Prague Film School and My Creative Commons License

Legal gavel and leather binder on a deskEarlier this week I received an email from my new friend in Prague, Roma Raju. I mentioned her a few months ago. She attends a film school in Prague and wanted to know if she could adapt my short story, Private Showing, into a film for her final project.

My response was something along the lines of, “F*&! YES YOU CAN THAT’S SO F&*&#$G COOL OHMYGOD!”

She wrote me to let me know that progress was being made, she was looking into casting and that, “There is a whole lotta talk going on in school about a certain american writer who wrote a short story called ‘Private Showing.’ This year, the students from our school are making films based on short stories by Franz Kafka,George Orwell, Karel Capek and Joseph Devon.”

I’ll just die of happiness while you reread that.

Anyway, she also said she was writing because her school required express written permission from me to allow her to base her film on my work. Which…I’m not sure is right.

See, all my short stories are licensed under a Creative Commons license. Some of my books used to be under CC licenses too but I’ve since backed off of those. Though I don’t entirely know why. They get tricky.

Praga by Dorli Photography from FlickrNot because Creative Commons is tricky. They are a straightforward, non-profit organization with pretty interesting goals. Essentially they’re trying to make copyright law take a few steps forward so it catches up with the internet. They are not insistent that everything be free and nobody owns anything or other various extreme notions I’ve heard attributed to them.

The simplest example is an educator who uploads something to the internet with the desire of allowing anyone to use it, be it a list of math questions or a video about frogs mating. Whatever. The thing is, under traditional copyright law, in order for anyone to actually take that video and replay it, they need express written permission from the creator. That feels a bit old-fashioned when sharing at the speed of light is involved.

So Creative Commons set out to build a new set of licences, well within current copyright standards, that the previously mentioned educator could apply to their work so that others could quickly and easily disseminate it and show eighth-graders how frogs mate.

Creative Commons has a number of different licenses available. The most common allow one’s work to be shared based on three decisions:

1. Whether the sharing party must credit the original source

2. Whether the sharing party may profit from their sharing

3. Whether adaptations can be made, like turning a short story into a film.

And then you can mix and match among these things. Some people just share entirely and enter work directly into the public domain, some share but don’t want adaptations, etc. And of course you are free to contact the original creator directly and work out a whole new deal. You aren’t locked into the CC licence exclusively.

For me it gets tricky. My books, as I said, were open for sharing provided no profit was made and I was sourced. I get a lot of referrals from Free Online Novels where some of my books are available, which is nice. The overall concept in this day and age is that more dissemination means more readers means more fans means more people coming back here and spreading the word.

Except, Free Online Novels also sells ad space on their site. So…are they making a profit by sharing my work? They’re not selling it directly for profit, but my content is driving clicks to their ads which they’re profiting from.


Old Books by michaelatacker from FlickrSo I’ve backed off of CC licences for my larger works.

For my short stories, though? Well those are always kind of loss leaders in my mind. I love short stories and I love writing them but there’s like, two, authors in the world who can actually turn a profit off of a short story. For me they’re more valuable as tools to give new readers a taste of my voice and draw them in to reading my larger works. I’m happy to have short stories out there under the CC licence. And if someone does want to publish one for profit, well, again, I hold those rights still and they can contact me.

Which brings me back to Roma in Prague.

The story she wants to use is licensed under a Creative Commons license. Or it was…to be honest this might all be my fault because the CC badges get lost sometimes during the many shufflings I’ve done to my site’s organization.

Not that anyone is at fault, it’s just strange that despite my giving permission to use my work under a CC licence and giving permission to Roma in an email to use my work, her school is still requiring her to get express written permission from me. Like I’m going to be mailing a sheet of paper in an envelope to Prague.

Laws are funny things.

Some people think they get written down and then they are iron-clad, as if the ink that is pressed onto the paper during their writing is imbued with magic, and once set down everything falls under its sway.

But that’s not how it works. Once written down, they’re just written down, that’s all. They’re malleable, open to interpretation, arguable, up to the whim of whoever is chosen to judge the words if they are actually dragged into a courtroom for clarification. And they’re fallible, which is why I think maybe Roma’s school wants a firmer agreement from me.

