My discovery of Even the Red Heron was a Social Discovery – a professional contact on a list shared a photo of the poster promoting the book from his neighbourhood in Brooklyn, USA. He was interested – as I am – of the marketing being done by an independent author and the experiment with ebook pricing. I then found out that the street art campaign also happened in London and Los Angeles.
The visuals – and the ‘pay what you want’ line intrigued me. It certainly made me visit the link straightaway. An author experimenting with the pricing of their ebook – from $0 to $20 – would gain a lot of insight into what people were willing to pay.
I think it’s important to speak to authors who are striking their own path with publishing their books. I spoke to author Julian Feeld to find out more about his strategy.
In this interesting post Julian Feeld explains how he produced his book and a platform around the book. He shares great tips on how he obtained the cover illustration and fonts, designed his website and more. He shares his thoughts about crowdfunding, digital culture and author promotion. Enjoy!
About Even The Red Heron
Abilena lives in Caracas, Venezuela. Her mother is British, her father is American, and her brother is an addict. As chaos overtakes the country and her parents’ marriage sinks into violence, Abi begins having premonitions filled with bloodthirsty fauna. From eventheredheron.com
Interview with author Julian Feeld
Digireado: You live in Paris – lucky you! Tell me about your day job and how you make time to write?
Julian Feeld: For a few years now I’ve done graphic design and art direction as a freelancer, even though now I am in the process of becoming a fulltime fine artist. To be honest, I think I’m quite lucky, as I’ve found myself with a client that basically pays my rent while giving me at least a few hours of freedom a day. For Even the Red Heron, I more or less wrote a minimum of one page (A4, 12 size font) a day. The Artist’s Way helped me immensely by dispelling myths about inspiration and helping me deal with the negative inner-voices.
Digireado: The packaging for Even The Red Heron is beautifully done. Who did the illustrations and cover art?
Feeld: For the posters, I gave Alex Fine (alexfine.com) sketches of what I had envisioned, and he illustrated them. Then we went back and forth until I was satisfied. For the cover, I designed it, basing myself on an illustration I found of a bird choking on oil (it was originally created in reaction to the BP oil spill crisis). I asked the guy if he would give me permission, and he said yes. I did the same with the font, contacted the guy who made it, and he also said yes once I explained the project. People have been very kind to me. The background is a picture I took of a painted up window here in Paris, and the back was drawn and designed by me. I guess there are certain perks to being a visual artist.
Digireado: The website looks expensive – was it?
Feeld: Again, I’m pretty lucky, because I’m good with design and know some of the basics. I used a Squarespace template. Then I just fiddled with it in their incredibly intuitive back-office, and integrated some illustrations and design stuff. The hand and the heart are modified versions of medical illustrations (I believe they’re more than a century old). Pepin Press does these wonderful books that come with CDs on which you can find patterns and illustrations that are now in the public domain.
Digireado: What made you decide on the street art campaign?
Feeld: I wanted to create something beautiful that I wouldn’t regret getting out there. Even if the campaign doesn’t attract many readers, it will have yielded beautiful illustrations of my protagonists and created street art in three cities. That seemed like a good way to release a first novel. I have two others in the pipeline, so I sort of got frustrated after having queried many agents in New York and London, and just decided to go the DIY route and get it out there.
Digireado: The posters were distributed in Brooklyn, Los Angeles and London. How did you get them so far and wide?
Feeld: I tapped some friends who knew local street artists. I pushed until I found the right people in each city, and they did all the printing and postering.
Digireado: Do you know how many posters have been put up?
Feeld: I estimate about 150 have gone up in each city.
Digireado: You have the street art you used in the campaign on your site – perhaps you should offer then as downloads and get your fans to spread the word worldwide!
Feeld: Great suggestion. Thanks! You can find the link to the high resolution posters on the bottom of this page.
Crowdfunding your book
“I’m sort of anxious and sensitive, so I felt like I was begging my friends and family and pestering them with my vanity project. ” Julian Feeld
Digireado: I noticed in your book that you thank your crowdfunding supporters – why did you decide to Crowdfund your book on Indiegogo?
