Changing domains

As part of my continuing efforts to streamline my business expenses, over the next few months I’m allowing several of my domains to not renew. Most of them represented expenses without corresponding revenues, and while I like the idea of owning domains for the names of my books (e.g.:, the reality is that the books I managed to get the domains for are also my least-popular books—and the sites I’ve tried putting on them (different things, over the years) have never led to sales. ((That I’m aware of.)) Most of my books make less than $10-$15 in sales a year; actually, most of my titles make $0 in sales, most years—so don’t try to blow off the cost of domain registrations as trivial.

Included in this purge is the lapsing of—the site of my personal blog, which is now moving to (and may move again, say, to or or some such) as it has long been among my sites which cost money and do not make money. I have no need for useless expenses in my “lean” business model—I have a need to keep expenses as low as possible, so that I can remain free to do the creative work I want to do without worrying about whether they make any money.

As you already know, if you’re a long-time reader of this blog, I hate money. Making money an important part of my creative process is the poison that has stopped me from painting for the last 5 years, or writing [fiction] for over two years. Concern over money is a poison to my soul.

So: To remove the concern that this or that domain ought to be making money somehow, I’m simply removing the domains altogether.

The two domains I’m retaining (2 domains are included in my hosting plan) are (since my official, legal business name is Modern Evil Press) and (since that’s actually my name). One of these sites is where I earn most of my sales (by volume), and I’m moving my art from to, which I think makes more sense. ((Did I mention I haven’t painted much of anything in over 5 years? Maintaining a separate site for it seems wasteful.))

Now, if I could just find people to buy the thousands of dollars in paperback books I have sitting “in inventory”, even just a few a year, it would cover the bare bones expenses I have remaining. Learned my lesson there: Never print a book that isn’t already paid for, one way or another.

Site redesigns

Pardon our dust, as the saying goes.

I’ve got to redesign all my websites. It’s been stressing me out, when I should be calming further down. Con is over, the last book is out, the house is bought and lived-in, I was coming back down from 5+ months of insanity-level anxiety, and bumped into the stress of this on the way back down. Stress because of what I talked about months ago (years ago?), how I haven’t done any serious web development in years and years and the world has moved on and I don’t know how to do a good job, any more.

And I’ve got to get the sites redesigned, now. This is the time. The lull between books (and before spending hours setting up the old style of pages for the new book, just to have to re-do them in the new style in a little while), the short time before Google turns off Checkout (this Fall), the first mental break I’ve had since my last mental breakdown (last Fall); this is the time to do it.

After several days of sitting, staring, sketching, studying, reading through code with glazed-over eyes until I couldn’t take it any more (and either went to lay down and cry, or bootcamped over to Windows to play SimCity), I figured out what I ought to do first. Before trying to re-design using semi-modern web design techniques and philosophies, likely having a half-functional site for several days while I futz about and try to work things out, I’m going to do most of the futzing over here. On my blog. Because it’s just a blog, right? It’s not like it’s my business; it’s just my heart and my soul in my words. If it looks a little funny, or doesn’t quite work the way it should, that’s not out of character, now is it?

Though with any luck, and with my extremely-small-audience, few if any people will even notice anything going wrong as I screw around with things. Wish me luck!

Updated @2AM: That’s about all I can handle, tonight. It’s pretty close to where I wanted to take this site. Minimalist, easy to read, focused on the text, no comments… I’ll have to think awhile longer about, but I think I’m on track, here. The key thing over there is reducing from almost a hundred pages to twenty-five or so; the per-page design, then, must serve first the new information architecture in addition to the simple/minimalist aesthetic you see here.

I’m supposed to be dieting, but I think I’m going to go eat all the cookies and watch Arrested Development (while thinking about non-linear, limited-POV storytelling, which was the whole reason I watched the first 3 seasons this month).

Stepping away from all this interconnectedness

I think I may need to declare a general Internet/connectedness/social-media bankruptcy née blackout née vacation for the next few months.

Which may seem odd, as I am already nigh-silent most of the time, but what you may not realize is that I am a lurker: I spend hours a day keeping up to date with emails, with social media, with news, technology, blogs, science, forums, et cetera. Then two or three times a week I add my own thoughts to the mix.

I just don’t think I can afford those hours, any more. In part I’m sure this is related to the 90 minutes a day, 3 to 5 days a week I’m exercising – but as long as I’m able to keep that up, I don’t want to give it up. Right now though, the looming thing seems to be work.

