I'm back from my Australian, German, and Dutch tours, and though I've since given three talks, worked on a novel, and delivered two columns in a week, mostly what I've been noodling with is the With a Little Help launch.
Surprisingly, I was able to get a lot of work done on the launch during my tours, thanks in part to social media. While on the road, I put out a call on Twitter for someone to help me tweak my launch template—after all, the different audio/hardcover/paperback/e-book choices can be hard to present in a clear way. I offered a limited edition hardcover in exchange, despite warnings that professional designers would be upset by this "devaluation" of their work. A designer named Andrew Crocker came through with a brilliant design and even put together the HTML/CSS template, saving my Web master, Mike Little, some time. I also put together the graphics while I was on German trains and e-mailed them while waiting on platforms, using sporadic blasts of Wi-Fi.
Before leaving for Germany, I dropped off the signatures for the first 20 hardcovers at the Wyvern Bindery. In my haste, however, I screwed up the folding instructions at Oldacres, my printer, and delivered the paper in gatherings of three, not four. The additional binding labor tacked an extra £35 per copy onto the overall cost—that's almost $1,000 in all—ouch. On the positive side, the books look amazing. I brought one by Oldacres to talk about trying a thicker, six-sheet gathering and I practically had to yank the book out of the printers' hands to get it back.
Soon after, another realization hit me: I still had no idea how to ship these things. I used to run the mailroom at Bakka Books, the SF store in Toronto, and I got very good at improvising cardboard book mailers out of scrap boxes. But I really wanted something less labor-intensive. I'd planned on using a 4mm cardboard book box, similar to the ones used by Amazon for single-book mailings. I'd then pad the book inside. I'm charging $275 apiece, so I figure I better make sure the books arrive intact! I was just about to order some bubble-wrap sleeves when my eyes lit on a small stack of burlap coffee sacks on one of my storeroom shelves.
I love coffee sacks. The burlap is soft but scratchy, tactile, and it smells great—coffee and sisal. I thought, if I got a book wrapped in this, I'd love it. So I cut up a sack and tried tying a book in a couple of configurations. I snapped some pix, put them on Flickr, and tweeted: would you be delighted to get a book wrapped like this, or put off? The chorus of "delighted" was unanimous. So much for less labor intensive—but as an "Internet guy" I must say I'm finding all this physical stuff almost indecently pleasurable. It's like being back in arts and crafts class.
My Twitter followers also pointed out that I'd need a layer of acid-free paper between the books and the burlap to prevent scratching, and several sent in the URLs for Web sites devoted to Japanese fabric wrapping. A few hours later, I got a tweet from the legendary Square Mile coffee roasters here in London. They have more coffee sacks than they know what to do with; could I come and take some, please? Another Twitter follower recommended a cheap cardboard mailer supplier called Zetland. I bought 30 boxes of mailers for £23.80.
While on tour I also figured out how to load the SD cards that will be affixed to the book covers. I originally thought about buying a stand-alone card duplicator, but that costs $1,500. Once again, I tweeted, this time from a train out of Düsseldorf. By the time I arrived in Munich, a reader, Joe Lupe, had an ingenious suggestion. Why not just buy a hub and some SD card readers (about £20 total) and use scripts to copy the files to the cards? Joe even wrote me a quick-and-dirty duplicator app and was kind enough to include the source code. It worked like a charm and can load seven cards in about 10 minutes. I even found the SD cards through Twitter. Several readers recommended 7-Day Shop, where I bought 30 4GB cards for £164.70.
At this rate, I should be ready to launch literally any day. But of course, nothing is ever easy: while I was away, my office landlords lost their minds and instituted a series of "security" measures that are driving me nuts. My neighbors are already fleeing in droves, and I'm next. The commercial real estate crash in London means I won't be facing a rent increase, but moving is sure to disrupt fulfillment.
Nothing to be done about it, I suppose. As they say, life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.
Total expenditures to date: $3,959. Total income: $10,000. Launch date: T minus a week (or two).