I have no idea how well known Creative Commons is in Prague, but my hunch tells me that they’re not very. And if they seem like just some nobodies without much knowledge of the law, then Roma’s school is probably not going to pay them, or their licences, much mind and prefer to outline things their own way.

What does all this mean?

I have no idea. CC licences, as I said, are non-exclusive, so anyone else is free to approach me, the copyright holder, to work out another, seperate, non-exclusive deal. Which is what Roma’s school is doing.

Salt by Judy ** from Flickr

It’s just interesting to me that openly sharing my work can prove so difficult and that laws are only strong if they are generally understood and accepted.

At some point in French history, so it goes, the current king decided to fill his coffers by imposing an absurd tax on salt. This king is widely credited with, overnight, creating the largest black market in history and turning his entire population into salt smugglers.

The people simply didn’t go along with it.

What’s more powerful, the will of the people or court of law?

Don’t answer that.


A Few Words About Advertising Your Books

Times SquareLast week I chatted a bit about marketing my books, what has worked, and how revisiting my core strategy required some shifts in my current methods (that sounded  like jargon-speak).

At one point I mentioned that advertising was a pretty lousy way to sell books. That may have been a bit of an overstatement. The phrase “advertising” is broad and I don’t think one blanket judgment sums up my thoughts on the subject very well.

When I said that advertising is a lousy way to sell books, I was referring to the ads that most people think about whenever this project comes up in conversation. Big ads. Showy ads. Expensive, one-time ads. For instance, a lot of people have suggested that I price out a billboard in Times Square. I doubt highly that I could afford something like that, but, living in New York, most people throw that idea out. I mean, why not at least get a price quote?

Well, because I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t do anything. For one, the signal to noise ratio down there is absurd. But, more importantly, the advertisements in Times Square are parts of much larger marketing campaigns. Those billboards are not sole attempts to have those products interact with the masses in midtown. Those billboards are usually marquis ads for large brands that also have lord knows how many other ads, signs, catalogues, etc. where they can catch a hold of someone’s eyeballs, if only for a moment. And if you can catch someone’s attention with your product a few times in a few different ways, well then you’ve got something

AD building by By Straws pulled at random from FlickrThe other types of ads in Times Squares are ads for musicals. These ads are much easier for me to relate to. Why? Well, why are there musicals advertising in Times Square? Because that’s where the theaters are in New York. It’s Broadway. You’ve got the ads, then you’ve got the theaters themselves with copy all over them, you’ve got tickets for sale right there in any number of formats, it’s just a great place for musicals to advertise. That sort of overlap is, as I said, easier for me to relate to than the mega-campaigns of GAP or Apple. And, more importantly, that sort of overlap is achievable by me on the web.

There are four basic methods I have tried for advertising my books online. Here are my thoughts and conclusions on each.

1. Designing an ad and buying ad space on a specific website, such as a popular book blog.

This has not worked and I don’t recommend it…for me. I think this method would work wonderfully for a book whose genre is easily accessible. If you write Urban Fantasy as that genre is perceived by the current market,  sexy vampire/werewolf/ghost/human who is out hunting/being hunted by a sexy ghost/werewolf/vampire/human, then I think buying an ad on an Urban Fantasy blog could be great. The audience is primed for you, they came there looking for exactly what you’re offering, and, though it can be costly time-wise or money-wise to put a good design together, you’d just have to hit the proper notes to get clicks.

Me? My books? I have no idea what genre they are. They’ve been eviscerated by urban fantasy fans and adored by urban fantasy fans. I ask people what genre I write in and I get a complete hodgepodge of responses. Fantasy? Thriller? Literary? I mean there’s a scene in my book where an undead ronin saves a two-thousand year old Roman slave from being incinerated by his combined efforts with Isaac Newton to come up with a unified theory of gravity.

What the fuck genre is that?

So, no. This method has not been good to me.

2. Google Ads

Google ads were where I first started experimenting with advertising and I highly recommend you do so if you’re an indie author. It’s cheap, as low as a dollar a day, and you should treat the experience as a crash course in marketing. Don’t just set it and forget it, really dig deep into the data. That’s where this method had its merits. I started thinking about genres (yes, I know I just said I was genre-less but I still have to try to target something), what other authors my readers enjoy, and I definitely learned a lot about simple hooks and call to actions to put into an ad in order to get a higher response. “Click now!” sounds like a stupidly annoying thing to put into your ad, but, seriously, it works.

