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Who Cares Who Published It? The Domino Project

In Manhattan, when people find out I've written a book, the first question they always ask is:  "Who's your publisher?"

Which is weird because, aside from maybe McSweeney's in its earlier days, and surely some supermarket harlequin novel publishing house, no one buys books because of who published them.  You'll never hear this conversation:

"What books do you like to read?"

"Books published by Random House."

You see, people in Manhattan are still stuck on the "prestige" of publishing.  As if every book the Big Six publishers release is great and anything not released by them is either occasionally decent but always poorly selling (if it's from an indie publisher) or abject garbage (if it's self-published).  This thinking simply is not accurate any more.  It's certainly not prevalent in the rest of America which is great for us authors.  When I was on How to Fail's 30 Bars in 30 Days book tour, I learned this first hand.

In the "rest" of America, when people find out you have a book, the first question they ask is:

"What's it about?"

Which should be the first question.  Because isn't that all that truly matters?

What is the book about?
How well is it written?
And, I suppose, what's it gonna cost me?

After people found out what "How to Fail" was about, some people showed no interest, but, luckily, many more people did.  But the most interesting thing would happen, and this happened too many times to count, after the purchase when the purchaser would offhandedly remark, "You know, I think it's really great you self-published your own book and figured out a way to sell it."

I'd have to tell them, actually, NO, I didn't self-publish it.  It's just published by an indie you've never heard of and I prefer to sell it in bars rather than bookstores (where you can buy it too if you truly want to).

The thing is, NO ONE cared.  Whether I was published by Random House or an indie they've never heard of or even simply by me, people didn't care.  Whether my book was on the front table of Borders or on a corner table at the Felie pub or Bukowski's Tavern.  They only cared that the book sounded interesting and had ideas they wanted to read.

Major publishers seem to have lost track of this, focused only on sell sell selling books, any books, to the uninformed masses.  Admittedly, they're still winning at that game because they have the money and contacts to control the most important thing of the moment, good table placement at Barnes & Noble and an ability to manipulate bestseller lists, but these things won't matter much longer.

Enter Seth Godin's The Domino Project.

Working directly with Amazon, Godin's goal is to reinvent what it means to be a publisher while finding better ways to spread ideas.  He's going to do this by ignoring what the annoying and increasingly obsolete middle men (bookstores most notably) want, by finding ways to sell directly to the kinds of readers that want to read certain things.  Whether a zillion people want to hear about a certain book, or only a few thousand, The Domino Project plans to find them and deliver them the materials the way they want them delivered (paperback, audiobook, ebook, who gives a damn? Bookstore, online, at the bar, likewise).

I have no shame in unabashedly admitting that Seth Godin is my idol and his words of wisdom have been mentoring me for the last decade.  Within the past few months I've gotten to know Seth a little, who has even paid me one of the greatest compliments of my life when he told me he admired my marketing of "How to Fail."

Now, I'm pleased to announce I'll be doing some "street team" work for The Domino Project.  These are ideas I believe in and ideas that I've discovered actually work through my own struggles and successes with "How to Fail."  Of course, Seth is much smarter than me so I'm happy to be a follower.  I've been evangelizing Seth's ideas for years and would have been evangelizing The Domino Project too, even if I wasn't working with them.

The ironic thing is that one day soon when people ask me what books I read, I could actually see my reply being:

"All the books published by The Domino Project."

The Domino Project's first book is by Seth Godin and will be released next month:

A few of my other favorite Godin books:

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Comments (13) Trackbacks (6)
  1. Nice post! Superb writing. Great angle on book publishers and what most people think. You’re absolutely right, Aaron, who cares who published it, what’s important is how many people know about it. And how do people learn about things these days? Browsing bookstores or surfing the internet?

    Don’t get me wrong, I actually love hanging out in bookstores, but that’s to find the books I already know about.

  2. Aaron, love this post. Spot on. I’m in DC – is there a bar here that has your book?? Can’t wait to read it. (I’m a fellow street team member for the Domino Project – 🙂

  3. I think I will play the doubting Thomas. How does this differ in any way from the dozens of self-publishing companies out there, especially since this is run or at least funded by Amazon, which owns create space self publishing. This is not the first post I have seen of this, and I have even looked at some things Mr Godin has written himself. There is a lot of talk about it but nobody ever really says what it is going to do and how it will be accomplished.

    I also find it interesting that Mr Godin’s book is the first offering. In the hype about Domino which seems to be abundant, each posting also mentions the first offering. It sounds like this is just free marketing for Mr Godin. Not a bad plan for he, himself, but I don’t see how it will help the others who are supposed to follow him.

    • Valid questions and, yes, even I (as big of Godin fan as there is), has thought, “Wow, all the hoopla around the Domino Project has also just helped guarantee Seth another bestseller.” But that’s the thing…I said ANOTHER bestseller. Seth has had 12 straight bestsellers. Even if he sat in a cave doing nothing and released a new book with blank pages inside it would still hit the bestseller list. He doesn’t need false hoopla to accomplish another bestseller. (Actually, come to think of it, he did once release a book with essentially all blank pages in it and it too was an instant bestseller:

      As an author who has published traditionally, I’ll just speak for myself and say what I like is that this cuts out the middleman. Since the Domino Project is powered by Amazon, the publisher is also the seller–there’s no middle man both holding up release and production and controlling the economics. There’s less percentage profits being taken from the author as well as a greater ability to control pricing.

