December 09, 2009
Written by Guest Columnist: James Kaelan
When Opium 8 came out earlier this year, I was both excited and jealous. With a very simple technology-graduating layers of black ink, printed over white text, that degrades when exposed to UV radiation-the cover of the Infinity Issue promises to reveal a story over the course of 1,000 years, with one new word appearing every century. Opium got a lot of press out of that, and rightfully. The concept was very advanced, but the execution was simple. The cover might seem like a gimmick, but that’s a delimiting perspective. Books need to get people excited.
Flatmancrooked Publishing, which I co-own with Elijah Jenkins and Deena Drewis, and which is releasing my debut book, We’re Getting On, has a project in the works that aims to redefine how books get promoted in the 21st Century. For most publishers, an author tour is a loss leader. The cost to send a writer from city to city (airfare, hotels, handlers, rental cars) outweighs the monetary gains accrued from book sales during the tour.
Accordingly, most publishers have dispensed with tours-or they make the author foot the bill. But Flatmancrooked believes engaging directly with an audience is a major key to the success of a title. Therefore, the more people we can reach, the better. How, though, can a small company afford to send an author on a trip across the country? It’s simple: Make the tour as exciting as the book itself.
For the Zero Emission Book Project, Flatmancrooked has partnered with Goldest Egg, a PR firm in Brooklyn, to help attract sponsors who will fund a transnational book tour-by bicycle. This isn’t the normal way one tours a book, but neither is this an ordinary book. We’re Getting On offsets all of its production emissions. How, you ask? Firstly, it’s printed on 100% post-consumer material. But the really exciting feature is its cover. Porridge Papers in Lincoln, Nebraska has created a special paper containing spruce seeds. If you plant the book in the ground, it will turn into a tree.
In keeping with this zero emission theme, the Zero Emission Book tour won’t add any carbon to the atmosphere. As I ride my bike across the country, I’ll be supported by an electric vehicle carrying supplies. Any extraneous emissions created we’ll nullify by purchasing carbon offset credits from CarbonFund.org.
We’re building energy around the Zero Emission Book Project with a multi-lateral promotional operation. For the new authors reading this article who might be interested in how we developed the concept, I want to give a breakdown of the campaign’s infrastructure.
1. The design of the first edition of a book should correspond to the book’s theme. We’re Getting On follows a group of twenty-somethings who leave the city and move into the desert-where they intend to abandon technology completely. Last spring we thought, how cool would it be if the book itself could offset its carbon emissions? After a bunch of research we commissioned Porridge Papers to develop a paper for us containing tree seeds so that the book-which came from a tree-if planted, would turn back into a tree. We’re biased, of course, but that seems like a pretty cool metaphor.
2. The book tour must correspond thematically with both the book’s content and its design. We’re Getting On, the Zero Emission Book, will be toured by bicycle. To maintain the integrity of creating no net production carbon footprint, we can’t very well fly from city to city to give readings and parties. We have to go overland. The bicycle is the greenest transport vehicle, save for an electric car recharged with renewable energy. So I’ll be riding my bike, and an electric support car will follow me, carrying my food and clothes. As an added bonus, in each of the ten cities on the tour I’ll plant a book at a school or library.
3. Document the book tour. Because a bike ride across the country is an inherently exciting narrative, we will have a documentary crew chronicling the lead up to the tour, and then the tour itself. The final product will be a feature film that we’ll show at film festivals around the globe.
4. Let your audience help facilitate the success of the book. Because we’re going to need a lot of help to make this tour a success, we’re inviting people to join the tour in a number of ways. People can ride a leg of the tour, provide couches for our crew to sleep on (and maybe some eggs to eat), or simply show up to readings and events along the route.
5. Maintain a broad web presence. Every author knows now that she needs to be on Facebook and Twitter, but if possible, she should run an autonomous site for her books. For the Zero Emission Book Project, we’ve developed www.zeroemissionbook.com, where fans can read updates, and then throughout the tour, a daily tour blog I’ll be writing from the road. From the site you can follow the project on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, and see trailers for the forthcoming documentary (like the official trailer you can see on YouTube HERE).
For too long book promotion has been a semi-passive activity. A lot of publishers (though by no means all) have expected their good work to sell, just because it’s good. In the 1950s perhaps that was a viable business model, but new authors and houses have to be extremely proactive. It’s good to have a lot of Facebook friends, but unless you can get them excited about what you’re working on, it won’t do much good. If the Zero Emission Book Project sounds exciting to you and you want to be a part of it, send me an email, or find me on Facebook.
James Kaelan is the Managing Editor of Flatmancrooked Publishing and a lecturer at Pepperdine University. He writes criticism for TheMillions.com, and his fiction is appearing this fall in Monkeybicycle and Avery, as well as at Opium Magazine. His first book, We’re Getting On, comes out next September from Flatmancrooked.
Psst! Flatmancrooked doesn’t only devise brilliant book marketing campaigns, they also hold some righteous writing contests. Check out the Flatmancrooked Poetry Prize, judged by the brilliant Mary Karr and featuring over $1,000 in prize money. Submit your poems by January 31st, 2010 to join the Flatmancrooked revolution! Click HERE for more details and keep on WordHustlin!