So Google is a great place to hone, or discover, a wide number of tools that are needed for advertising and bigger picture marketing.

The problem? It’s just too damn big. And the space you’re given to write an ad is laughable. Honestly. It’s like writing haiku.

Facebook by Scott Beale / Laughing SquidIf I was selling vacuums, okay.  “Vacuums on sale. Low prices. Click now.” I mean, it’s easy to get to the point with some products. With books though? It’s hard enough to get across that you’re selling your specific book, not just books in general. You have to cram in your personality and flavor and a sense of your genre. And that’s not so bad, but unfortunately Google awards you when the words in your ad match up with the words you choose to trigger your ad during searches.

So I had to try to get all of the above stuff in while fitting in words like “books,” “urban fantasy,” “thriller,” “zombies.” It’s rough.

And it’s made rougher by the fact that Google doesn’t understand English. If I write, “Probability Angels by Joseph Devon,” well that’s quite obviously a book. The tiny word “by” in there conveys that concept. But for Google this phrase has nothing to do with books because the word book doesn’t appear.

Short answer? It’s cheap and a great place to get your feet wet. But I found composing ads that got clicks, showed up for the searches I wanted to, and weren’t slowly tuned out by Google more difficult than writing a freaking book.

3. Facebook Ads

Now we’re on to something. Equally cheap, which is nice. You can start with a few dollars a day and experiment with their interface and what they like to see in ads. More importantly, they have great targeting. I know that my writing gets compared to Neil Gaiman, for example.

How do I know this? I’ve asked people, and researched what key words have brought people to my site, and taken note of what books amazon pairs me up with. And on Facebook I can write an ad, have my book cover up there, and then target it only to people who have “Liked” Neil Gaiman. This is wonderful stuff.

Furthermore, I can create a larger campaign. Instead of one ad, I have a series of ads. They all  run under the same budget, so I’m not adding dollars here. They all have the same basic info, but they all are offer new angles into my books. Most of them are memorable quotes from my characters. Catching, jarring quotes. Someones sees one, okay, they do a double take and they move on. But that person will see various quotes over time and, again, engaging a target in different ways helps your product sink in. This isn’t quite as varied as the mega-campaigns I mentioned earlier, but it is variation within my ads. The reader is exposed to different characters and their tones while the basic ad image remains the same. It feels much more like a marketing campaign instead of just ads.

And, most importantly, it’s working. Sales are up. Can’t argue with that.

Recent Reads by giveawayboy on Flickr4. Goodreads Ads

I have high hopes for this. Remember the musicals advertising in Times Square from earlier? Well this is the same concept. Goodreads is one of the largest social book networks out there. Eventually I’ll poke around Shelfari and Librarything too but for now I’m learning the ropes at Goodreads.

One thing I like here is that my ads click through to my book’s Goodreads page. My visitor has no sense of leaving one site and landing at my site, which can be jarring. They’re in familiar territory the whole way and they know perfectly well how to ad my book to their “To-Read” pile. You can also choose to have a tally of your reviews included in your ad. That’s great data to throw in there and, again, it’s data that Goodreads users understand.

Plus, you can create multiple ads under one budget so you can come at people from a few different angles just as with my Facebook ads, which I love.

The downside? Currently there’s a massive site-wide bug in their advertising code that is causing zero ads to show. So I have no idea if this idea will pan out. But I think it will. It seems like a good system.

So those are my thoughts and experiences from the trenches. I’ve got a lot of online ad campaigns under my belt and I really hope that my blunders can help others find a quicker and easier path to their audience.

Now…who wants to fund my billboard in Times Square?

Looking Forward

I was hoping to discuss how the most recent convention/play test/Probability Angels RPG marketing thing went, but it’s getting late and @Rolling20s is still on the road and I won’t be getting a full debriefing in time to write this.

Chalk that up to poor time management on my part. I forgot what day of the week it was due to the three day weekend. That counts as poor time management, right?

