WHAT THE HELL

Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

An experimental way to publish a novel, or, “artificial dissemination”

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I have an interesting idea a-brewing. A mere notion at this point. Maybe a whim, an impulse. Possibly just a funny feeling.

I was chatting with Susan Toy recently about book marketing and how difficult it is, and I mentioned that I’d just about had it with all the usual methods. It’s pretty clear that social media isn’t ideal for it because everyone sees you as spamming. And blogs are great for your brand, but potential book readers don’t really flock to your blog and then run out to buy your stuff. Advertising is expensive. Bookstores don’t like indies. Your friends and family can only do so much for you, word-of-mouth-wise.

In short, it’s hard out there for a book pimp.

So I told Susan that I was this close to putting a book out one copy at a time to readers who would accept a “pay what you want” deal.

Intrigued?

See, what I have in mind is non-publication publication, or, kind of an electronic samizdat product. I would format the book as a pdf, then personalize it with a special inscription to that reader. She would make her offer ($1, $3, $10?), then I’d hit her with a PayPal invoice. The instant I receive her virtual cash, I fire off the file and she gets her book, ready to install on her Kindle or Nook. Or her phone or PC, for that matter.

This would definitely be lo-tech as far as formatting goes. I wouldn’t pay an outside formatter, and I doubt that I’d do a professional cover. (This is samizdat, folks.) Instead, as I did with the pdf of “Gatecrash,” I’d probably stick a cool photo at the beginning and doll it up with some title/author text. (See this as an example … )

Come to think of it, since the costs of production will be almost nil, I could sprinkle images throughout the book. There are lots of possibilities.

My question to you, dedicated followers of What The Hell, is would you pony up a buck or three for an experimental publication like this?

In other words, can I count on you to buy my next book directly from me and bypass Amazon et al.?

Incidentally, it’s pay what you want, but if you pay $5 or more, you’ll get your name listed in a new What The Hell of Fame, and I’ll also put you in the acknowledgements of a future edition (perhaps after 50 copies have sold).

Now, there are limitations to this idea, for sure. Reviews for one. If you wanted to review the book, you’d have to do so on your blog. (I could reprint your reviews on my blog too.) Or you could refer your Facebook and Twitter followers to me so they could buy their own copy. You could interview me about the project, promote my other books, buy the private edition for friends and/or family (and I’ll inscribe those too) — any number of things that could take the place of reviews.

Another limitation would be that I’d have no way to promote the book in the usual, more efficient ways, i.e., EReader News Today or BookBub. This would be almost strictly a word-of-mouth thing.

So what do you think? Is this worth pursuing? Am I out of my mind? Is there really anything to lose?

They say we need to find readers one at a time. Well, this takes the idea literally and runs with it!

Share your thoughts in the comments, s’il vous plaîs.

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39 comments on “An experimental way to publish a novel, or, “artificial dissemination”

  1. islandeditions
    April 6, 2016

    You already know my answer to this. I’ll be interested to hear what others say …

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 6, 2016

      Thanks for the reblog, Susan, and for helping to pitch this!

      • islandeditions
        April 6, 2016

        You know I’m always on board when it comes to new ideas and approaches!

  2. islandeditions
    April 6, 2016

    Reblogged this on Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing and commented:
    From Kevin Brennan … on an interesting promotion/publication idea he and I were discussing recently.

  3. Amy M. Reade
    April 6, 2016

    Intriguing idea. Would this be for books you’ve already published, or new releases?

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 6, 2016

      I’d do this for a new release and leave my other titles on Amazon. Ultimately, if the response is enthusiastic, I’d probably go ahead and publish the new one on Amazon too.

      Thanks for commenting, Amy!

  4. grantleishman
    April 6, 2016

    Reblogged this on Grant Leishman – Author and commented:
    What an intriguing idea from Kevin Brennan

  5. Tim Baker
    April 6, 2016

    Your idea is not without its merits…however (yeah – I’ll be playing the role of “wet blanket” in this comment!):
    As you said – word of mouth is only so good. Your plan will rely heavily (almost exclusively) on that very method – with you being saddled with the lion’s share of the work.
    Amazon may not be perfect and your observations on social media marketing are, for the most part, true, but Amazon’s algorithms do provide some built in marketing tools that you don’t have to worry about.
    In short (I have observed this from personal experience) the more books you sell, the more Amazon pushes you.
    Over the past 9 years I have busted a gut marketing myself using every means at my disposal…it has taken a while but I am now enjoying decent sales.
    When I started I was selling about 20 books per year. Now I sell 20 books per week.
    In my opinion your idea will result in a lot of work for you and not very many sales and on top of that you’ll be at the mercy of “word-of-mouth marketing”.
    I could be wrong, but I wouldn’t do it – but if you decide to try it I’ll be at the front of the line to help you out.

