Wednesday, March 16, 2005


Local author makes good-for us all

Most of us are familiar with the fable of the hare and the tortoise. The hare is blessed with all the natural gifts of speed and agility. But the turtle, whose sole redeeming virtue is persistence, bests him.
Charles Sobczak looks nothing like a turtle, and his success as a Sanibel Realtor certainly isn’t due to a case of the slows. But he has raced past the traditional route to becoming a published author, and has realized his dream with the sort of persistence made famous by that turtle of fable.
Sobczak recently won the Writer of the Year award from the Alliance for the Arts organization of Lee County. The honor is well deserved, because Sobczak has done more to sell the gospel of reading, writing and publishing than has any Florida author. That’s a bold statement, so let me back it up fast.
There are better writers in Florida. And there are better salesmen. But no author or salesman in Florida today better personifies the process of making one’s publishing dream a reality as does Sobczak. He is creating an example that may lead others to abandon the frustration of publishing-house rejections. And his marketing approach is putting books into the hands of people who may not otherwise pause to consider reading, much less buying, a book.
He makes art pay while bringing it to the masses (a good way to keep art around, incidentally), and his marriage of creativity and market smarts is superlative.
Sobczak is an average guy who decided to write some books. Traditional publishing houses rejected his manuscripts, so he decided to self-publish. Sobczak’s first book, “Six Mornings in Sanibel, was a hit, and he’s been writing (and selling a few houses) ever since.
His success as a writer comes because Sobczak knows how to join contemporary events to fiction. In doing so, he expands the range of readers to corral folks who otherwise might not pick up a book.
His books range from a collection of stories celebrating the lifestyle of Sanibel to a timely and topical love story between a Christian and a Muslim. They all reflect Sobczak’s good ear-- and good timing when it comes to picking his material.
How good is Sobczak’s timing? Consider “Way Under Contract,” a black comedy about the real estate business. It’s become a very successful book, thanks in part to an unlikely marketing campaign named Hurricane Charley. That storm's fury, along with the depredations of its friends, reminded Floridians of the price to be paid for living in the lap of nature’s luxury.
Sobczak scored because “Contract’s” climactic scene is—you guessed it—a hurricane. It’s as if he were hit by lightning. He showed a similar sense of good timing with his most recent book, “A Choice of Angels.” He began work on the book before the Iraqi War. Its story of star-crossed followers of the crescent and the cross raises issues engendered by the war. Again, right after natural or man-made phenomena generated an interest in a particular subject, Sobczak was there with the goods. It’s as if he were struck by lightning twice.
But before anyone starts attributing the author’s success solely to good timing, think again. Sobczak works hard, spending countless hour researching and rewriting. And that's his night job. Any author, including Sobczak, can speak to the countless hours of revision required to bring a book to fruition. So he’s earned his success. After all, how many others had hurricane books ready for the summer of storms? Timing helps, but it’s useless unless you are able to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.
Sobczak understands Shakespeare’s line about “a tide in the affairs of men…” and knows how to take advantage of what he’s been blessed with. He brings his Realtor’s experience to work as an author, by launching well-coordinated marketing campaigns. Too many authors think it’s beneath them to sell their books. But what better evidence can one offer prospective buyers than the eagerness of a proud poppa bragging about the latest progeny? Sobczak goes whole hog, printing up flyers and brochures, shipping out press releases, and maintaining an exhausting schedule of appearances at events big and small.
He shows by his actions--from paying to have his books published to marketing them relentlessly-- that he believes in his work.
In doing so, Sobczak may be changing the nature of the publishing business here in Florida. His books are self-published and bear the one flaw often associated with such products—the editing suffers in all of them. But the stories are good enough to draw the reader. Besides, Sobczak is becoming a better writer and editor with each of his books (he’s written four).
But it’s his approach to marketing that sets him apart. Sobczak has sold more than 3,000 books, and has garnered not only the Lee County honor, but also the Patrick D. Smith award for best Florida book.
As his books sell and gain credibility, he will undoubtedly smooth the road for the next self-publisher of a quality book to hit it big. He’s willing to proceed at a turtle’s pace, learning as he progresses. But in doing so, he will certainly make it easy for others to step lively on the road to self-publishing success.
James Abraham, an independent book reviewer, can be reached at

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