Publishing Virtual Danger

Well, the fundraiser for Virtual Danger is over, now, and it was a stressful yet resounding success. I mentioned it here when the fundraiser began, I think. Stressful in large part because it went right up to the last day looking like it wouldn’t even come close to the goal, even while the costs of the project continued to increase. My initial $300 goal was based on just the cost of setting up and printing Virtual Danger, but then I ordered DNGR T-Shirts for my wife and I to wear at Phoenix Comicon (and otherwise), which cost me about $60, and I ordered a bunch of DNGR business cards to hand out to people, which linked back to, which explains a bit about who/what DNGR is, links to the book, and lists & encourages derivative works (currently just the one song, but I’m hoping it’ll be more before PHXCC’13)—cards to give out myself, but also to give out to other people who bought the shirts (With an extra push the day after the fundraiser ended, based on a great/surprise Zazzle coupon code, there will soon be 6 people with DNGR T-Shirts in their wardrobes.) or otherwise might want to spread the word about DNGR.

I ran all the numbers today (okay, this is pen-and-paper rough math stuff; I won’t have all the real numbers until the end of the month) and it looks like I got $506.76 (after cc/processing fees) from 7 contributors (the 8th contribution was for a different project; don’t ask, but thanks again, if you’re reading this!) who paid for 8 copies of the eBook, 6 copies of the signed paperback, 2 DNGR T-Shirts (the other two were sold at cost, after the fundraiser, and are not included in these numbers), 1 copy of the Virtual Danger audiobook on MP3 CD, and 1 new work of art. After paying for setup of the paperback, printing 50 copies, getting the shirts made, the cards ordered, and paying to have the paperback listed in bookstore databases (i.e.: getting it on Amazon, et cetera), plus the cost of producing the MP3 CD, the (estimated) raw materials for the painting, and the cost of the ISBNs I’ve assigned to the eBook & paperback, the Virtual Danger fundraiser looks to have come out ~$37 in the black.

This is a very good thing, even if it is a little close. This means that any and all money I earn from selling the remaining 43 copies (6 for backers, 1 for Library of Congress) is (effectively) pure profit. I’ve listed the book at $12.99 for bookstores, but since the cost of this set is already paid, I’m planning on charging $10 for direct sales (same as the fundraiser; $5 for the eBook, $10 more to add the signed paperback)—for example, at PHXCC’13. Same for eBooks and audiobooks; all the revenue which makes it to me will be profit. Profit is good, but from my perspective it feels a lot better to know that even if this book completely fails to find readers, even if not a single other copy sells, it hasn’t cost me anything (financially). It isn’t a loss. I have books which are still at a lossVirtual Danger is not one of them, and this is a very, very good thing.

((As an aside, there was a small problem with one of the files I uploaded to LSI, and I had to re-submit it. Something I’ve never had to do before, they wanted me to “flatten” the image before saving to PDF. No trouble, took but a minute, yet … they may charge me an extra $40 for re-submitting the file, and then Virtual Danger is … well, a bit in the red. Like, sell one more copy and we’re back in the black, red, but red nonetheless. It is not my current expectation to be assessed this fee, but even if I am, the book is still in good shape. I’m pretty sure I can swing one copy.))

Anyway, I sent the files to Lightning Source (LSI) on Sunday as planned, it got approved even earlier than expected (today, rather than tomorrow), and my order for 50 copies went through this afternoon. Hopefully it won’t take them too long to print them. Could be anywhere from one day to one week, in my experience. Then there’s waiting a week for UPS Ground shipping. And then, the exciting moment when the book is in my hands for the first time, in print. Still a nice feeling, that. Anyway, that means they’ll be here some time between the 15th and the 21st of this month, which is cutting it a little close, since I’ll be “loading in” for PHXCC at the convention center on the 22nd, and the convention is open to the public on the 23rd. I love it when a plan comes together. I also love that I’ve got enough experience with this whole process to be able to schedule things so closely without real fear of random errors; I know how long each step takes, and I know how to do my work to get excellent and timely results.

On the “every copy sold is profit” note, if Virtual Danger does do well, it should mean I won’t have to run a fundraiser for my next book. In fact, if I hadn’t put all our money (including all the money Modern Evil Press earned from sales of Never Let the Right One Go last year) into buying and furnishing this house, I wouldn’t have had to run a fundraiser this time, either. There was plenty of profit from sales of the limited edition hardcover book to cover publishing one or two new paperbacks (or part of a computer upgrade), and if/when we can afford to pay my business back, it ought to be in the black for quite a while.