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 6, 2016

      Everything you say is true, Tim, and I’m certainly not letting my expectations get over-jazzed. (I’ve loved and lost in the past.) But since I write literary fiction, I’m never going to be getting 20 sales a week, so I need to look at different ways of attracting eyeballs. Who knows, maybe this will be a tool that opens up some possibilities.

      My next project? A novel in tattoos … 😺

  6. kingmidget
    April 6, 2016

    Great minds think alike!! Or is it desperate minds? I’ve had this very same thought numerous times over the past couple of years. I’ve thought about various approaches, posting longer stories in serial form on my blog(s) and asking for payments to keep the story going. Post the first couple of parts for free and then have the rest password-protected and you get the password if you pony up some loose change. Or something like that. Or do what you’re suggesting … sell a PDF for download to a Kindle, to take out the middleman. My concern with that approach is people, although they don’t want to a pay anything for e-books from nobodies, still want those e-books to look like all their other e-books. And in my experience downloading a PDF to the Kindle, unless things have changed, means getting the book in a screwy format. Friends and family may be OK with that, but I’m not sure the average anonymous reader will be.

    I’m all for the experiment and would love to try it as well one day. Let me know what I can do to help.

    This gets back to my idea of a self-publishers cooperative of some sort, where a number of us authors with like-minded goals pool our talents and resources and start something like this so it’s not just you going it alone.

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 6, 2016

      Desperation is the mother of invention. Or something like that …

      But yeah, on the pdf front, I’m playing around with ways to make it look really great, more like a page in a book rather than the usual bland ebook experience. And there’s no formatting cost either.

      The only problem I have with a self-publisher’s co-op is that there’s not much literary fiction out there, and I don’t want to get my stuff in with a bunch of bare naked male torsos!

      • kingmidget
        April 6, 2016

        Ah, I think that between the two of us we know a few literary self-publishers who might have an interest in trying something like this.

        I would be very interested in learning from you on the PDF formatting.

      • Kevin Brennan
        April 6, 2016

        I’ll keep you up to date on my progress, Mark. So far the tests are encouraging!

      • kingmidget
        April 6, 2016

        This is something I’m really interested in pursuing.

  7. What about a hybrid marketing plan…some on Amazon (for name recognition and reviews), but some available as you suggest direct from you – people do like personalization. It’s special. Once you are set up, the extra work may be limited. And you might get some buzz off the new idea

    • Oh, just to clarify. You’d have to have different title on Amazon than offered for the direct sales….might work as many readers pick one book ( off Amazon for instance) and then want more by the author

    • islandeditions
      April 6, 2016

      I like your way of thinking, philmouse. I’ve always said that we need to make our work available in whichever format readers choose to read it.

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 6, 2016

      I have four titles on Amazon already, so the foundation is there. This would definitely be an additional angle.

  8. 1WriteWay
    April 6, 2016

    Interesting comments. I’m inclined to think you should heed Tim Baker. As someone who “discovered” some of her favorite writers long after their first publication, I expect there’s truth in what he is saying about the slow slog to modest sales. But you’re not talking about giving up on the work you currently have available on Amazon; just experimenting with a new novel.

    The thing is, people will often say they’ll pony up to be a subscriber to get exclusive access to your work. But when the time comes, they don’t. I have to admit I’ll been wary of “subscription” services (like Patreon), but I do like what you are suggesting.

    It would be an interesting experience, especially since you have a few books available on Amazon. You can compare.

    That said, I’ll be pushing my way to the head of the line to get your next endeavor 🙂

    And I like that new cover for Yesterday Road!

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 6, 2016

      Yes, I worry that the virtual “pre-orders” would dissolve when the book actually becomes available. I’ve had giveaways here on the blog where no one wants what I’m giving away!

      I’m hoping this approach would pique some interest — enough for potential readers to plop down a couple of bucks to see what’s inside.

      We shall see!

  9. curtisbausse
    April 6, 2016

    Interesting idea, and one that surfaces every so often in my mind, simply because, as you say, all the other avenues have been tried. So I’d be perfectly willing to back it up with a bit of paypal and word of mouth. And until something is tried, we can’t know how effective it would be, so I say go for it! All you have to lose is your time (which I agree is precious), but hey, it’s an experiment and they don’t always work out. If it doesn’t, at least you’ll have been a trailblazer, just down the wrong trail… (btw, sorry to be a total pedant but it should be s’il vous plaît)

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 6, 2016

      Sometimes heading down the wrong trail is entertaining, if nothing else. You’re right. All you’ve lost is a little time.

