Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Mr.Creativity Meets Mr. Commerce: My New E-book, "I,Cadaver" is Great and Just $2.99 with a Money-back Guarantee. Buy it Now!

Did I write that headline? Can't have. I'm a writer, not some money-grubbing flack.

Or... or... maybe it's time that Mr. Creativity and Mr. Commerce met, got to know each other, talked, and actually worked together.

Let's start with what Mr. Creativity brings to the table.

Take the cover of my new e-book, "I, Cadaver," shown above. The cover got its start some years ago when Bill Murray, a good friend of many years who lives on Nantucket, did a sculpture of my face. I know, MY face -- is the poor guy blind?

In a sense, yes.  A multi-talented artist, Bill does beautiful work in wood and in clay.  One day Mr. Creativity descended upon him. He felt an inexplicable urge, considering the subject, to do a clay sculpture of moi. 

Heeding the call, Bill did the sculpture and mounted it on a wooden pedestal. Here is a photo of the finished work, with its handsome subject. I think the sculpture is even better looking than the subject.

When I was looking for a different cover for "I, Cadaver," something drew me to Bill's sculpture. Being clay, it had a cadaverish pastiness.  But the eyes were open and there was a little smirk. A light went on in my head. It was that troublemaker, Mr. Creativity, flipping my switch.

Here was an image that was dead but not dead, with that little smirk promising all kinds of mischief in the anatomy lab of the UMass Medical School in Worcester, Mass. -- which is what "I, Cadaver" is all about, my after-life adventures as a cadaver.

I took Bill Murray's sculpture to another Bill, but with one L, Bil Gardiner of William Gardiner Photography, who is also a friend.  I told him that I was thinking of it as a cover for "I, Cadaver."

"What do you think?" I asked.

Mr. Creativity was instantly all over him, lighting up his eyes, animating his voice, shoving aside Bil's real-world concerns, including the prospect of losing his home of 10 years in the neighborhood in which he grew up.  

"Let me work on it," he said.

"Can't offer you money," I said.  "But if the book sells, you get money."

"I have a couple ideas," Bil said. "Leave the sculpture with me."

Over the next few days, Bil photographed Bill's sculpture and came up with a cover design, including picking the type, and handed me a CD with the finished cover.  I immediately e-mailed him that I thought it was a "terrific cover." 

The cover of "I, Cadaver" is a case study of Mr. Creativity in action. One idea leads to another, leads to another, leads to another and, like magic, an e-book has the cover above.

I have an overwhelming bias toward old-time Mr. Creativity. I'm a writer.  Always have been.  Always will be.  Aside from three years teaching in Africa, I have always earned my living through the written word as a writer and editor in the educational publishing industry.

I'm used to having everything I write appear in print.  On a whim in my early days, I wrote an About Men story for The New York Times Magazine and sent it in cold.  It was published as is (November 8, 1987)  and I got a check for $1,000, a lot of money in those days.  In my office at American Education Publications in Middletown, Ct., colleagues lined up outside my office with copies of the NYT Magazine for me to sign. 

During the 70's tennis boom, I teamed up with the tennis coach at Wesleyan University, Don Long, to write an instruction book on tennis, "Hacker's Handbook."  A major New York publisher, Grosset and Dunlap, bought the book on the basis of two sample chapters.  Don and I both received nice royalties for several years.  

The royalties gradually declined along with the tennis boom.  I knew the jig was up when I walked into the old Spags store in Shrewsbury, Mass. and found a barrel of my books on sale for 50 cents each.  Today, my tennis book is out of print and I have a single frayed copy in my home office.  Amazingly, a used copy is available online for $13.

And now Mr. Commerce.  The fact is that commercialism is the foundation not only of our economy, but of your life and mine. Everything depends on selling, from yourself (no social and work skills, no job),  a roof over your head (no home buyers, no homes), food on the table (no buyers of spinach, no spinach), books (no buyers of books, no books), etc, etc, etc.

Mr. Commerce is a merciless master. Defy him and you die. Just look at Borders Books.  It looked the other way while the market for print and paper books was being eviscerated by e-books and electronic reading devices -- and now Borders is closing its nearly 500 stores across the U.S.

I recently watched two of my grandkids, shown here, holed up in an armchair for a couple of hours enthralled with their new Nintendo DSI mini computer.  In the years ahead, Nathaniel and Aidan will naturally transition to reading e-books the way we used to read paper and print books.

Thousands of Borders employees are now out of jobs and must find new ones.  If a small family business can't sell its goods or services, a heartless Mr.Commerce says the business must close.  If "I, Cadaver," does not sell, he says: tough, the market doesn't want it; give it something it wants and needs like sex, scandal, violence, and celebrity worship.

"I, Cadaver," which has just gone on sale on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, is none of these.  It's about life, death, spirituality, and the hereafter. It's about you and me. It sees and celebrates a light side in this life and death of ours. And as for all the conventions surrounding death and what is done with our bodies, it contemplates all kinds of respectful mischief. 

Here is the Prelude: “Dead. Been a good life. Miss you all.  But doing something big for science and humanity -- a Final Gift. And, just so you know, I’m no run-of-the-mill cadaver just lying there on a slab. I got plans to shake things up in anatomy labs everywhere.”

Yet almighty Mr. Commerce demands that "I, Cadaver," like any other product or service, prove itself in the marketplace.  So be it. So I, disciple of Mr. Creativity, contrary to my nature and while holding my nose, say, "Let the  promotion and selling begin!"   

