On most Wednesday nights, Diana Allandale reads to a small audience of dedicated fans at Passionate Books. The shop is one of four that Diana owns and operates. When she’s not reading at one of her stores, Diana travels to faraway places where she always finds a receptive new audience.
Diana’s life may sound like every author’s wildest fantasy. What strange world is this where writers own bookstores, travel far and wide, and never read to a room full of empty chairs? It’s called Second Life, and it’s proving to be a valuable marketing tool for the authors who venture in and explore its possibilities.
In her first life, Diana Allandale is known as Diana Hunter. She’s written 12 books for Ellora’s Cave over the last four years. Her BDSM-themed novels have found an enthusiastic audience among the inhabitants of the virtual world.
Second Life has enabled Diana to reach a new audience who might never have discovered her work. When she reads at her shop, the audience members are logged in from around the world. Many live in countries where her books have never been marketed before.
After one of Diana’s recent readings, an excited fan named Jojamela Soon told me, “I had never heard of Diana or Ellora’s Cave until SL. Now I’ve read every one of her books and am starting on the other authors.”
Second Life may be the perfect venue for Diana’s style of fiction. The anonymity and freedom within Second Life is a natural environment where people can explore lifestyles and subcultures they would never dream of exploring in real life.
During our interview, Diana explained, “BDSM is obviously a theme that runs through my stories…and SL is a place where people try it out just to see what it’s like.” To facilitate this experimentation, Diana opened a small shop with all the equipment necessary for readers to explore and recreate scenes from her stories. Fans are encouraged to use the semi-private space as they see fit. Fortunately, this is Second Life, and the sheets are always clean.
While Diana thinks it’s unlikely that she’ll ever include Second Life in her books, she is using her experiences in-world as the basis for a new work available only from her virtual store. Rosie’s Story is a semi-autobiographical tale of a woman exploring Second Life for the first time and running into all the inevitable problems that occur in a world where the “remove all clothes” menu item is just a mouse click away.
Sometimes a Good Suit Really Does Make a Man
Madddyyy Schnook’s life changed the day he decided he needed a new suit. Unlike most men, Madddyyy wasn’t happy buying off the rack. No, Madddyyy wanted to make his own suit. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a clue how to make clothes, and the only available instructions weren’t much of a help. Through trial and error, Madddyyy eventually tailored something he could wear; then, he set out to document the process. Madddyyy published his clothes-making guide as an ebook, then began selling it at his nightclub. The guide became an immediate hit with his patrons, and madddyyy realized he was on to something.
In the eighteen months since Madddyyy’s first book, he’s published 44 SLGuides designed to help residents navigate the terminally under-documented world of Second Life. The guides have sold nearly 100,000 copies, allowing Andrew Sullivan (the human behind Madddyyy) to quit his real-world job to write, publish, and market ebooks full-time.
Madddyyy’s real-life sales and marketing experience have undoubtedly contributed to his success in building the SLGuides brand in-world. Madddyyy isn’t strictly an author; he’s an author/publisher/marketer hybrid. More than anything, he’s a savvy businessman who knows a tremendous opportunity when he sees one.
I asked Madddyyy how friends and family have reacted to his new career:
“It’s strange when people ask you what you’re doing now, and you say, ‘Well this morning I ejected 2 dragons from my house, banned 2 robots, disarmed someone and finished a book’. That’s my job. lol”
Madddyyy is quick to point out that a full-time job in Second Life is not as glamorous as it might seem. Besides the dragon-slaying, there are long days and lots of hard work involved in building and maintaining a virtual publishing empire.
The effort has paid off. Earlier this year, Madddyyy signed a real-world book deal. In November, UK publisher Vision will release “How To Live Your Second Life,” Madddyyy’s first printed book.
As Selina Greene, the Managing Director of Vision, explains, they negotiated the entire deal in Second Life:
“We met Madddyyy inworld, I teleported in my sales director and commissioning editor and we had a meeting in the SL Vision office where we negotiated the terms of the agreement.”
If Madddyyy’s story is any indication, the future of publishing may involve more teleportation than any of us had previously anticipated. That might not be such a bad thing, given the current state of airport security.
Meanwhile, Madddyyy is hatching plans to take the SLGuides brand to new levels. He recently opened his own island, and he’s working on a new type of fully immersive ebook that is only possible in a virtual world. Madddyyy has also begun publishing other authors. On 06/06/06, Madddyyy published Dobbit Do and two other horror/sci-fi titles by Pamela Woodward and Wilbur Witt.
Finding Your Place In the Metaverse
The most common mistake outsiders make when talking about Second Life is to assume that a) the world is a video game and b) Second Life appeals to a very young audience. In reality, Second Life isn’t a game, and the average user is 38. There’s a reason why BMW and Mercedes are competing for attention in-world.
There’s also quite a lot of variety in Second Life. Diana and Madddyyy couldn’t be more different, and yet they’ve both found their respective niches in the virtual world. Regardless of what your niche might be, it’s likely that you’ll find a substantial number of residents with similar interests in Second Life.
Having said all this, it’s pretty clear that Second Life is not for everyone. The system and bandwidth requirements are relatively high compared to other social networks, and the user interface is challenging for newcomers.
Writers interested in exploring Second Life should try setting up a free account and spend time exploring the world before making any commitments. For some people, it can take a while before Second Life clicks. For example, Madddyyy tells me he tried Second Life briefly, then took a year off before returning. Once he returned, he wondered why he’d ever left.
Diana speaks to one of the real dangers of Second Life. When I asked her if she would recommend authors give Second Life a try, she gave the world a qualified endorsement, “Yes…but only if they have the discipline not to get sucked in. To be honest, SL is habit forming…and I find I can spend hours here…hours I SHOULD spend writing”.