As I write, I’ve just clicked ‘send’ on the email that will take the author edited manuscript of Wikipedia Knows Nothing and deliver it to the new publisher. The book is being distributed with a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND (“Share”) license, making this my first free ebook. With luck, it will be available in time for DiGRA/FDG in August, but we’ll see how the winds of fate are blowing this Summer…
More news on my newest book as and when it comes in!
For the first time in my life, I find myself contemplating releasing my new book for free. This is an odd thought, but it could make sense for where I'm up to in my career as a multi-class author with feet in very different areas. Not ready to commit yet, but even thinking about this marks a change in direction for me.
I've made some good money out of my how-to books like 21st Century Game Design and Game Writing: Narrative Skills for Videogames, but with publishing giant Cengage struggling to make ends meet in the era of web content overload they have pulled out of games book publishing entirely. That means as soon as the print edition of my 'how to' books sell through (and one already has), they're out of print. I'm shopping around for a publisher to take over these, but most I've contacted are in the same state as Cengage or worse... Traditional publishing is struggling.
Meanwhile, my last three books are a trilogy of philosophy forming my 'imaginative investigations' (Imaginary Games, The Mythology of Evolution, and Chaos Ethics). Published with Zero Books, these are not titles a conventional small press could handle, but 500 copies is a 'best seller' for Zero, and I've already cleared this sales target with the first of the three and am gradually getting there with the other two. In a few months I will have sold a thousand books of philosophy, which is a tiny fraction of my total book sales yet still an achievement in a niche field like philosophy.
Now in comes Wikipedia Knows Nothing, which is also philosophy but short-form. I wrote it for Repeater, the small press my editor at Zero created after he (and I, unrelatedly) left then. But he knows what my philosophy books will sell, and a thousand copies isn't viable for him, nor for any other small press I've contacted. That leaves the academic presses (who, in fact, would generate greater sales for it anyway) – but will I really get a book that claims blind peer review is immoral through a publisher that uses blind peer review as standard? Every academic press is bizarrely wed to this queer artefact of the twentieth century. I have to doubt my prospects, although I haven’t ruled out submitting to my contact at MIT Books, and maybe to Minnesota Press as well (they pride themselves in being a little unorthodox, and they've been a good friend to Ian Bogost).
But there's a third option: a self-published (or pop-up publisher issued) e-book. I can make these myself easily enough, and even getting an ISBN for book catalogues is quite manageable. One key point in this regard is my realisation that I don't have to worry about a lack of publisher promotion because every publisher below the scale of the upper market 'fast-sellers' leaves marketing to the author. Case in point: despite being a huge multinational, Cengage left promotional activity to my books with them up to me. They supported me, but it was ultimately up to me to make everything happen. That was even more true of Zero, although under new head Doug Lain that is changing in new and interesting ways.
The bottom line is that even the best case for the new book is to generate, say, $5,000 for me. To put that in context, that's what I earn on a typical two-week game consultancy gig. No-one writes philosophy to get rich – we mostly write it because we're unable to stop thinking about philosophical problems and need to work them out on paper to get them out of our heads. So whatever happens I'm not looking at making a lot of money with the new project. Which brings up an interesting option: giving it away for free.
The scuttlebutt on free e-books is that they typically 'sell' a hundred times as many copies as paid e-books. I doubt that number holds for philosophy, but either way the advantage of having a short-form e-book is that it can reach people who currently wouldn't read my work, and could perhaps reach ten thousand people if not a hundred thousand. That potentially expands both my audience and the number of people who might enter into discourse with me - both are desirable, but the latter is especially appealing since I am feeling increasingly isolated these days. (My own fault for going down the philosophy rabbit-hole, of course...) This isn't new logic: even the big publishers are now giving away free e-books in order to build the brands of their authors and thus ultimately sell more books by them.
One final option to consider is Open Humanities Press. I already spoke to Graham Harman about this (he edits their 'New Metaphysics' line), and going with them – if they will have me! – would put me in good company. I might not get the free e-book, because they only distribute free PDFs of their books, but as someone who is now undeniably an academic (for all that it rankles to admit that!) it might be better for me to go where other academics I respect, like Joanna Zylinska, Timothy Morton, and Levi Bryant, have gone. However, I’m pretty sure they use blind peer review as well – so I might do just as well to submit to other academic presses first. Swings and roundabouts.
Being an author has become an important part of my self-image. Indeed, I agonised over what to put as my profession on my first son's birth certificate (Game designer? Game writer? Philosopher?) before finally settling upon 'Author'. It may be a small part of my earnings, but it's a huge part of my identity these days that I write books - and I love doing it, too. Absorbed in a manuscript I am more immersed than in any game. I live among my words.