      Maybe a little credibility too …

      • curtisbausse
        April 6, 2016

        Maybe you have more credibility than I do to lose. But I don’t think readers take much notice of our credibility stock. Unless you do something like come out in support of Trump…

      • Kevin Brennan
        April 6, 2016

        Perish the thought! I’m wearing my Bernie hat as we speak …

      • curtisbausse
        April 7, 2016

        I’m reassured that your credibility is intact 🙂

  10. John W. Howell
    April 6, 2016

    Sounds like it might be worth a try. Like other forms of word of mouth you have to get enough mouths to spread the word. I’m thinking you will use the traditional blog/social media avenue and will be faced with the same issues you have now. I’ll support whatever you do but think it will lead to the same place. Not enough readers will get the word.

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 6, 2016

      Hey, thanks, Mr. Buzzkill!

      Kidding.

      No, I 90% expect that a crash n’ burn is in store here, but it’s one of those “Why not run it up the flag pole” things.

      • John W. Howell
        April 6, 2016

        I support everything you do. Buzzkill or no.

  11. Author Rebecca Heishman
    April 6, 2016

    Anything new is worth trying. What you plan to do could lead all of us in an exciting new direction. But I’ve discovered that even devoted readers are fickle. Word-of-mouth is a minefield of unrealistic expectation and potential disappointment. I lived my Pollyanna moment when I released my first book that was spawned from my popular Facebook community page. I have over 6,000 loyal fans at Misty-the-Dog and Friends. They were all clamoring for the new book that was coming about as a result of their suggestion. They actually pushed me to write a book that would feature the humorous nuggets that I write and post for them daily. In my Pollyanna dream world, each fan would purchase one copy of my book and I would immediately become successful. I was already shopping for my Mustang GT 500.

    Well, guess what? It didn’t work. I immediately sold 900 copies. That was it. Done. Over. The well went dry.

    I know! That’s a lot of books on your first time out of the chute. But, I was lusting for the other 5100 book sales. I waited. And waited some more. But they never came.

    All I’m saying is, enjoy the ride with your new experiment, but keep in mind that we are dealing with human nature. There is nothing more erratic and unpredictable. You know that I’m your biggest fan. I’ll support you in whatever you do. I sell books for other writers on social media every day. Between my personal page and my community page, I’ve built myself a little Facebook dynasty, of sorts, and it does help. But these people are just like family — they’ll promise you the world, but they won’t come through at crunch time. They wander off like a flock of wayward sheep.

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 6, 2016

      Yep, with friends like that, who needs enemies, eh? I know exactly what you mean.

      I’ve experienced quite a bit of that in my 3 years in indie-land, so I know there’s a huge chance this won’t fly at all. Heck, my latest novel still has only 10 reviews. There’s a lot of stuff out there vying for attention, even the attention of my loyal minions.

      But this is a way of testing uncharted waters, and I’m willing at least to get my feet wet.

      Thanks for your support, Rebecca!

  12. Hubert O'Hearn
    April 6, 2016

    instant, big big BIG problem – as soon as a book is ‘published’ as pdf it can be copied and shared anywhere and everywhere. That happens with all books, but pdf is a license for larceny.

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 6, 2016

      Yes, I thought of that. But I also thought of how indie writers wind up mainly giving their work away for free. It’s guerrilla marketing, in a way.

      One interesting twist: Since I plan to electronically inscribe each copy, people will know where the piracy started. Nyuk nyuk …

  13. agmoye
    April 6, 2016

    Interesting concept, right now I am too busy to do something like this but will drop back in a few weeks and see how it is going. A.G.

  14. Exile on Pain Street
    April 8, 2016

    I’ve always sort-of thought I’ve got a book inside me. (Just one.) I’ve got reams and reams of journals from when I moved to Manhattan that are kind of interesting. But the aforementioned struggles you mention have stop me dead in my tracks. I don’t have the fortitude for it. I have slacker bones.

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 8, 2016

      You’re an excellent writer, though, and hey: You live in New York! I bet you could pitch a memoir based on your journals to an agent and get something going.

      That said, slacker bones might just be a defensive instinct that helps the species avoid crushing disappointment …

      • Exile on Pain Street
        April 8, 2016

        Yes, that’s my other superpower. Fear of Failure. What if I fail at the only thing I give a damn about? (Outside of family of course.)

      • Kevin Brennan
        April 8, 2016

        I hear that. It’s why I stopped bashing my head against traditional publishing.

        You reach a point where your head hurts too much!

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