Brainstorming future projects, Fall 2012 – Spring 2013

I have Facebook Pages set up for myself and for Modern Evil Press, but I don’t really make good use of them. I also have subscriptions turned on, on my personal Facebook account, so fans can just subscribe to my updates there and … well, that’s probably the best option, if you actually want to see all my updates, and know what I’m doing, what I’m working on, et cetera. I do have a couple apps pulling the feeds from this blog, my podcast, and any updates to and onto the official Facebook page for me (though not the Modern Evil Press page), so if you Like me there, you’ll know most of what I’m doing, but I rarely make direct updates/posts. Sometimes I try.

A little while ago I began trying to write an update for my page, from my iPhone, and … it got a bit out of hand. Here’s what I wrote (with a few tiny adjustments):

Trying to decide what to attempt this year for NaNoWriMo, and how to publish it (in print) in time for PHXCC’13 without going broke in the process. Possible ideas:

1) Rush to be ready to re-write Dragons’ Truth by November 1st
2) Write a ‘tentacle novel’ for NaNoWriMo (specifically to sell at PHXCC, partially via a tentacle-themed-crafts collective I’m tentatively a part of).

These two ideas each lead to spin-off ideas:

3) The Dragons’ Truth re-write is supposed to include designing it to allow for a sequel – actually I’m planning a trilogy. Due to timeline issues, I’d like to have all 3 written before the first goes to press. (At least for the paper version; eBooks are easy to change/correct/update.)
4) Should I write one long-ish tentacle novel (say, 75k+ words) or two or three short ones (under 40k words each), which can sell for pocket money (target: <$7.99)? Doesn’t “The Tentacle Trilogy” sound good? “Introducing: The Mystery of the Missing Manacles, Book 1 of The Tentacle Trilogy

5) Printing trilogies is expensive. Triple the setup costs, trouble moving inventory for later books in the series… And while I really like the idea of doing the individual books (for either trilogy) as cheap paperbacks and adding a combined hardcover limited edition that would sell for a premium price, that makes for a very expensive spring, next year.
6) If I really put my mind to it (and didn’t spend the whole of the next 3.5 months on the tabletop game I’m also developing) I could theoretically write all six books (How did I go from one or two books in the next few months to six? Six!?) in time to have some or all of them at PHXCC.

How those books are presented/sold becomes the conundrum: Do I only release the first book (of each series), and give specific release dates for the others? Do I make the first books available as paperbacks, both series available in combined LE hardbacks, and conditionally print the other paperbacks if/when the cost of doing so would be covered? Do I break the bank & print up 6 new paperback and 2 new LE hardbacks, all at once, and hope enough of them sell?

It would be difficult to set deadlines appropriately without knowing my publishing plans, or to begin building marketing hype for those unknown future releases.

Then there’s always the thought of kickstarting: I could write the books, edit them, prepare them for publication, and release the first book as an eBook (or just link to the free interactive version I’m planning, for Dragons’ Truth), then kickstart to try to raise funds for printing paper versions, with stretch goals for the various mixes/release-schedules postulated above, and the main reward being the “best version” printed.

This is getting longer than I’d planned. Maybe I should go do a blog post.

So… here I am. Doing a blog post.

Filling in a few details: I’ve been researching YA Adventure books, the Hero’s Journey, and very generally making plans and coming up with ideas for how I want to write the new version of Dragons’ Truth for almost 6 months. (Yes, I began before finishing work on Never Let the Right One Go, but you already knew that, if you follow my updates/posts.) I have quite a bit more effort planned on the planning and research side, and was beginning to feel like I wouldn’t be ready to begin writing before NaNoWriMo (especially since I started devoting half or more of my time to developing a tabletop/deck-building-game, this month), but it wouldn’t be impossible to set myself some deadlines and ramp up my efforts to be able to accomplish some of the crazy things mentioned in my FB post. If I focus from the general/vague idea of writing ‘a tentacle novel’ down to writing ‘a YA Adventure/Tentacle Novel’, the efforts I’ve been making there would negate the need for too much additional research/effort. Also, in case you don’t recall from earlier this year, I need to have any books edited, designed, and otherwise ready to send to my printer by the end of April (at the very latest) in order to have paper copies on hand in time for PHXCC, which is over Memorial Day weekend.