Some of that depends on how PHXCC’13 goes, of course. Pretending that they’ll keep prices the same for another year, it’ll cost me another ~$250 to have a Small Press table again, next year. If I don’t earn at least that much revenue at con, I certainly won’t consider returning, and if I just barely earn that much, I probably won’t consider returning. Half (or more) of my books aren’t at a point of “pure profit”, yet, so sales of things like, say, my poetry books, effectively count as $0 toward paying for the table. Most of my other books are priced between $8 and $15, but only represent $2-$4 profit applicable toward table fees. Selling the last 6 remaining copies of Never Let the Right One Go at full price covers most of it (and is effectively ‘pure’ profit), but the first 8+ Untrue Trilogies I sell contribute almost nothing. So there’s always math to do.

Importantly, I currently have no idea what I’m going to be doing over the next year, or whether it’ll be something that could even be sold at PHXCC’14. If I spend the next year crafting video games, or an interactive novel, or just working on my art, I might not have any new physical product to offer. If I happen to write another book or two, great, that’s easy. If I actually follow through on on the the board game ideas I’ve been rolling around, that might be very popular at Comicon (but represents a massive change in skill sets, manufacturing and distribution partners, and scale of capital outlay), and could become my best (or worst) year yet. Right now, I have no firm idea where I’ll be (creatively) a year from now, so it’s hard to say whether paying for a booth next year is a particularly good idea. Worst case would be showing up with the same exact inventory as I leave con with this year, and hoping to find enough new readers/buyers to make it worth my while, I suppose.

Coming back to the subject of Virtual Danger and profitability, I’m saying that, while it’s nice to think that 43 copies of the paperback will sell at $10 each and earn me $430 to put toward another book, the reality is that I have other overhead costs to cover. Not including Comicon, I have hundreds of dollars a year of overhead (reduced as much as possible, already) above and beyond the costs of publishing new books; web hosting, business licenses, office supplies, et cetera. Some of the $430 would have to go toward re-ordering Virtual Danger, as well, same as I just re-ordered Cheating, Death. Part of it would almost certainly go toward another Comicon table. …and this is why I need to do fundraisers. This, and the fact that my average book seems to sell fewer than a dozen copies in its first year (and fewer thereafter), so it’s more likely that Virtual Danger will earn $100 or $200 than the $430 or $1k needed to think about paying for the next book without a fundraiser.


Anyway, it’s still exciting to have a new book coming out, and doubly so to have it be coming out already profitable. Thanks to all the people who supported the project financially, and everyone else who has offered their help along the way. Most of this wouldn’t be possible without the lot of you.

New novel, new fundraiser: Virtual Danger

First, I want to start with an: Oops! Apparently the process of buying, moving into, and settling into a new home is … all-consuming. It consumed all our money, all our time, and all my attention last month. In fact, March 2013 is now one of only two months since March 2001 (when I actually started this blog) where I didn’t create at least one post here. Oops. Sorry.

Second: Hey! We bought a house! I’m now a homeowner! Mandy and I found a nice place to live in downtown Phoenix, within walking distance of downtown and the arts district. It has room for us to dedicate two entire rooms to my creative endeavors (one is to be a dedicated art studio, the other an office and writing space) and still have plenty of other space for the rest of our life & stuff. (Oh. My. Word… We own so much stuff!) As I posted before, this entirely changes our financial situation re: debt, but not in too terrible a way. We can still afford everything which was in our budget before the move, but we have a lot “more debt” and we can’t pay our highest-interest debts off as quickly as we were doing before. I’ll make an update on that, soon-ish. Maybe I’ll also put together a photos post, so you can see what we just spent $100k on. Probably in early May.

Virtual Danger, a novel in The Death Noodle Glitterfairy Robot SagaFinally, the main subject of this post: Virtual Danger, a novel in The Death Noodle Glitterfairy Robot SagaI’m doing a little fundraiser to try to cover the cost of its publication in advance. This is, in fact, directly related to item #2, above, where we bought a house on short notice and used all our money up; the profits I had from last year’s Never Let the Right One Go sales… well, I seem to have lent them to myself in order to make the down payment & get the house furnished. (I fully intend, and tracked, all the savings balances (tires, computer, business, et cetera) I was dipping into, so that we can get back to where we were a couple of months ago… eventually. Maybe by Christmas.) So I can sortof afford to get Virtual Danger published/printed so I can sell it at Phoenix Comicon, but we’re cutting pretty close to the bone, now, and if anything else needs work, or if something goes wrong, or needs repair, before I can get some of that savings built back up … putting $300 from my own pocket toward a book I’m not sure will make any money at PHXCC’13 is … scary. If I need to, I’ll do it, but it’s scary.

