Taking a flyer

My father is among many people who use the idiom “take a flyer” to mean “take a risk”. (I know that millions of other people use the expression also, but I always hear it in my father’s voice: “Go ahead, take a flyer. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” etc, etc). Well, I certainly took a flyer when I got laid off from the proverbial day job sixteen years ago and decided to move to Martha’s Vineyard & try to make a living as a freelance technical writer. And I took a flyer when I then took a few years to write a novel in between stints as truck driver, construction laborer, etc. And I took a flyer when I decided to self-publish. But today I’m going to talk about when I took a flyer & crafted a cheesy hand-drawn flyer as a marketing tool for my books, making me look perhaps even more of a crackpot than I actually am, if that’s possible. In some ways it was the most successful of all of these flyers.

As I recall, I made up this flyer on the eve of the Geek Pride Festival in Boson, April 2000 — which was kind of a precursor to the BarCamps of today. I volunteered to help set up cables and so forth for the event, met a bunch of the organizers at a swap-meet the night before, slept on the floor of a hotel room shared with half a dozen geekoid strangers, and spent the day handing out flyers and selling books at $10/pop.

This was before there were any published reviews to speak of, so the only incentive people had to buy my book was my promise that it was good.

One of the people who took a copy of my book at the swapmeet was Hemos, from Slashdot, who went on to write this wildly influential review. And one of the people who decided to spring the $10 on the basis of my pitch and flyer was Eric Raymond, who said later that my book was well written but “immoral and deeply ugly” because of its skeptical takes on capitalism and progress — and I was able to use that reaction to sell more copies (“Eric Raymond hates it? I’m in!”).

Anyway, these days I still hawk my novels at geek events — BarCamps and trade shows and the like. I’ve written and published three books now, and they’ve all gotten lots of nice reviews, and so I have flyers that are much less cheesy looking, much less crackpot. But I do wonder if they’re more effective. In my completely subjective opinion, based on hundreds of hours spent hawking my books, I’m thinking that maybe this old warhorse has convinced more people to take a flyer and buy a book for ten bucks than any other handout I’ve ever made.

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