Is Second Life still useful for authors and publishers? It depends how you use it, argues Adele Ward – who has recently used virtual contacts to make her new publishing business a reality.
I’ve probably tried as hard, or harder, than anyone to find out how useful Second Life could be for publishers and authors. There are serious obstacles that most publishers and authors are finding, and I’ll talk about them at the end. However, I’ve just started a new publishing company called Ward Wood Publishing together with business partner Mike Fortune-Wood of Cinnamon Press, and I have to admit that it wouldn’t have happened without Second Life putting us in contact.
Apart from getting me and Mike together, Second Life also led to a working relationship with the London School of Journalism (LSJ) who asked for my advice when they started their island. Now the LSJ have helped Ward Wood by financing our website, www.wardwoodpublishing.co.uk, and I expect they’ll work with us more in future. So Second Life has been a greater asset than I was starting to think it could be.
This story probably shows how Second Life can work in quite unique ways. I could have ‘met’ Mike Fortune-Wood on other social networks like Facebook. But would we have got to know each other in a way that would have led to us working together? It’s hard to imagine that we could have achieved that. He lives in Wales and I live in London so we were extremely unlikely to meet face-to-face and learn what we thought of each other as potential work partners.
The difference on Second Life is that it really does feel like meeting somebody and even working with them. So you can get a good idea of the level of their professionalism and how compatible you are as working partners. I met Mike when I was organising free space for publishers and writers as I’ve always felt Second Life would work best if publishers, writers, publications and writing projects were gathered together. The writers bring traffic to an area because they like to have regular events, such as open mics, and the publishers can then offer tips and advice on submissions with interactive signs in their stores. This interaction leads to interest in the publishers’ displays and links to their websites.
Whereas in the past publishers invested in whole islands and created impressive builds to attract traffic, they seem to be realising that a small display with the right information in a busy area and the right target audience seems more effective. Although most send marketing people on to Second Life, there are smaller publishers with editors who come on, attend open mics, and have even offered publishing contracts. The standard of writing on Second Life is high. International contacts can also be made between publishers and authors.
Mike Fortune-Wood took one of the spaces I offered near two popular open mic and performance venues and we have got to know each other over a long period. We have both had a chance to see how the other one works, and we must have liked what we saw. I’ve sat with Mike in a virtual café and he has given me extremely useful advice at times about financing my own freelance writing work.
When Mike heard that I wanted to start a publishing company he contacted me immediately with an Instant Message on Second Life and said he would like to join me. He had already set out ideas on how he would like the company to run and told me all of them. As Mike’s skills complement my own I was interested immediately and went away to think about his approach to publishing.
I’ve worked for more than thirty years in writing and editorial work as well as press relations and had thought I would need to learn more about the production, distribution and financial side of the business before starting a company. Mike is expert in these sides of publishing and likes to work with an editor as he doesn’t want to be involved in that side. It was a perfect match, and I must admit that I have Second Life to thank for it.
We signed our partnership papers weeks ago and the website went live on the 4th of July, very apt as our first book will be launched in September and is a novel called A Clash of Innocents by American author Sue Guiney. We then have poetry collections coming out in October and November from Ann Alexander (previously with Peterloo and a poet with an impressive set of competition wins) and Mike Horwood who is also previously published. Social networks helped me to find the authors and to see that they needed a publisher, so I value them all, but Second Life worked in a different way to bring me and Mike together as business partners.
I’m not overly positive about Second Life. It has proved extremely difficult for publishers to use it as a sales tool as people don’t tend to buy books there. It’s also hard for businesses to justify the time it takes to do anything, even to build a fairly small display and update it. It’s almost impossible to attract traffic so it’s essential to locate yourself on an area with the right target audience coming to regular events near your display (they don’t move far from the stage or event venue). I think, most of all, the findings I’ve made show that it doesn’t work in the expected ways.
It’s best for the activities other social networks can’t manage – in particular interactive voice events like open mics, performances, talks, disussions and even classes. Added to that it lets you make contacts in a way that feels face-to-face no matter where you both are in the world, and can lead to a kind of networking you can’t initiate easily on other social networks where you need to know the people you approach with friendship offers.