my life in publishing

You can say that it is all Ted Cruz’s fault. I had never planned to become a book publisher. I was just a writer, a writer who faced the same brick walls and pitfalls that plague the modern publishing industry. I had met with publishers at trade shows and gotten nowhere. As early as mid-2013, I was beginning to germinate an idea to do something more. My second book had come out the previous fall and I was eager to step up my promotion, as well as support the other self-published authors I was friends with. I had already created aois21, but it was a fantasy. “The illusion of a publisher is just as good as a publisher,” when booking book tours and events. I had used the faux name as I scheduled a six-stop tour in summer 2012 for Polk’s Soliloquy.

While visiting the farmer’s market at the courthouse in Arlington, VA, I looked at the variety of vendors at the adjoining market and wondered if I could exhibit there. Obviously not every week; that would be crazy. Maybe if I formed an author society, we could book the space and we’d have a different author each week. There didn’t seem to be an existing society in Arlington County, even with the area’s strong support for the arts. But that wouldn’t work with my friends, as many of them lived in Maryland.

I shared this with friends and got their own ideas. I even pitched it to my coworker Philip Sipkov, who, at the time, was planning on publishing his third book with a vanity publisher and wanted my help with the marketing, allowing him to duck the costs they charged for using their own service. We went as far as drafting a public relations contract for me to support him. The only hang-ups were the detailed rules the publisher provided as a barrier to entry for a start-up marketing firm like the one I was presenting myself as. The one-person “aois21 publishing” would need to have five books to report stats on, a personal contact at the Ingram vendor, and other guarantees that seemed to be onerous. We had pretty much thrown in the towel.

Then I was fired.

Well, not really fired. But I was unemployed, though I did not lose my job. For two weeks and two days in October 2013, the U.S. Federal Government was shut down. All non-essential federal employees (i.e., me) were sent home without pay. I filled my time by running a tumblr sharing the news, pictures, and cartoons from the shutdown, but as I filed for unemployment compensation, I grew resentful. I had done nothing wrong. My work was exemplary. My job was still there, and I would have it back, but not yet. If the government can shut down because one senator from Texas fired up the House to fight the new health care law, then could this be the new normal going ahead?

I decided that I never wanted to be unemployed again. Even if there would be another shutdown, I would have work to do (and, hopefully, an income). Thus, aois21 became real. I pulled my friends together. The authors became aois21 Creatives. Those with advanced degrees consulted on writing the business plan and building the structure. Many of them then became the agents of that structure as members of my management team. Corey Parker as Editor-in-Chief, Joshua Silberman as IT consultant and webmaster, Adam Wallick as author support (Creative Adjacent, a term borrowed from author Scott Sigler), Rachel Mooney as our original Chief of Visual Design, Megan Angevine as Chief of Administration. We were coming together with me as Executive Officer (I wasn’t about to fluff my ego by calling myself a publisher just yet).

Our planning started in November. In March, we launched a Kickstarter. We signed authors, revamped the barebones website, and began vigorous outreach. We booked a venue for our launch party and made new connections through social media. After successfully completing the Kickstarter, we filed our paperwork with the commonwealth of Virginia on May 8th, 2014. Our six-month journey had ended, but we had now launched a new one.

I’ve told this story now a hundred times, and some people seem to not yet be sick of it. As we approach our third birthday, we have 13 authors signed, 17 books available, three more coming out, eight podcast series, two video series, a growing presence online, and partnerships with local bookstores. That’s pretty good for a part-time company. Now it’s time for the next step. Be ready.

trade secrets, or possibility for social change?

Question: When you come up with a new idea, something different that could be revolutionary, do you keep it to yourself and be the only person who does it, or do you share it and be a pioneer?

This question was brought to mind after numerous conversations I had at the Western Maryland Independent Literature Festival at Frostburg State University. We’ve been to a lot of book fairs over the past year, but this was the only large turnout fair that was only publishers and booksellers. No individual authors. No one selling aluminum siding. Just publishers and booksellers.

Three years ago I found myself in a quandary. I was promoting my first book on a summer time tour and kept running into the question, “Can I get it as an eBook?” after responding yes, I would invariably hear that, “Then I can just buy it online,” and be robbed of the pleasure of selling a copy of my book. Moreover, there is no guarantee that the person actually followed through with the purchase.

Enter the idea: How can you sell eBooks in person? How do you guarantee a sale, even with those who prefer the digital copy? My answer, the use of the ever-present USB flash drive. I made an initial order and began planning the way to properly sell my digital book. I would make it more than just the book. By adding videos and artwork that promoted the book, I would provide a sort of eBook+. I called it my book with Special Features.

When we launched aois21 in 2014, these flash drives were at the center of our sales pitch for bookstores and fairs. This opened the door for us to sell books that were only available electronically. Moreover, we included our author interviews, as well as podcast episodes, to give the reader a fuller picture of the author they are reading. It worked. We had sales at several events and the authors have had success selling the flash drives on their own. We decorate them with the aois21 logo and a printed label of the book cover and it looks just like a stick version of the real thing.

This came to a satisfying step three weeks ago at the Fall for the Book festival when a couple approached my table and said that they had heard about us selling eBooks on flash drives. The fair was lightly attended due to the weather so I doubted that they had heard from someone else. In fact, they told me that they had seen our website and read about it and wanted to see our finished product. They even told me about someone else using the idea, but offering different features at a graduated price point. A novel idea but not one I’m interested in pursuing.

Was this the tipping point? Was this idea finally ready to help bring eBook sales to your friendly, neighborhood book store?

Unfortunately, this plan to conquer in person sales with a digital product hit a snag. How do we persuade customers that the flash drives contain only what we say they do? How, in this age of identity theft, phishing, keyloggers, and fraud, do we get them to trust us?

The best answer I can come up with is to share it. Every book fair we go to, we talk about the flash drives. When meeting several other publishers at Frostburg, I would talk about it at length. Several people told me that they had never considered using them, but will now.

Upon hearing this, I was questioned about why I would give away trade secrets. The issue, I believe, isn’t keeping secrets. It’s creating a verifiable new point of sale for eBooks to build customer trust so that everyone benefits.

I know full well that I am not the first person to think this up. Instead, I will be the person to “shout it from the rooftops.” After all innovation does not occur in a vacuum. If it wasn’t for the advent of these reusable storage devices, we’d be stuck with data CDs, which can be just as untrustworthy and easily damaged. As far as I see it, this should be able to help everyone in the changing culture of the publishing industry.

Now eBook sales do not have to be confined to websites and apps. You can now have the same experience buying an eBook that so many others have had with paperbacks, hardcovers, audiobooks on CDs, and hundreds of other possible transactions. Plus, as a bonus, we can give you that extra bit of insight into our authors. Win=win.

making a statement: we are

What is aois21?

What we are, first and foremost, is a marketing company.

We take your product, we fine tune it, test it with possible customers and then we give it a proper image. We decide on how best to present it and then we unleash it on the world. The difference is the product we're working on is a book, a short story, a written expression of your hopes and desires.

Creators that come to us, come with their lives in their stories. We will work with you through the editing process to ensure that your stories get out there the way you want them to be told. We'll work with you on cover designs and marketing programs. We'll help you write a tag line or create an advertising plan. We'll launch your Facebook page, twitter feed, tumblr, website, or whatever is the next frontier in social media. We do this because we believe in you and we believe in your story.

Every person has a story, whether it be their life story or other lessons they want to pass along. We'll take that story, that book that is hidden down inside of you and we will bring it out. No matter the genre. No matter the concept. No matter the subject. We will make it real.

The only question that remains,

What do you want your story to be?