Tonight I sat down at my computer and lost hours and hours trying to catch back up with my inbox and with Google Reader. I mean, I watch my inbox, I see every mail come in as it comes in (usually on my iPhone or iPad, with a glance), and the few which require immediate attention get it… But there are hundreds more which, when I’m deeply involved in a project, just get skipped over, put off until later. I hadn’t realized it until tonight, but apparently last Wednesday when I got intensely involved in fleshing out an early/first prototype of the game I’m building, everything else just stopped. All those connectivity things, the keeping up with the world, plus things like cleaning or planning meals, their priority dropped and I didn’t even notice I wasn’t keeping up. Not until the brain fever subsided, anyway.

Now I’m facing a massive project. I “woke up” to find a dry-erase calendar (3’x4′) on the wall above my desk, filled in with 7+ months worth of (rough) plans for how to execute that project and meet my deadlines. Plus huge amounts of unread email, news items, blogs, and never-ending-scrolls of social media sites. Plus a messy house, and piles of laundry.

I’m thinking that if I make the intentional decision to cut out most of the Internet-time-suck stuff, to start treating Facebook and Google+ like I do Twitter (more like a river constantly rushing by, where the best you can do is see what’s rushing by now, this moment, than like a newspaper or newsletter you could actually expect to keep constantly up-to-date with and read cover-to-cover), to select a tiny subset of my feed subscriptions to actually follow, and to set up some aggressive rules in Mail (and go on yet another big unsubscription spree) to winnow out only the “real” mail, then for the time being, while I’m working on this massive project, at least, I mightn’t feel awful when I can’t keep up with the flood. When I can’t swallow the entire river.

This month might be the hardest, on my apparent/proposed calendar, partially due to NaNoWriMo-related constraints. I’ve got a little over two weeks to finish all my research (which feels barely begun / half-done) and do all the planning for the entire massive project. Which is massive, and I don’t want to tell you about until I have all that planning (and probably at least a month or two of work) done on it. Plus there’s the work of winnowing. Cutting back on connectedness.

There’s also the danger I won’t care to re-connect, on the other side.

I suppose it’s a way to measure the value these connections represent, to cut them off/back. If I go four or six months without, and am not diminished thereby, perhaps connectedness as implemented now is/was/will-have-been more vice than value. Facing my own inbox, my own unread subscriptions, I began having a sort of slow-burn, extended anxiety attack, tonight. I worked through it, I got caught up, but I’m unable to sleep right now because I’m still wound up by the experience. I imagined what it would be like if I actually committed myself so fully to the execution of this project that I failed to notice (or make pre-emotive decisions about the management of) such backing-up of information for several months, rather than mere days; it was a gruesome thought.

Ah, well, I suppose tomorrow I begin to fade away, a bit. Or dim the world, at least.

Call me, if you need anything.

Thinking about interactive storytelling

Like a gear finally catching, and the machine lurching forward, a couple nights ago when I stumbled across inklewriter, my mind and momentum were altered. I’m still depressed, don’t get me wrong, I’m still overeating, feeling like crap, and being generally nihilistic – but instead of being distracted by video games, now I’m spending much of my time engaged in actual creative pursuits. The upside of which is much better than the upside for video games. My sleep schedule is off-the-charts weird, things have been extra stressful and difficult with my wife lately (she’s a teacher, it’s the first week of school, which I think is an obvious factor, plus her first attempt to get a reading endorsement didn’t work out as well as she’d hoped, so she’s having to sign up for additional classes… it’s a whole thing and I’m not posting about that right now, but I am dealing with it in my life), but at least I’m thinking about getting back to some creative work. Actually, I’ve been digging in a bit and getting my hands “dirty” with the tools.

Well, err, tool, anyway. inklewriter. It’s an authorship and hosting/sharing tool for choice-based interactive storytelling. (This is, apparently, as opposed to the sort of interactive fiction you got in the old text adventures, where your inputs were freeform and parsed; in the most recent popular, web-based wave of interactive storytelling, the reader is presented with explicit options to choose from, rather than a command line.) My brother has also been looking into creating interactive storytelling of his own, but where I want to create things closer to books or short stories (ie: longform narrative, closer to literature than to games), he wants to create things closer to the video games end of the spectrum (he’s a big fan of failbetter‘s Fallen London). failbetter themselves are working on adapting the tools they used to build Fallen London into StoryNexus, a platform for creating very game-like interactive fiction. Another developer associated with that team has been working on Varytale, which is geared toward more book-like interactive fiction, broken into small chunks they call storylets. (I recommend you read one of their sample interactive books, How to Read, about how to read interactive fiction but more importantly about the uses, implementations, and value of interactivity in storytelling.) I am also obliged to mention additional tools/platforms like Playfic and Choice of Games, both of which are very deliberately wading in the games end of the interactive fiction pool.

