Innovation in a Changing Industry – The Advance Reader Program

Innovation in a Changing Industry – The Advance Reader Program

Since I started Grey Gecko Press, my vision for the company has been one of innovation, ‘new’ thinking, and turning ideas on their head to see what shakes loose. I loathe the very idea of the phrase “Well, that’s how we’ve always done it.” The idea behind that phrase presupposes that just because you’ve always done it one way means that’s the best way it can be done.

Bull.

I’m not against tradition – just ask my family about our Christmas celebrations. I’m a Cancer, and tradition goes to our core. That said, I’m one of the more flexible and easy-going Cancers I’ve ever met. I’m open to change – with good reason – and don’t hold to ideas and ideals that are outdated, outmoded and irrational simply because they’re traditional.

So naturally, when forming plans about Grey Gecko, I took a look at the entirety of the publishing industry as I knew it – which was admittedly somewhat lacking – and wondered: “How can I do this better?” Of course, along with that question came the corollary: “How can I do it cheaper?” I’m not made of money, after all. I had no bad habits to unlearn, nothing to slow me down and force me into a rigid, traditional way of doing things.

Indeed, as an author, I had a unique perspective. What would I do, as an author, for other authors? How could I make the whole experience better? What can I change or add to the existing systems that would increase happiness and convenience for all participants?

These questions were awesome motivators to the process, and directly lead to some of the most unique and progressive policies in the publishing industry today, including our royalty structure, our buy-out options, and now, the Advance Reader Program.

Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) have long been a staple of the publishing world. Influential folks the world over get advance copies of some of the upcoming releases from the Big Six publishers, with the expectation that they’ll then talk about the book on their websites or tv shows, in their columns, or at their conferences. This is a great idea to generate buzz for new books, especially for unknown or newish authors who might otherwise have languished, even with the minor marketing push the trad pubs are giving to authors these days.

So, in the spirit of innovation, I looked at this ARC idea and thought: In this new digital age, how can I make this better? The answer was simple.

Let everyone play in the sandbox.

We’ve all seen how reviews on Amazon affect the rankings, which in turn affect sales. It’s a clear pattern, even if the algorithms behind the rankings are the stuff of old guys with beards to their ankles chanting in unknown languages while wearing mystic symbol-covered robes in some cave somewhere.  And here’s the thing about reviews on Amazon, BN.com and GoodReads: ANYONE CAN POST A REVIEW.

You don’t have to be a bookseller, a publisher, a celebrity or some super-nifty-highly-influential New York reviewer. Your review is just as important as anyone else’s, and listed right alongside them. The only differentiation in the reviews is how many stars you give the book. So why not let anyone review the book?

Thus was born the Advance Reader Program: anyone can join for free (though there is a limit to the number of participants for a given book). They get invited to review upcoming releases, and receive a free copy of the ebook – the same one that anyone purchasing it would receive – a couple weeks ahead of the official release date. Then they have 2 weeks after the release date to review it.

Everybody wins. Readers get advance copies of good books, we (the publishers) get front-loaded reviews from ‘real’ people, and most importantly, Joe Public knows just how good (or bad) the book is very, very quickly. And best of all, the whole thing is free!

This is what I love about the changing face of publishing: anyone can try anything. Throw it against the wall, see if it sticks. If not, try again with something else. Who knows, maybe this ARP will be the new standard 10 years from now for all publishers. Because the most important question isn’t why you should do something…

…the most important question is why not.


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