Q3 Numbers, NaNoDecisions, and taking risks

Looking back, I see I didn’t make a proper numbers post for Q2, this year. This post is also a couple of weeks later than it ought to have been. Meh. Q2 looked a lot like Q1, except for a spike in Podiobooks downloads for the last few days of June. eBook downloads continued their gradual descent from the highs they’d hit after being linked to by some “free eBooks” listing sites last year. Q3 looks a bit odd, but in understandable ways.

For example, that spike in podiobook downloads coincides with the launch of Apple’s new Podcasts app for iOS – separating podcasts out of iTunes and improving visibility and ease of use for a lot of the people who wanted to listen to podcasts and podcast audio fiction. That spike actually turned out to be a new baseline level of downloads – until Podiobooks.com went down completely for a little while, torn apart by malicious, hacking spammers. All Podiobooks.com titles were de-listed from iTunes for a week or two while they rebuilt the site. When things were back online, many of my titles’ downloads continued at rates higher than they’d been prior to the launch of the standalone Podcasts app, but none of them were near the levels they were at before being temporarily de-listed, and some of them went right back down to their pre-Podcasts-app trickles. Oh, well. Easy come, easy go.

Without listing out all the totals of all the downloads for each title across multiple formats (I’ll gladly share the numbers with you if you’re interested, just ask me), here are some highlights: 124,867 total Podiobooks downloads (across all titles) for Q3, which compares favorably with ~35k in Q2, ~27k in Q1, and ~151k in all of 2011. The final episodes of the various books were downloaded a total of 9,015 times in Q3, so that’s probably the maximum number of new people who have heard an entire book, though if everyone who finished one of my books also downloaded all my other available titles it might have been as few as 693 different people downloading those 9k books – which is to say the number of new listeners my books found in Q3 via the Podiobooks feeds was somewhere in the range from 693 to 9,015. Not taking in to account things like repeated downloads or other errors, of course. Still, 124k downloads in Q3 represents fully 17% of the 731,086 total downloads (as of end-of-Q3’2012) I’ve had via Podiobooks.com over the years; hopefully the coming months will bring a steady flow of downloads and an increase in orders of the for-purchase versions of my stories. Podiobooks.com added up all the donations from all my titles for Q1 through Q3 into one payout, and my cut of the 2 donations came out to a total of $10.46; for the purposes of this post, we’ll consider them both to be Q3 donations.

eBooks did not see that dramatic up-tick. In fact, they saw the continued decline of downloads I’ve been witnessing since last fall. My eBooks were downloaded a total of 2,705 times in Q3, and only 11 of those were purchases. (This compares with 4,689/24 in Q2 and 4,992/36 in Q1.) Those purchases netted me $26.90, and the most popular title was Sophia. Alternatively, there were only 40 or 45 copies of Emily or Sophia (respectively) downloaded (in all of Q3) including the purchased and the free copies; aside from my own poetry, they are my least-popular free eBooks. (The Sophia Podiobook has been available for less than a week and has been downloaded my more than twice as many people as the eBook was downloaded in Q3. I am confident both eBooks would be downloaded more if I made them available in PDF.) Alternatively, I sold 2 Never Let the Right One Go hardbacks in Q3, earning $70. That makes a total of 15 “book sales” for Q3, earning $107.36.

Oh, and for those of you who haven’t put two and two together: Lowering prices, adjusting eBook prices down, down, down, hasn’t helped sales at all. I’ve been lowering my eBook prices the more copies they’ve sold and the more money they’ve earned, and my sales volume has gone right down with them. As an experiment, I’m thinking of putting my “floored” eBooks (those which have already earned out their expenses) “on sale” at $0.99 for November and December, rather than holding them at $2.99 for the remainder of the year, just to see what happens. Either way (barring some miraculous turn of events where my eBooks suddenly start selling thousands of copies a month at $0.99 apiece) I plan to raise all my prices back to reasonable and appropriate levels at the start of 2013, and to give up the the pricing experiment we began nearly a year ago. For the nth time (at least 3 major experiments I can recall, and several shorter or less-rigorous ones) I’ve shown that lowering my prices reduces my sales. (Not just less money, but fewer copies sold -by far- every time.) I don’t think I’ll be messing with prices in this way again any time soon. Lower prices is not, apparently, what my readers want. Continue reading Q3 Numbers, NaNoDecisions, and taking risks

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 modernevil.com and wretchedcreature.com 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. Continue reading Brainstorming future projects, Fall 2012 – Spring 2013

The possibilities of focus

I’ve been so scatterbrained, lately. Depressed, for sure, which has led to months without significant work, but which has also led to this recent paucity of focus. I spent most of 2011 reading, researching, and planning toward writing my vampire duology, with the intention of being able to write both books rather quickly – possibly within November, for NaNoWriMo. I wrote roughly half of the two books (most of one, and part of the other) in November, and have eked out another 6 chapters or so for them since then, but I still have about 20 chapters remaining to write.