Some of these tools are publicly available now, some require you to request access or submit a book/game/project proposal, and others are still in closed beta. Some of them have very user-friendly, GUI interfaces that require little or no coding, others were clearly designed by programmers who think everyone thinks like a programmer, and a few explicitly require you to code all the interactivity in your stories by hand. The three I’m most interested in are inklewriter, Varytale, and StoryNexus – in that order. inklewriter is the only one of those which is open to the public right now. It and StoryNexus don’t require any real coding. It and Varytale are designed with more-booklike projects in mind. None of them, unfortunately, offer any tools/capabilities (yet) for exporting/saving/backing-up your stories, or hosting them on your own site. They’ve all got plans to integrate monetization, but none is actually up and running with those features, yet.

Of course, my books (especially my digital books) don’t actually make much money, anyway. So I’m seriously considering making my next project an interactive fiction project. As I said at the beginning of the post, I’ve been tinkering in inklewriter for the last few days. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to be able to have meaningful and responsive conversations with their Twitter account about the current features and future plans for the service. I’ve made several pages of sketches of plot structures made possible by the technology (most of which would be unimplementable on paper, ever, and unlikely to work within existing eBook formats), I’ve actually used the tool to implement one of them fully (though it’s just a skeleton, without much of the flesh of the story itself, so far), and others partially (to see how my initial ideas had holes in them, mostly, though also to wrap my mind around meaningful logic implementations for coherent narratives), and I’ve begun brainstorming about what sort of very-large (for interactive fiction) project I’d like to build.

I could flesh out (and design logic for) my initial insane idea. I’ve determined that for a target average-story-length of 3k-5k words, I’ll probably have to write 40k-60k words to fill out every possible path/branch/intersection/insanity I initially mapped. It’s only about 200 discrete story chunks with about 100 total decision points, but getting them all to play nicely with one another, the way I’ve designed it, would be … challenging. Probably what I’ll do is play with another few short projects, and share them freely with everyone (maybe enter them in one of the ongoing interactive storytelling contests – I’ve never really submitted anything to contests before…), and then do something … big.

What I’ve been thinking about most recently is building my possibly-pending adaptation of Dragons’ Truth as interactive fiction, in one way or another. Actually, it would be the whole trilogy (yes, I’ve been planning on turning it into a trilogy when/if I re-write D’T), and then the problems become things like producing print and audio editions. If I had a larger, engaged fan base and appropriate analytics tools, I could do something like tracking which choices readers make most often or polling people about their preferences, and let the readers decide what the “definitive” version of the books will be for the audio version and the limited-edition print runs… though if I do it this way, to me the interactive version will be the truly definitive version. And then later I can release a “director’s cut” eBook with the version I get from my own responses…

Of course, I’ve still got a huge backlog of research and planning to do before I can tackle that project, and then I’ve actually got to sit down and write it. (And write several times as much as “normal”, if it’s interactive.) So … it’ll be a while. But that’s what I’m thinking about now. My decisions in the coming days and weeks will certainly shape the nature of my research and planning in coming months.

As always, your responses are welcome, though not expected. Feel free to comment, email, text message, call me, or send a letter with your thoughts. Bonus points if your letter arrives by post and was typed on a manual typewriter.

Short rant on the “value of eBooks”, another rant on the value of MY books

The following is something I wrote as a comment on a TeleRead blog post, which was apparently a reblog, but I didn’t copy my comment to the original post. Instead I’m posting it here. Basically, it’s another article discussing how $2.99 is the “magical price point” for eBooks, and forecasting that all eBooks will eventually have to lower to that price, because … well, because that’s just how much the author is willing to pay, is why. Some eBooks are cheap, sometimes, therefore he’s never going to pay more than $2.99 for an eBook!

It’s all about value, he declares, and this idea is based on the premise that if an eBook will ever in its future be discounted, the full/original/list price was never an appropriate value. Which is ridiculous. Here is my response:

The whole discussion of eBook pricing is skewed by a very vocal minority who do not comprehend the foundations of the publishing industry’s economic model. First: One must realize, when trying to make sense of publishers’ attempts to price eBooks, that historically the majority of the profit comes from the sale of the hardcover release. There are plenty of people who have quite happily paid full price ($25-$35) for new books, and they are the ones who have turned publishing into an industry of note. Not you, oh vocal minority, oh ye who would (imagining that there may be a future sale) wait patiently for a lower price on the same book, wait to buy it until it reaches your “magic price point”. The most vocal of the “Cheap eBooks now! Cheap eBooks forever!” crowd seem to correspond to the same readers who would not only wait for the paperback, but the mass-market paperback, and often for the used paperback; for the biggest publishers, readers in these last two categories aren’t even their customers – mmpb is farmed out to companies which do just that (and know how to operate on the tiny margins), and used books, well, that’s another matter – something all large media companies are trying to wipe out in the shift to digital. Windowing has everything to do with selling full-value books to people willing to pay for quality ($30), then selling discounted books to people who value books less and are willing to wait ($15), then selling the scraps to the mmpb-producers ($7), who then sell the books to the people who value new books just a little more than the used-book buyers (who can be said to barely value books at all; $3). Thus: The fact that books are available at different price points at different times, that they go on sale, and that some customers are willing to wait until they’re paying what amounts to a nominal price (i.e.: paying in name only), is not a new (or eBooks-related) phenomenon. Likewise, the fact that publishers would like to continue to sell their books at something close to their full value to the readers willing to pay full price should not come as a shock or as an affront to those who have always stood as the least-valuable customers; when a publisher prices an eBook at $15, it isn’t about YOU – it’s about the people who have been gladly paying $15-$35 for books all along! They’re also buying $12-$15 eBooks quite happily, despite all the moaning from the other end of the price/value spectrum.

