Cliff Aliperti (@IEphemera) is a multi-channel seller with a real niche specialty: vintage movie collectibles. Like a lot of us collectibles sellers, he’s gone from selling at trade shows to stores on eBay, Amazon and then eventually also his own webstore, Immortal Ephemera. But one thing Cliff has mastered that a lot of niche sellers still struggle with is that he really excels at using blogging to promote his items. In my review of ecwid, I used Immortal Ephemera as an example of the power of that service because it allows you to embed your actual live listings into the blog posts you write, something Cliff used to great effect before switching over to an all Amazon powered store.
While Cliff’s doing a lot of things right, the main reason I asked him to stop by for an interview here today is that he’s taken his blog writing to a whole new level, venturing into publishing some books and guides about the same sort of items he sells. I know you hear from me all the time about publishing but I’m mindful of the fact that, since I’m also a traditionally published playwright, I’m coming at the book world from a different angle than the average seller who might be considering dipping their toe into the waters of self-publishing. So I thought Cliff could provide a fresh perspective on what it’s like to be a seller of tangible items and venture into the world of selling digital goods, such as an eBook.
What made you decide to try your hand at publishing after so many years of tangible goods?
Cliff Aliperti: I had been blogging about classic movies for several years. I tend to get a bit obsessive about my research and began spitting out too many 4,000-5,000 word blog posts. I mean, I’d have to control myself to keep them that “short,” which is really too long to keep all but the most dedicated readers engaged on a website. The eBook solution seemed like a natural, plus, hey, it’s nice to make a little money too!
As someone who struggles to keep their thoughts short, I feel this pain. Your books are right in line with the kinds of things you sell in your webstore. For the benefit of those that don’t know you, can you give us an overview of what that is?
CA: Sure. Just as my website, Immortal Ephemera, talks about classic movies, the items I sell on eBay and Amazon are vintage collectibles picturing the actors and actresses of that same era. Trading and tobacco cards, postcards, still photos, and various ephemeral items, all vintage, all picturing the film stars from the silent era through World War II. The 1930s are my favorite period. I was always a fan of classic movies, but many of those items, especially those picturing the less well-known stars, really spurred me on to learn more about the more obscure talents who were sometimes pictured. Way back the website really only showed off the collectibles. Now it’s filled with reviews, biographies, and other articles about (mostly) lesser known classic movies and stars that I either want to promote and share, or learn about for myself.
You’ve been at this selling game for a long time but did you consider yourself a writer before this?
CA: I thought so, but looking back I was more of a writer in training. Back in the ‘90s I wrote a couple of novels and dozens of short stories that remain unpublished. You’d think in this “Kindle revolution” I would have broken them out again and tried to make some money off of them, but when I pulled them out—well, uh uh. I was embarrassed at myself for having sent them out 20 years ago! But we’ve all got to learn, and I consider all of those words part of my ten thousand hours. After my pre-Internet early ‘90s baseball card business stopped earning, that brought about the end of my stint as “full-time (unpaid) writer,” so I dropped everything to go back to school, which provided some much needed structure to my writing. I did have better luck with a few non-fiction pieces, even getting paid a few times for pieces in specialty titles before everything went online. But those were across pretty eclectic interests (a home business magazine, and a few in an aquarium magazine!).
CA: The initial listing process is very similar, except the books are evergreen—to a point. I’ve tinkered with descriptions, keywords, even a little content after initially listing them for sale, but most of the man hours are in the original creation phase. The biggest difference is getting paid. If I list a collectible item for sale, I can wind up with a profit in as little as a few hours if everything breaks right. But there’s a lot of work to do before you ever see a dime on a book sale.
Ain’t that the truth! At least the profit on the book comes in more than once. Have you done any paperback publishing or stuck with electronic?
CA: I’m going to try the paperback route with my next one. It’s a biography, so it’s a bit more involved than a collection of reviews. While the immediate access of Kindle is great, I suspect most of my potential audience still prefer to pick up the hard copy. I would for something like this. I suppose that’s one way this is similar to selling collectibles online: I’m my own guinea pig. I’ve found Kindle best for how-tos, extended versions of what I like to read on blogs, and fiction. Fiction or non-fiction that I want right now and that I’ll probably only want or need to read once. My current project began as an expanded blog post, but it’s turned into a lot more, and I think I’d like to be able to page through those photos and manually skip ahead to those footnotes this time.