There’s so much work yet to be done on these books. Beyond the 60+ good hours of writing it will take to finish the first drafts, there’s initial editing so I can send to my Beta Readers, then days or weeks waiting for them to get back to me with their feedback, then re-writes and edits based on that feedback and possibly (if I can convince anyone to re-read the books so quickly) a second round of the same. Once I’ve got the basic text in good shape I’ve got to do another close read (copyediting) before I begin recording the audio version – a step which always finds new errors and awkward sentences/dialogue in the text, and which I prefer to do before publishing, when possible. I’ve got to do the interior layout, which shouldn’t be too difficult at this point and with all the experience I have, but I’ve also got to design the cover in three ways, for each individual eBook as well as for the paper/limited-edition/flipbook, hopefully all as a single image. I’ve got to do fundraising (possibly via Kickstarter) to pay for the paper edition, which almost certainly takes weeks or more. Actually podcasting the audio version may take up to a year, though it’s the hundreds of hours of recording, editing, and assembling them which I’ll want to have done before publication. After all that, getting the eBooks ready will be a snap.

Why am I thinking about all this? I just noticed January has slipped away, almost without my notice, and February is at hand. Tomorrow I’ll process the data on January eBook sales and (possibly) update the prices on some of my books/eBooks, according to the formula I rolled out at the start of the year. This has reminded me that Phoenix Comicon is coming up at the end of May; hopefully the significantly lower prices this model affords my paperbacks will result in increased sales at Comicon. This has led me inexorably to the idea that, if possible, I’d like to have my vampire duology flipbook on hand and for sale at the Phoenix Comicon. Which led to thinking about everything in that last paragraph, and more.

Part of the ‘more’ is all the other projects I’ve been working on lately, in my lack of focus, especially the interactive book on writing and publishing. I mentioned on Google+ last night that, in addition to beginning to write that book, I spent some time mapping out its (quite complex) hypertext structure; it’s intended to be read in a non-linear way, like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book as well as a cross between a memoir and a how-to guide for independent writing and publishing, and it’s been percolating up through my mind for years. At the current stage of mapping and note-making, I’ve already got forty-plus chapters/chunks started; if no more occur to me, and they’re each the 1500+word chunks they’ve been becoming so far, it’s already shaping up to be book-length, complex, and interesting. I’ve got at least another 60 hours of work just writing the thing, and possibly over 100 hours, the way it’s been going.

(I won’t even mention each of the other projects I’ve had queueing up and being worked on by my scattered thoughts and efforts, except to say that if I continue on as I am, none of them -certainly not the vampire books- will be finished by Comicon.)

According to my calculations, if I seriously applied myself, I could finish the first draft of the vampire duology in six or eight solid days of work, since I’ve already got it all well-planned and developed. The same is roughly true of the book on publishing; six to ten long, hard days of dedicated work and I could have a first draft complete, from where I’ve already got it. The work would be intense, draining work, and would require me to (somehow) overcome the worst elements of my own insanity; what I have been trying to figure out is whether, if I actually applied myself and accomplished those things, would I have the time needed to get either (or preferably both) projects ready for sale in time for Phoenix Comicon. All that extra work I listed off in the second paragraph – can it be completed and the finished books delivered to my hands before the end of May? And if so, is it worth it to me to try to do so?

If I set myself to these tasks/goals, to this deadline, the aspect most at risk for being potentially short-changed is the editing/rewrites. Getting people, even family and close friends, to read a single book and give feedback (even just basic spelling & grammar, to say nothing of content) in as little as a week or two tends to be a huge fight and to carry a significant attrition rate. I dread sending out two (or worse, three) books with the intention of getting meaningful feedback on any limited timeline, for free. I don’t know how long professional editors would take to do the work, but I know I can’t afford such a thing right now. There are some other parts of the work I can accomplish while waiting for feedback, such as cover design, or working on the other title, but if I expect to incorporate any meaningful changes to the text, the bigger time-sink of recording the audiobook has to wait. I can probably start fundraising before completing the final edits of the text, which helps even out the timeline, some.

