Furry literature: Advertising it outside of furry fandom – with Fred Patten and Phil Geusz.
by Patch O'Furr
(Patch:) The Furry Writers’ Guild Coyotl Awards have just opened for voting by members. This is a good occasion to talk about furry publishing. Committed operations are putting out a regular stream of content by fans, for fans – but is it healthy enough to support professionals? Can any of them smoothly transition between this niche and the mainstream, to be as well-rounded as they can be? Here’s a look that builds on past stories like:
- A complaint: Furry fan publishing is overlooked – by Fred Patten.
- The State of Furry Publishing – Fred Patten gives the inside story of eight groups.
- In 2017, for the first time, nonfan publishers are documenting Furry as a movement. (Furry Nation and Furry Fandom Conventions, 1989-2015.)
Let some of the most experienced voices in furry tell you more. Here’s Fred Patten, with comments by Phil Geusz.
(Fred:) Watts Martin’s January 2017 novel, Kismet, is being published under two imprints: at FurPlanet Productions, as furry fiction for the furry market, and Argyll Productions, as science fiction for the larger s-f market or mainstream sales; with two different covers, both by Teagan Gavet, tailored for those markets.
This sounds ambitious and imaginative. But how well will it work in practice? The record isn’t encouraging.
FurPlanet Productions, in Dallas, Texas, says that the two imprints on Kismet is mostly due to Watts Martin’s own initiative. Tiny FurPlanet is primarily a furry specialty press, and while it has added Argyll Productions as a second imprint for sales beyond the furry market – and with some exclusive Argyll non-furry titles – it hasn’t had the resources to really promote them. If Martin can do his own promotion of the Argyll imprint of Kismet (the name of the protagonist’s spaceship) to a wider market, more power to him.
Phil Geusz and Legion Publishing have had some experience with this. In 2012, they advertised Geusz’s seven David Birkenhead novels, about a bioengineered rabbit-man caught in a human interstellar war, on Amazon as military science fiction, not as furry fiction. Geusz said at the time:
“For twenty years I couldn’t get much published. Then the gates opened. Now I’m making hay while the sun shines and have dumped my entire two-decade backlog on the market as rapidly as possible before the gate shuts again.”
“I thought you might like to know in passing that the Birkenhead series is selling well in excess of all my expectations on Amazon just now — “Midshipman”, as I write this, has an Amazon sales ranking of #6896, where nothing else I’ve ever written (except other books in the same series) have ever broken the #250,000 level to my knowledge. Sadly, I’m not surprised to discover that few if any of the buyers are furries (judging the “Customers who bought this book also bought” section, it’s mostly military SF readers) The ranking fluctuates every hour or so — I have no idea what it’ll look like if you choose to look it up at any given moment, and “Lieutenant” is running currently in the 15,000 range. “Captain” peaked at #147 in all of Amazon (not just SF). Total sales were well over $100k, mostly concentrated during a three to five month period. “Ship’s Boy” was written specifically to be given away as a free teaser download, and because it was free Amazon uses a separate rating system for it.
“While I have no idea of what this means in terms of actual sales figures, it’s got to beat books ranked at 250,000 plus!”
And, still in 2012:
“As I write this, the five “Birkenhead” books released to date are — all simultaneously — in the Amazon Kindle SF Top 100 list. It varies hour to hour, but no less than four have been there at any given moment (that I’m aware of) for over a week. Sales are in the hundreds per week, and I suspect (but cannot know for certain) that cumulatively they’re over 500/week. Furry is making its mark.”
Today Geusz says:
“All I can say about the Birkenheads is that we never at any point at all understood why it was a success and other projects failed. Legion turned several varieties of on-line advertising off and on repeatedly with no noticeable effect whatsoever, and when sales eventually tanked — they’re very low these days — more advertising of the same kind did nothing to help. The next series of books I wrote — the Byrd series — is IMO better-written and more appealing to most readers, yet its sales are downright pathetic and always have been. We’ve spoken repeatedly about this, the publishers and I, and though we retrace the same old circles over and over again the bottom line is…
“…We don’t understand anything at all about what happened or why.”
So will FurPlanet, or Martin alone, have any more success promoting Kismet as a science fiction novel, not mentioning that the main character is a bioengineered rat-woman? As the old saying goes, only time will tell —
Especially if self-promotion by authors rather than advertising by publishers is the trend of the future. Bookstores are becoming obsolete, due to the rise of Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and individual publishers’ catalogues, on the Internet. (There will probably always be a few independent bookstores remaining, like Dark Delicacies, a horror specialty bookstore in the Los Angeles area, for browsing and as social gathering places for their communities.) More and more authors have their own online blogs, or are members of an online writers’ group with a website where they can promote their own works, particularly if those are published by specialty presses, print-your-own-book companies like CreateSpace and Lulu Press that don’t advertise their own titles, or the authors themselves.
Here are some furry or fantasy examples:
- Dark Delicacies
- Fallen Kitten Productions
- The Iron Lyons
- Dolphyn Visions
- The Furry Writers Guild
- The Science Fiction Writers Association
So, furry authors, you’ve sold your own short stories or novels. Now stop waiting for your publishers to advertise them, and start promoting them yourselves.
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It should be noted that the Ursa Major Awards are also currently open for voting for their 2016 awards, in twelve categories.
Furry specialty bookshops in Australia and Europe should be noted, if only because they are so rare:
Are there any others?
Hell, yeah! The FUSSELSCHWARM. 😉
Selling the whole portfolio of Rabbit Valley and FurPlanet (and much, much more) for many years now. First as part of the gay and lesbian bookshop MAENNERSCHWARM and on it´s own the last two years. At conventions and online!
It’s possibly worth pointing out that we’re not really hiding that Kismet has a rat girl heroine, even if the Amazon copy doesn’t directly talk about that. (It does talk about her being a totemic, and gives enough context to explain what that is.) Any reviewer is certainly going to mention this, and the promotional work I’ve done, like the guest post for Mary Robinette Kowal, certainly gets into it.
The rationale for the two different covers is simply what different markets tend to react to. Science fiction fans are likely to look at a furry cover and think it’s an anime tie-in or graphic novel. Furries, by contrast, want to see books with furry art on the cover. (They also seem more likely to wait to buy print books at conventions than to buy ebooks off Amazon, although some of them who do buy ebooks would prefer to buy from Amazon than from furry-specific ebook stores.)
And, while I’m doing promotion of my own, people shouldn’t come away with the impression that it’s all on me. Argyll is advertising the book outside (and inside) furry and definitely helping with promotional work and expenses. I’m a bit more “plugged in” to the mainstream science fiction world, but we’re all kind of learning this time around.
As an aside, while “bookstores are obsolete” was the common wisdom a few years ago, I’m not convinced that it’s actually true: from what I’m learning, they drive both sales and community engagement, and we probably need to start finding ways to engage with them for books that have solid crossover potential. Conversely, a lot of online venues that get recommended to self-publishers and indie presses are, not to put too fine a point on it, kind of a circle jerk; it turns out readers don’t troll through promotional forums on Goodreads. (Although they do read actual book reviews on it.) If you want to sell books, you either need dumb luck — which can go a long way, granted — or you need to figure out how to get those books in front of people who would be likely to buy them. I’m not sure we’re there yet, or we’re doing the right things to close the sale, but we’re working on it!
Charlotte: thanks for the addition.
Watts: I sent a review of “Kismet” to Dogpatch Press almost two months ago. I hope it’s posted soon. Congratulations on marketing it for two different groups instead of just throwing it out for furry fans to find.