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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Notes Towards a Manifesto

Part 3 • “Where we’re going,” by Bruce Bethke •

This goes somewhere, but you have to read the entire thing. Trust me.

I’ve been trying on a lot of faces lately. Some are old. Some are new. Some come from deep in the catacombs of the ancient gallery. After quite a few experiments, I’d settled on this one:

This is how I look now. Or at least, it’s close enough. This photo is one of a series shot in July of 2015, as we were trying to come up with a good “author’s photo” and in which I was trying on different facial expressions. Friendly, serious, approachable, encouraging...

No, this candid snap is me now. Intelligent. Skeptical. Generally kindly, but querulous if provoked. I have a strong acerbic streak and have been known to reduce young writers to quivering mounds of jelly by telling them what I really thought of their mess of an attempted story. I have worked very long and hard to keep that acerbic streak under tight control. But I am getting tired of maintaining this whole Minnesota False Modesty façade.

The only real difference between this photo and how I look right now—aside from the lack of snow in the background—is the pipe. I quit smoking three years ago. Much as I enjoyed my pipe, or a good cigar every now and then, when one is married to a woman with metastatic breast cancer, one quits smoking.

There. You want a way to keep teens from starting to smoke? Forget the slick TV ad campaigns. Make them spend an hour a week in the waiting room of an oncology clinic, just watching the parade of patients in and out. Better yet, make them talk to some of the patients.

Talk? Who am I trying to kid? May as well ask them to talk to their grandparents.

As I make this transition, from author, to editor, to publisher, I can’t help but feel just a bit grandfatherly. Personally, I like to think that I’m at last evolving into my Protector stage—and if that reference confuses you, go back and read more early Larry Niven. The point is that this is a whole different way of looking at my place in the literary world, and yet, it’s strangely familiar. When I began this journey, I was a businessman, dabbling in writing. For the record I was a successful businessman, too, very good at what I did, and making what was then a very good living at it.

The problem was that when I was a businessman, I was also—well, kind of a dick. Arrogant. Brusque. Focused. Driven. Very impatient with people who got in my way or wasted my time. This worked a lot of hardships on my marriage, my friendships, and worst of all, on my relationships with my children. Thankfully, I was given the chance to change my life, and to take it in a better direction.

Now, though, as we evaluate Rampant Loon Press and Stupefying Stories, the conclusion is inescapable: what we need is a businessman.

And a Twitter account. Eric Dontigney has convinced me of that. Eric is a wonder. I really like what he’s done with our Facebook presence and wish I had six more just like him. Well, not just like him: I’d prefer to get my Additional Erics in a nice mix of ages, genders, and colors. Perhaps in a few years, when human cloning really comes online...

So here’s my fear, and my challenge. As I make this transformation to my final adult phase, and let my businessman persona out of the dungeon one more time and put him in charge again, can I make Rampant Loon Media LLC the success I truly believe it can be while still retaining my basic decent humanity?

I don’t know. Let’s find out. And so I hold my copy of today’s Wall Street Journal on high, take a deep breath, and shout the ancient magic name of power:


Right, okay, now where were we? Oh yeah, if you’ll just turn to page 3 of today’s agenda, you’ll see the goals we’re setting for 2018 and beyond:

1. Get Stupefying Stories onto a steady, predictable, first-day-of-the-month release schedule for both the Kindle and print editions. 

We’ve already got the technical problems licked and can produce both ebook and print editions from common source. What we need to solve now is the production problem, and release new books simultaneously in book ebook and print. There’s no way around it. We need to do this, therefore, we will.

2. Get the subscription problem solved and start selling subscriptions.

Right now Patreon looks like the best way to do this. Therefore, we’ll make this happen.

3. Build our mailing list and begin direct advertising. 

Much as we’d like to, we can’t trust Facebook or Twitter to be there tomorrow and thus far our Amazon ad campaigns have been financial sinkholes. We need to reach readers directly and build our readership.

4. Raise more money. 

There are two ways to do this: sell more books or beg people to support us through a Kickstarter or GoFundMe campaign. Personally, I find the latter to be just slightly more ethical than a Ponzi scheme. “Donate your money to help our business grow, because then you can bask in the glow of... feeling all virtuous or something.”

Me, I like the idea of selling more books. That’s the beauty of the free market. If people like the product you’re producing, they tell you so by buying it.

5. Remember that the ultimate goal here is to grow Stupefying Stories into a professional market. 

Right now we’re a small-press semi-pro market because that’s what we can afford to be. Thus far, we have plowed every penny we’ve made back into paying authors and artists more. The big target is to grow sales to the point where we can afford to pay authors pro rates and become recognized as a professional market.

6. Grow new editorial and production talent in-house. 

The company can’t survive and grow if I am the bottleneck on every project. Remember, my personal goal is to one day be able to step back from this business and watch it run without me like a well-oiled machine. This also ties into goal #4: we need to grow sales, to raise money, so that we can begin paying the staff. Thus far only the authors and artists are getting paid, and it’s hard to grow and keep production talent if they’re only working for the experience and a bullet-point on their resume.

7. Investigate other ways to raise cash.

We have put a lot of time and energy into learning how to create ebooks and print books, and into learning how to set up the behind-the-scenes sales and distribution mechanisms. Perhaps it’s time to—shudder!—seriously consider selling this expertise as a consulting service, for writers who want to self-publish.

I know: this way lies pandering to the lowest common denominator and something that looks an awful lot like vanity publishing, but perhaps we can make this into a viable source of revenue while maintaining our integrity.

...and that’s enough for this meeting. Motion to adjourn?


1 comment:

GuyStewart said...

"I move to adjourn."

"Seconded," says a voice from a multiverse version of me.

The gavel falls.

A third voice from an alternate present says querulously, "Is this where HEIRS comes in?"