Probability Angels – Now with More Pumpkins!!!

PumpkinsOn the one block walk to get my coffee this morning I was assaulted by no less than three different adds all telling me that someone was selling their normal products, only now they was crammed ass-full of pumpkin. You’ve got pumpkin coffees at Starbucks, pumpkin muffins at the corner muffin place, pumpkin doughnuts at Dunkin.

Everyone’s suddenly fucking nuts for pumpkins.

I mean, I understand why, the whole winter gourd phenomenon isn’t a new thing, but the sheer number of pumpkins being crammed into my eyeballs during a one block walk got me thinking.

Maybe I should try and cash in on this…

So I’m releasing a special edition copy of Probability Angels, only it’s got pumpkins all over the motherfucking place.

Probapumpkin Pumpkins

And we’re not stopping with mere cosmetic changes to the cover. Hell no.

You all remember that early scene where Matthew goes to meet Epp in the park? Epp has the tape set up and Matthew steps into it and watches as sound drops away and a lone firefly freezes in time?

Guess what. Now it’s got fucking pumpkins everywhere:

The first difference was as immediate as it was obvious. All noise ceased. Also pumpkins were all over the place. Pumpkins…luscious, sexy, orange pumpkins everywhere. It was like a god-damned pumpkin D-day. As Matthew straightened himself up there was no more wind in the trees, no more muffled sounds of traffic from Central Park West. You know what there were, though? There were some pumpkins all over the fucking place. He continued walking down the path that had pumpkins on it, the second change slowly sinking in as he realized he was no longer walking through a post-midnight darkness. And also he realized how many pumpkins there were. The air was now mellower, lighter, like it was only a little past dusk. You know what color the sky is around dusk? It’s orange. Like a certain winter gourd that right now you wish you could bake down, puree, fill a hot tub with, and sink into like some crazy-ass spa treatment. Then he stopped short and walked a slow circle around a single point of light, smiling as he recognized a firefly, its bottom flashing electric green, frozen in time, hovering in the air. Probably there were some pumpkins here, too. I don’t know. Fuck it, the firefly’s name was Pumpkin. How’s that? He reached a finger up and slowly pointed it towards the glowing beetle, was about to tap it to see what would happen when a voice spoke up behind him.

“Pumpkins.”

Matthew jumped and turned, then smiled and shook his head. “Jesus, Epp, you scared the hell out of me. And why are you slathered in that gross orange mucous crap that’s inside of pumpkins while wearing a pumpkin-orange suit and eating a slice of pumpkin pie and standing on a pumpkin and reading the scene from Cinderella where her stagecoach turns back into a pumpkin?”

Thrilling, isn’ t it?

This version should be hitting stores soon…

Experiment Results

Last week I talked about a little experiment being run by me and a Twitter friend, @Rolling20s. You can read about it in detail here, but the short of it was that @Rolling20s attended Con on the Cob, subsidized by me, and ran a vendor table there selling all things Matthew and Epp.

Here’s the table:

Matthew and Epp table

Frankly I think it looked awesome. As you can see there are the books, some magnets leftover from giveaways, and I also printed up various works of fan art that have come my way through the fan art contests or stuff I’ve commissioned.

The results?

We sold 13 books, a few magnets, and a print or two. The entire weekend came in at a net loss of around $400.

Clearly not a home run, but was it worth it? I’ll get into that in the next paragraph. I will say this, though, I once purchased an ad on Amazon that cost well over $400, ran for a month, and resulted in exactly 1 sale. So this experiment was not a home run, no, but it’s nowhere near the worst idea I’ve ever tried.

Okay, dissection time.

This was, without a doubt, totally worth it. For a first attempt 13 sales is respectable, plus I expect a few more sales to trickle in from people who @Rolling20’s spoke to throughout the weekend. First attempts at anything are going to be clusterfuck’s, that’s just how it is. You can’t expect to walk into a game you’ve never played before and get the high score your first time through. That’s just asinine.

Far more important than the actual book sales was the Skype conversation I had with @Rolling20’s last night recapping the weekend. I am damned lucky to have him as a fan because he’s a natural salesman and we work well together. Plus, we have a near perfect win-win relationship set up. He loves attending conventions rife with one of my target audiences, gamers, and is happy to continue trying to sell my books in order to defray the costs of his convention addiction. And I, obviously, am happy to have a salesman out there pushing my stuff at said conventions.

Attractive Woman with Business CardThis is, ironically, where two of our biggest mistakes occured this time around. First of all, and this was such a boneheaded mistake I can’t even…ugh…but first of all I never managed to get business cards to @Rolling20’s. He had nothing to hand out to people he chatted with, nothing to give to people who came up to the table, nothing for potential costumers to slip into their jacket pockets and pull out a few days later to cement my name in their head. I waited to order cards until I chatted over their design with @Rolling20’s and by the time we managed to chat it was too late to get him cards. Just a dunderheaded move on my part, but I have a problem pulling the trigger on ideas if I haven’t bounced them off of someone first. I honestly think business cards would have made a massive impact on post-convention sales.