Feeld: I didn’t have the money to pay the illustrator and street teams and order a bunch of copies of the book. So I decided to crowdfund for it. Indiegogo allowed for flexible funding, which means I would get the money even if I didn’t reach my goal.
Digireado: You have expressed that you found it hard to Crowdfund – is there something you would choose to do differently if you had your time again?
Feeld: I don’t regret doing it, but I would hesitate to do it again. I’m sort of anxious and sensitive, so I felt like I was begging my friends and family and pestering them with my vanity project. Even if that’s not true, it’s how it felt. Then you have to see how much each person is putting in, and they’re all people in your life. It’s awful, really. I think crowdfunding might be better for people who have thick skin, or who are offering a product with a broader appeal. I write literary fiction, which is not exactly a hot new innovation.
The digital world is a fucking wasteland. We’re slowly degrading attention spans and numbing our ability to interact with more subtle forms of culture and media. I’m not pointing any fingers; I include myself in this phenomenon. The digital side of my project aimed to deliver something (in my opinion) valuable through a channel that is usually reserved for garbage.
Digireado: Can you explain that a little bit more?
Feeld: By the digital side of my project I mean the internet, and internet marketing. Not the ebooks per say. The channel is web 2.0, the blogosphere, etc. What is normally garbage is content we consume online.
Digireado: While I understand and agree that there is a lot of content without value online, I also think that we are seeing some fantastic innovations in digital storytelling, transmedia and social reading. But then again, I’m a big fan of digital!
Crowdfunding can also be a great form of marketing because the process means that word of the book can be spread further than your inner network. Would you agree that this is the case?
Feeld: Yes and no. Yes because you’re interviewing me, and because it allowed for very good saturation of my inner networks, which did allow their interest to leak slowly into their friend circles. Keep in mind it’s a novel we’re speaking of, so it’s consumed slowly. People are wary of crappy friend-books (as they should be) and it’s really by word of mouth, media attention, and reviews that I’ll acquire new readers. I’ve had good experiences giving books to people in Paris. If I see them around the literary scene, or sitting at a café reading something cool, I just give them a copy of my book. I’ve had a few strangers contact me later to tell me how much they loved it. Then I asked them to review me on goodreads.com.
I don’t mean to sound hopeless, I just think it takes time. I’m proud of the novel, and I plan to release another one near the end of the year, probably in the same fashion (minus the crowdfunding, and building on my current readership by using a mailing list that I run myself.) It’s a slow process, but every reader who enjoys my novel, which I consider an honest work that doesn’t pander to any particular “demographic,” is a beautiful victory.
With literary fiction, people either rely on their friends’ recommendations, media recommendations (decreasingly), or classics. I had one reader tell me that he rarely reads fiction published in the last 50 years, but that he enjoyed my novel immensely.
Digireado: You had fifty-five crowdfunding supporters at different funding levels – did that help towards the costs of producing Even The Red Heron?
Feeld: Yes, definitely. Although I used Createspace, which is a print-on-demand subsite of Amazon (which I am scared to read recent articles about, as it seems they might be doing the work of Satan), which limited my printing costs, I still paid the editor, illustrator, the street teams, as well as the printing of about 130 author copies, the mailing of many promo copies, the digital marketing and website hosting costs… it adds up. I had to pay a lot of it out of my pocket, even after the crowdfunding. But I couldn’t have done it on this scale without the crowdfunding. It really helped.
Digireado: What other marketing and promotion for the book have you been doing?
Feeld: Goodreads giveaway + advertising. We’ll see how that goes. I think it’ll get me some reviews and broaden my readership a bit. Giving the book to people. I just started a facebook promo which involved entering anybody who shared the poster image + site link into a draw to win an original, limited-edition mug with the illustration on it. I called bookstores and emailed bookstores to weasel myself in. I did some readings at local poetry and prose nights. I answered questions by bloggers.
