I have a dream where the primary means for spreading my work involve only Goodreads and this site. It’s not out of laziness, but efficiency. To the general public, looking at the business of selling books online, these are the only two places where that activity should matter: a popular, consolidated, social media-driven place that allows public review (and potential vivisection), and an “official” place that offers easy access to the products. Since I want as little to do with Amazon or Apple, for various reasons that could be simplified as “disagreement with corporate policy”, I’ve put myself into the very challenging position of sole responsibility for peddling my wares.
At the end of July, for the first time since releasing Ambia way back in ’11, I started looking into marketing options in earnest. As the new, definitive editions of my books started to come together, I realized that I’d sorely neglected the publishing portion of self-publishing. Writing the book, making the videogame, sewing the plushies, printing the t-shirts, whatever’s involved in the making of a product will always be the hardest and most stressful part of any creative business endeavor, but it’s all for nothing if there’s no avenue for reaching the people who want to pick up what you’re laying down.
This time around I’m taking it slow, and being patient. I believe that the ultimate method of grassroots promotion involves producing more stuff and then presenting it to as wide an audience as possible. The following results illustrate the effects of a limited passive campaign.
Here’s the current passive promotion cycle that started when Tale of the Madeus was published 30 days ago:
Publish a Goodreads entry containing full book details.
Update email and forum signatures with links to the books.
This had been kept minimal and straightforward on purpose, because I’d rather do more stuff than just keep telling my audiences to buy. I still have yet to do a proper newsletter mailing or reach out to book review bloggers, and anything more than that would involve paying money for promotion (a thing that I’m more than willing to do, but will be waiting until I have at least 2 more books on the shelves before investing).
Boost no Boost
By the time the new edition of Parlow’s Choice was published, the updated version of Tale of the Madeus had been “on the market” for 11 days. I prepared a Facebook advertisement (they have some strict rules about the accompanying image, mostly to do with additional text) and then “Boosted” it from the Dark Acre page. Here’s the report:
.002% conversion rate for US$35.
The ad was set to target “science fiction ebook readers in the age range of 18-65”. Supposedly it appeared on the Facebook feeds of 13,332 people connected to the people who had already (graciously, thank you) Liked the Dark Acre page.
The ad ran for 3 days before using up the allocated budget. It resulted in 30 clicks that took interested folks directly to the book purchase page on Gumroad.
Actuals and Factuals
Here’s the 30-day report from Gumroad, showing views and sales:
An excellent look at the results of the marketing efforts thus far.
The good news is that the Facebook clicks add up, regardless of the shockingly horrible conversion rate. Gumroad itself provides some activity, and the number of views is surprisingly high considering that it’s more or less just “shotgun marketing”.
The top performer was direct shares, most coming from my email activity. I’m not crazy with my mailings, but just spreading the links in signatures has worked the best so far. I think that the point here is that each one of the efforts has resulted in directing at least one person to my work, and that even the single view from Pinterest is a precious gain.
Show Me The Money
You may be wondering how the report above can show 8 sales and only 5 dollars total. Here’s how that works:
A single cash sale (a very kind overpay, though) on 79 views.
The zero sales are free copies I’ve given out to supporters and friends. They’re not review copies, either: I handle those separately to keep the sales data as clean as possible. So at least each “sale” is someone who was interested enough to redeem a download code, and of course the very awesome person who paid more than the minimum for a copy of Tale of the Madeus.
The immediate workload as of this post looks something like this:
Publish professionally-recorded audiobooks as free add-ons to all books on the shelves.
Produce “How to Ebook” video series and publish on YouTube/Vimeo.
Draft, edit, and publish the next Solarus novel.
Edit and publish a 300+ collection of short stories and poems.
It’s likely that the shorts collection won’t be ready for another year, and it’s possible that an additional book gets published before then. In either case, once there are two more books on the shelves I’ll contract a PR firm and do some serious marketing. Everything until then will be passive (and hopefully non-destructive) grassroots efforts.