The second thing we did wrong, and this is going to sound weird, but we put @Rolling20’s at a vendor table for most of the day. Oddly, this may have been the worst way to go about selling books. Foot traffic was low and the people wandering through the vendor hall tended to have set destinations in mind. I’m learning that every convention is different, but I think I was picturing more of a sidewalk fair mentality. We have those a lot here in New York, you’ll be strolling to the drug store and suddenly you’ll be in the middle of a smorgasbord of tables selling all kinds of crap. And you slow your feet down and you dawdle and you maybe buy a jar of honey, or something, that you in no way set out to buy on your way to the drug store. You wind up enjoying the browsing aspect of things and almost all the booths have a little crowd of spontaneous browsers around them.

Street Fair

I’m learning that this is not what conventions are like. Some people browse, yes, but a lot of people head to the booths they’re excited to see. Maybe Company X has a new product out and they just want to see that before moving into the convention hall to mingle and game.

Plus, again, foot traffic was slow. I trust @Rolling20’s retail abilities and, having having talked to him a ton, know that he gets the symbiotic nature of our relationship: the worse one of us does, the lower the odds are of us teaming up again (I mean for conventions, pal, not general chat and gaming and stuff 🙂 ). So I know he was actively engaging with any potential sales that wandered by, and yet he said he spent a lot of time with nothing to do and being bored. There was just no one there to sell to. Frankly, hearing his recap of the vendor hall activity, 13 books sounds like a heroic accomplishment.

Both of us came to the agreement that this might have worked better if we had just set him loose (WITH business cards) to be his normal charming self and an active representative of Joseph Devon Industries chatting up our products. This would have gotten word out far more and deducted the cost of the vendor table from the weekend. Not to mention @Rolling20’s would have enjoyed his weekend more. Again, symbiotic. The fact that he was bored most of the weekend is a negative for both of us.

That was lesson one, my main instrument of sales, @Rolling20’s himself, was poorly misused.

Lesson two was…confusing. I sent off the prints of art and the magnets purely for marketing purposes, just to dress up the table and maybe to giveaway to people who bought books. Somehow some of this stuff wound up selling. That baffles me. The fact that someone would buy a magnet with a quote from a book they’ve never read on it is just weird. To be honest, I have yet to figure out what that means, but it means something. Plus I have to believe that someone who sees my magnet on their fridge every day will, eventually, check out the book itself. I also have solid proof that the quotes I chose for the magnets are winners. But there’s some other idea on how to use this information that’s niggling away at my brain, it hasn’t quite solidified yet, though.

Epp's Watch, by Jack DaviesThe prints selling was surprising but not confusing at all. I know that all my fan artists rock and I love their works, that’s why I sent them along, I knew they would be eye catchers. But those were lower quality prints that I made up at Kinko’s on a complete whim. And yet some of them sold. And not only did some of them sell, but they represented, by far, the largest profit margin at the table. Now, technically, I own the rights to some of those for marketing purposes only. But you better believe I will be sending emails out to all my artists asking for the rights to sell their work for a percentage of profits. And just like that a revenue stream I never saw coming with the potential for a higher profit margin than my books themselves has popped up. That was a big win.

So, 13 books and some magnets and a print or two at a $400 loss.

Sounds horrible when you only look at the numbers, but when you try something like this you need to be realistic. You need to understand that the learning curve is frighteningly steep. You need to realize that you’re spending money to gain information. And you need to get your business cards ordered earlier (by the way, 500 business cards costs, like, $20 over at Vistaprint. If you don’t have some, get some).

You also need to be able to take a risk like this, get clobbered, and get back up again.

Plans are already in the works for @Rolling20’s next convention appearance.

Cheaper, better prepared, better used…and with business cards.

 

Why Marketing Your Books May Be the Wrong Idea

This coming weekend a new experiment will be taking place.

A friend of mine, @Rolling20s, will be attending Con on the Cob, a small gaming convention in Ohio. He will be attending on my dime and manning a table there selling all things Matthew and Epp. Which is to say, I registered him as a vendor at the convention and then shipped him a bunch of books and some promotional stuff. He gets to attend the convention and I get a man in the trenches with my product.

So all this week I’ve been wondering if maybe marketing your books isn’t the right way to sell your books.

This is, as mentioned, purely experimental, sort of a test balloon or what have you. I had zero idea what to send @Rolling20s, how many books, what the set-up would be like, etc etc etc. But we’re giving it a go. And I think this is an important move.

As far as I can tell, there are three elements to any retail business: production, distribution, and marketing. This notion was one of the driving forces that made me take my career online and away from the major publishing houses.

