Laggan Cottage, Arran
The setting for Dreamwords
‘Stormbound and trapped in a desolate cottage with a beautiful stranger, an amnesiac boy discovers that he has been there before and that the ghosts haunting the place are there for him.’
That’s the trailer for Paul Story’s book, Dreamwords. And the cottage is real. Nestled beneath a 1000-foot hillside on the craggy Isle of Arran, off the west coast of Scotland, facing the mainland across an expanse of sea. Remote. A couple of miles from the nearest road, four miles from the nearest village. No electricity, no services, a lonely landmark for the island’s walkers.
We’ve talked before about innovation on this blog. How it’s the fiercely independent writers who are most likely to exploit the potential of new media and find new routes to market. And you may remember how in an early post, I described how Cambridge author, Pimbo, sold 80,000 books door-to-door a couple of decades back. Well, here’s an approach to book marketing that turns Pimbo’s story on its head. Instead of taking books to the readers, Paul Story takes his books to a place where readers come to him. Where? Not a bookshop. Not an airport. Not even Amazon -- well not the print version anyway. Where better than the cottage on the north-east coast of Arran where the novel takes place? Laggan Cottage -- one of the most desolate places in the British Isles.
Paul has pitched a tent alongside the cottage, lays out his books every morning, carefully protecting them from the elements, and that’s where he intends to stay for the next two months, till early July. So who will his readers be? Walkers, hikers -- because Laggan happens to be on one of the favourite trails for those exploring the island on foot. People who are likely to be enchanted by the rugged beauty of the island, already captivated by its legends. Dreamwords adds another legend. And on the trail, how can they not be fascinated to find a real live author living out in the wild, and stop to spend a few minutes talking?
But innovation doesn’t stop there. A hiker stops, talks to the writer, gets interested in the book, wants to take one. What then? Chances are the walker’s not carrying cash. A credit card transaction then? Laggan’s hardly the place. There’s a different way. Paul calls it the ‘Honesty Edition’. If someone wants to take a book, they don’t pay now but later, through the Dreamwords website. No sales record is kept. Paul relies entirely on the honesty of the customer. In today’s world that’s astonishingly, refreshingly different.
The writer has no illusions: ‘Of course there will be some who don’t pay, others who forget. But on the whole, I think most people will remember the experience of meeting me at Laggan. They’ll think of me not as some remote unapproachable novelist, but as a living, breathing, working (and sometimes shivering) writer. I hope most will actually read my book, and that some will love it. I’ve printed 10,000 books. If I stay in the minds and thoughts of 1,000 readers, and they’re looking out for the next book in the Dreamwords series, then I can count this adventure a success.’
Crazy? Some will think so. But I don’t. What Paul Story has realized is that when tens of thousands of other writers, now freed from the shackles of traditional publishing, are competing for reader attention, it’s not enough just to have a good book. You need a good story (- and a good surname doesn’t hurt either!) What he’s done, in classic marketing terms, is to identify his niche -- he knows who will love to read his book, and he’s thought very hard about how to reach them. More than that, he’s found a way to engage -- not with a 20-second encounter at a book-signing, but by creating an event where readers can interact with the writer one by one and in their own time.
It’s early in the walking season, and as I write, Britain has just had its coldest May night in fifteen years. Yesterday a conversation with interested walkers was interrupted by hail. It’s not going to be easy for Paul, but it’s an extraordinary example of commitment to writing and left-field marketing. Follow along with Paul on his Facebook page, join up, and cheer him along.
And now for something completely different -- and to put you in a Scottish mood -- here’s the story of Ewan McTeagle, a poet who took a more commercial approach to writing.