What would be less scary, which you can help with, is if enough people pre-ordered the book (in its various forms and formats) to cover part or all of those costs before I send the book to the printer. In order to have the books printed and delivered to me in time to sell at PHXCC’13, near the end of May, I have to place the order during the first week of May—the fundraiser’s deadline is Saturday, 5/4/2013 at 11:59pm MST, and if all goes well I’ll submit all the files to Lightning Source on Sunday, 5/5/2013 and they’ll start working on them first thing Monday morning. That gives me just over 3 weeks to raise $300. It’ll either be relatively easy or painfully, stressfully unsuccessful. Continue reading New novel, new fundraiser: Virtual Danger

2013 Break-even Challenge

As you know if you’re a regular reader of this blog or a follower of my work, I’ve been tweaking my operating procedures over the last few years so that new titles (generally) are profitable before ever going to print. Whether this is through fundraising campaigns (Kickstarter, et cetera), through pre-sales, through sale of the cover art, or when those fail through digital-only release pending sufficient interest to fund a paper release, the idea is that rather than investing several hundred dollars to put a new title in print and maybe never earning it back, to invest money the title has already earned. (Or, in some cases, money other titles have earned above and beyond their own costs.) Most of the titles I’ve released since the end of 2009 have either broken even and begun earning a profit already (several before even being published!), or are very close.

Unfortunately, most of my titles published prior to Cheating, Death have not been as lucky. I’d been operating on that old, trusted idea that one must invest money to make money, and that with perseverance I could profit in the long run. Sadly, the more I try to apply old, trusted ideas (or really anything resembling “mainstream wisdom” or following “the rules”), the more I prove that they don’t work for me. Anyway, I keep track of the discrete per-title expenses and revenue for every title I work on, and for seven titles and the Untrue Tales Series, I’m still “in the red”. The money I’ve spent specifically on publishing them has not yet been earned back, let alone have they earned enough revenue to begin to cover overhead. (Or to fund the publication of future titles.)

Untrue Tales is a sort of special case. It comprises six different novels, written over a period of almost seven years and released as at least eight different paperback books, each with their own costs, not to mention the eBook and audiobook versions. Book One, Book Two, and Book Three were released as individual paperbacks, there was a combined edition containing Book One and Book Two, then one with Book One, Book Two, and Book Three, there was a super-cheap saddle-stitched galley/magazine-style version of Book One, and then last year the re-release of The First Untrue Trilogy along with the first print release of The Second Untrue Trilogy. Individual eBooks used to be available for Books 1-5, individual audiobooks are still available for all six books, and the current eBook editions include the two trilogies and (on kindle only) book one. Added up individually, Book One, Book Two, Book Three, and Book Five have earned more money (since I started doing this full-time in 2008; I could not find earlier records when I started seriously building my spreadsheets) than I’ve spent on them, Books Four and Six are very slightly in the red, and because of the cost of the re-release (just over half-paid-for, so far), neither trilogy is technically profitable. But: If I add together all the expenses across all versions and editions of all the books and releases of the series, the whole series is only about $208 in the red right now.

The other books are more (generally) straight-forward.

So here’s the goal/challenge I’m going to try to tackle for 2013: I want to get the eight titles I currently have in the red at least to break-even.

I’ve set up a page over at to track the challenge’s progress. Right now, having not sold any books so far this year, it’s all zeroes on the earnings lines. Some titles will be easier to reach break-even than others (Dragons’ Truth, for example, is only $9 from being “profitable”, while my poetry books have effectively never earned any money and have a long way to go), so I hope to see some early successes and some dragging-on. I’ll try to keep the page updated as frequently as is possible; I get trustable updates from eBook resellers about once a month, from at irregular intervals (though donations there to my titles are even more irregular), and if/when I make direct sales I can update it immediately.

To a certain extent, this is practice for the new periodical anthology I’m trying to put together, where I’ll need to publicly track the total-earnings-over-time because author payouts will be tied directly to reaching earnings milestones. Theoretically I’ll have to put together a similar page which tracks the earnings and goals across multiple periodical releases; I’ll probably put together something more graphical for that. Something reminiscent of Kickstarter and stretch goals and all that. In fact I might update the page I just linked to, if I think of a better/more-graphical way to do it. As it is now, it’s a pretty dense page.