 Up to now, my track record for sales has been dismal.  I now have five e-books on sale, but only one, "Killers: Surprises Inside a Maximum Security Prison," has been selling. Below is the cover of "Killers," done by amateur me, followed by the book description.

"The author spends 23 hours locked up with inmates inside a maximum security prison, many of whom are convicted killers serving life or long terms. He arrives with certain attitudes, assumptions, expectations, and no little fear for his own safety. But as he meets convicts, eats prison food with them (or, more accurately, tries to do so but can't stomach it), sees their prison life up close, hears their stories, and gets to know them -- all without a correction officer in sight -- he gets surprise after surprise. One by one, his preconceptions fall away, except for one: prison life is hell."  
"Killers" sold 30 copies last month, its first month on sale.  Six were in England, which I find interesting.  My Amazon e-books are on sale in the U.S., Canada, England, Australia, and Germany. Thirty copies sold in a month may not sound like much, but it is a lot compared to none, that is, nada, for three of my e-books.

All have amateur covers.  What would they sell if they each had a professional cover done by, say, a Bil Gardiner?  All have had zero promotion.   What would "Killers," "I, Cadaver," and the other three e-books do with actual promotion? The other three are "State Kid: Hero of Literacy," and "Last Laughs."

Now, with the internet, e-books, and 20 million readers on devices like Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook, the whole world of publishing has been turned upside down.  And e-book readers are multiplying in leaps and bounds. In 2008, e-books were 0.6 percent of the total book market; in 2010, when 114 million e-books were sold, they were 6.4%.  And this is just the beginning.

Even adults who never envisioned themselves reading an e-book are doing so.  Liz Belanger, pictured below, is one.  She received an Amazon Kindle for Mother's Day and says  she loves it. "I carry all the books I want to read around with me right here," she said, holding up her Kindle.

Her Kindle can carry a whole library, up to 3,500 books. It is lighter than a paperback, weighing only 8.7 ounces. Liz has her choice of 950,000 books, according to Amazon.  She can be reading any one of them in 60 seconds.

In the photo, Liz is reading a book on her Kindle while her friend Linda, my niece, reads an old fashioned paper and print book.  

"You know, I have a new e-book out,"  said Mr. Creativity brazenly self-promoting.

"Really?" she said, genuinely interested.

"Yes, it's called 'I, Cadaver.'  Just went on sale on Amazon and Barnes and Noble."

"Let me check it out," she said, tapping on her Kindle.  Within seconds, she was looking at Bil Gardiner's cover and a summary of the book.

To my pleasant surprise, Liz decided to buy "I, Cadaver" right then and there.  In less than a minute, she had a note from Amazon thanking her for her purchase.

She went further.  "Know what I'm going to do," she said.  I'm going to review it and send the review to all my friends on Facebook so they can buy it, too."

"Can't ask for anything more than that," I said. "Thank you.  Looking forward to your review."

This is how "I, Cadaver" has to be promoted,  through Facebook and other social media, and Liz affirmed it for me.

I knew about the phenomenon of Amanda Hocking, for example.  Fed up with attempts to find a traditional publisher for her young-adult paranormal novels, Hocking began self-publishing her novels as e-books on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.com a little over a year ago in March.

By May she was selling a few hundred. By June, her sales were in the thousands. She sold 164,000 books in 2010. Most were low-priced (99 cents to $2.99) digital downloads.  This past January she sold more than 450,000 copies of her nine titles.

Now Hocking, 26, who lives in Austin, Minn. has three titles in her Trylle Trilogy (Switched, Torn and Ascend, the latest)  in the top 50 of USA Today's Best-Selling Books list. In a little more than a year, she has achieved more than a million dollars in sales.

Hocking credits her success to aggressive self-promotion on her blog, Facebook and Twitter; word of mouth; and writing in a popular genre. Her books star trolls, vampires and zombies.

The message could not be more clear: e-books don't sell themselves -- they must be sold.  If I want "I, Cadaver" and "Killers" and "State Kid" and "Last Laughs" and "Schlep" to sell, I have to promote them.  I can't just create; I have to get my hands dirty -- in filthy, rotten commerce.  And, evidently, the best way to do that is through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. 

And so my campaign begins.  Liz Belanger bought "I, Cadaver" on her Kindle and I saw her do it with my own two eyes.  Next she is going to review it on  Amazon where the book is displayed and offered for sale and where it will be seen by large numbers of potential readers. And then she is going to place her review on her Facebook page and urge all of her friends to buy it, review it, and urge their Facebook friends to do the same.

Can't ask any more than that. Mr. Commerce would approve.

Only sales can get a smile out of  this old grouch.   But the two of us are never going to work closely together because I am joined at the hip with Mr. Creativity. Instead of promoting on social media, here I am writing  the story of the inherent conflict between Mr. Commerce and Mr. Creativity. We are from two different planets.

What's that? Oh, it's Mr. Commerce.  He's demanding a final word. 

"Go ahead, then go away," I just told him.

"The book is 'I, Cadaver.'  Go on Amazon.com and buy it now -- or else! Then write a review and put it on your Facebook page and tell all your Facebook friends to buy 'I, Cadaver.' And, if you know what's good for you, you'll buy 'Killers,' too!  Got that? " Buy it 

Promotion. Don't you hate it?

So long and keep moving.

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