You can help me out by spreading my work around. Every share of the shelf link: https://gumroad.com/darkacre and the books link: https://dark-acre.com/books (the S in the httpS is very important, as it will auto-format the share if sent on Twitter or Facebook) is worth far more than any single purchase. Also, if you’ve read any of the books please take a moment to leave a review or rating on Goodreads. As I’m operating without a direct review system (à la Amazon/iTunes) it’s the easiest way to generate proof of quality.
Furthermore: if you run a review blog, know someone who does and would be interested in some tasty sci-fi, or have any advice and recommendations regarding grassroots marketing, please get in touch with me either via e-mail or Skype and let me know. Any and all help is greatly appreciated.
Serious thank-yous are in order for the following folks who’ve stuck with me this far: Asbjorn, Ayako, Bryan, Divya, Erik, Greg, Gerry, Hannora, Janus, Jin Soo, Jiří, Joel, Kate, Kelly, Leonardo, Mike P., Mike R., Nao, Pam, Patrick, Pauline, Pon, Rainbow, Ronzo, Serge, Sergey, Shannon, Tom, and of course you.
Tune in next month for the year 5 report, where I drop the total costs for a half-decade of independent creative development. Until then!
It’s important to follow your dreams, but sometimes they’re nightmares in disguise.
“Hot Takes” is a monthly Dark Acre feature made up of Jack’s opinions on random Internet debris.
In Love With a Japanese Gangster
I spent 36 hours in the streets of SEGA’s incredibly detailed and true-to-Tokyo Kamurocho, a fictional pleasure district ruled by yakuza and corrupt police. People talk about Shenmue in reverent tones using words like “immersion”, but for me there hasn’t be a videogame experience more immersive in recent memory than Yakuza 4. I should probably do a Gameview on it, as it’s worth talking abut from a design standpoint, but my hot take on this one is: staggering amount of content, excellent story, and accurate depiction of Japanese underground culture. Now to go back and play the previous 3.
War Can Be Fun
If you’re familiar with this one you might envy me in my only just now playing it for the first time. I remember seeing promotional materials for Advance Wars back in 2000. I’d been in Japan for a year and was spending most of my gaming hours (which were few and far between, what with the 17 hours a day teaching English) on SEGA’s Dreamcast. In the end I never got a Game Boy Advance, so I missed out on a lot of great titles. I’d thought about AW on and off ever since, and after not having my turn-based strategy itch sufficiently scratched I remembered it and checked around the various digital outlets for a copy.
By all accounts this game was amazing at launch, and that’s no less true today. The graphics are still crisp and, dare I say, delightful. Snappy audio, great characters, and a depth of design that seems lost in many of today’s newer offerings, Advance Wars could very well become my game of the year if it maintains the tight grip that it’s had since I downloaded it.
Certain Space-y æsthetics
This stellar chunk of video by Raoul Marks was made for some design conferences, and came across my desk via a series of gifs on Tumblr. Evocative of Facepalm Games’s “The Swapper“, there are fewer things that get me going faster than the mix of ultraclean space tech mixed with crumbly enigmatic monoliths. It’s not something I strive for in my own writing, but I can certainly appreciate it. Space odysseys forever!
Though I do wonder how the hell they keep all those gleaming white surfaces so clean…
Still Dumping the Body
I’ve always been a huge fan of the Hip. Way back when I was a no-good, drug-taking, hard-living miscreant, I spent many a long night harassing the graveyard shift at Peacock Billiards for free table time. More often than not the attendants would play some Hip, so now every time I hear Gordon Downie’s wild voice I get hazy images of racking 9-ball and knockin’ ’em into pockets. A “deluxe edition” of Fully Completely was recently released, and it’s just as good as it’s ever been.
With the same lateness to the party as Advance Wars I’ve “discovered” Monster Magnet. When I was 21 and I met a very lovely girl named Janice, who’d traveled all the way across the country to hang out and party with the circle I was attached to at the time. At the time I hadn’t even noticed her sitting in the shadow’s the place where I’d been crashing, but she’d seen me and fallen madly in love. After she left the city, a friend introduced us and we started a long-distance romance, sending letters and mix tapes back and forth until I finally flew out to see her.
