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This is more like a fishing expedition. I'm going to let out some line and see if I get any bites.

An Experiment In Self-Publishing

I'm doing an experiment. Well maybe more of what you would call a trial run than an experiment. I'm taking the series of posts I've written about working on my novel (NaNoWriMo Notes) and am turning it into a book.

It's pretty much a ready-made book as it is, with only minor editing needed to remove the html code that was imbedded in the text for web publishing and replace it with either hard copy of images or the formatting required for a text document. Each installment is a chapter unto itself and all that needs to be written is perhaps a preface and an afterward as explanatory notes.  

The experiment has less to do with the content of the book than with my intentions for its distribution. I'm going to make this a test case for myself of the viability of self-publishing a novel, utilizing only those resources available to those of limited means. In other words, I'm not going to spend a cent on marketing or incur any costs, other than some postage, at least those that I don't already carry as a result of being online.

I've had an account at Lulu for a couple of years. I've been attempting to sell a few bits and pieces of material I had written prior to starting my blog and posting at other sites. To date, my total sales have amounted to $10.00 American and have all been of one article, a review of Viggo Mortensen's collection of photos and poetry called Coincidence Of Memory. I have enough humility to realize that these sales were probably generated more out of people's interest in Viggo than because of any skills I may have as a writer.

Aside from posting the pieces there and putting one small link to my storefront on my blog and at my almost completely moribund web site, I have made no effort whatsoever to market or attract interest in my work. It hasn't seemed worth the effort involved for what would probably be an only slightly higher return than what I've managed to this point.

I might have sold a couple more reviews of Mr. Mortensen's work, but that's probably it. Who really is going to be interested in the serialization of a Science Fiction/Fantasy novel that is only partly finished? Is there a market for a collection of poetry from an unknown poet whose work is about as accessible as The Dead Sea Scrolls? “Probably not” seems applicable as a response to both those questions.

Last November I began working on another novel that I’d finished a final-enough draft of to begin searching for a publisher. I was not willing to consign it to the purgatory of my storefront immediately. I had put too much heart and soul into it to leave it to languish without giving it a chance to see the light of day in a physical bookstore.

Concurrent to working on the novel, I've also been publishing articles on a daily basis since March of 2005 at my own weblog, since June of the same year here, and recently Desicritics.org has joined the list. The cumulative total of that output is somewhere around 500 posts of various quality, size, and subject matter.

There are book, CD, DVD, and movie reviews; articles on politics, social issues, and the arts; and some were on more specific sub-genres of the previous topics. I figure there is as much interest in a book of essays about healthcare written by me as there would be for copies of Planned Parenthood pamphlets at a Catholic League meeting.

When it comes right down to it, I can probably eliminate most of what could be loosely deemed social commentary as a marketable commodity, which eliminates a good chunk of the writing. A collection of reviews may generate some interest, but it doesn't really motivate me all that much, so that's not a good idea. I'm not going to put much of an effort into marketing if the product doesn't interest me.

This process of elimination has left me with little to pick from in terms of what could have a viable marketing hook. The NaNoWriMo Notes series seems to have the most going for it in terms of both audience appeal and marketability. It's not perhaps the broadest of audiences, but it's not starting from zero in terms of name recognition.

The National Novel Writing Month competition has become a reasonably well-known event worldwide with over 42,000 people having participated in 2004 and the number increasing in leaps and bounds every year. At the very least this means the title will attract some attention and may even provide the means for some free publicity via the NaNoWriMo web site and forums.

I'd also like to think there are enough people out there who have an interest in the process of writing a book that the concept of a record detailing one person's roller-coaster ride through the journey would be intriguing enough to check it out. One of the great things about Lulu is the option it gives you for selling material. Not only will I be able to sell "Notes" as a complete book, but I can also sell it a chapter at a time. That way people will be able to sample the wares before risking the complete purchase.

What I will do is make individual chapters available for sale as downloads only, and the entire book as a printed copy. I will try and work it so that it is cheaper to buy the entire book than downloading each individual chapter to a browser. Since there are 23 chapters that shouldn't prove very difficult, I could almost make the book half the price of downloading all the individual chapters and still charge $20.00 a copy (excluding shipping). Since I won't be charging anywhere near that amount, as I'm only releasing it in a 9"X 6" paperback format, it will be even more of bargain to buy the whole book.

I'm not placing any expectations on this project. If it makes sales, that will be great, but my real goal is to see how viable it is to totally self-market a product with little or no money, utilizing the tools available on the Internet. I have some advantages in that the ranking for my blogsite seems to consistently high on Google and that can be of use. The majority of traffic at my blog is still from blind searches at Google and my posts are usually in the top ten of the returned result that sends people to me.

I've even developed a little bit of personal name recognition as people have begun linking to and promoting my work in a variety of locations. (Of course if you do a name search for Richard Marcus at Google, the first result is still some guy who claims he can beat the system at Las Vegas. One wonders why he's offering books for sale on the subject at a web site if he was such a proficient gambler). It's not much, but every little bit helps.

Having run publicity campaigns the old-fashioned way in the past (snail mail press releases and phone follow-ups), I am familiar with the process. I know there must be a trillion sites out there that are willing and able to tell you how to best market yourself on the Internet, for a price, but from what I can tell, it's the same old story. Hard work and diligence are still the most effective tools at your disposal.

In my past experiences, this has usually meant a push for about two weeks while you get the word out. Then it involves maintenance of your information dissemination. I'm not interested in putting incredible amounts of energy into the project; I have other things I need to do as well. What I'm going to try to do is devote an hour a day to publicity and leave it at that.

I'm not looking to rack up record-breaking sales, although that would be a nice benefit, nor am I looking to garner instant recognition as an author of repute. First of all, the work doesn't merit either of those distinctions, and second, that's not the purpose of this project.

This is more like a fishing expedition. I'm going to let out some line and see if I get any bites.

About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.

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