I just found out via Facebook that my good friend and long-time mentor, Neil Marr, has died. Originally from Edinburgh, Scotland he lived in Monaco the last years of his life. He started out as a hit-the-bricks reporter and editor, ended up a publisher ahead of his time.
Marr was the co-founder of the pioneering publishing company BeWrite Books. BeWrite was one of the first independent publishers to produce eBooks in great numbers, despite the naysayers who said they wouldn't work. The opening of the BeWrite website on December 31, 1999 was soon followed by a community forum where tens of thousands of users participated until the forum's closure in 2009.
One of the things that attracted users to the forum was the BeWrite staff's offer to edit and publish user's short stories and flash fiction onsite. When the forum finally closed, more than 50,000 short stories had been uploaded by writers worldwide, all search-accessible by author name, subject, title, or all three. Stories were often professionally edited for free before being made available onsite. This is a record that will probably never be matched by any other writers' site. For several years, that forum was the go-to, must-be-a-member place if you were a writer. Flash Fiction contests were held weekly for years, and I was proud to win several of them.
Marr encouraged writers to a great degree, and recruited new talent through the website, often signing writers to book contracts who had contributed work to the site. BeWrite also established an independent distribution network for eBooks early on, (years before the Kindle was introduced in 2007) and they had much success in sales, both in the US and in Europe. They eventually published more than 250 titles. They finally closed on March 31, 2013 due to Neil's worsening health issues.
Neil was a good friend and a mentor to me, and frankly...Adventure Books of Seattle would not exist without him. He showed me how to establish a book website, and allowed us to copy over his Standard Writers Contract and modify it for our own use. He did all this even though he knew we would be in competition with BeWrite. He was that kind of person. We linked out each other with scores of websites and I could always go to him for advice. He was just a great guy all around, loved by many, and he will be missed. During his nearly fifty-year career in both journalism and publishing, he edited more than 200 books for other authors.
BELOW: The forum homepage for BeWrite, circa 2004, from the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. At that point, tens of thousands of short stories by both veteran and novice writers were already available for free viewing on the BeWrite site with an effective search system. Some of the novices went on to great success.
Neil speaking about E-Books back in 2001:
'They are the coming thing, and may end up selling better than paper...'
Everyone sort of chuckled at that back then. How could that be? People aren't going to want to read books on their computers, tablets, smartphones, or book readers. Paper will ALWAYS be king. Right? Not a chance they will sell as well as paper...
Really? If Neil is looking down now, he's probably checking sales for all the Kindle books made available by Amazon worldwide and thinking, "I told you so..."