iktaPOP Media

Self-publishing electronically, not in vain

In my nightmares, I am like this

Lessons from The Jay Sherman School of Book Marketing (over 35 satisfied customers!):

And later…

Luckily, my book title’s aren’t nearly as bad as Jay’s What I Do In The Dark.


Lament of the Eclectic Author

I’m a bit at odds and ends.

The theory is, you’re supposed to write the same sort of thing, all of the time, so that readers will follow your “brand”. As in, you have a very good idea what you’re getting if you pick up the new John Grisham book, the new Stephen King book, or (god help you) the new Stephanie Meyers book, even if you know nothing at all about that particular book.

This, for me, is a problem. Why? Well…

The book I’m working on is sort of a modern-day vampire western (without an ounce of the supernatural, except perhaps by implication). You could even view it as the anti-Twilight, given one prominent subplot.

After that, I’ve got a few things in the hopper.

  • A post-WWII literary thriller set in Shanghai.
  • A science fiction mystery.
  • A juvenile period mystery-adventure set against a vaudeville background. (First of a potential series!)
  • A modern-day Sullivan’s Travels, but more of a thrillerish thing, not at all a comedy.
  • A re-working of an old Fringe spec script, recast as a one-off novella. (I stopped watching Fringe early in the third season, it just got too baroque and drawn-out in its over-story.)
  • A highly experimental novel that examines the psychology of sudden fame thrust upon a musician ill-prepared for dealing with success. (Starting from a real-life example from my youth, but going different places than life did.)
  • And another thing that, from the outside, would look like a mystery-thriller, but is neither.

Is there any kind of a through-line there? Because I’m not seeing it. Granted, “mystery” and “thriller” pop up a few times, but the vaudeville mystery will have very little in common with, say, the sf mystery. Different tone, different intended audience, different everything.

Now, I have a pretty distinctive voice, even when I’m trying to suppress it and keep out of the way of the story. (I’m not complaining — I like my voice, and enjoy reading my old work. Yup, I’m a narcissist, what?)

But, in terms of typical book marketing theory, how the hell am I supposed to “brand” myself? Strangle my muse and stick to the same sort of story, over and over and over? Do different pseudonyms for each genre? Push the publishing brand rather than Me? Or just hope that, whatever genre, my distinctive voice will attract regular readers to the rest of my books?

Frankly, no idea, but I am not strangling the muse.


Against DRM

As my previous post encouraged you to pirate my work far and wide (executive summary: not being stupid, I like free advertising!), it should come as no surprise that I am against Digital Rights Management (DRM) as well.

What I’m really against is Customer Abuse. That is what DRM is, when you get right down to it.

Last year when I bought my Kobo eReader, specifically because its default format is the open ePub standard, Borders gave me a gift card with which to buy some ebooks to load onto it. I quickly bought the Robert Heinlein biography, because I’ve been itching to read it.

And now, eight months later, I’m still itching to read it.

Because, even though I’ve purchased the book legally, it’s not mine, according to them. I don’t use Windows or Mac (yes, I’m a Linux dork). And their proprietary software does not support anything but Win, Mac, or Android.

Yes, Android.

Which is Linux.

Which they don’t support.

Wait, it gets better.

I contacted their Customer Service, opened a “trouble ticket”, and carefully and clearly explained my situation, noting that lack of Linux support was the cause of the problem, and wondering if there were some work-around, or a way to unlock the DRM, so that I could read the book I had paid for (and downloaded).

Their first response was a copy and paste of the “how to” portion of their FAQ for downloading and reading on Windows.

No, they did not bother to read any of what I wrote.

That kept up, off and on, over the course of six months. I’d open a ticket, they’d say “Sorry, we can’t help you” and mark the ticket “resolved” — even though they completely failed to resolve the issue — that I could not read the book I had bought.

Imagine this kind of aggravation with a print book. You get it home, try to read it, and it is purposely crippled — let’s say that it’s printed black-on-black, and you need a special UV light to read it.

Except that, as a skin cancer survivor, you can’t take additional levels of UV.

And the store says, well, too flippin’ bad. No, we won’t give you a refund, no we won’t give you a readable copy, no we won’t do a damn thing to help you out. Because you might, possibly, maybe, perhaps could be a nefarious pirate.

So there you are, never having had a thought of piracy in your life before, being denied access to something you bought legally, being refused any sort of restitution or apology for misleading advertising, and being de facto accused of being a criminal because you just want to read the damn book that you bought.

