a number of people
mentioned that, how it was so– you had to
eat your rubber chicken as quickly as you could. So it’s those little
things that make it work and make it feel right. And so I try to do that, and
not just on the business side. So like that trilogy deals
with money laundering and financial malfeasance. So I interviewed
federal investigators, money laundering experts at
some of the major international banks. And the same is true for
“Cumulus,” on different aspects of the story where I wanted to
make sure I was getting things right. I mean, it was
very helpful that I was writing about where
I lived, because I know some of those details. And for the next
book I’m working on, it’s the same thing. I’m trying to just make sure
that I’m immersed enough that I can cherry pick a
few fun details off the top. RICK KLAU: Question right here. AUDIENCE: One of the most
interesting things to me about your first trilogy,
and– I haven’t read it yet, but from what I understand this
book as well is that you’ve got female protagonists. And it’s relatively
rare for authors to cross the gender barrier. And it’s also relatively
rare in science fiction to have female protagonists. So can you comment
a little bit on what your thought process
going into that is, how you channel
the female voice? DAVID ALLISON: Four
times in a row. ELIOT PEPER: I think I’ll
probably keep doing it until I stop getting
asked that question. Because I think it’s sort of
interesting that we have– not only that there’s
a gender divide in terms of creators and
their fictional characters. And there are certainly
a lot more female authors who write male characters
or protagonists than there are male authors
who write female protagonists. But honestly, I
think there’s sort of a dearth of female
protagonists in general, basically in pretty
much every format. So I guess to a
certain extent, that’s certainly how I think about it. But it’s sort of
funny, because I don’t do much to channel any voice. And I think that may be
doing a disservice to, I don’t know, to someone. But I just try to write all
my characters as people, and I don’t really
think about their gender or racial background
or anything else. And I think, to a certain
extent, that may actually not be super helpful, because
it’s hard to– obviously, our circumstances influence
how we experience the world and how other people react
to us and stuff like that. But when I’m
writing a story, I’m really just sort of thinking
about, OK, I’m basically imagining myself in your shoes. So that’s how I approach it. And I’m very happy to have a
bunch of female protagonists. But really, it
was like, what are the characters I’m excited
to write about, and thinking about their history
and their background. And it came more out
of that than out– I wish I could say I
had a big point to make and that I was trying to advance
a social goal by doing so. But really, it’s
because it’s fun and because I really got into
thinking about those characters and imagining who they were as
people and where that would go. RICK KLAU: So the week
that “Cumulus” came out you got a phone call
from William Gibson? ELIOT PEPER: Yeah. RICK KLAU: Tell me about that. So you hear from the guy who
coined the term “cyberspace” and he sort of invented
this whole category of science fiction. What did you talk about? ELIOT PEPER: Yeah, it
was super weird, for me. I was like in a fan boy coma. So how many of you guys
have read William Gibson, just so we know? OK, so decent amount. So for anybody who hasn’t, he’s
a very, very well known science fiction author. And he invented cyberpunk,
which is the genre that this book sits in. So like that was
really– it blew my mind. So what ended up
happening was “Cumulus” came out on a Thursday. Website called Ars
Technica reviewed it. And someone posted
that review on Reddit. And I’m not a very
heavy Reddit user. But it went viral. It had, like, 2000 up
votes on the first day. I’m now learning more
Reddit vocabulary, so it was like on front page. So that was a big deal. But for me experiencing
it, it was very odd, because I started getting
texts from friends that were screenshots of their
front page with my book on it. They’re like, oh my God. I’m like, what does that mean? So that was weird. And I was eating breakfast and
I started getting emails just to my personal email account. I think the first day there
were between half a dozen and a dozen inquiries about
film TV rights for the book and all of this other
stuff, which blew me away. I had basically been sort
of obnoxious and loud on social media,
because you do that when you’re trying to release
something for your first day. And I had sent out an email
to my fan reader list. And so that’s not the
biggest PR strategy. I’m an independent author. I don’t have a PR firm. I don’t have any of that. So it’s all been grassroots. So this was very weird
and not something I was very accustomed to. But it was a lot of fun. So two days later, I got a
phone call from William Gibson. And we basically spent an
hour talking about the book. And really, he was giving
me writing advice, which I can now pass along to you. So he’s a super
sweet guy, obviously unbelievably brilliant if you’ve
ever read any of his work. But his big tips for new
writers were, one, never do a multi-book deal. So this means when you’re
negotiating with the publisher, so if you’re selling your book
to a publisher, many of them want you to want to
sell them a series. So they’ll say, we’re going
to give you a seven book deal. We’ll pay you one
advance, seven books, and then we’ll do some fun
calculus on the back end to make sure that we keep
as much of it as we can. As they should–
they’re a business. But his suggestion was,
you never want to do that, because if your book does well,
you want to have the leverage to get a better second deal. I was like, OK, that’s good. And then a second
piece of advice was, don’t buy the big house. Which go really well
together, because if you did a multi-book
deal and then you buy the big house and the
deal doesn’t work out, you’ve got problems. So those were really good. And then his third piece of
advice was, keep writing. He said that one of the things
he’s seen among his friends is that those that
were successful writers over the long term
actually kept writing. So there are probably other
worlds where this happens. But in the writing
world, a lot of people have dreamed of writing a book. I feel like most
people have at least thought about it once or twice. And so maybe you get
started and you try one. But once you’ve written
a book, many people basically stop there. So they’re happy that
they wrote a book, and now they can call
themselves an author, which is totally objectively true. But if you’re trying
to both be an author and be a commercially
successful author, those are very different things. And if you want the latter,
you need to do a lot of it. I try to think of it as a
verb rather than as a noun. And that also means
it’s very democratic. If you want to be a
writer, start writing, and you’ve already
achieved your goal. I think that’s actually one
of the really cool pieces about it. Most of us have
learned to write. But on the back end,
you need to keep writing if you want to stay a writer. And you don’t want to get
distracted by, I don’t know. Like, say maybe you
came out with a book and it’s very successful. Maybe you’re distracted by
celebrity or other things that the book brings
into your life. And what ends up
happening is sometimes people write one really
good book and then they forget to keep writing. And so that was his other
piece of advice, which I am trying to take to heart. RICK KLAU: With that, I
think we’re out of time. Eliot, thanks very
much for coming out. ELIOT PEPER: Thanks
for having me. [APPLAUSE]

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