You’veprobably heard lots of “My First Experience of Ray Bradbury”testimonials since he passed away last year but here’s mine anyway:
Iam a thief.
One Christmas morning my big brother found a paperback edition of The Martian Chronicles under the tree. I’m not sure what John thought of the book(he is more a Barsoom man) but he didn’t object when I asked if I could borrowit. He also hasn’t mentioned that it’sbeen over forty years now and I still haven’t returned his book. And until he says something he’s not gettingit back.
Reading The Martian Chronicles at age 11pretty much re-wired my brain and still has a lot to do with the kind of writerand thinker I am.
Anyonewho has been following my postings on FB, Twitter and Linked-In knows that mystory “Five Stories About Alan” is a part of the new anthology Dandelions of Mars edited by Jean Goldstromand Ahmed Khan and published by Whortleberry Press. It’s a great read and alovely edition and if you haven’t done so already you can order a copy at:
Abouta month before the book was ready, Whortleberry released a video trailerfeaturing the cover art which you can find here:
WhenI saw that video I was in love and I knew that I wanted to do something to helppromote the book. I also wanted to dosomething local — Ahmed and my fellow anthology contributor Kate Riedel arefrom Ontario — in fact Kate is only about 10 minutes from me on the 501Streetcar.
SoI decided I’d try to do a book launch.
Butbecause of the nature of the book it was going to be a somewhat experimentalevent. Dandelions of Mars is POD (Print on Demand) publication. This is to say that once you order the book,the publisher prints one up and ships it out to you. This does mean that if you drop by Chaptersor Indigo you are not going to see rows and rows of Dandelions which also meansthere will be one less phenomena in the world to feed my ego.
However,it does reduce the carbon footprint of the shipping costs and masses of unsoldbooks won’t be going into a landfill somewhere. I also liked the combination of parties involved in the project:
Whortleberry(US) connected to Lulu (UK – who do the sales and logistics) to the nearestEspresso style book machine (in my case it was in Mississauga) which means theshipping cost was the low and the delivery time very fast). The whole operation felt like a workingexample of the creative “flattening” (i.e. geographicdemocratization) of the world — and that sort of thing has always been prettyexciting to me.
Theconventional wisdom (I quickly learned) is that you don’t hold launch partiesfor POD books. With traditionalpublications, the launches tend to be held in bookstores. The bookseller orders some copies of the bookin question, they do some PR, on the appointed day, the author(s) show up, readfrom the book to the people assembled; these people then buy some books andline up for the author(s) to autograph their books. It’s a good arrangement for them, some booksget sold and the bookseller gets to send any books they don’t sell back to thepublisher.
Unfortunatelythat arrangement doesn’t hold true for POD books. You have to buy the books outright andthere’s no place to send any unsold books. Plus the bookseller doesn’t make anything on the book sales. I can’t blame them for their lack ofenthusiasm.
So solution number one: don’t hold the launch ata bookstore. We went to Lakeshore Arts.
Thestaff and volunteers at LA are incredibly supportive and dedicated people whoare in the process of transforming South Etobicoke and bringing wonderful andmeaningful cultural experiences to those of us who live here. They also have a great gallery space that isjust around the corner from my house. Lakeshore Arts promoted the event to their members and also got us somecoverage from the local press.
Solution two: invest in yourself. Like a lot of peoplethese days I have less disposable income than I did five years ago but Idecided to purchase some books that we could sell at the launch.
Whortleberry and Lulu gave me a very goodbreak on the price and I also was able to secure the services of the risingwebseries journalist Jess Morton who handled PR and press leases. Jess also taped the event and is in theprocess of editing a short video which we will be releasing online verysoon. I was able to get Jess because Ioffered her the use of my car to help her move apartments. Barter is such a great tradition.
Istarted to think of the book launch as a literary version of a micro-bankingenterprise. It did require a modestinvestment of cash plus a not-so-modest investment of time and labour to make ithappen. In those terms, the experimentalmost worked. If I hadn’t made a badcall in securing some printed materials I would have made a small profit.