Digireado: Yes, thank you for answering questions from people the other side of the world like me 🙂
Pay What You Want Ebook – A Pricing Experiment
“I’m investing in the beginning of an authorial career as well as trying to build the beginning of a readership.” Julian Feeld
Digireado: Pay What You Want Ebook interests me from a pure experimental perspective – the data collected would be interesting. But it’s also a risk! What made you decide to take this approach?
Feeld: Well I figured it would encourage people who are wary of purchasing a book and finding out it‘s awful. It’s not a risk because I’m not trying to make money. I’m running a deficit anyway, and I’m investing in the beginning of an authorial career as well as trying to build the beginning of a readership.
Digireado: What’s your summary so far of where most people are prepared to pay – are they more inclined to be champions of literature or people who don’t want to pay?
Feeld: More people chose to pay nothing. That was expected, and I’m happy that those people (who probably wouldn’t have bought the book anyway) are reading my novel. A bit more than 20% decided to pay something, and those who were total strangers paid on average about $7 (They chose to pay from $4 – $14). I’ll probably have more information in the upcoming months.
Digireado: I’d love to hear your thoughts when the dust has settled – it will be very interesting to see what the final results are!
Digireado: Can you tell me about your distribution strategy?
Feeld: Like I said, Createspace is print-on-demand. That way I didn’t have to pay or ship anything, and it’s available in all territories through Amazon. Ebooks can still be purchased on the official channels, but I wanted to have a way to choose your price, and money from ebooks should go mostly to the author.
Digireado: Why do you think money from ebooks should go mostly to the author?! I’m assuming you mean for independently published books?!
Feeld: The ebook costs almost nothing to “print” and distribute. That’s why I think the money should go to the author. If you’re with a publishing house, perhaps they are investing in promotion, and have a right to a percentage for that reason. In my case, I raised the money and paid for everything.
Digireado: That’s fair enough, although I’d put it as ‘create and distribute’. My point would be though that on Amazon you are also giving up a percentage to be on the largest retailer. Also, coming from a publishing background I would also need to add to your point that Publishers are paying pre-production and production costs and there has been a lot of investment in backend systems. And of course they invest not only in producing quality productions but also promotion as you mentioned.
How are you managing the ebooks from a backend perspective?
Feeld: Squarespace (the website providers, which I pay a monthly subscription to) allows you to set up a shop very easily, and they take care of delivering the digital goods. You just upload the file. It’s very easy. I had to fiddle with it so that it would allow me to have a $0 option without forcing people to put in their credit card information. In the end I used a form that I integrated into the product page.
Digireado: I notice your books are available in Paris at three bookshops, but also in Brooklyn. It’s often hard for independent authors to get their books into bookshops. How did you do this?
Feeld: In Paris I walked into the bookstores or asked friends to connect me to the people. I had seen some of them around so I built a bit on that. In Brooklyn I emailed the bookstore. In London and LA I never heard back from the bookstores.
Digireado: At the Sydney Writers’ Festival I attended Forest Through the Trees, organised by The NSW Writers’ Centre. In the panel ‘Pushing Your Own Cart’, author Kirsten Krauth mentioned that she prefers the term ‘Author Platform’ to ‘Author branding’.
Feeld: Marketing is a truly destructive force. It has the power to reshape honest works into a pile of lies. It turns artists into salesmen. I’m not denigrating salesmen, I just think we need to allow artists to produce what is most honest and true to them, and that’s why the new model is sort of terrifying to me. Can you imagine asking Hemingway or Wolfe to think about their demographic? To brand themselves? To design a website for themselves? To tweet endlessly? It takes true strength to maintain creative integrity in these times. I use my twitter account as a sort of poetic stream. @julianfeeld because I got so tired of tweeting promotional stuff.
Digireado: So, how do you balance your resistance to marketing your book with the realisation that you need to get the word out somehow?
Digireado: I agree! I think a lot of authors struggle with the balance – that’s why I called the last post Authors and the Marketing Conundrum! Thanks for taking time to tell us about your first books and your experiments with promotion and distribution. Love to kept across how it goes.