Author-Lawyer-Children's Advocate Has Best of All 3 Worlds on Web
by Joseph Szadkowski
Originally published in The Washington Times, Monday, April 26, 1999.
Andrew Vachss was introduced to the people he calls "beasts" or "monsters"—individuals who prey on the defenseless young—as a federal investigator of sexually transmitted diseases in 1965.
As a best-selling author, Mr. Vachss writes fictional novels about one man, Burke, who tries to defend and protect these children at any cost.
As a lawyer, Mr. Vachss works as a representative of children who are the victims of predatory abuse—both physically and emotionally.
As a World Wide Web denizen since 1995, Mr. Vachss is a pioneer in the exploration of cyberspace as a place to promote literary efforts, such as his "Choice of Evil" novel (www.choiceofevil.com). He also uses the Internet to bring awareness of crimes against children through his site titled The Zero 4.6 (www.vachss.com).
"The Web works as a venue for marketing Andrew's work because the medium has no barriers and no pigeonholes," said Lou Bank of Ten Angry Pitbulls Marketing (www.tenangrypitbulls.com), a firm that helped bring Mr. Vachss' work to the World Wide Web.
"If Andrew's novels are shelved in the mystery section of the local bookstore, it's a safe bet the horror readers will not find them while browsing, although his novels are certainly as appropriate to horror as they are to mystery," Mr. Bank said. "On the Web, he's as likely to be found—and sampled—by horror readers as he is by mystery or romance readers."
Mr. Vachss' work as an author helps support his professional mission as a legal advocate for children (usually abused children), a practice that does not equate into the big dollars most people think lawyers earn.
Writing books since 1985, and publishing his Web sites, serve the attorney-author on two levels. The promotion and sales of the books underwrite his work as a lawyer, and both mediums help to publicize a cause he is passionate about.
"In terms of my mission, the Web site has worked spectacularly. I get requests for material from people doing research and attempting advocacy from the Mideast to the Far East, from America to Africa," Mr. Vachss said. "It is the center of a constant process of people seeking information and finding a resource that I could not possibly afford to provide in any other manner."
Mr. Vachss is internationally known and a frequent writer of articles, a lecturer and guest on both television and radio talk shows.
He uses those appearances, in part, to direct surfers to The Zero Web site, where its hundreds of pages and links to other resources provide for hours of serious, and sometimes disturbing, reading.
Mr. Vachss has relied on print, as well as on-line efforts, to promote his stories, including placing some of his original short stories in magazines like Esquire and on-line publications like Frightnet.com (www.frightnet.com).
"I have written more than a dozen books, and this is the first one that we have targeted for on-line promotions with its own Web site," Mr. Vachss said. "Whether it will make a difference is hard to speculate. We will not know until after we see the overall book sales."
Other promotional efforts include Mr. Vachss' participation in on-line chat forums sponsored by such on-line booksellers as Borders Books (www.borders.com) and prominent news and information sites like the Microsoft Network (www.microsoft.com).
"I find the on-line chats to be quite enjoyable in that, unlike radio or television, they are not continually interrupted by commercial breaks," Mr. Vachss said, "though it is frustrating to hear from readers who waited in the queue to get their question posted, only to have the chat run out of time."
The Internet has not only become a promotional tool for the author, it is also a literary tool. In his latest novel, the character Burke makes contact with a serial killer he is pursuing on-line.
The Zero site has quietly become a cyber-success story in that it gives away information, not even selling advertising, to its more than 600 visitors a day.
What is unique to this number of surfer hits is that each visitor views, on average, at least 12 pages. This gives the site the extremely high number of more than 7,500 page views a day.
"I am asked why The Zero universal resource locater is my name, instead of saving that for my literary promotions," Mr. Vachss said. "There are a number of reasons, but it is not a promotional site for me or my books. The Zero is about child protection, and how to do it, resources to help you. Because people who are aware of my work search for me on line by name, it only makes sense for the URL to be that name."
For the author, attorney and advocate, the Web sites represent a business expense, even though The Zero is maintained by a staff of volunteers, that is wholly justifiable. He would not discuss costs.
"The total number of hits that The Zero has received during the time it has been up far exceeds the number of people whom I could have reached absent this forum," Mr. Vachss said.
"The Web site also allows me to provide the user with a complete resume and a means in which to verify my credentials," he said. "The material on the Internet is very rarely sourced or fact-checked. It does not go through an editorial process, such as a newspaper or magazine article. It is painful to have a young person cite or quote information found on the Internet as fact when they might not have any idea of the person who posted it."
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