Anyway, I do have some information. One play test was undertaken at the convention and the few players involved had a ton of fun. However, we appeared to have picked a convention that wasn’t ideal, it was difficult for @Rolling20s to get players for our particular type of game, and the first session had to be outright cancelled. So he bailed and headed north to meet up with some friends in the Baltimore area. These friends were definitely the right kind of gamers and he was guaranteed a good play test with a full table (there were only two players at the session he was able to run).

I feel like I should have a map on the site with a “Where’s @Rolling20s?” pin on it or something.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve heard except for some tweets here and there. I’ll do a full breakdown next post.

In other news, I will be undertaking another book tour in a couple of months.

I did a book tour back in the fall and was, frankly, underwhelmed. I was confused most of the time, did not feel like my hostess was promoting my book as much as she was cramming it into any site that would take it, I answered a humongous set of questions that have yet to appear anywhere and, well, it didn’t do much for me sales-wise.

This was, again, mostly my fault. I wanted to see what these book tours were all about and I tried a very very cheap one. I got what I paid for, but I did learn how they work and that I really enjoy answering interview questions.

For awhile now I’ve been toying with the idea of doing another one if I could find the right host, but that was an absolute nightmare.

I’m not sure if you’re aware of this but people on the internet are insane. When I contacted book tour sites people were writing back in all caps, people were writing back in gibberish, people were writing six emails in one day and then not responding to me ever again. One lady seemed okay, but then she promised me that if I hired her I would get the number one spot on Google for the search term “urban fantasy author.” That’s a big red flag. It says, over and over again, in Google’s how-to pages and webmaster pages that no one can ever guarantee a top slot. Ever. I asked this lady what she had meant by her email, giving her a chance to explain herself, and she replied, “It’s a secret,” and then used some emoticon I’ve never seen before.

However, just as I was about to give up, I tried one more site that offers internet book tours and was completely blown away. I was contacted professionally and promptly, and when I did manage to set some time aside for a phone call all of my trick questions were answered correctly. The woman who runs the business was smart, kind, and, most importantly maybe, wildly enthusiastic about marketing books.

So I have that little adventure to look forward to in the coming months.

Otherwise my life has been boring and cold with a few showers of postseason football.


The $.99 Price Point in Publishing

ninety nine cent booksThere have been a lot of articles recently, and not so recently, about how much e-books should cost. Obviously this will always be up for debate, but over the course of last year somehow Kindle self-publishers landed at $.99 as the correct answer for now.

Why $.99? Well for starters that’s the lowest you can go. There’s also a lot of allure in those double digits to the right of the decimal point. Something priced at $1 seems, somehow to our brains, to be much more expensive than something priced $.99.

iTunes and the iStore probably have a lot to do with it, too. $.99 has been their reigning price point for awhile now (though individual songs are creeping back up) and I think it just makes sense to people that digital whatzimahoos should be $.99.

As I mentioned, there’s been a lot of dicussion about this. Some people think it’s good idea, there’s a nice breakdown from earlier last year over at CNET.

Some people think it’s a horrible idea, this article from the Huffington Post thinks $.99 cent books are going to undermine the market and cause a price war that will never end.

I’m not here to discuss the ins and outs of this too much. I’m just here to say that no matter what people think, or write, or preach, or argue, or believe, the fact is simply that $.99 IS the price point for Kindle books.

How do I know?

Because I dropped the price of Probability Angels to $.99 a few weeks ago and I’ve sold more copies since then than I did all of last year. I do have a new ad campaign running based on this price drop, but I’ve run ad campaigns before and never seen results like this.

Is this good? Is this bad?

How should I know? But it is what it is and reality can never be ignored, no matter how pretty your arguments are.

Frankly, I’m of the opinion that future authors will generate revenue from a wide variety of sources, and not just on royalties from book sales, so I’m not particularly worried.

Plus, as I mentioned, the price of music is creeping back up so I don’t entirely think $.99 is the permanent price for an e-book.

But it IS the price of e-books right now.

Full stop.

Progress in Self-Publishing? Maybe…

Progress in Self-Publishing

I think I spotted a ray of hope for self-publishers this morning.

A lot of days I sit at my computer doing nothing more than trying to get people to pay attention to me. And not in a fun, “Look at me I’m wearing a lampshade on my head!” sort of way. In a repetative, mindless, grind known as cold-emailing.

