Squirrels on the Web: Digital marketing using free online content

Caleigh Minshall

The Porcupine’s Quill is in many ways a very traditional publisher – we use early twentieth-century printing technology to make our books, take greater pride than many of today’s publishers in the quality and longevity of the physical product, and we publish great authors and writing from Canada’s past almost as often as we publish new, upcoming authors. These traditions are one of PQL’s big strengths – so imagine my surprise when I realized that we were also embarking on major digitally-influenced project like Beasts of New York by Jon Evans.

Beasts of New York, like I’ve written before, is ‘a violent, epic, action-packed urban quest full of very eccentric, often hilarious, extremely dangerous characters who also happen to be animals — the wildlife of New York City, to be exact.’ (Jon Evans officially gave his approval of that description a couple of weeks ago.)

Beasts of New York is also entirely available online. It’s been available since 2007. You can read it right now just by going to this website – in hindsight, I should have waited until the end of this post to give you the link, since you’ll probably skitter off to read the novel now. Stay with me just a little longer, okay?

There’s not even a downside to reading it online. You don’t have to pay a thing. You don’t need to give any personal information or join a mailing list. You have tons of choice in format. And you have the author’s complete blessing! In fact, he’s the one who put together the site (along with some help from many of the book’s fans – one of whom has started translating the book into German. Now that’s dedication.)

Of course, PQL is also planning on printing and selling a physical copy of this book in Spring 2011. But why would we do that when someone can just find the book online for free?

Well, for one thing, our print version will be – and we all know modesty is overrated, right? – better. Or at least, our product will be, even if the story is the same. We’re adding our traditional values: the longevity of a sewn book, high quality paper, beautiful design, and the added pleasure of several wood engravings created by Jim Westergard. In fact, you might even say the text will be improved a bit, too: we’ll have a copyeditor go over the text and, of course, Jon Evans will go over it with a fine-tooth comb as well to make sure it’s as perfect and polished as can be.

For another thing, we hope to harness the enthusiasm of all the online readers Jon has garnered over the past three years. Beasts of New York has a large following online: it’s been downloaded over 20,000 times from Feedbooks, Manybooks, Scribd, and Goodreads, without any publicity apart from word-of-mouth. Beasts of New York is also Jon’s most popular and highest-rated book on Goodreads.  And check out this comment from Goodreads user Angie:

This book was perfect for me…. I loved the story and hope it gets made into a real book, this is one I’d buy and keep for sure.

You can read the other Goodreads comments here. This book has a pre-existing digital community that already knows and loves the story, and I think many of them will be very supportive of Patch (the squirrel) and his epic adventure in print form, too – especially when they know that buying the print book is one way of thanking the man who invented the story (and made it freely available) in the first place.

Of course, there will also be many people who choose not to buy the book. But that’s true of many books, to be honest, and with so many stories and titles and media to choose from – many of them online and free (legally or illegally) – one of the hardest things to do these days is just make your story stand out from the rest. We won’t sell anything if people don’t know about the book first, and Beasts of New York‘s free availability online has proven itself a great way to get people talking about the story, passionate about the characters and excited about the book.

Sadly, by the time this book is available in print, I’ll no longer be at the Quill – but I’ll be sure to give you updates on the book’s progress while I can!

Next week, look for a blog about my ongoing love/hate relationship with the wondrous – the complicated – the supremely frustrating Google AdWords.

And lastly, on a sadder note – tomorrow is my last day working in the shop at the Quill. It’s been such a comforting routine all summer and it’ll be very different – and lonely – working on Quill-related things remotely, but on the other hand, the reason I’ll be doing things remotely is because I’m moving to France for the year. Which is a happier note. So, all in all, things balance out.

About Caleigh

Intern at the Porcupine's Quill.
This entry was posted in Letters from the Porcupette (the Intern's Blog) and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Squirrels on the Web: Digital marketing using free online content

  1. Red Rider says:

    Great blog! What or who else could you have been thinking about when your wrote the phrase “the wondrous – the complicated – the supremely frustrating…..”

  2. Big Brig says:

    While I am sure your last day at the quill was a sad one it sounds like you have quite the adventure ahead! I have no doubt your work at the Quill has been appreciated and commended by your superiors. Looking forward to your next post!

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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.