This time in late 1999/ early 2000, give or take some weeks, I was getting my self-published chapbook, "Chess Poems for the Tournament Player", printed up. "Printed up", in this case, is a euphemism for "copied at the copy shop", for the booklet was and is just a simple chapbook of only 32 pages, saddle-stitched just like the little "Terrariums and Sand Sculptures" book, by some guy in the 70s with a beard from the Carolinas, only instead of thick cardstock and cool art like the terrarium book, it has a modest cardstock cover with a cool diagram of a chess board. It took some time to find the right freeware for chess graphics, and I still haven't bothered to erase the trial run shareware I didn't use that has a ticking time bomb thing on it that tries to run the program one minute for each day one has accessed the program without buying the shareware. I always want to write the author, a fellow from Germany with a name like Lars or Ulrich, to discuss the existential dilemma of unused shareware with an attitude.
I had had an interest in self-publishing a book since I was 20, as the notion of getting around the whole "submission/rejection/corporate" thing appealed to me. I have nothing against corporations or other peoples' standards. I just did not want my own view of my own work defined by other people. But I did not carry through with self-publishing anything until my little chapbook.
I had discovered during 1999 that chess books sold really well on eBay. Chess literature has a tradition of self-published books, and of books that are self-referential in a satiric way. I also developed the feeling, through successful auctions, that I could sell soap to the Ivory factory. I figured it would be fun to write an eBay ad for a chess poem book, targeted to the ordinary chess players like myself.
I looked carefully into getting a print-on-demand (then a fledgling industry) or printing company to do the book "up right", but thanks to help from my brother, who had and knew how to use MS Publish, I figured I could do the whole project for less than one hundred fifty dollars for the first print run if I found freeware for the chess graphics, and then paid to print it up myself. I did not even spend the couple of hundred dollars to get ISBN numbers (which, for some reason, are not sold indivdually in this country, but only in 10s), because I wanted to do the project in such a way that I would recoup my outlay.
I got the first inkling that my idea would work while the chapbook was at the copy shop. Someone in with a different job saw the book in progress, and sent word to the copy shop that they wanted to buy one as a holiday gift for a chess playing relative. I had my first sale before I ever went on eBay.
From the beginning of my eBay ads, the book sold well. The early ads always resulted in sales, and sometimes in bidding wars, once sending the price up to 7 dollars. As I had invested something like a dollar and a dime each copy in the print run, I hoped to get 3 dollars net from each sale. Although the sales trickled off, so that now it will sell on eBay only 1/3 to 1/2 of the time, I broke even within a year or two,
and actually printed up a second set of books. During 2004, I sold a few copies, with the book selling almost every time I posted it.
I had a lot of fun with those eBay ads. I always disparage or make fun of the book in the ad, and describe it as "bad poetry" and its simplicity of production, so that nobody will feel "gypped" when they get a book of bad poetry in the mail. I did not keep exact records of what I sold, but I figure it is in the range of 100 copies.
I can still sell it when I feel inclined, and in my mind I have set the ultimate goal of selling 500 copies. I only rarely run auctions on it these days, though, so it may require 20 years to reach that goal. I've already spent 5 of those 20, but I am a patient man.
I've loved the little things about the experience. I love that the eBay feedback and e mails I've gotten about the book have so often been so positive. I used to run amazon auction on it, and one or two folks wrote the kindest things. I love that
chess master and author Bill Wall prepared a list of works of chess literature, and my book is on his "top 100 literary works about chess", although I don't remember selling him a book. I loved that a soul or two actually wrote "please let me know if you publish anything again", presumably so that they could buy one, rather than because it is a sign of the apocalypse.
I love that when I put multiple copies up for auction with the ad heading "Worst Chess Book You'll Ever Own", many people bid a penny to get a book, and one fellow left the best eBay feedback: "Product EXACTLY as advertised :)". I love that one chess poet would send me her work in "trade" for my own. I believe in poetry as worthless words which transform thriftlessly, so that barter suited me well.
I had always had a nagging bit of grist in my oyster shell, though. Because I had not gotten an ISBN number, I could not properly list the book at Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.com. This was not an economic matter for me, as the book's pricing really lends itself to direct sales. But there's a "legitimacy" in being available in a real, albeit virtual store.
But last night, on a whim, I ran the search term "Chess Poems" through amazon. To my delight, I found that my book is listed there now, as an "out of print" book with limited availability. There is my name, albeit without the junior, my date of publication, and "Publisher: Gurdonark Books".
I was thrilled. So I promptly put the booklet up for sale through Amazon's "used book service". So now I'm bad, I'm listed, I'm nationwide.
I wrote a poem I really like some time ago, called "Gerbil Theology". It sits in my memory section in this LJ now. I was going to write a second chapbook, called "Gerbil Theology", and try to sell it on eBay, too. But now it's five years and the project has gone noplace. I did market my weirdbient music CD, "Vibrating Electric Fields", on eBay. I sold a few copies to electric football fans desperate for the music of the vibrating field. I also marketed my friend Scott M's garage rock CD, with a few copies sold as well.
But I hate to let time slip away. I must write another chapbook, or three. I must post on eBay. I may even get it printed up right, ISBN and all. I have to many plans, and it's time for plans to come to fruition. I'm only an auction away from validation, you see. I plan to post without reserve.