Ransom Stephens on The God Patent and the Future of Publishing

This post, from Henry Baum, originally appeared on Self-Publishing Review on 7/28/09.

Ransom Stephens has written one of the best assessments of the future of publishing that you’re likely to read (found via Pod People).  Called Booking the Future, it needs to be read – more than once.  Here we talk about the ideas put forth in the article and the success of his digitally-published novel, The God Patent, which basically proves the thesis of his essay: the future of publishing is going to look very different than it does today. 

It will have many elements of self-publishing writ large.  As he says, “Though the role of publishing has not changed – connect readers to writers – the revolution will not be led by an established publisher.” The writers who are shunned by some in the lit business are actually the innovators.  Publishing is about to go very digital.

Self-Publishing Review: Your book, The God Patent, has 7200 reads and growing. How did that happen? What’s it take to become a Scribd phenomenon? Did you promote the book a lot or did it just sort of happen?

Ransom Stephens: It kinda blows me away, I’m not sure how it happened.

The whole problem is signal to noise – having your signal emerge from the noise. When I got word that “The iTunes for books” was about to open, it seemed like an opportunity to get above the noise. I didn’t know when it would happen and I didn’t know who would do it. I got everything ready and waited. Then that first day came, May 18, and I jumped on.

I’ve promoted the book pretty much the same way I would a book in print. I’ve handed out 1000 bookmarks at bookstores and literary events and set them in obvious spots where people use computers. I didn’t catch the irony of handing out bookmarks for an ebook until I was introduced at a reading and the MC said that my bookmarks must require understanding of quantum physics to make them work with the scribd e-ink.

I think the bookmarks were a waste of money. The trick with an e-book is to get links in front of people. I used email. By the end of the month, I’ll have sent email to everyone who I’ve ever sent email to or received email from (sans spammers), about 2000 people. A lot of my friends have forwarded my emails to their friends and, I think this is really the key: there are a few people who flat out LOVE my book and they are the best salespeople. They quote it on Facebook, put links all over and stuff. That’s gratifying. And it was weird when my neighbor asked me detailed questions about The God Patent. It’s set in the town where I live, and she had a lot of questions about what was modeled after what and that sort of thing.

As a public speaker, I’ve been able to “capitalize on the bad economy” by giving speeches to mainstream audiences, sometimes even for free (since there is so little work out there right now), based on topics and themes in The God Patent. For example, the woman physicist in the book, Emmy Nutter, is based on the Emmy Noether, the Einstein contemporary who I think made the greatest contribution to mathematical physics of anyone. Ever. I have a speech titled “The Fabric of Reality” that focuses on her work that I’ve given to Rotary Clubs, some new-age groups, a science café, and have pumped up The God Patent at each one.

Ultimately though, I don’t see how anything I’ve done can account for the success The God Patent has experienced at Scribd.

SPR: Do you think posting work online changes how writers approach the work. Did you write your book thinking about how the book would work on screen with the glare of a monitor, and not on paper? If not, would you approach your next book differently keeping the Scribd audience in mind?


Read the rest of the post on Self-Publishing Review.

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