That’s how DRM works.

There is no excuse for abusing your customer and treating him like a criminal absent any evidence at all. It pisses off that customer, makes him hate you, and inclines him to disrespect your rights where before he more than likely would never have thought about violating them, as payback.

Again, I point to the example of Baen Books, which not only makes many of their ebooks available for free, but never, ever locks the books they sell for a profit up with any kind of DRM.

Baen, you see, is happy that you bought their book, and would like you to buy more. So they don’t punish you for it, or tell you how you must read it, or anything stupid or implicitly accusatory. You can download any of almost a dozen formats, and tweak them in any way that you like. Just like with their physical books, they assume that when you buy the book, it is yours.

Baen’s customers, incensed and outraged at being treated like rational, upstanding human beings, have been attempting to drown the publisher in money ever since, out of spite.

So, another point of my marketing strategy with iktaPOP: No DRM, ever, unless I’m publishing through a platform that gives no other choice — and then, there will always be alternative sources that are DRM-free. I don’t think that you are a thief, and I do want you to pass along my stuff to anyone and everyone who you think may enjoy it, no strings attached. (If they like it, they can buy a “guilt” copy, or just buy everything else I’ve got that looks interesting to them.)

“Pirate” my books — PLEASE!

There is an author I follow on Facebook who is an Objectivist (as am I), but lately I’ve been having to exercise more than a modicum of self-control with regard to his posts. (Insofar as I know, he does not publicly identify as Objectivist, so — for that reason and others that will quickly become apparent — I shan’t name him.)

In the past few years, he had his first book published, and from what I know, it was more than reasonably successful. In the past few weeks, he’s been railing against his book being pirated.

At least one of his posts stated that his book had been pirated (that is, downloaded/copied without compensation to him) 100,000 times, which meant that he was robbed 100,000 times.

Which, if you will excuse my language, is bullshit.

The response I refrained from sending was, essentially: “You mean 100,000 people who never would have obtained your book otherwise now have your book, might read it, might like it and start buying your books, and you’re bitching about the Free Advertising???

Of course, it wouldn’t have had the desired effect. He’s got his mind made up, and no stranger pointing out facts that counter his position will do anything other than annoy him and cause him to double down.

Further, I did not bring up other aspects of his position that he was not following, such as The Terrible Threat Of Used Book Stores. Because if you’re going to complain about an author’s intellectual property changing hands without due compensation to the author, you really should hunt those despicable blackguards down and Make Them Pay. And what about Libraries? Or those awful, awful people who loan the books that they have bought to friends? Isn’t that nearly as outrageous?

How many of your favorite books or authors did you find by buying them blind, at full price, making sure that the author got fully compensated? Or did you find them through borrowed books, loaned books, and free recommendations, none of which put money directly in the author’s pocket?

But once you did find a favorite, did you go out of your way to keep him from receiving any of your hard-earned cash? Of course not!

And shall we discuss the lessons of Baen Books? Oh, yes, let’s.

Baen Books, a for-profit company that deals in science fiction and fantasy, gives away lots of their books in free electronic editions. And they’ve been doing it for more than a decade! (They began in 2000.)

And yet, somehow, despite pirating their own books, they’re very far from hurting, financially speaking. Worse, their other electronic books, the ones you pay for? Digital Rights Management free. Meaning you can pirate them endlessly with no hassle at all. And still Baen is somehow able to profit and prosper.

Isn’t amazing how well your customers treat you when you don’t presume them to be criminals?

I have long supported Creative Commons licensing, for the excellent reason that it just makes sense. You and every other internet user are a de facto Creative Commons user, or else everybody who reads any web page ever is a Dread Pirate. The act of loading the page on your browser is an act of copying intellectual property.

Also, I’m currently reading Lawrence Lessig’s CC manifesto, Free Culture, and it’s eye-opening. I’ll post more about it some other time.

The long and the short of it is, every word I self-publish will go out under a Creative Commons license, and that is your permission to pirate my words to your heart’s content (so long as you abide by the terms of the license on that work). My marketing plan as it stands now (subject to change at any moment) is to publish at a low, low pricepoint, but CC license everything (and, yes, give away copies for review and suchlike). You could, theoretically, wait a bit after a book comes out, and read everything I write for free without compensating me, ever. And if you do, I shan’t call you a pirate or say nasty things about your personal hygiene. Promise.

(On the other hand, if you read and like one of my books, and don’t bother to pony up a measly buck for the happy experience… well, that’s between you and your conscience, really.)