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.

Trying to define my goals for Teratozoic

I’ve been thinking about this part of the problem for a long time, now. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, probably several times if you also follow me on Facebook, Facebook, and/or Twitter. I need to know what my goals are for this project. What I’m trying to achieve. How I’ll define success. (How I’ll know when I’m done.) I still don’t have it all nailed down.

Barring selling the game to a publisher, which is an avenue down which I am not likely to travel very far, I certainly have no intentions of pursuing traditional distribution into retail. The complications, expenses, frustrations, and challenges of dealing with distributors, retailers, or even with the scale of manufacturing (above and beyond any pre-sales/KS-sales) required to satisfy a supply chain are not something I want in my life. At most, I intend to have a POD version of the game remain available at DriveThruCards (with downloadable/printable instructions, and no box; DriveThru only prints cards), and (assuming a successful Kickstarter) to offer a small inventory of copies directly through—something in the range of: I’ll have to order ten or fifteen percent more copies than are backed for, in case of damage/loss/etc; any which remain after all copies have been shipped will be available for direct sales.

So why do a Kickstarter, at all? Well, because I’d like to include printed rules, and I’d like to package the game in a nice box, preferably printed. If I raise (at least) $1,000 I can afford to have 50 copies (read: At least 60 copies, in case of damage/loss/etc) of the cards, custom boxes, and nice rule sheets printed, I can assemble them myself, and I can afford to package and ship them (via USPS) to 50 different backers. For any number of copies sold between 50 and about 1,000 I’d be using the same suppliers/printers, doing the game-assembly (& shipping) personally, and have roughly the same (almost zero) profit margins. Since all but the most-popular new games (the top 15% or 20%) sell fewer than 500 copies, even with a wildly-successful Kickstarter that’s the range I expect to be in; the ‘hand-assembled craft-product with little-or-no profit’ range.

Since a key point I keep trying to explain to other people when they ask about how to succeed (or why they’re failing) at Kickstarting their projects is that you must bring the crowd with you to Kickstarter (they don’t provide the crowd, just the platform for transferring money from fans to creators), and I know that I don’t have an appropriately-large ‘crowd’/audience to know with any certainty that my project will fund at even as low as 50 copies, it is actually against my own advice to attempt to Kickstart Teratozoic.

At least, not now.

Not with 43 Facebook ‘Likes’ on my professional Page. Not with a mere 33 people opening the last email I sent my (still quite small, at 156 people) mailing list. If I saw someone posting about their failing/failed Kickstarter with numbers like those, I’d tell ’em the same thing. You have to do something to reach enough* people, and you ought to do it before the Kickstarter goes live. Based on my Kickstarter history and my current reach, I wouldn’t expect Teratozoic to find more than 10 or 20 backers; 50 is an almost-ridiculous stretch, and the 1,000+ required to have a financially-profitable venture is genuinely-ridiculous. Ludicrous.
*Enough people to have no doubt you’ll reach your goal with only the people you bring on Day 1.

Which is why I’ve been planning on sending out dozens of preview copies to board/card-game reviewers; to put my game in front of their audiences, which are orders of magnitude larger than my own, and hope some percentage of those viewers decides to back Teratozoic based on what they see in the reviews. Which is, theoretically, an excellent idea, and a good way to ‘cast a wider net’. It’s also why I’ve been planning to demo the game at Phoenix Comicon, with as many people as I can wrangle into coming over, and at game stores around town over the next few months, to build ‘buzz’ and let more people know of the game’s existence. It’s why I’ve been planning on ordering and assembling dozens of additional promo copies, to give them away to people who would be willing to teach their own friends & gaming groups how to play, further spreading the word.

Except fuck me if the cost of the preview copies doesn’t push the costs so high my new break-even point is around 250 copies, instead of 50. (Or ~$750 to $1k in patronage, in advance of the Kickstarter. Don’t ask me to explain the math, but suffice it to say that $800 from 2 or 3 people who mostly want to support me (but maybe also want a painting) is worth a lot more than $4,000 from 200 people who each want a copy of the game.) Which means those reviews had better be good, and had better reach many thousands of people, because there’s no way at all my own network (even with as much local promotion as I could stand) would ever reach those numbers.