Let’s see what the hard deadline would be… Phoenix Comicon runs May 24-27 (Memorial Day Weekend, except without the Memorial Day), which means I’d want to have any items for sale there on hand no later than Tuesday the 22nd, for booth setup Wednesday. LSI typically takes about a week from when I send them the files before they approve a title for printing, then another 3-5 days to print, then I have them shipped via UPS Ground (because shipping heavy things like cases of books any faster is prohibitively expensive), so to be conservative I need to submit the files three weeks before I need the books on hand, at the latest. That means I have to have the book ready for print on or before May 1st.

Yow. 90 days.

If I go mad (in a good, hard-working way) for the next couple/few weeks, I can finish at least the vampire books by the end of next week, and possibly all three books the week after that, and get them to my Beta Readers before mid-February. I’ll need not less than a week after I think I’m done editing the book to work through the audio version, probably at least two weeks, plus time to make final changes to the layouts & text after that, so I should say I need to be done polishing the text by mid-April. That doesn’t sound so bad.

Of course, if I continue to have trouble focusing, trouble writing for long periods, or writing at reasonable rates, even with significant daily work it could take me until mid-March to finish the first drafts. Ugh.

What if I need significant re-writes? These books are important to me. Important that they express what I want them to express, even to casual readers. Not so important that they read like mainstream fiction… they’re not even in the same realm as that. But important to me that they’re good, that they do what they set out to do. Tell the stories they were meant to tell. I don’t know. I don’t really even know how to do re-writes. (Ooh; I’ve just added another chapter/chunk’s beginning to the book on writing/publishing, about my editing/rewriting process, or lack thereof.) If my Beta Readers all come back to me saying something like “we don’t really believe Emily is in love with Nicholas; you have to show it, make us feel it, it isn’t there”, or “we couldn’t buy in to anything Nicholas and his group were doing; it was obvious you disagreed with everything he had to say or tried to do”, I may just have a total breakdown, as that would mean most everything I’ve worked so hard to accomplish (in one of the books) I had failed at, compromising the work straight to the core. I might have to take another year on the re-writes, or I might just publish as-is, with the admission that I’m a shitty writer… I don’t know where my emotional collapse would leave me, after excellent feedback like that. (Although, really, I’m just kidding myself with ideas like that; I have never in my life received feedback of that caliber. I don’t know whether it’s because the people reading my books understand my intent and I’m actually doing what I meant to do, or whether my goals were so far beyond the beyond that no one even know what was wrong, and that I’ve secretly, quietly, been a dismal failure all these years. (On the other hand, based on the comments in the worst of my reviews, the one and two star reviews, the single-sentence reviews, the reviews from people who admit they quit reading in under 50 pages… the things those people hate about them are generally all the things that were so important to me to accomplish, or were at least intentional. Not failures of writing, but failure of readers to appreciate what the author was setting out to do. The polarizing effect of my work has become quite encouraging, lately.)) I feel like time is my enemy, at times.

Still, even with worst-case responses, if I can get any meaningful feedback out of people within a month of sending them my books, even that should give me enough time to accomplish significant rewrites, if necessary. Whole chapters, or plot-lines, could be replaced in the time remaining… So I suppose that’s what I’ll have to do. Start applying myself. Intensely. Finish three books’ first drafts in the next three weeks, and have them ready for publication within the next three months.

I’d be tempted to find some money in the budget to order a bunch of modafinil, but I suspect that, if all goes to plan, I’ll be done (or very nearly done) with the most intense part of the work before the drugs arrived from my international pharmacy. If I didn’t have an unnatural aversion to 1) seeing doctors and 2) dishonesty, I’d be much better off convincing a local doctor to write me a prescription for the stuff, and picking it up at my local pharmacy the same day. Somehow, violating federal and international laws bothers me less than either of the things involved in obtaining modafinil the way I’m supposed to. Oh, well. If I had modafinil on hand, I wouldn’t have even had to question any of this, as getting this level of work done would become nearly trivial. *sigh*

I’d better go get to work.