Sowhat actually happened at Lakeshore Arts on July 20, 2013?
Wehad a reasonable turn-out. Not what youmight see for a launch of a Harry Potter book but not too shabby. Two weeks earlier I went to a launch party ata bookstore for an up-and-coming SF writer and we had the same number of peopleat our do.
Wesold and signed some books! We even set upan online terminal for those who wanted to order their copies on-line. Again,Whortleberry and Lulu generously provided a discount for anyone who ordered Dandelions on that day.
MaxArnoutt did a great job reading from Kate Riedel’s story “Welcome”which may be the best one in the book. Max is a well-known local poet, incredibly articulate and the spouse ofKate.
Iput on my Wonderful Ice Cream Suit as I always do for any public eventassociated with Ray Bradbury, and read from my story. I was also thinking about giving ademonstration of hands-free electronic music but I seem to have misplaced my Theremin. That’s always happening.
Thesnacks were good (supplied by the supermarket deli across the street) and theconversation was even better. No, youdon’t get a lot of people at most book launches but you do get the best people. It was definitely a mind-expanding afternoonand as with most book launches I’ve attended, a good place for some seriousnetworking.
Sowhat was learned?
Neverhesitate to exploit family and friends.
Helen’sexpertise in event management at the Orpheus Choir saved the project at severalpoints and some of the best literary conversation came from my day-job friendswho graciously came and showed their support.
Whatcould have gone better?
Marketingat the neighbourhood level is trickier than I expected. We postered stores, libraries and used thosepublic message boards as much as possible. As I mentioned earlier Lakeshore Arts was invaluable with the localpress but getting on those community event calendars in papers and radiostations is not a particularly easy process and I need to research this further.
Ido wish we had more locals drop in — if nothing else so they can find out whatcool stuff their neighbours are doing. Maybe we need to do readings from science fiction and fantasy written inother languages to appeal to some of the New Canadians living here. That could be really fun!
Ialso wish more of the Toronto science fiction crowd had been there. Now, the weather did not work in ourfavour. It was the first cool sunny dayafter five days of one of the worst muggiest heat waves in the history of theCity. It has been proven that some SFwriters and fans actually go outside once in a while and July 20 was definitelya good day to do that.
ButI can’t help wondering of their absence might be a comment on whether this wasan event for a “legitimate” publication. SF professionals have been very concernedabout electronic publishing and copyright issues and how these impact on the traditionalmagazine and book markets. Heck,Bradbury didn’t authorize an eBook edition of Fahrenheit 451 until a yearbefore his death.
Dandelions,because it is a POD, might have been seen as something too different, too dangerous. No matter how much it is an expression oflove for Bradbury’s vision and aesthetic, Dandelions is a creation of the 21stCentury, something that can only exist through the electronic media thatBradbury was so ambivalent about.
There’sanother annoying possibility. Perhapsbecause Dandelions was small press, far more a labour of love than a commercialventure, it was perceived as just not “pro” enough. Kurt Vonnegut once wrote about how one of thereasons he was pleased not be associated with science fiction writers was thatwhenever they got together they insisted on checking on whether they had thecorrect “credentials”. As acreative class, it is not one of our more enduring traits.
Ihope I’m completely wrong in my wonderings. If science fiction writers can’tfigure out ways to adapt and prosper from technological innovation then wereally are in a mess. And SF creatorsshould always be wary of being too professional, too legitimate, and toocorrect. We originated in mimeographedfanzines and pulp pages containing enough acid to melt through the bulkhead ofBuck Roger’s rocket ship. Our main valueis the perspective we bring from the fringes.
The sort ofperspective that Ray Bradbury gives us.
Wasit worth it? Absolutely. It was a greatexperience and it was wonderful drawing people’s existing love for RayBradbury’s work to bring a new kind of cultural experience to the neighbor. Selling those books was good too.