By Shawn Coyne | Published: May 29, 2015
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The other day, Loren Kleinman at IndieReader sent me a bunch of questions about The Story Grid and about Steve and my publishing philosophy at Black Irish Books.What’s surprising about doing interviews is that the most fundamental and well-worded questions can make you reconsider exactly what you’re doing and why.
Loren’s full interview should run shortly, but in the meantime, I thought it would be fun to share just one of her questions with you.
Keep in mind that the opinions in here are mine only. I can’t speak for Steve or Callie or Jeff. This is just my take.
Tell us about Black Irish Books. Explain the motto and what kinds of authors are you looking for? What can readers expect from Black Irish?
Bestselling writer Steven Pressfield and I started Black Irish Books in 2011. We did it out of desperation. Steve’s novel The Profession was about to be published and we wanted to pull out all of the stops for it. We asked to meet with the publisher (one of the Big Five who’d paid quite a bit of money to publish the book) to go over some marketing ideas that we had. They graciously agreed to hear us out.
This was our thinking:
Steve has a spectacular reputation among military fiction and nonfiction readers, especially among soldiers. So as The Profession was about what it means to be a soldier in many ways, we thought it would be great idea to get the word about the book going by giving away a lot of free copies of the book to soldiers serving in the military. Through Steve’s connections, and his outstanding publicist Callie Oettinger’s connections, we were able to put together a list of about 10,000 soldiers serving in Afghanistan, Iraq and in the U.S. at the time. And we’d finagled ways to actually get the books into their hands…not just dumping them in a bin of “freebies,” but by having them handed off from one soldier to another.
We presented the idea to Steve’s publisher and while they were very nice about it, they turned us down flat. They thought it was crazy to give away copies of a book to the core market. If they gave 10,000 copies away to the people who were already interested in the subject…who would buy it? We offered to pay for the promotion ourselves, but alas they were unconvinced.
Steve and I think just the opposite about marketing.
We think that it’s more difficult to give something away for FREE than it is to actually hammer them into buying it. The reason being that with so many things FREE today and with FREE being used as a bait and switch since the dawn of man, when you say FREE, you immediately turn on the suspicions of your audience.
They suspect you’re bullshitting them in order to shake them down later. I always think of Arthur Murray dance lessons…First three FREE!
Anyway, we believe that if you can overcome that suspicion (and the only way to do that is to offer something so cool and interesting to a core market that the nerds in that market can’t help but accept it) and if you can do it to a large enough audience (10,000 is our gut number), then if the book/product is great…and you don’t exploit the relationship…those 10,000 will become evangelists for the book/project over time.
No they aren’t going to run up and down the street telling everyone to buy your book the second they finish it…but when asked for a recommendation by a friend…they’ll definitely spread the word. If it’s good.
This is a boring marketing strategy because it requires patience and faith.
It requires patience because FREE won’t put you on The New York Times Bestseller list…even though it will build a backlist bestseller that sells year after year after year. And it requires faith in the book/product. Faith that all of the hard work and sacrifice you put into creating the thing will make the book/product spectacular enough for one person to recommend it to another.
I don’t think this is a newsflash, but the Big Five publishers aren’t in the business of PATIENCE AND FAITH. In their defense, no other corporation is either. They want instant success to make the people who pay for everything happy. If the book goes on to become a backlist bestseller (those are the things that do actually pay for everything by the way, not the frontlist) great, but what they want right now is a New York Times Bestseller. And FREE ain’t gonna give them that.
So after Steve and I cried in our beer for a while about how no one understood us, we decided to start our own company. One that is about PATIENCE AND FAITH. That company is Black Irish Books.
That’s nice and everything, but PATIENCE AND FAITH (plus FREE) is a marketing strategy. It’s not a founding principle for a business.
Steve and I needed to think very clearly about WHY we wanted to start this thing. Which makes you face some other fundamental questions.
What is it that we would love to have our old pals (or better yet, our competitors) say about us when we are six feet under?
That we had a bunch of bestsellers?
Or that our books helped people fighting internal battles?
Now Steve and I have worked together since I edited Steve’s classic novel about the Spartans at Thermopylae, Gates of Fire, when I was at Doubleday in 1996. We went on to work on The War of Art together too when I had my own publishing company in the oughts’ (Rugged Land Books).
After Rugged Land burned to the ground and I had to rebuild my career, Steve called and we joined forces again. I started representing him as his agent and manager around 2009.
So walking it back to find out the WHY of Black Irish wasn’t that hard.
Hands down the book that defines Black Irish Books is The War of Art. It’s all about Resistance…how to fight the inner war against that dark prince inside all of us. The chattering monkey that tells us not to put ourselves at risk…not to dare speak up…not to do what we were put on earth to do.
So we got the rights back to The War of Art and Steve named the company Black Irish Entertainment. He did so because of my heritage and my tendency to completely lose my temper at times…to fight for the right to make mistakes and be bullheaded. I think his thinking was that we should encourage others to have my sort of “damn the torpedoes” attitude when it comes to the inner battle. I’ve mellowed since then…thank God.
So we came up with GET IN THE RING as our motto and got a friend to create the Black Irish boxing glove as our logo.
And here’s another key decision we’ve made.
After working with some amazing other writers (Our dear friends David Danelo, David Feherty, Jim Gant, David Leddick, Jason Riley, Giora Romm and Patrick Van Horne) Steve and I have decided to focus on Pressfield/Coyne projects from here on out.
That is, we’re only going to publish stuff we write ourselves.
We are PATIENCE AND FAITH publishers and we just do not want (nor can we) to compete with those other publishers angling for instant bestsellers. And the last thing we’d want to do is keep other writers from getting on the list. There is nothing wrong with gunning for an instant bestseller. It’s just not our thing.
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