Looking Forward

I was hoping to discuss how the most recent convention/play test/Probability Angels RPG marketing thing went, but it’s getting late and @Rolling20s is still on the road and I won’t be getting a full debriefing in time to write this.

Chalk that up to poor time management on my part. I forgot what day of the week it was due to the three day weekend. That counts as poor time management, right?

Anyway, I do have some information. One play test was undertaken at the convention and the few players involved had a ton of fun. However, we appeared to have picked a convention that wasn’t ideal, it was difficult for @Rolling20s to get players for our particular type of game, and the first session had to be outright cancelled. So he bailed and headed north to meet up with some friends in the Baltimore area. These friends were definitely the right kind of gamers and he was guaranteed a good play test with a full table (there were only two players at the session he was able to run).

I feel like I should have a map on the site with a “Where’s @Rolling20s?” pin on it or something.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve heard except for some tweets here and there. I’ll do a full breakdown next post.

In other news, I will be undertaking another book tour in a couple of months.

I did a book tour back in the fall and was, frankly, underwhelmed. I was confused most of the time, did not feel like my hostess was promoting my book as much as she was cramming it into any site that would take it, I answered a humongous set of questions that have yet to appear anywhere and, well, it didn’t do much for me sales-wise.

This was, again, mostly my fault. I wanted to see what these book tours were all about and I tried a very very cheap one. I got what I paid for, but I did learn how they work and that I really enjoy answering interview questions.

For awhile now I’ve been toying with the idea of doing another one if I could find the right host, but that was an absolute nightmare.

I’m not sure if you’re aware of this but people on the internet are insane. When I contacted book tour sites people were writing back in all caps, people were writing back in gibberish, people were writing six emails in one day and then not responding to me ever again. One lady seemed okay, but then she promised me that if I hired her I would get the number one spot on Google for the search term “urban fantasy author.” That’s a big red flag. It says, over and over again, in Google’s how-to pages and webmaster pages that no one can ever guarantee a top slot. Ever. I asked this lady what she had meant by her email, giving her a chance to explain herself, and she replied, “It’s a secret,” and then used some emoticon I’ve never seen before.

However, just as I was about to give up, I tried one more site that offers internet book tours and was completely blown away. I was contacted professionally and promptly, and when I did manage to set some time aside for a phone call all of my trick questions were answered correctly. The woman who runs the business was smart, kind, and, most importantly maybe, wildly enthusiastic about marketing books.

So I have that little adventure to look forward to in the coming months.

Otherwise my life has been boring and cold with a few showers of postseason football.

 

The $.99 Price Point in Publishing

ninety nine cent booksThere have been a lot of articles recently, and not so recently, about how much e-books should cost. Obviously this will always be up for debate, but over the course of last year somehow Kindle self-publishers landed at $.99 as the correct answer for now.

Why $.99? Well for starters that’s the lowest you can go. There’s also a lot of allure in those double digits to the right of the decimal point. Something priced at $1 seems, somehow to our brains, to be much more expensive than something priced $.99.

iTunes and the iStore probably have a lot to do with it, too. $.99 has been their reigning price point for awhile now (though individual songs are creeping back up) and I think it just makes sense to people that digital whatzimahoos should be $.99.

As I mentioned, there’s been a lot of dicussion about this. Some people think it’s good idea, there’s a nice breakdown from earlier last year over at CNET.

Some people think it’s a horrible idea, this article from the Huffington Post thinks $.99 cent books are going to undermine the market and cause a price war that will never end.

I’m not here to discuss the ins and outs of this too much. I’m just here to say that no matter what people think, or write, or preach, or argue, or believe, the fact is simply that $.99 IS the price point for Kindle books.

How do I know?

Because I dropped the price of Probability Angels to $.99 a few weeks ago and I’ve sold more copies since then than I did all of last year. I do have a new ad campaign running based on this price drop, but I’ve run ad campaigns before and never seen results like this.

Is this good? Is this bad?

How should I know? But it is what it is and reality can never be ignored, no matter how pretty your arguments are.

Frankly, I’m of the opinion that future authors will generate revenue from a wide variety of sources, and not just on royalties from book sales, so I’m not particularly worried.