The other side of this is that I’ll actually have to put some effort into marketing, into making people aware of these books and that I’m trying to reach these (relatively reasonable) sales goals for this year. I’ll probably try to make it coincide with another marketing idea I’d had, which is that I have enough different titles available now that I could focus on one specific title per week and not repeat myself for at least six months – or give each title a couple of weeks and have things to say all year. I don’t want to do the terrible sort of promotion where it’s just a title and a link and “buy my stuff!!!”, but instead to talk about each story/novel/project in a way that’s more meaningful. Write blog posts about what I was thinking of when I wrote it, what went into it, and perhaps go ahead and give away all the cool little things I put into my books (that no one ever seems to notice – or at least they aren’t telling me (or mentioning it in reviews) if they do), explain the connections, explain the relationships and imagery and themes… Though with the 2013 Break-even Challenge, I may want to start with these 8-ish things, and then repeat some of them later in the year if they aren’t reaching their goals… I’ll have to see how it goes. I’m not sure I’ll actually be able to maintain a single, focused promotional/marketing push for an entire year, but making it closer to something I don’t mind doing (writing, and writing about my writing) should help.

Oh, and to wrap up about the 2013 Break-even Challenge: If you want to help, the easiest way would be to order the paperbacks directly from me, and signed is better. You can buy copies for your friends and families as gifts, too; shipping costs are more reasonable if your order more than one thing. (And if you’re in the Phoenix area, I can hand-deliver your purchases!) If you want to pay more than the asking price for anything (if, say, you want to buy signed copies of Both Untrue Trilogies, but you want to pay the same $25/title I put on all my other works, giving me $150 for the two books) don’t hesitate to email me directly and we can work something out. Or if you want to commission a new piece of art (or buy a piece of my existing art) and have the money go toward one of these books, I can do that, too. Or if you already have the book in your preferred format, all your friends already have it, and you just want to donate some money to show how much you loved it, we can work something out for that, too – let me know. With a little luck and a little perseverance, I’m confident we can get these titles into the black before the end of 2013.


…maybe not the poetry…

Numbers for Q4/2012

Again, I don’t feel like making a thorough posting of all the numbers – but if you’re interested, you’re welcome to email me and I’ll share them all with you. I have an exhausting number of numbers about my books. With regard to free downloads, Q4 was a big uptick over Q3 and for the audiobooks, a massive increase over Q4 last year – not so for eBooks, which had a major spike last fall due to a couple of inbound links. For the quarter I’m looking at a total of 142,888 podiobook episode downloads, from probably about 8.8k complete title downloads. There were also 3,582 free eBook downloads last quarter, which is more than Q3 but less than Q1, Q2, and less than half of Q4 of 2011.

My only new books in 2012 were Sophia and Emily. They were made available in hardback and eBooks in May, and as podiobooks in the last week of October. In eight months as both free and paid eBooks, they were downloaded a total of 333 times, combined. Of that, 21 copies of the Sophia eBook were purchased and 8 copies of the Emily eBook were purchased; they each had around 150 free downloads. In about 9 weeks on, Sophia had a total of 19,702 episode downloads (probably about 681 complete copies) and Emily had a total of 16,005 episode downloads (probably about 591 complete copies). That’s 4x as many copies of the free audiobook downloaded in about 1/4 the time. Also interesting is that instead of a 20% to 50% attrition rate after the first episode (people who download 1 episode and no others), which is the range my other books tend to float in, Sophia and Emily are looking at attrition rates in the 66% to 75% range. Up to about three out of every four people who listen to the first 15 minutes of either book decide not to listen to a minute more. Still the complete-title download numbers are bigger than for all but a few of my oldest titles, so they’re off to a good start, even if they are reviled by most who give them a try.

(It occurs to me now what this may be: I wrote these books and designed the marketing around them to try to appeal to the greatest possible audience. I was aiming for something which would appeal to mainstream audiences, genre audiences, teen audiences, Christian audiences, et cetera. They’re relatively easy to describe, they’ve got great covers, and they’re some of my most readable text to date. I was trying to reach a wider audience. Anyway, what I’m thinking I might be seeing here is that the surface stuff, the cover, description/blurb, genre, et cetera is, in fact, reaching a wider audience than I normally reach. More people are trying it. But my books are still only appreciated by the same narrow audience I had, before, and the rest are rejecting it. The marketing works, but the books aren’t as mainstream/readable as I’d hoped. They’re just … more of what I always write. sigh.)