What was the biggest hurdle with getting the books up for sale? Was there anything you really wish you’d known head of time?
CA: I read so much preparing to publish, and I’m doing it again right now as I look into CreateSpace. Turns out, Google was able to provide an answer every time I was otherwise stumped. Most of the tutorials and eBooks about Kindle publishing use Microsoft Word to explain each step. I write in Scrivener, so I had to dig a little deeper to find more specific answers. Luckily, research is my thing, so I was always able to dig deep enough! Otherwise, I’d say I wish I knew how to allot my time better. Weeks turn into months so easily and I feel as though I should have at least two more books up for sale by now.
I know personally it was a big shift when I started selling electronic inventory versus physical goods. It was really nice not having to ship anything! Are there things you liked better about this than the selling you’d previously done?
CA: Absolutely. I’m as energized by writing now as I was back in the ‘90s cranking out those schlocky stories that made my friends chuckle. But now I have a lot more confidence and a better idea of what I’m doing. I guess what I’m saying is if I could, I would cut back even more on the collectibles end of the business. As it is, I went from listing new items 5-7 times per week to once per week. I really try to pick my spots with that now in order to have more writing and research time. And yeah, shipping is and always has been a real chore! I’m with you, it’s my least favorite part of online selling.
A lot of people think of books as passive income but it’s a lot of work to get a book out there. How has the financial return compared to your expectations?
CA: Better than my modest expectations, not enough to curtail online sales beyond the level I’ve already described. It’s been several months now since I’ve published anything new, so sales have dropped quite a bit, but there’s still a trickle. But I do expect and can see how this could snowball after I get a few more titles up for sale.
Every new book does give the others a nice boost in sales. I actually just did a post about that. You’ve got four titles listed on your Amazon Author page. Do you have plans to release more in the future?
CA: Well, two of those four are exclusively mine. My first was 11 Pre-Code Hollywood Histories. That one is a collection of 11 expanded articles, each about a specific film released during Hollywood’s pre-Code era, roughly 1930 to mid-1934. That will be a series, and I’m kicking myself for not completing Volume 2 right away. It’s about 20% done, but then I became distracted by my current project, a biography and look at the films of Helen Twelvetrees, who had her best success during that same era. Along the way I polished up one of those long blog posts, a biography of child star Freddie Bartholomew, and turned it into a Kindle eBook. I did that while I was still researching the current project, originally just to dip my toes back into the publishing process and make sure I didn’t forget the more technical side. Of course, that turned into a bigger writing project than I had expected, so it works on that level as well.
The other two are group projects with other classic film bloggers that I’ve contributed too: I don’t make anything on those, nor can I even see the sales figures. All proceeds go to charity on those two, otherwise I imagine it would be a nightmare to divide among all of the various writers! I participate because I enjoy the community and figure the extra exposure will probably help us all in the long run.
So I’m stuck on two, but yes, the biography soon—soon! I hope by, let’s say, August. When I decided to dedicate more of my time and energy to writing this year, my plan was four titles per year. I’m lagging, but can see myself picking up the pace after the biography. The second collection of pre-Code essays will probably only take me a couple of months to complete after that, and I already know what I’m doing for the two to follow, so I really need to get going!
If it makes you feel any better, Cliff, I’m in a near constant state of thinking I should have finished more books by now! 🙂 A big thank you for stopping by and sharing your story!
About Cliff Aliperti
Cliff Aliperti has been selling collectibles since packing up his goods for trade shows around Long Island in the mid-1980s. Cliff has sold on eBay since 2000 and left his “real job” to become a full-time online seller in 2004. He’s more recently brought his line of vintage movie collectibles to Amazon as well. He established his website, Immortal Ephemera, in 2002 (then called things-and-other-stuff.com). Cliff became more serious about blogging in 2009 and in 2014 published his first eBook for Kindle, 11 Pre-Code Hollywood Histories. Earlier this year he followed up with his second, a brief biography of child star Freddie Bartholomew. He’s currently completing a book about the life and movies of 1930s film star Helen Twelvetrees, and also plans a second collection of pre-Code Hollywood Histories before the year is out. Cliff watches a lot of movies, but gets away with it by calling it work. He spends spare time (spare time?) on Twitter and also keeps an active Facebook page promoting both his writing and collectibles or, more succinctly, classic movies.