Reviews, Views and Adventures in Content Creation

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Taking the Leap: Publishing My First Book

A short time ago, I launched the Facebook page for "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain," a novel I've been working on since early last year.  It's the story of thirteen year-old Alexander and his outrageous fears of daily life in middle school.  His fears of what might happen spiral out of control, until he feels compelled to confront a boy he perceives to be his arch-enemy.  It's a fun little novel that's had an eight year evolution that began with a few casual comic drawings and an award-winning (but unproduced) screenplay.  It's also my first novel, and so fulfills a life-long ambition.  With the help of my editor / proofreader (in the guise of my niece, who does that sort of thing for a living), I'm almost ready to send Alexander out into the world.

Aside from the not-inconsequential task of actually writing the novel, it's become relatively easy to self-publish these days. Amazon, Barnes and Noble's Nook and Apple's iBook are becoming more and more widespread, and the pathway to preparing a book for publication is relatively straightforward - even more so when using one of several low-cost services that specialize in physically preparing works for those devices.  Createspace, service that currently offers my documentary Bollywood Steps both as a physical DVD and on-demand video, also provides a similar service for paperback books.  Amazon manufactures books on demand as consumers order them.  My costs, depending upon the services I chose, can range from nothing to several hundred dollars. For a minor expense, my work is available to the world.

In recent years, self-publishing is less seen as so-called "vanity publishing" as a legitimate pathway to a potential audience.  It still takes quality work, word of mouth, and a bit of creative marketing  - but it no longer requires the approval of  a "gatekeeper."

Don't get me wrong.  I wouldn't mind someday achieving the still valuable legitimacy of being distributed by a mainstream publisher.  At the same time, I'm not willing to shop around a manuscript for untold years when I can reach my intended audience directly.  

I don’t care how old or how young you are - life is too short not to take a leap of faith.  We’re living in the age of the entrepreneur - nothing is stopping us from at least giving it a try.

Naturally, I'm a bit anxious to see how this will all unfold - and if I can, in fact, reach the young audience I believe would most enjoy the book.  Will ten people read it?  One Hundred?  One Thousand?  Have I done my job as a writer? As a marketer?  It's a great, exciting challenge.

"Food Chain" is part of a broader effort I’ve undertaken to discover how I might better employ social media to achieve my personal and professional goals.  I'll assess how that effort is moving along in my next blog.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Latest Vlog on "Life Online!"

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We're slowly putting together a new strategy to make the film a reality.  More news soon!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Thirteen Point Six: "Life Online" and My First Try at Crowd-Funding

The Indiegogo Funding campaign for my new documentary, "Life Online," ended on New Year's Eve.  We raised a total of $750, or 13.6% of the $5,500 goal.  We had a total of 17 donations, ranging from $2 to $150, from donors in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. .   Of course, I would have liked to have gotten closer to our stated goal, but this is only the first step in a wider effort to get the film made.  Am I disappointed?  Sure, but the experience proved to be invaluable, nevertheless.

When I began the campaign, I hadn't realized to what extent events in the world at large would play in my efforts.  I felt obligated to hold back on social media efforts for hours or even days at a time.  During the period of this campaign, there were major efforts on Indiegogo and elsewhere to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Sandy.  The Presidential election occurred a week into the campaign.  I didn't tweet or post content related to the campaign in the days following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School - that simply felt unethical and disrespectful.  My campaign also occurred over the Holiday season, extending from Thanksgiving to New Year's Eve.  

This campaign provided an opportunity to re-connect with many of my documentary colleagues, and presented opportunities to help the further development of this project (i.e. a feature film), once this short film is done.   I also spoke with a couple of college production classes about the project and social media in general, confirming my belief that the time is right for "Life Online."  Finally, wrote this feature story on my project and social media philosophy.  That, in itself, is incredibly valuable.

As part of this effort, I've been posting blogs related to my thoughts and ideas related to this production: inspiring films, my approaches to production, and my perspective on social media.  This hyper-focused content has increased my social media network (especially my blog readership,  but Twitter followers and YouTube channel subscribers are also trending upward). 

Why didn't the campaign reach it's full potential? There are numerous reasons, of course, ranging from topic to campaign management, but it really comes back down to the "crowd" in crowd-funding.  Final stats showed that I had only 303 visitors to the campaign page - but with a total of 1,031 views (meaning some of the same people visited several times). The page was liked on Facebook 104 times, and tweeted a total of 146 times.  For this to have been effective, those numbers should have been much higher.  Once again, this sort of campaign only works if the campaigner can actually attract a "crowd."  I'll leave the question of how I would do things differently for another blog.

Was it worth it? Definitely.  The campaign was useful in launching the project and creating some early "buzz," which will in turn prove helpful as we move forward and explore other avenues to help make this a reality It also continued my ongoing effort to build a creative "eco-system" to support my creative work across traditional and nontraditional platforms (more on that soon).  

Finally, it's important to mention that I had the choice to either create a funding arrangement that paid only if the goal was reached, or create an arrangement that paid out regardless of the final result.  I chose to the second option.   Part of my reason is motivational:  Friends and strangers have donated time and money to this effort.   Those who have chosen to contribute to the project, or help promote it in other ways, have expressed trust and belief in my abilities to follow through.  

Crowd-funding is a fantastic tool - even if it provides just 13.6 percent of the funding.
My social media efforts focus on exploring ways of using social technology as a tool to accomplish my creative goals.  It's not, however, the only tool available.  While I would have liked to have fully funded this project with this one method, many productions come together through multiple channels of funding and support - I'll continue to pursue those other channels. 

The experience of creating and running this campaign has enhanced my understanding of the mechanics of creating effective and useful social media.  Experience trumps theory every time.

And yes, I would do it again.