“I’ve always been fascinated by the power of fans,” Eric Koester shared. “We all know those people who find that band before they are popular, discover that app before it’s mainstream, or who find that amazing new book no one has read yet. Those fans – the tastemaker fans – are so important in success, but they usually aren’t rewarded for the role they play.”
Koester is banking on that idea of rewarding early fandom for his new middle-grade fantasy novel The Pennymores, a novel he imagined, developed, and wrote with the help of his daughters during the pandemic. He hopes this can be one of the first community-owned books.
“My daughters said we should write a book together. We started brainstorming a bedtime story, which became the foundation of this first book in the series. They wanted to let people read it before I was ready, but I realized they may be onto something.”
Koester has spent much of the last nine months trying to build up a network of early tastemaker fans for the book. “I began reconnecting with every friend from elementary school through college who now had kids between seven and fifteen years old. And we decided to get them early versions of the story, admittedly while the manuscript still had some big issues, had typos, plot holes, and things that didn’t work. But we decided that getting help early would not only make the book better but also get them to feel ownership in the book.”
And early praise of the book has been strong for this adventure story that those early readers have favorably compared to the Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, and Narnia series.
“I read some of the early drafts and loved the story right away,” Ethan Turer said. “Given the quality of the story and the approach Eric was taking to make it a community-owned book, I knew this was a chance to do something different. And I realized web3 technologies might be what he was looking for.”
Turer and Koester set out to see how technology might let them turn early fans and readers into owners. Koester is the founder of Manuscripts, a platform that has helped more than 1,500 authors write and publish books. Koester met Turer helping him develop and launch his first book, revealing a shared passion for technologies that build community. “When Eric described his idea of making the book community-owned, it reminded me of how people would buy a single share of stock in Disney. I quickly realized the new tools being developed in web3, NFTs and crypto gave us technologies that could make this possible.”
Turer is the author of The Next Gold Rush: The Future of Investing in People, and has been early in exploring how web3 enables new approaches to ownership.
“I’d played around with NFTs and bought some bitcoin,” Koester admits, “but I wasn’t exactly sure how to translate that into a book, especially when most of the early readers aren’t familiar with cryptocurrency, don’t have crypto wallets, and aren’t currently holding NFTs. I realized this wasn’t a technology problem; it was a community problem.”
Koester and his publisher decided on a unique approach to reward early fans and readers with tokens for actions from beta reading or leaving reviews to buying a copy of the book or recommending it to their libraries. The tokens will enable these readers to participate in the book’s success through limited edition NFTs, unique access to content, and even the ability to direct a portion of the book’s royalties for the first two years of the book’s sales.
“We’ve been rewarding fans in less direct ways for years,” Turer said. “I think the Pennymores will be the model for future NFT projects that strive to capture the sentimental value of connecting with a story and the tangible value of becoming a co-owner of the community. We’ve had to invent and build some new things, but I’m more bullish now than before on this concept.”
While Koester is very measured in his goals for the experiment, he’s already built a strong group of nearly 1,000 people who got early access to the concept, the early drafts, and the early art.
“These early fans have been critical in the book and will help with early word of mouth,” Koester shared. “I’m excited to make them feel like owners of the book. I’d like those helping us to try to do the same with the Pennymores to become a part-owner of the book. Percy Jackson author Rick Riordan said the book’s early readers were critical in some of the choices he made, and yet he couldn’t do what we want to do.”
Turer agrees that technologies will finally make this dream a reality. “Micro-ownership is possible, and what I love about this approach is we’re trying to do it by starting with the community first and using these tools to reward them.”
Creating a breakout book remains a challenging proposition, with most books selling less than 100 copies. Few books ever reach the mass-market scale of JK Rowlings, George RR Martin, or Rick Riordan. But Koester believes that sometimes great books just need that slight nudge to help them to tip.
“Fans are what make any creative endeavor a success,” Koester said. “Whether it is BTS or Spider-Man or Game of Thrones, without fans who love, support, and recommend the art, you’ve got nothing. That’s why I’m excited about building a new way to launch and create a co-ownership of a book. With the community’s help, we think we’ve written a great book, and now we want it to be a book we all share a part of. That’s what’s exciting about the future – it’s a future where we’re all owners of the Pennymores.”
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