“Allister Cromley’s Fairweather Belle is a collection of bedtime stories written for grownups to read aloud to each other or in quiet to one’s own grownup self to bring back those childhood feelings of wonder,” says author Shane Portman of his book about a mustachioed imaginator/adventurer/explorer searching for simple answers to the big questions.
I caught up with mustachioed imaginator/adventurer/performer Shane Portman to get the answers to some big questions about self-publishing and self-promotion in the following interview.
Janet Arvia: I hear you began an interactive promotion wherein you’d leave free copies of Allister Cromley’s Fairweather Belle around the city with a message for the book’s finders to tweet about their discovery.
Shane Portman: My fiancé, Ruth, and I left one free book per day in strategic locations throughout Los Angeles over a 14-day span. We photographed the location, tweeted the picture and left the book to be found by a Twitter follower or a random passerby.
Each book was registered with Bookcrossing.com, a site that encourages people to give old books away by leaving them to the random fate of being found. We entered the books into their database, they assigned each one a number, which we wrote on the inner cover of the book with a little description about Bookcrossing.com. The finder can check in on the site and say where they found the book and, when finished reading, they may choose to keep it or they can leave it somewhere new by posting a note in Bookcrossing.com and a picture @AllisterCromley on Twitter. It’s basically like a hobo library.
JA: How did you come by that idea?
SP: My niece took part in a Flat Stanley project at her school where she drew, colored and cut out a paper version of herself and mailed it to people she knew all across the country. Recipients took pictures of her paper self in front of landmarks and fun locations in their hometowns.
The idea of traveling like that was very simple and sweet and, yet, adventurous. And we wanted to do something similar for the books. Initially, I had just thought of taking pictures and putting them up in a Facebook album. But, Ruth opened it up to being much more active by using Twitter and Instagram.
I’ve always loved the idea of random discovery of messages and gifts. In college, I used to leave stories and notes inside library books. There was something exciting about having no idea and no control over who sees it. Maybe the paper just falls out of the book, lands on the floor and is swept away by a broom. Maybe someone sees it and is annoyed by it. But, there’s always the random chance that you cross boundaries and circumstance and someone finds it, reads it and is genuinely moved by it.
So, that’s what we are/were aiming for.
JA: How have you measured the campaign’s success?
SP: It would be nice to say that there was a huge boost in the book’s sales. But, the reality of this kind of campaign is that visible returns on it are slow-building. And the first step was just to get the book into random people’s hands and spread the word into new circles.
And, by those standards, the campaign was definitely a success.
The pictures brought new followers to Allister’s Twitter account as well as a substantial boost to traffic on Allister’s Facebook page and TheFairweatherbelle.com.
And there was the immediate and first-hand feeling of excitement in just knowing that someone had picked up the book. On several occasions, the picture was taken and, as we were walking away and looking at the picture, one of us thought we could get a better shot. And, when we went back to take that better picture, the book was already gone. That was always a good feeling.
JA: How do you see the boom in self-publishing helping artists?
SP: There are definitely issues that still need to be ironed out as self-publishing evolves in the internet age. There are problems between independent bookstores and Amazon, for instance. And there are valid issues on both sides that can make selling or marketing your book complicated. And those need to be addressed.
But, in general, I think the advancements in the self-publishing industry are going to help independent writers very much in the same way that the internet and the mp3 age helped independent musicians get their music out there.
The most immediate effect is that the funnel to get your work out in a respectable form isn’t as narrow as it used to be. You don’t have to go through a big publishing house anymore to have a quality-looking product. There are services and ways to do it online. And, for ebooks, it’s even easier and opening up in new ways all the time. It’s a whole new frontier. And it’s not like the old days of self-publishing where you are paying to have your book published and, in some cases, losing the rights to your content. With companies like lulu.com, Createspace and Lightning Source, the cost of production is built into the purchaser’s order. So, there’s no overhead cost to making your book.
This opens the door for more writers to get their work out which opens the door to more experimentation-which is great. It also opens the door to just a vast overflow that can be hard to sift through. So, the amount that you save from producing your book winds up going into marketing your book. And that’s where a large publishing house still has the advantage. But, there are ways. And, if your book does well enough to get a buzz, since you retain the rights, you still have have the option to take your book to a publishing house and leave an online publisher hassle-free.
Right now, readers have the hassle-free option to purchase Portman’s book, edited by Amanda B. Gillooly, in paperback or ebook form at Amazon.com.