But you probably want to hear about money, right? Well, I seem to have forgotten to add up the numbers for the quarter separately for you, so here’s the numbers for the year: I sold 106 eBooks (down 20% from 2011) and my cut of those sales was $243.49 (down 9% from 2011), which means I sold fewer eBooks but made more money per eBook – and that with my steadily-dropping-eBooks-prices; people want to pay more for eBooks. I sold 71 physical books directly and 9 books wholesale via LSI (80 books is a 308% increase over 2011) and earned $1742.96 revenue (a 360% increase over 2011) from those sales. I also had 6 Podiobooks donations made to my books, with my cut totalling $31.10. Additionally I sold 22 pieces of art for $1,170 (although my records show $450 of that is still owed me, so it’s money earned in an accounting sense, but not in a “money in my account” way), most of it at discounts as deep as 90% off, to try to get rid of as much of my old stuff as possible. That comes to a total of $3187.55 revenue from [art + books].

That means this is the first year I made more from books than from art. It represents a 260% increase in book revenue, a 20% drop in art revenue, and a 143% overall increase over 2011’s [art + book] revenues. (2011 was an increase over 2010, and 2008-2010 were all in the $1.5k-$1.7k range) Since the beginning of 2008 (which is when I started doing this full time) I’ve earned $10,259.18 in revenue from [art + books], 31% of which is from 2012. My business was profitable (on paper) last year, but came out meaningfully ahead, this year. I’m way behind, over the course of the last 5 years (or the last 10+, if you want to go all the way back to when I started publishing & selling art), but as I said when I started doing this full time in 2008, I’m in this for the long haul. Grow a little at a time. Figuring out how to grow my profits without needing to grow my audience has been a big part of the last five years’ journey. According to my accounting software, at this rate I’ll actually have “retained earnings” some time in the next 3-5 years.

Of course, I don’t have an premium hardback limited edition book to try to sell at Phoenix Comicon, this year, which is where I made more than half of this year’s revenue (about 80% of my book revenue). At best I expect to have one new paperback. Maybe also paperback versions of Sophia and Emily if I catch an optimistic streak between now and April, but considering I’ve only moved 2 copies of the hardcover (and only earned $68 from the eBooks) in the last 7 months… probably not. Possibly a new anthology, but only if I get a whole mess of submissions in the next 60 days; I fully expect that project to drag on all year, maybe longer. The year should still be profitable, barring the purchase of a new computer, simply by keeping expenses within the realm of what I know my books actually earn.

One more point worth noting, which bubbled up out of the numbers: Putting some of my short stories up for free on iTunes and Smashwords for 60 days related directly to an increase in the number of free downloads of the corresponding (free) short story collections on my website, and via Maybe they got one story for free and came to my site to get the rest. Wish they’d tried one for free and decided to spend money, too. Ah, well. Maybe they’ll like my stories enough to become fans, and will buy things later, right?

$0.99 eBook sale

I’ve just put six (or so) titles on sale for $0.99 apiece at all major eBook retailers. Find all the relevant links here. These are the titles I’ve had at $2.99 for most/all of this year which, as I stated recently, saw only diminishing sales at their reduced prices. Instead of simply continuing the experiment for the full year, I’ve decided to see whether somehow $0.99 is a “magic price” that, with a little more marketing, can transform my sales. The sale runs through the end of the year. (I reckon to catch those post-Christmas, new eReader, eBook buys, eh?) If sales volumes actually do anything interesting, I may extend the reduced prices indefinitely.

So: If you’ve been putting off buying my eBooks because $2.99 was just too much money, or if you downloaded them for free before but can spare a buck apiece for them, go buy them now. If you know people who you think might try a new author at a price like $0.99, please, send them my way. Tweet about it. Share it on Facebook.

This sale includes all of my most-popular titles (by sales volume), including both of my latest novels, Sophia and Emily, my zombie novel Cheating, Death and my zombie/christmas short story Last Christmas. It also includes my collection of hard SciFi short stories, Time, emiT, and Time Again – and for the duration of the sale I’ve also made the individually-available short stories from that collection free at select retailers. (i.e.: The ones that will let me make eBooks free.) Finally, it includes Yoshira Marbel’s poetry collection, Unspecified, and the Amazon Kindle Select “exclusive”, Untrue Tales… Book One.