My thinking was as follows:

1) Producing a book (and I’m talking about the manufacturing of the book itself, the writing process is a whole other conversation) is easy and cheap. You can get your book listed and sold via amazon for the cost of  ordering yourself one proof copy for you to approve. Yes, if you want a nice cover you may have to spend some money, or some of your time, but the price of entry is still absurdly low. One of my favorite factoids about the production of books is that, way back in the day, when books were written in calligraphy by monks and the binding was hand sewn, producing a book cost…(wait for it)…a vineyard. That’s the best estimate that some article I read came up with. A vineyard. You give the value of an entire freaking vineyard and you get yourself one (1) book. So, yes, there are some hidden costs in book production nowadays, but with the movement away from silver etching printing and into digital printing, producing a book on your own is possible. Plus, in the ebook realm, producing a book costs nothing but the time it takes you to make some formatting changes and follow the instructions at the Amazon DTP and Smashwords sites.

2) Distribution is now open to everyone. My books are on Amazon. Amazon is the biggest whoozit with worldwide whatzits. If someone has heard of my book, and wants to buy my book, they are able to purchase my book. Yes, there are people who only shop in Brick and Mortar stores, but their numbers are shrinking, or they’re at least becoming hybrid buyers. Plus, most of my books, through CreateSpace’s distribution channels, are purchasable at Brick and Mortar bookstores. They may not be on the shelves, but a customer asking a clerk if they sell Probability Angels will get the response, “We don’t have it in stock at the moment, but I’d be happy to order you a copy.”  Unless the clerk is a jerk or something. And, again, with ebooks coming into play, distribution is…weird. If you own a Kindle (or what have you) then I am distributed to you. Done and done. No publishing house needed.

Oh, I know what some of you are saying: “But the publishing houses can get your books onto the shelves in bookstores.” Yes. Yes, they can. However that isn’t distribution. Look at it this way: if someone walks into a bookstore with the intent of buying a Joseph Devon book, then they will be able to make their purchase, thus distribution is complete. Now, if someone walks into a bookstore with no idea of what they want to buy, but sees my book displayed prominently on the shelf and decides to give it a try, well that isn’t distribution. That’s marketing. Which brings us to…

3) Marketing. I knew this was the only puzzle piece that I was lacking. And I knew it was going to be a hard one to build. And I knew that this was the piece of the puzzle that traditional publishing houses had a big advantage with…sort of. The connections that a decent publisher has should, arguably, provide an author they’re backing with access to widely read reviewers and bigger bookstore chains for possible tours or semi-decent shelf placement. However, over the past decades the marketing departments of publishing houses have gotten the ax, only a slim few authors that get published get publicity from their house. The vast majority of authors get published and then set adrift to do their own marketing. And, if they succeed and their books do well, then the publishing house will obviously pay them more attention. Granted, this is not the case with every house, but my point here isn’t to make a broad condemnation of publishing houses, my point is to explain why I took the independent route. And that view of things was a big reason. If the odds strongly suggest that I’ll have to do my own marketing anyway, then why not just go it alone? The other two components are already taken care of. Plus, in a world where a site showing pictures of cats hazzing cheezeburgers gets millions of visitors a day and a shirt with three wolves on it becomes an amazon best-seller, maybe the marketing rules are up for grabs. Maybe, in the words of one of my favorite authors, William Goldman, nobody knows anything. Maybe the doors are wide open.

And so, year after year, I’ve been marketing myself. I’ve used my budget to purchase various ads, I run contests here and there, I blog, I do blog tours, I tweet (I love tweeting) and Facebook and on and on and on. And my sales still suck.

This weekend, though? This weekend everything changes. This weekend @Rolling20s will sit at a table at Con on the Cob for a few hours each day and sell my books. He’s a great guy for doing this, and without all my previous marketing I never would have met him nor would I have learned that gamers tend to be easy converts to my books.

We have no idea what’s going to happen, but this past week one question has constantly been going through my head:

“What if the answer isn’t to market my books? What if the answer is to actually get out there and sell the damn things?”

Update from Contest Winner Saher

I’ve mentioned numerous times how there are often some challenges involved in getting a contest prize to a contest winner after a global contest. This year’s Art Contest proved no exception as I had to get a Wacom Tablet to Lucknow, India. Which is here:

 

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This time around I actually didn’t purchase the Tablet, due to fear of negating the warranty and…well whatever it was confusing.

But the Tablet has arrived! So very excited for Saher who sent along this picture:

Saher's Wacom Talbet

She says it “looks like a shimmering box of pixie dust.”

Haha…this is a fun job sometimes.

Soul Glow and Probability Angels

Every so often I go searching through the internet for myself, checking to see if any interesting reviews have popped up or if a forum somewhere might have been discussing me. It’s a little scary sometimes how little of the internet one actually sees.

During these searches, in which I wander far far far far into the google results of various queries, I find that, like, 80% of the internet makes no sense.

It’s just pages of babble or crazy-ass products crammed together or complete mirrors of Amazon, only crappily laid out and with zero hope of generating any traffic.

I usually can get some small grip on how some of these sites came into existence.

Then I came across this and my brain stopped:

Black Hair Weave – Your Discount Weave Store

I give up. I don’t understand the internet.