Re: cost to publish various editions, it costs me a certain minimum to set up a new title, even before I order the first copy to sell: About $9/ISBN, and there’s one for the eBook, and one for each paper edition. Setting up a paperback with LSI costs $75, setting up a hardcover book (with a stamped spine) costs $100. A paperback proof costs $30, a hardcover proof costs $35. So, in the most-expensive scenario mentioned above, the cost (before ordering a single copy) to put out 6 paperbacks and 2 hardbacks (with at least 6 eBooks, if not 8) is no less than $776 (or $1,026, if I want a proof of each book before approving the files). Based on calculations I’ll have done after the next couple of paragraphs, to also order 50 copies of each of those 8 books would bring the minimum expense of that option to a staggering $4,462. (Pretending all 300 paperbacks and 100 hardbacks would sell at full price ($9.99 and $45 respectively, see below), the generated revenue would be $7,497, netting about $3k before overhead, marketing, booth costs, et cetera. That would not only require these be my most-popular and most-sold books, ever, but it represents my earning less than $500, total, for writing/publishing each novel… most of which would go toward publishing future books; see below.)

If I aim for short novels (which I will; I’m writing for YA/middle-grades, not epic-fantasy-lovers), we can guess each individual novel will be about 200-260 pages (I know, that’s a wide target; but it’s 50k-65k words), and the combined limited edition hardcovers will be in the 500-780 page range. This gives me a cost to print one copy of each paperback at around $3.90-$4.80 (plus shipping them to me), and around $15-$19.25 for one copy of each combined hardback (plus shipping). (If I wanted the paperbacks to be available for full distribution (so you could order the paperbacks from Amazon, B&N, or your local bookseller, rather than only directly from myself), I’d have to either set their cover prices in the $14-$17 range (netting me $3-$4/copy sold) or assume they won’t actually be ordered that way, short the discount to 20%, and I could price them in the $9.99-$12 range. (Though, if I were going to keep to my current pricing scheme, by the time they’d earned out, they’d only be $5.99-$6.99 on My initial calculations show that a limited edition hardcover release of such a trilogy would have to be priced at $45 or more to be profitable. I could probably afford to price the individual paperbacks (for direct sales) at $9.99.

I’ve just spent an hour or more on spreadsheets, and can project: If I wrote all 3 books of a trilogy, it would cost me a little over $1,500 to set up all 3 titles’ (7) ISBNs, and to set up and print 50 copies each of the Limited Edition hardcover (containing all 3 novels) and the paperback version of the first book. Selling 75% of the hardcovers and all the paperbacks (i.e.: If there were sufficient demand for the individual paperbacks to want to re-order book one.) would net enough profit to pay for the re-order of the first book and the setup and printing of the second book. The printing of the third book could then also be contingent on the net from the series covering its setup and printing. I could “hold the sequels hostage”, not releasing them as eBooks or audiobooks/podcasts until it makes financial sense to release the print versions; until sufficient copies (in combination) of the hardcover and book-one-paperback had sold to make it worthwhile. (The sequels not actually being held back, in this instance, since the hardcover version would contain them – and its selling out would net enough income to “make it worthwhile”.)

These sorts of calculations are what I probably ought to have done nearly-a-decade-ago when I began working on the Untrue Tales… series. Or at the very least in 2010 or 2011 before committing so much time and resources to writing/publishing the conclusion of that series (and re-publishing the first trilogy). Part of what I’ve included in my calculations today is the intention to earn enough profit on a book to be able to afford to publish the next one – which is great for a series, certainly, but also important for a publishing company to stay “in business”. The alternative is what I’ve been doing to-date, which effectively means beginning the process of publishing each new book at zero, no money “in the bank”, needing to find a way to raise enough money, from scratch, for every new title. Kickstarting is one thing, but (not being business-minded) I’d somehow failed (even with several successful fundraisers behind me) to get started. The projects in question got kicked -they got out the door, made real by the fundraising- but they never went anywhere, and they never earned enough money that my company got any momentum; each new project/title needed another kick to get off the ground. In today’s calculations, I’ve tried to aim my numbers at a different equilibrium point: Not of doing slightly better than break-even, but of doing well enough that the next book is kicked by the last one.