I have numerous Google Alerts set up for terms that have something to do with my books: “Urban Fantasy,” “Independent Reviewers,” “Genre Tweaking Novels Where a Ronin Saves a Roman Slave From Being Burned to Death by Isaac Newton.”

Surprisingly that last one doesn’t prompt a lot of responses.

What I do get a lot of, though, are blogs and sites which review books or interview authors. And I sit here and send off email after email asking for reviews or an interview or a write-up. And then nothing happens.

It’s awesome. Really. Tons of fun.

This seemed like a great idea to me when I started, and it still seems like a necessary panning for gold sort of task, but very quickly the sites I was coming across began to fall into three categories.

They were either:

1. Tiny blogs with few readers who were happy to promote any book that anyone emailed to them.

2. Gibberish spewed by lunatics and organized by a somewhat artistically inclined orangutan.

3. A large, well-established blog that would take review requests but *would never review self-published titles.*

This last category always killed me. I mean, I know why they don’t review self-published books. Self-published books suck for the most part. I stand proudly in a class of authors that could be out-written by a somewhat artistically inclined orangutan if he wasn’t so swamped with requests to design new websites.

Except…except there are also authors like me. Authors who are self-published by choice. Authors who have a growing base of loyal fans because we take our work seriously, know what we’re doing, and are simply a natural offshoot of a massively flooded book market. Some of us with talent were bound to try out this self-publishing thing.

But the fact that this choice automatically shuts me out from some of the larger reviewing blogs is irritating and I always think that it would be nice if there were some caveats to their review requirements. Go read my reviews on Amazon; those are real and barely any are from people I know. But no amount of stars, no number of quotes, nothing gets past that wall of *we do not review self-published titles.*

And that’s not good for anyone. These rules have to change because more and more of us authors are trying end-arounds behind traditional publishers and, while much of the resulting pile will likely remain crap, some of that pile is going to be quality work published in a manner that will be commonplace in a decade.

So, basically the world needs to change in order to make me right. No problem.

But then, this morning, DUN DUN DUNNNN…I came across this site:

The Book Pushers

Their review policy reads as follows: “Previously we had a policy of not reviewing any self published books on the blog. This has now changed. We will be reviewing self published books, but we will only be reviewing copies that we have solicited or bought ourselves. This is due to the vast number of self published titles that are out there.”

So I still can’t technically approach them with my book, but they do review self-published novels!


Not even close.


Smells a bit like it, yes.


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?”

I’m a Genius

So I have about five artists reading through rough drafts of the first two parts of the new book, all of them picking out scenes to draw up. This is stupid amounts of fun and I’m quite glad I thought it up. Frankly it’s getting harder and harder to sit on this stuff and not share with you all. But, my desire to host a little countdown is outweighed by my desire to say, “Checkthisoutthisissocool!”

Though not by much.

Plus it’s late August and the world is on vacation and I think I’d rather show the work of these artists to you when your brains are actually turned on.

So I’ll just continue to sit on my ever growing pile of super awesome mystery pictures from the coolest fans ever.

No problem.

So…how do ya’ll want to run this?

Part 1 has now been edited. It isn’t done by any means,I like to read things a LOT of times before I call them done. That being said I’ve been sitting on these damn words for so long that, now that I’ve given them the first once-over, some cracks are starting to appear in my facade of silence. It’s possible that some very large chunks of text have been emailed to some longtime readers. And it’s possible that this trend shall continue.

The cat is very slowly being let out of the bag. What this means is that I need to start figuring out exactly how I’m going to go about releasing this book.

Normally a book is picked over by dozens of people before its release, like reviewers to editors, and then it becomes available for large scale sale on a certain date.  The thing is, you are my reviewers and editors and I’m sort of inclined to invite some of you into the process because I think that’s fun…and also because I need help finding those damned typos. They’re like cockroaches they are.

On the other hand I also want to have a big opening day release for my book because that also sounds like fun, my book deserves a proper birthday party, and I think that starting everyone off at the same time helps build buzz. Maybe. We tend to aim for slow builds as far as marketing goes here at Joseph Devon Industries. We’re like the mother fucking Ravel’s Bolero of this business.


Sooooo…yeah. I’m going to need some readers in the near future.

Think that over and get back to me.