Which leads me, perhaps, to the idea of running a pre-Kickstarter Kickstarter (or off-KS crowdfunding campaign), to raise $800+ to pay for marketing of Teratozoic. Because if I could raise funds to cover the costs of marketing and development, then the actual Kickstarter for the game is much closer to reachable, at possibly as low as a $200 (instead of $5,000) goal without threatening the project’s viability. Hmm… Interesting thought. I could put up two or three tiers, say $50 in marketing support gets you a preview copy of the game, $100 gets you a preview copy of the game and a Plus Subscription, and $400 gets you a monster painting*, a preview copy of the game, and a Patron Plus Subscription. (Yeah, yeah, the last two are basically just the regular subscription prices.) If I run it through Gumroad on my own site I pay half as much in fees (~5%) to get the funds, and I get the funds whether or not I hit the goal, and I get them immediately, which would all be benefits over running an actual pre-Kickstarter. If successful, that would relieve a lot of the stress I’ve been under, in planning this thing.
*One of my planned tiers for the Teratozoic Kickstarter is $400 (plus Shipping) to have an original painting (up to ~24×36″) made of your favorite monster (from multiple cards, assembled) or monster part (from one card) from Teratozoic.

So. I think part of why I don’t drop the plans/hope to get reviews done & reach a wider-than-my-own audience with the Kickstarter is that I don’t just want to get the game made, and I don’t just want to get the game made with the nicest version I’m able to produce, but I want that nicest-version of the game to be bought and enjoyed by as many people as will/could enjoy it. Not just those among my 30 to 300 fans who would enjoy it, but as many as I can imagine and afford to reach. With a book, it’s cheap and easy to get it in the hands of thousands or tens of thousands of readers/listeners, by giving the digital versions away for free. And I plan to offer the digital/PnP version of Teratozoic for free, but there’s so much expense and effort in turning a PDF into a playable card game that it doesn’t reach nearly as many people. I write my books to be read and enjoyed, and I (apparently) design my games to be played and enjoyed. So I guess that’s an important part of my goals: Not to make money, or to have brick-and-mortar distribution (the reach is not worth the effort, to me; the only reason I can see to go that way is money, which I don’t directly desire), but to have a nice, complete version of my game made, and to get it into the hands of as many gamers as possible without going to too much trouble or getting too stressed. Success will be delivering those nice copies of the game to players, without having had too many anxiety attacks in the process, or going into more debt.

I think the pre-Kickstarter fundraiser may be the answer to that. I’ll start working on it, now.

Update: You can now directly and easily financially support the marketing efforts of Teratozoic, as described; links are up at

Update x2: The fundraiser has now concluded. I was able to raise $550 of my $850 goal.

Quick debt paydown update for 2014

So, as projected, our ability to pay down our debts has been significantly slowed by buying a house. Additionally (as also expected), my initial guesses at budgets weren’t all accurate and we’ve had to make a few adjustments here and there over the last year, generally by eating into the amount we’re overpaying our last credit card’s minimum payment. We’ve only just passed a year in the house, so I won’t know what our adjusted utility payments will be for another week or two; I prefer to use plans which balance out the payments for the entire year, so we don’t have crazy-high electric bills in the summer, but most utilities require a year’s usage data before they’ll sign you up. So, things may adjust around a bit more in our budget, further altering the following projections.

If you recall from my last debt pay-down update, due to buying a house and taking out a ~$100k mortgage last March our total debt went from ~$47k last January (after paying down $45k in balances between 3/2008 and 1/2013) to $142,723.88 as of closing on the house. One year later, our total debt balances stood at $138,557.51 – a reduction of $4,166.37, year over year. That was around $1230 off our last credit card, around $1166 off the student loans, and roughly $1769 of the principal on the mortgage. We also paid approximately $6740 in interest on that debt, about half of that on the mortgage.

As I said above, everything slipped a little, and I’ve got an adjustment in my spreadsheets for a predictable change in expenses coming up next year, so we’re currently projecting we’ll pay of that final credit card in early 2019, the student loans in late 2026, and the house at the end of 2034. Not exactly exciting news, but we’re still paying things down, and there is an end on the map, if not in sight. Certainly, we don’t want to be taking on any new debt in the near future. Buying a car or going back to school are not viable options in the next several years, for example, and would set back our ability to continue making headway by a significant margin. But maybe there’ll be some really nice, affordable electric cars on the market in 2019, right?

