Steps to Connect by Selina Greene

Selina Greene outlines what it takes to create a cultural cornerstone. Book Island is the center for literary activity in the virtual world.

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How to Earn Impact by Selina Greene

The vision since founding Book Island has remained consistent. We have earned a reputation grid-wide for our strength in balancing community and good business. It is a pleasure to share what I have learned in eight years of management. For any cultural initiative to survive in the virtual world, some of the variables reflect the real, and some apply to new experiences. To sustain an initiative:

1. SET REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS.

• Investigate possibilities. Many come into SL with unrealistic expectations of the amount of visibility and income they can achieve here. When they realize that it’s not going to let them give up the day job, so to speak, they give up. We’ve seen a number of literary sims come and go over the past years with a core few surviving. Longevity takes a strong focus and consistent vision.

• Blend experiences. My real life publishing background comes in handy when people have questions about getting published. And to run the island, my business experience matters. This combination also keeps my job interesting!

• Find a niche that needs filling and get in early. Learn what appeals to the community as a way to know what is not being served. Then design a place that people want to visit and return to. Own your niche and be willing to evolve.

• Earn credibility. Longevity in SL is a form of currency. Understand what elements of your success are the most sustainable and build from there. Things have gotten easier for us as people see how long we’ve been around and how much we are known. Over time there has been a subtle shift from “what can you do for me if I rent here” to “it’d be great to be a part of this” and that feels good. A few even come and say “what can I do to help?” That’s definitely the best! (If they’re reliable—lol!)

2. BUILD A RELIABLE TEAM.

• Recruit internally where possible. Take time to really get to know a person and be sure that you can count on them. I have been very fortunate to find reliable people to work with, given the general level of drama in SL. Three of us manage everything. Most have good experience with the sim and a small number can handle most tasks. And, we have a great team of event hosts too!

Support enthusiasm. The biggest challenge with Book Island is to balance the structure that we need for events and the island to run smoothly against the high level of enthusiasm. We must channel energy and maintain the foundation. I’m constantly surprised and delighted at how involved members of our community can be and how much time and effort people do give to Book Island. Pressure on the structure comes through coordinating event times and formats. Many people start out on something and lose steam, so we are careful at commitments. I am thankful that the writing community is relatively drama-free. Incidentally, our demographic is somewhat older than most of SL. A high proportion of our residents are in their 50s and 60s. This makes a big difference in mature behavior!

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3. CREATE A REALISTIC REVENUE MODEL

• Cover costs and if not, make a firm commitment of how much to underwrite the venture.

• Define a scale that works. Though 90% of Book Island’s income is from rentals, we are limited by space and design so things are fairly constant. But for the community, the number of events we hold and how we build traffic continue to grow. We notice a small seasonal dip in the summer, as the whole of SL does. Perhaps due to the cooler weather and back to school—we then fill up again. We are happy with the space we have. At one point in our history we did occupy 1.5 sims for about 18 months but it didn’t work as well; the village was too sprawling, people didn’t necessarily make it over the sim crossing. And we lost some focus, so we pulled back to one sim. Many SL businesses falter with too much expansion. We break even, which is not an easy thing to do in SL! We have always covered at least tier fees from our revenues.

The other 10% of our revenue comes from generous donations into our tip jars at events or as people wander the sim. It’s wonderful to see people tipping us—even if only $1L or $5L—it is an indicator that they value what we do.

Monitor ups and downs. Do not tinker too much and choose a gradual pace. Often less is more. At times we will have a fair number of vacancies I am learning not to panic or assume that the show is over. The booths will fill up if they are fundamentally valuable and useful. Focus and be flexible—do not worry as things change. Have confidence in offerings to the community. It is contagious. The pace of SL can be dizzying and it’s easy to get caught up in thoughts: “we’re full—we need another sim—we’re empty—it’s all over!” SL can seem very all-or-nothing! This is more true in SL than in RL. Important to virtual success is to remain calm, take it easy. Steer a middle path—well, not take it easy—rephrasing—take things as they come and adapt in a considered way.

4. INCORPORATE INTERACTIVITY.

• Bring together those with common interests . Originally I brought my real life publishing company into Second Life® during the media frenzied days of early 2007. I hoped to generate a new marketing strand for the company. But no one came to my little mainland plot. So I figured that a village of other publishers and writers would attract people to come. And they did—so much so—that we organized the SL Book Fair in April 2007 with around 50 booth holders. The participants were writers, poets, bloggers, magazine publishers, and authors. Through its success, we held a second SLBF in 2008 which was again well attended with 40 exhibitors on top of our regular residents. It was exhibitors from both fairs that opened booths, and many tenants are still with us today. (While it would be lovely to do another SLBF, the workload would finish us off! We’re stretched to the limit with nine events a week!)

• Find ways to continually involve residents. Create forums where people can connect and share, where they feel invested. The more that residents engage, the more events that attract variety, the stronger the cultural cross-fertilization of ideas. This is using the potential of SL at its best. Successful writers get themselves out there by hosting events and by reading at open micas, engaging in discussion.

• Get the word out. Good management matters with basic traditional SL marketing works: develop a good parcel description, use classified ads, and get people to include your venue in their Picks. Some well-placed ads and articles in publications (such as this one) and blogs (including your own) help a lot too! You don’t need bells and whistles to get people to come. You just need a few basic tools, sound strategy, and diligence. Ultimately SL is but one of many ‘new media’ strands for a good marketing campaign. Getting the word out is essential for success and it’s not something that can just be left in the hands of the publisher’s publicity and marketing department. It is something that must be a part of the whole organization.

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5. AVOID BURNOUT.

• Balance with real life. Though I originally came to SL as a way to promote a real life publisher, I became consumed by managing the island, as well as motherhood, and made a planned exit from my real job. I had also met my real life husband in here! SL can radically change real life—sometimes for the better!

• Find a role that uses strengths. My main function on Book Island is the rental side and being a sounding board for the rest of the team or residents. Not being a writer personally, there is a limit on what I can do with the events etc. On the one hand, I think it helps that I’m not a writer though I’m limited in what I can contribute to the artists directly. On the other hand, I am well-placed to facilitate the community with this distance. And after all, that is what a publisher does— facilitate the writers in getting their work out to an audience. In the rare disputes, I can be neutral.

• Explore variety. I have been breeding horses as a side business for a long time. The income easily covers my private half-sim tier and I can put a little away. I did particularly well in the early days of horse breeding. But auctions, bid-boards, and saturation have reduced the market. I still breed but at level to support my own land and addiction to formal gowns for Selina!

Do not become complacent. Listen to your community and hear what they want and do your best to provide it. Just to say that all are welcome to your place is not enough, it must be demonstrated. We don’t just exist for writers and publishers, we are here for readers too, both in terms of what visitors can gain from visiting our resident’s shops and in events. Book Island connects readers to writers and writers to publishers. That’s what we strive towards.

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INDEX for all contributors and articles
Sim Street Journal #1: Virtual Reveals Real
Sim Street Journal #2: The Old in the New
Sim Street Journal #3: Magicians of Meaning
Sim Street Journal #4: Telling Stories
Sim Street Journal #5: Champions of Expression
Sim Street Journal #6: Overlapping Realities
Sim Street Journal #7: Luck Created
Sim Street Journal #8: Facing the Inevitable
Sim Street Journal #9: Motivated Learning
Sim Street Journal #10: Serious Fun
Sim Street Journal #11: Fantasy Fulfillment
Sim Street Journal #12: Insights from Extremes
Sim Street Journal #13: Bridging Boundaries

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Liane Sebastian wears an editor’s hat, designer’s coat, and artist’s shoes.

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