      As a reader, I like the potential for cheaper prices, the potential for great ideas to be put in book form at a quicker speed, and the curation skills of Seth Godin. The difference between this and self-publishing is that Seth Godin is essentially the curator. So if you like Seth, and trust Seth, then you should like and trust that the 3, 5, dozen books or whatever the Domino Project are releasing every year are of a high quality. Compared to the hodge podge of self-published books released every year. So, “Who Cares Who Published It?” I do…if it’s the Domino Project that did.

      Look, I totally get that sometimes Seth’s fans, supporters, and co-workers can sound like cultists. I get it. But I believe in this idea and, even if it doesn’t work, it’s still better than what we got going right now.

      Did that clear things up? Any more questions?

      • Somewhat, but what is Domino supposed to do, mirror Create Spaces self publishing model or is it a marketing platform to expose writers to readers. If it is the latter, then how do they overcome the signal-to-noise ratio?

        It seems to me that Amazon is becoming the middle man (they are a bookstore aren’t they?). Haven’t you just traded a brick and mortar for a virtual? There will be fewer fingers in the pie which is good, and I am all for authors making more off of each book.

        Granted on demand publishing will change the way books are printed, but how will the experience change? For the most part, when I go to the bookstore, I don’t know what I am looking for, but wait for serendipity and happenstance to enter the scene. I read mostly fiction (literary) and you mention that most people don’t read publishers, but I know when I pick up a Penguin or Everyman’s Library, I know I am looking at a quality writer. I guess this is the Gate-Keeper argument, but there is a lot of drek out there.

        I guess time will tell what Domino can do that other’s don’t or haven’t. In the meantime, I’m off to the bookstore.

        • It’s not a self-publishing model because not just any one will be published by the DP. Seth and his small team will select the few ideas per year that they want heard. (He’s a respected curator in the same way Oprah is. You get his implicit stamp of approval and to a certain kind of person, that’s enough.)

          As far as I know–I don’t know all the secrets of the DP and I’m not sure I ever will–Amazon is completely hands off, just “powering” the platform. So that’s eliminating the middle man.

          But, yes, you are right that signal-to-noise is hard to overcome. I’ve had the same issues with my book HOW TO FAIL. I literally have yet to meet a person who dislikes it; but unfortunately, not enough people have ever even heard of it.

          One thing DP is doing is finding the readers before publishing the book. The goal isn’t to be a bestseller, it’s to just get the books in the hands of the people that would like it or need it. In some book’s case that may be 1000 people, in others, 100,000,000. Those people will be pursued in a more tactical way than most publishers go about it. (Check out my other DP post called “Unsoliciting Me” from a few days ago.)

          And, yes, there is far too much dreck out there. Agreed. Let me know what you grab at the bookstore!

          • I will have to wait for more information to come out about Domino, but I will make a couple observations. The publishing landscape is experiencing a tectonic shift, but what that will mean in the long run, nobody really knows. People do need to start experimenting with new paradigms.

            If Domino forgoes bookstores, then that leaves electronic and mail as distribution methods. Does that mean they won’t sell any of their books through brick & mortar stores? Given the current economic environment, I don’t know how good a business decision that is. Maximizing sales should be the first priority.

            Finding the readers before the book sells. That makes me a little nervous. Given Mr Godin’s background in marketing, will he then conduct market research to understand the desires of the buying public and then find a writer qualified to fill that niche? Perhaps in non-fiction that is a viable model, but it still sounds a little like writing by committee. That would be very different than finding a writer that has something powerful to say and then building a fan base to support his work (a much more difficult proposition).

            On the fiction side of the house, the MFA in creative writing industry has all but destroyed literary fiction in America. They can write fine sentences, but they have about as much substance as a helium balloon has mass.

            Lastly, I don’t really know what “powered by Amazon” means. Will the titles be available through other websites? Either way it will be interesting to watch how things shake out.

            This time I picked up Graham Greene’s The Human Factor (A first edition) and Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler. This is the 6th or 7th copy of Calvino’s book I have bought because I keep giving them away (such a fantastic book–a true spoiler). Also, I will admit that I do tend to patronize used bookstores above those that deal in new titles.

            Have fun, and I will look around your site. Keep up the good work and good luck on your own writing.

          • Domino isn’t forgoing any of the current “standards”–visit, visit any brick and mortars and the books will be there. You just won’t get as cut rate prices as you’ll get from Amazon (I’m assuming). (I’m curious myself how places like BN will treat the books which are essentially “powered” by a company that would be happy for them to go out of business, but that’s another story.)

            No, writers will write still ideas worth spreading. Some ideas will just have big audiences than others. Don’t worry about this being some Hollywood style “art by committee.” Just trying to feed the masses.

            Agreed MFAs has made literary fiction homogenous and lame. I’m proud to admit I didn’t get an MFA.

            “Powered by” just means hands-off funding (as far as I know).

            I’ll check out the Calvino book. It sounds awesome.

            Enjoyed chatting with you today. Please come back again!

  4. Only time will tell what trail Seth will blaze for other self published authors. What Seth has said and I agree with is that there are others out there whose voices are not getting heard in the same way. He will be sharing his platform and the rallying the support of his fans to help those other less well known authors get read.

  5. MCR, you make some important valid points. Please, find me on Facebook and let’s continue this discussion.

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