(Late) Debt Pay-down update

Okay, so … the last few months have been quite busy, and I didn’t rebuild all my spreadsheets until today (though, of course, I haven’t missed any payments (and actually, I had rebuilt the one which tracks our monthly budgets and savings balances, just not the big one which projects and tracks our debt pay-down)), so this post is coming a bit later than I initially projected. To recap (with actual numbers):

From 1/30/2012 to 1/30/2013, we paid off two credit cards and reduced our overall debt from $60,652.03 (2012) to $46,987.17 (2013), a debt reduction of $13,664.86, partially enabled by decimating our savings and liquidating a few thousand dollars from an old retirement account neither of us had known existed prior to 2011. As of the end of January, we were down to two debt accounts with balances: One credit card and one (consolidated) student loan account.

On 3/15/2013 we closed on a house. (Yay! New house!) Liquidating our savings and that retirement account to improve our debt situation & free up a chunk of cash was, in a large way, motivated by a sudden and unexpected need to buy a house and move out of the place we’d been staying. I moved very quickly (too quickly for the banks and credit reporting agencies, in some ways), going from ‘believing we could stay at the other house until at least our credit cards were paid off’ to ‘owning our own home’ in under 75 days. (I give all thanks for this, and I place the success of this, squarely on God. We couldn’t have done it without Him, and I’m pretty confident it wouldn’t have gone even a little as smoothly or quickly without His help. Throughout the process, rather than being cripplingly overwhelmed by stress and anxiety, I genuinely experienced a peace which transcends understanding, finding my footing always on the solid rock of faith.)

Our projected debt pay-off dates have been significantly altered by this change. Prior to being told we needed to move, we were projecting having our last credit card paid off in the Fall of 2014, and if the same living arrangements were maintained beyond that point, to have the student loans paid off (that is, we would be debt free) by the Fall of 2017 (4  years from 1/2013). (Assuming no significant changes in income or expenses, no bonuses, no overtime, et cetera.) According to the spreadsheets I’ve just put together based on our new financial situation (which still has some significant estimates, since we don’t have a year’s worth of utility bills yet, et cetera), we are now looking more info

at having our last credit card paid off in the Summer of 2016, the student loan paid off around the Summer of 2022 (after 9 years, instead of 4), and the (ostensibly 30-year) mortgage paid off by Spring of 2030 (after 17 years). On just the credit card and student loans, this extension will cost us an estimated $3,500 in additional interest versus our previous projections.

Still, it’s a good situation. We own our own home, and we can afford it, while still paying down our other debts. The move into, and the furnishing and upgrades/repairs to, this home cost quite a bit of money and basically liquidated all the funds we’d squirreled away to pay for expected recurring costs (new tires every few years, oil changes & other auto maintenance, vehicle license taxes every two years, prescription drugs and doctor copays, NaNoWriMo/coffee/writing costs, computer upgrade/replacements, et cetera), and until we’ve built all those funds back up we’re only making the minimum/scheduled payments on our debts, rather than any overpayments. We’ve actually made significant headway on that front, having built up enough to cover everything but the ‘computer replacement’ component of the old savings, and expect to reach that point by October.

Oh, and the new date to go by, for looking at our annual debt pay-down in the future, will be 3/15. As of 3/15/2013, our total outstanding debt was $142,723.88. In the five years from 3/2008 to 3/14/2013, Mandy and I reduced our debts by a total of $45,108.35.

((March 2008, by the way, was when I stopped working a day job and, effectively, stopped contributing financially to the household, except as its financial manager. (Over the same period I’ve put $6k-$7k more into my business than it’s earned, though most of the not-yet-earned-back monies were invested in the first year and a half after I started to do this full time. I suppose I can’t really quit, since I still owe me thousands of dollars…) I guess I’m a better househusband than I am an entrepreneur.))

Show of hands: Who thinks our car will actually last another 17 years, to keep from significantly altering the above projections? Hah! I suppose I’ll probably add a “saving for car replacement” line to our budget … probably either starting the next time Mandy gets a raise, or in 2016 when the credit card is paid off. Yech. Technically, since I already have several savings lines attributed to the car, depending on how maintenance costs go, we might end up with a reasonably good start on that budget, if the car needs to be replaced suddenly. …I’ll be thinking about this…

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.