NaNoWriMo ’11, et cetera

Been quiet around here, lately. It’s November, which means NaNoWriMo. This year is my tenth year participating in NaNoWriMo, and at this point it’s my sixth win, though I didn’t meet my personal goal. As I’ve written about before, I’m working on two new novels, a duology. Two books set in the same world, around the same time, but telling two different stories to illuminate different perspectives on a sort of SciFi/Paranormal/Dystopian/Utopian/Vampire world I’ve been working on for about the last year; I’d set myself the goal of writing both books this month, for NaNoWriMo. (Technically, the goal is to write any one novel, of at least fifty thousand words, between November 1st and November 30th. That’s relatively easy for me, so depending on what else I’m doing, I like to set myself variations on the goal, though I’ve never actually succeeded when I set the goal at writing two books.)

When I started outlining the first book, a few days before November, I determined that at least the first book wanted to be over 65k words. Because of what I’m planning on doing with them, I want the books to be roughly the same length. Consequently, my word count goal for the month was set at, roughly, one hundred and thirty thousand words. Which is about 4,334 words/day, every day. I kept up a pretty good pace for the first week, almost ten days, then began to taper off. This was largely due to difficult things taking place in the story, but once I’d lost my momentum, around 50k words, actually, I wasn’t able to regain it. Different things kept happening, coming up, interrupting, et cetera. I didn’t finish the first book, yet. I wrote to the point that one of the main characters from the other book is introduced – I need to know what he’s like, what he’s been going through, where he’s at, and how the events about to take place in Sophia’s story are going to affect Emily in hers before I can write them. So I stopped that one and started working on the other.

The outline for that one seemed to imply that it wants to be shorter, which is especially frustrating since Sophia’s story seems to have gone even longer, currently on track for somewhat over 70k words. We’ll have to wait and see how that one actually ends up, but so far the chapters want to be short, too, which is frustrating – but maybe later chapters will want to be longer. Meh. I’m sure it’ll all work out alright. When I get around to writing it. Probably slowly over the next month or so. I predict a lot of workdays writing. Maybe not 5k-10k words/day, but some.

It’s more important to me to get the books written well than to stress out over any artificial deadlines. I recently determined that, by the time I’m done working on these two books, I’ll have spent around a thousand hours on them, between research, planning, writing, editing, recording/editing, and publishing them. Trying to rush any part of the process for books I’m investing so much time in seems inappropriate. So, I’m trying to get back into the right frame of mind for writing these books. This one is a tough one, for a whole stack of reasons I’ve mentioned on Google+ as I run into them, but I’m dedicated to doing it, and doing it well.

Anyway, I’m over 60k words so far on the novels this month, so I’m a “winner” of NaNoWriMo. I may write more this week, depending on what else is going on, perhaps another 10k-20k words… but I don’t expect to finish the first drafts of the two novels for at least several more weeks. If you’re interested in helping me with them, in becoming a ‘Beta Reader’ of my unfinished books, to give me feedback on them before I move into the final editing/layout/recording stages, comment or email me, and I’ll add you to the list, then send you copies of the books when I’m finished writing them.

Piling on the challenges

Well, I started. Interestingly, I started work on my new interactive comic project the same way I began work on The Second Untrue Trilogy, last year: in Vegas, while my wife was attending an educators conference… I had three days where, during conference hours (roughly 8-4), I had almost literally no distractions from my work and nothing else I needed to accomplish and virtually no internet access, and I started from a blank page on a project I expect to take a huge chunk of time and effort. The final aspect of The Second Untrue Trilogy’s work wasn’t completed until almost a full year after it began, with the posting of the final episode of the audio version of Book Six on Podiobooks.com, and as I expect to explain in this post, the project I’ve just begun will probably take me even longer.

By the end of the first day, I had basically nailed down the core idea and the story structure I wanted to use, as well as some detailed characters and settings, some of them well-visualized for the comic. I had ideas about exactly how the possibilities of multi-touch interaction combined with some limited animation and the infinite canvas could be used to more fully immerse the reader in the story while also being invaluable to conveying the inner lives of the characters as well as the exterior spaces which represent such a significant part of the protagonist’s journey. The next two days were spent filling in the story details, outlining, doing research on recent history and on interstellar physics, plus some preliminary sketching, and by the time Mandy was done with her final session I had a plan for every “page” of the comic, good ideas about the “panels” they’ll each be composed of, and excellent ideas about the transitions / interactions between them. Continue reading Piling on the challenges