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Local man finds market for his work

By John Barnhart

    Self-publishing has always been a tough road for authors. There are large up-front costs.


    The author has to pay for a press run, then he has to have a place to store the copies of his work, as well as transport them to his storage area. Furthermore, he has to market his work himself.
    George Roland Wills found an easier, less financially risky way to do this.

    Wills has been shooting videos of Civil War reenactments for more than a decade. His idea was to get stock video that he could use in documentaries. The reenactors welcomed him and allowed him to dress in period costume and get out on the battlefield with a camera. The reenactors showed an interest in what he was doing and wanted to buy copies. He began selling these copies to them, which meant duplicating them and packaging them himself.
    Then he discovered a service that Amazon.com offers.
    “Amazon performs what is known as a replication service,” Wills said.
    Amazon does the replicating, packaging and marketing. The company sends out a packaged, shrink-wrapped DVD and Wills gets a portion of each sale. Wills said he’s getting $3.55 for each DVD sold.
    Wills said he used to have to do all of this himself, as well as guarantee each copy. If he sold a DVD to a reenactor, and it turned out to be defective, he would have to send the man a new copy himself.
    “Now I have stuff that’s professionally made,” he said.
    Wills said he discovered this service when he was on Amazon.com looking for classic movies.
    “This ad came up on the side bar that said, ‘Are you a filmmaker?’”
    Wills responded to the ad and sent Amazon a video that he did of a Chancellorsville reenactment.
    “The movie they sent back was perfect,” Wills said.
    He currently has a total of 21 reenactment videos on Amazon.com. This includes one called “The War Between the Streets.” Wills shot all the street battles during the Living Liberty reenactments held in Bedford in the first decade of this century. “The War Between the Streets” combines all of this into a single two-hour movie.
    He has also produced documentaries. One is called “Portrait of a Plantation” and is a documentary on Avenel. Another, called “What Really Happened at Fort Sumter” tells Fort Sumter’s story using telegraph dispatches between South Carolina and Washington that Wills got from a digital archive on Cornell University’s website.
    Wills has a series of three documentaries on Booker T. Washington taken at the Booker T. Washington National Monument depicting the plantation in winter and summer and Christmas in 1864.
    There are also fictional videos, three featuring Avenel. One is called “Avenel: The Motion Picture.” Another is “The Welcome Guest at Avenel,” in which a family meets the ghost of Robert E. Lee at Avenel, in the Lee Bedroom, during a reenactment. They think the ghost is a reenactor until they learn later that the Lee reenactor was ill and couldn’t make it. A third is “The Raven.” In this movie, Edgar Allen Poe reads his famous poem to an 11-year-old Letitia Burwell at Avenel.
    Wills has also published books through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. He said this works the same way the video service works. These are e-books, so there are no printing costs nor is there a problem with storing actual physical books. The only risk to Wills is what he calls a “seven-day threat.” If somebody buys an e-book, and doesn’t like it, they can get a refund within seven days.
    “It’s rare for me to ever get a kick-back,” Wills said.
    Wills said he’s sold his books in 12 different countries with most going to customers in the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany. He’s sold a number in Italy, too, and one in Japan. As is true with the videos, Wills does not actually have to sell them. Amazon’s website lists them and Wills gets paid.
    According to Wills, a free Kindle Reader can be downloaded to allow you to read Kindle books on your computer. If your computer has the capability, it will read the book to you.