These are strange times for publishers, and thus also for authors. Perhaps I have indeed reached a point where the best thing I can do is go fishing with a free e-book... But I worry about going it alone, even though it was always only ever me promoting my work. I like working with people, I don't want to push myself into ever-quieter corners of obscurity. But then, maybe a free e-book is the message-in-a-bottle I need to end my hermitage? Forces are pulling me in different directions.
I ask you, whoever had read this far, to help guide me. I'm not lost because I know exactly where I am. I'm just not entirely sure where I am going.
The publisher has a special promotion for the Chaos Ethics e-book this November - it's $0.99 on Amazon.com and 99p on Amazon.co.uk. If you haven't picked up my latest book, now's a good time to do it!
It's official - Chaos Ethics is in the warehouse, and the ebook has also been digitally issued. That means even though the release date is still a little over two weeks away, the book is already available to buy as both a paperback and an ebook.
This completes my three year mission to write a trilogy of books on the philosophy of imagination for Zero Books, and it's been one hell of a ride - before this last book had come out, I'd already used the first (Imaginary Games) to get a doctorate! My infinite thanks to those of you who have come along on this journey with me, and to everyone who explores these three books in the years to come.
I'd like to take this opportunity to once again thank everyone who has helped me with this book, which has been a far greater undertaking than I ever expected. Here's an extract from the acknowledgements:
Then there are the hordes of people who have helped me on either the manuscript itself or the long process leading up to it (many of them unwitting accomplices in my crimes!), including Neil Bundy, Peter Crowther, Ben Cowley, Nick Elliott, Jack Monahan, Jon Rouse, Wayne Thompson, translucy, Kelly Waldrop-Briggs, everyone at Chorlton Unitarian Church (true agents of chaos!), and a host of other people who, via my blog Only a Game, helped shape my views on all manner of ethical issues over the past decade. Especial thanks are due to everyone at my blog who discussed the trolley problem with me, including Bezman, Tom Camfield, Duoae, Corvus Elrod, Darius Kazemi, Marc Majcher, Duncan Monro, John Peacock, and Foster Nichols. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Cathy Bryant for getting me interested in philosophy in the first place, many moons ago in a very different life to the one I am living now. If it were not for her, the course of my life would have been very different indeed!
Lastly, but certainly not least, there are those who provided invaluable feedback on the draft manuscript including Vitor Bosshard, Gary Jones, Theo Malekin, Matt Mower, Michael Pereira, Sushma Sahajpal, and Oscar Strik, many of whom have been great friends of this project - some from as far back as the germinal 'Ethics Campaign' on my blog! The final version of this book is greatly improved by virtue of their contributions, although it goes without saying that any remaining mistakes are mine and mine alone. Michael and Oscar in particular went above and beyond the call of duty in providing assistance, and for this I am forever in their debt.
Well, what are you waiting for - go order a copy of Chaos Ethics right now!
Well, I didn’t think it would happen, since Professor Wood and I disagree on so many points, but I actually managed to get a mini-endorsement out of him!
“Provocative, lively, engaging and erudite.”
Allen W. Wood
Ward W. and Priscilla B. Woods Professor emeritus at Stanford University
I’ve added it to the Chaos Ethics page here at Only a Game.
Well, it's done: Chaos Ethics is uploaded to the publisher website! I’m just waiting for final word from Mike Moorcock, then I’ll give them the authorisation to begin production. It’s been a long road – this book really didn’t want me to finish it! – but I’m pleased with how this turned out. My first book of moral philosophy is finally on the home stretch…
“An elegant yet passionate defence of ethics, the book carefully considers various conflicting accounts of what it means to live a good life before settling on imagination and narrative as chaotic and transient foundations of ethical thinking. Ethics for Bateman is both necessary and necessarily tumultuous; it is also a story which we should try and tell as best we can. Thought-provoking, engaging even if at times controversial, Chaos Ethics is a pleasure to read - and to agree and disagree with.”
Joanna Zylinska, Professor of New Media and Communications, Goldsmiths, University of London, author of Bioethics in the Age of New Media and The Ethics of Cultural Studies
The most surreal aspect of my next philosophy book, Chaos Ethics, is the email exchanges with endorsers Mary Midgley and Mike Moorcock... As David Byrne sang: 'How did I get here?!' Mike, who is the closest thing I have to a personal hero, is about halfway through the manuscript and seems quite into it (which is great news!). It's a big moment for me.