Which is to say that, in a way, if I can raise/earn $3k toward the two (currently theoretical, not-yet-written) trilogies of YA Adventure books (one with dragons, the other with tentacles) I’ve been discussing here, I ought to be able to not just print two paperback (the first book of each series) and two hardcover books by PHXCC’13, but to be on track to releasing the sequels/additional-paperbacks as they earn out, and then also to release whatever I write next without having to do another fundraiser. (All, of course, assuming I’m able to make reasonable sales. The Second Untrue Trilogy has had less than $200 in total sales revenue, but cost around $400 to publish; sure, yes, if the other 34 copies I have on hand sell, the net does what I’m describing here, kick-starting the publishing of the next paperback I want to put out, but I only seem to sell one or two a year, right now.) Or even just sell one or two dozen signed paperbacks at (feel free to sub in $35 copies of Never Let the Right One Go there; there are 6 left) at $25 apiece, and I’d be able to have just the paperback versions of one or two new books for PHXCC’13, which ought to be enough to do well there.

At some point, it would be nice to earn enough to turn the ‘retained earnings’ in my accounting software to a positive number. It isn’t, necessarily, that I’ve done the math wrong all these years, or that I wasn’t properly planning for my books to earn money, but more that I’ve done the marketing wrong all these years (will likely continue to do so) and haven’t sold what I guessed I would. If all the books I have sitting beside me (i.e.: my entire book inventory) were to somehow suddenly sell, my retained earnings would indeed be very close to zero/positive. (A large chunk of the money invested is in art supplies, computers/furniture/software/audio-gear, et cetera – not just books; if all the art I recently put into storage sold, and if I made new art from all the blank canvases I have on hand and sold them, even at the lowest prices I’ve taken for my art I’d earn double the value of my current books inventory – and at fair prices, significantly more.) Poking around in my accounting software to give those ratios, I see that between the art-clearance sales I made this spring (I better get on a few of the furthest-behind of those people to pay me, soon) and sales of the Never Let the Right One Go limited edition hardcover, I actually have enough net profit from this year to publish at least one new book… though I may still want to attempt a fundraiser/kickstarter, depending on what I actually end up writing, what art I create for the books’ covers/interiors, and how I feel about publishing them after I actually write them.

One factor I intended to get into here, but somehow haven’t got to in 2k+ words, so far, is that I’m planning on writing Dragons’ Truth as an interactive novel – that I’d prefer, if possible, that the print version reflects the most-preferred options/paths/choices made by readers of the electronic/interactive version. This requires two things I don’t have in particularly boundless quantities: Time, and readers. –And that’s after I’ve written the thing.

I’m getting tired, which is what I’m going to use to excuse the way I’m feeling about all this right now (as opposed to how I felt when I began writing, which was somewhat excited about writing the books, and anxious about creating print versions of them, and about money); I’m feeling like I ought to just give up before I even begin. That success is out of reach, not just financially (and if you’ve read this far, it ought to be clear that my definitions of “financial success” are not those of the typical person; to me, success would be not losing money, and wild success would be earning enough to not have to beg before printing the next book) but also creatively. Six novels? Up to eight books? And a game? Thousands of dollars of fundraising? And without any solid details of what the game will be (as we’re in the early, early, pre-planning stages), the knowledge that to create the game will require tens of thousands of dollars in fundraising. I am intimidated. I am pessimistic. I am going to go take a nap.

(I am probably going to try to write 6 or 7 books in the next 6 months, anyway, while developing a deck-building game. Deep down I know that the actual worst case is not creating, and that, after creation, on the business side, the worst case is in only publishing electronically – which is the future anyway, right? Makes Comicon more terrible, but doesn’t diminish the value of (and success in) the creative act. Sales and money would be nice, would be enabling of further and more-interesting creation in the future, but sales and money aren’t the point. Not really.)

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Author, artist, romantic, insomniac, exorcist, creative visionary, lover, and all-around-crazy-person.

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