It didn’t work out; in fact it failed so spectacularly that less than 24 hours after arriving for a planned week-long stay we discovered that we were incompatible, and her father ended up paying to fix my return ticket so I could leave the day after, but out of all of that there’d been this one song on one of the tapes that she’d sent me that had stuck with me for years. I’d mis-remembered the lyrics though, thinking they’d been “wrap these muscles ’round my torso”, so naturally any time I tried to look up the song the searches would fail.
I finally managed to make the right connection, and it was the song above. I’d never gotten into or heard any Monster Magnet beyond that track, so there’s been a lot of musical catch-up this month. This band rocks, and I’m glad I figured out who they were before it was too late.
Put off watching this one for a long time, not sure why. A fascinating tale of artistic ambition, the gathering of giants, and the machinations of Hollywood. I don’t understand why someone doesn’t just Kickstart this project and make it happen. Jorodowsky himself admits in the doc that it could be realized as an animated film, and he’s got a complete production bible. Perhaps it’s one of those things that better left to live in the imagination, lest it be picked down to a carcass by culture critics.
The 08th MS Team
Terrible cultural confession time: for someone who’s loved “mecha” for most of their life, lived in Japan, collected dozens of plastic model kits of the series… I’d never actually seen a single episode of any of the Gundam universe. It was a sublimated part of my sci-fi lexicon, though, living in some lizard part of my brain as this sprawling thing that was mostly identified by the giant green Cyclopean robots and their opposition in sharp red, white, and blue.
Why did I start with this series? It was one of the recommended places for noobs. Is it good? It’s watchable, but it’s kind of destroying what I had living in my imagination. It’s another example of the idea of a thing being far more beautiful than the reality.
When someone says you’re 1 in a million they’re also saying there’s 7,000 other people like you.
It’s been a wild summer. The interior of my home province, British Columbia, was burning. Parts of the island that I live on were also afire, and the combination of the two filled the air with smoke and ashes for weeks. The sunrises and sunsets were spectacular; hell, the midday sun was Lovecraftian in its blazing, hazy glory.
The city had made the decision to upgrade the infrastructure surrounding the studio. This involved a lot of trucks, jackhammers, and people shouting for weeks on end, and it made work all but impossible. Coupled with the blazing heat and dank air, the environment was not conducive to creative work of any kind, so none got done.
The roadwork finished, the fires burned out, and the temperatures fell to a reasonable enough level that things could start happening again, and so I decided to prepare my previously-published work for re-publication.
While I’ve continued to write on a regular basis, even publicly posting a year’s worth of daily practice to the Internet, I haven’t finished any long-form writing since first releasing Ambia back in the summer of ’13. The time and skill development since then has made those earlier books almost embarrassing in their amateur execution. Not only that, but there were a ton of inconsistencies and continuity errors in all three books that I’ve only now been able to spot and correct with the help of Nevigo’s articy: draft.
There’s a huge danger of over-revision, though. I think that writing is a lot like sculpture, only instead of starting with a block of material the writer has to produce that initial blank from nothing. That’s the first draft, the formation of the rough stone that will later become a masterpiece or disaster under the hammer and chisel of revision and rewriting. It’s understanding what needs to be removed from that chunk of dross that makes editing both exciting and terrifying. I think it’s important to recognize what works and what doesn’t, and doing the best possible job to improve or remove those rough spots. I don’t think that I really did that when I first rushed to publish, but I’m confident and very happy with how the current editions are shaping up.
The big push now is to finalize the books and re-open the Dark Acre storefront, and with a bunch of hard work that should happen very soon. I’ve managed to re-contract Jiří Horáček, the artist responsible for the beautiful covers of the Solarus Cycle, and he’s graciously agreed to do a new cover for the short story Parlow’s Choice. I’ll be offering the books exclusively from this site, in single DRM-free packages containing .pdf, .epub, and .mobi versions. Any customers on record from the old storefront will receive these updated offerings free of charge. I’m very excited to bring these updated editions to you.
That’s it for this month, and expect some interim posts before the next report as the books go on sale. I hope that if you’re a fan of science fiction, or if you know someone who is, that you’ll help support me by picking up some copies and spreading them around.
The method of the making matters not; the perception of the results is everything.