When I launched the Character Building Project site ten years ago, I began my research in the character genre and continue to do so, with Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book Outliers in mind. Gladwell’s rule is that 10,000 hours is the magic number to gain expertise in a subject.
Three years later, Wheatmark, Inc. published my first book… Politics with Principle: Ten Characters with Character. Before choosing Wheatmark I had interviewed several other independent publishers as I was not seeking an advance, knew I wanted to control my own intellectual property and wanted to work with people I trusted that could guide me through the publishing process
My first step was to seek the advice of my wife (a scientific editor for the National Cancer Institute), my valued clients who I had represented for many years and the opinions of those in politics I respected. All recommended I write from my own experience as a Washington lobbyist and about those who had displayed high level of character while serving the nation with distinction.
Next steps were in choosing the target audience within the character category and thinking through whether that niche might be interested in my message that there were and are role models with character in American politics. My main guide was to model my reporting along the lines of Plutarch Lives as I saw myself more as a journalist reporting on those with character and not as an author. Like Plutarch I saw my “characters with character” as models of virtue or warnings against vice. I was more concerned about portraying character rather than the intricacies of politics.
Initially I saw my role not unlike that of the Greek philosopher Diogenes. Tradition ascribes to him the famous search for an honest man conducted through the streets of Athens in broad daylight with a lighted lantern. So I began my search for honest men and women in politics. Later a few wags suggested Politics with Principle was really fiction and a common reaction “out side the beltway” was… how did you ever find ten politicians with character?
My first book sold well, perhaps with the help of so many inside the beltway who believed one can work in Washington while maintaining good character. However, the book did not sell well outside the beltway perhaps as a harbinger of the Tea Party Movement and the current mood of the country to “drain the swamp.” Among the many lessons learned from book one was to encourage me to develop portraitures of interesting Americans.
My next post will address Courage in America: 7 Warriors with Character, the second book in my character series where I focused my attention on portraits of extraordinary young Americans who volunteered for military service in response to the attack on America on September 11, 2001.