Is $2.99 the magic price for eBooks? Well, for a certain class of reader, the ones for whom mmpb and used were the first times they’d consider buying a book (magically quite near the same $3 price point), maybe. But not for everyone. Not for publishers on the first day of a book’s hardcover release. You $3 book buyers are not the market at that time; you’ll be the market later. Feel free to wait, as you always have. The publishers are not in business to serve you; they’re primarily in business to serve those willing to pay 10x more for the same story, and are willing to let you eat those customers’ scraps.


In addition, since this is my blog, I want to add, about my books:

I write, publish, and sell books. Paper books, audio books, and eBooks. I’ve tried a lot of price points over the years, for each medium. I’m in the midst of another pricing experiment, right now (as you may know), where I lower the prices of my books the more money they make, until they reach the minimum price I can sell them at and still make a couple bucks a copy; this scheme is based on the rantings of the vocal minority derided above! This pricing scheme is founded on the oft-repeated claim about the marginal-costs of producing eBooks being close-to-zero, so why aren’t eBooks close-to-free? The whole “there’s no paper, so what am I paying you for?” argument – the one which insists that the writing itself, the story or information contained therein has negligible (not even nominal) value. So several of my books (the ones which have “earned out” and paid for their initial costs of production) are priced at this floor – $2.99 for an eBook, $5-7 for paperbacks; that’s as low as I can go. (Especially considering I give all my books away, too.)

With my most recent two books, Sophia and Emily, I started the eBooks at $9.99 apiece (largely because of Amazon rules/rates), and I priced the hardcover release at $35. Within the first month, I sold more than enough hardcovers to cover all the upfront/fixed costs of production, and I dropped the price of the eBooks all the way to $2.99. Theoretically, if the “Cheap eBooks now!” crowd is correct, dropping the price should have increased my sales volume. Of course, as I expected (based on my experiences with this price experiment and several others over the years), they did not go up – they stopped. I’d say they stopped altogether, but since dropping the prices to $2.99, a single copy of one of the eBooks has sold.

$2.99 is not a “magic price” for eBooks.

I consistently get more sales of my higher priced books, and see a massive drop in sales whenever I drop the price, even temporarily. I announce all around the books will be $0.99, or $1.99, or $2.99, but only for a day, or a week, or a month, and that day/week/month will have fewer sales than those before and after it. People want something of value, and they’re willing to pay for it. When I put my books out there with a $2.99 price tag, it says “This book is cheap! This book can’t compete! This book isn’t worth your money, or your time!” and they go buy one of the $8.99-$14.99 eBooks which, at those prices, must be a better book.

At Phoenix Comicon, I was certainly trying to push the hardcover books, the paperback books, the things I could easily sell, in person for ready money – rather than the things that people would maybe get later. Rather than the things people could go get for free. Yet, there are a lot of young people at Comicon – people without a lot of financial means (yet), who were interested in my stories, but maybe didn’t have the cash to buy the limited-edition hardcover (or even a paperback). So I gave them my card and told them that if they really couldn’t afford to buy, they could go to my website and get the eBooks for free. Or go listen to my podcast, and hear the books for free. All unabridged, of course. At least two young people, people who knew they could just go get the same exact book, the same story, for free on my website, came back later in the weekend having scrounged together the cash, and bought the full-price hardcovers. People are willing to pay more for what they value. Yes, they can go get it for free, but the book is worth something to them, and they’d rather pay what it’s worth than simply get the best deal.

Probably I’ll cancel this pricing experiment, soon, and raise all my eBook prices, again. Having low prices doesn’t really seem to get me more sales. Price, as they say, is the last tool in the salesman’s bag of tricks. What gets me more sales is writing great stories, connecting with readers, and building relationships with their imaginations. People who love my books are happy to pay for them. To pay full price for them. Even to pay more than full price for them, and support them in other ways. All those people for whom $2.99 is a “magic price” are probably happier getting it for free, anyway.