Read the book, solve the puzzle, win millions!

There are millions of fiction books in the world, all different in some way, and yet all with one thing in common – they're one-sided conversations. You begin reading, then the author tells you things until you're finished reading. Next.

But what happens when the conversation becomes two-way? In this world of ebooks and global audiences, Sydney writer James Evangelidis has chosen an intriguing device to engage readers. With his debut book, Maze of Keys (being released online on 17 September 2014), he doesn't just ask you to read the book, he wants you to solve it too – and win big!

Okay, interest piqued. We hunted him down and asked a few questions.

Maze of Keys 1So James, what's Maze of Keys about?
Think John Grisham without the law. Maze of Keys is a thriller that tells the story of what happens when business, politics and power collide. The main character, Joshua Keys, a New York-based executive headhunter, is caught in the middle of a struggle between his biggest client and a mad wealthy woman who is hell bent on extracting revenge.

Nice, we do love mad wealthy revenge stories. But, no offense, it’s not really the plot we want to hear about. You’ve chosen a very innovative approach to launching this book – tell us more.
Books (at least for the mass market) have been around since the invention of the printing press. It struck me as odd that for the last few centuries the process of book buying and reading the book hasn’t changed all that much. You buy the book and then you read the book. Once you read the book, it’s all over. Sure, the internet and ebooks have changed how we access the book, but in the end we still just buy the book and read it.

I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be great if there was something to do after you read the book?” Hence, the concept of building a game for the reader to play – with a guaranteed minimum prize [of US $10,000] and the prize money increasing as book sales rose. Added to this was a human dimension of donating to worthwhile charities. The Maze of Keys competition – solving a puzzle by using the clues in the book – was born.

That’s a pretty cool idea – the more it sells, the more you give away to the winner and to charity. So, what kind of expectations are we dealing with here? And what can I potentially win if I’m the super sleuth?
My personal goal is to sell one million ebooks during the six-week competition period (i.e. 17 September to 31 October 2014). This is a huge target, but if we can achieve this, the prize money will be a whopping US $3million for the winner of the competition and US $1m donated to our three supported charities. It is definitely the biggest potential prize money for a skill-based competition ever to have been run in Australia, and probably the world!

Well if a cat playing a piano can go viral… who knows. So cash ’n’ prizes aside, what’s the actual book itself like?
Maze of Keys is the best book I could have written. It has been professionally edited (two editors – one in New York and one in Sydney) and formatted by an external specialist and is a product I’m proud to put my name to.

The competition I’ve linked to the book is simply an attempt to cut through the crowd and get noticed. Some have (unkindly) asked, “James is your book that bad that you need to come up with a gimmick for people to buy and read it?” The book isn’t bad at all but the competition to win big prize money definitely helps!

And we imagine, given its potential worldwide appeal (pretty much anyone, anywhere can enter), that there were a lot of elements to get in place for that 17 September launch.
The combination of PR and social media has given us a powerful mix in getting the book and competition known to as many people as we can in the period leading up to it going live.

Your website says that someone wins the minimum US$10,000 prize regardless of how many books are sold. You seem to have invested a lot in this launch, website, promo etc. Do you have a number of books that you’ll need to sell to break even?
Yes and no. By me providing the minimum prize money it sends a signal to all involved that I believe in the merit and potential of “gamifying” the traditional book transaction. To use the cliché – I'm putting my money where my mouth is. I'm surrounded by a number of highly talented professionals who have contributed their skills to make this venture happen – including PR, social media, web & database, accounting, legal, compliance services, video production and audit & scrutinising services.

I negotiated with these businesses/individuals an attractive fee structure based on the final sales of the book. If I were to pay these professionals on a fee-for service basis, it would have been around the $250k mark. Instead, the break-even point in terms of book sales is just under 2,000 units.

And it’s legit. If we all end up buying stacks of books, James is handing over lots of cash to ONE winner and to charity – all audited and checked by international firm Ernst & Young. The book goes on sale 17 September 2014 and you can pre-register for it on the Maze of Keys website.

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