Plus, as I mentioned, the price of music is creeping back up so I don’t entirely think $.99 is the permanent price for an e-book.

But it IS the price of e-books right now.

Full stop.

Progress in Self-Publishing? Maybe…

Progress in Self-Publishing

I think I spotted a ray of hope for self-publishers this morning.

A lot of days I sit at my computer doing nothing more than trying to get people to pay attention to me. And not in a fun, “Look at me I’m wearing a lampshade on my head!” sort of way. In a repetative, mindless, grind known as cold-emailing.

I have numerous Google Alerts set up for terms that have something to do with my books: “Urban Fantasy,” “Independent Reviewers,” “Genre Tweaking Novels Where a Ronin Saves a Roman Slave From Being Burned to Death by Isaac Newton.”

Surprisingly that last one doesn’t prompt a lot of responses.

What I do get a lot of, though, are blogs and sites which review books or interview authors. And I sit here and send off email after email asking for reviews or an interview or a write-up. And then nothing happens.

It’s awesome. Really. Tons of fun.

This seemed like a great idea to me when I started, and it still seems like a necessary panning for gold sort of task, but very quickly the sites I was coming across began to fall into three categories.

They were either:

1. Tiny blogs with few readers who were happy to promote any book that anyone emailed to them.

2. Gibberish spewed by lunatics and organized by a somewhat artistically inclined orangutan.

3. A large, well-established blog that would take review requests but *would never review self-published titles.*

This last category always killed me. I mean, I know why they don’t review self-published books. Self-published books suck for the most part. I stand proudly in a class of authors that could be out-written by a somewhat artistically inclined orangutan if he wasn’t so swamped with requests to design new websites.

Except…except there are also authors like me. Authors who are self-published by choice. Authors who have a growing base of loyal fans because we take our work seriously, know what we’re doing, and are simply a natural offshoot of a massively flooded book market. Some of us with talent were bound to try out this self-publishing thing.

But the fact that this choice automatically shuts me out from some of the larger reviewing blogs is irritating and I always think that it would be nice if there were some caveats to their review requirements. Go read my reviews on Amazon; those are real and barely any are from people I know. But no amount of stars, no number of quotes, nothing gets past that wall of *we do not review self-published titles.*

And that’s not good for anyone. These rules have to change because more and more of us authors are trying end-arounds behind traditional publishers and, while much of the resulting pile will likely remain crap, some of that pile is going to be quality work published in a manner that will be commonplace in a decade.

So, basically the world needs to change in order to make me right. No problem.

But then, this morning, DUN DUN DUNNNN…I came across this site:

The Book Pushers

Their review policy reads as follows: “Previously we had a policy of not reviewing any self published books on the blog. This has now changed. We will be reviewing self published books, but we will only be reviewing copies that we have solicited or bought ourselves. This is due to the vast number of self published titles that are out there.”

So I still can’t technically approach them with my book, but they do review self-published novels!

Victory?

Not even close.

Hope?

Smells a bit like it, yes.

 

Probability Angels Role Playing Game

Playing HeroWhile noodling over the results of sending my friend @Rolling20s to a gaming convention to do some marketing, which you can read about here, a lot of ideas have been tossed around. Some in my head, some with @Rolling20s in conversation, some with my tarot card masseuse.

One very fun idea has taken root and will become a full grown idea tree in the coming months. @Rolling20s and I are going to put together a one-off adventure for him to run at gaming conventions of Probability Angels as a Role Playing Game.

Players will get to step into the shoes of a tester, or a rotted thing, or a Guardathing, or…well whatever they want, that’s sort of the point of a role playing game, and play around in the world of Matthew and Epp. Actually, I’ll amend that even though it’s only one sentence old: since this is a one-off adventure there will only be a few set characters for people to play and, no, nobody gets to play any of the main characters.

But for the adventure I have in mind it should be a fun mix of personalities which then get inhabited by a fun mix of real people *playing* those personalities as they interpret them, and then dice get rolled. Also, players will, in the current plan anyway, be interacting with some of the higher up muckity mucks of my world. Possibly with an ex-samurai. Possibly.

Even though it’s still in rough draft form it has been a great creative stretch to do this. I’ve never made a game before so there’s a fun freedom involved. However, I want this to carry the mood and tone of the books so there’s a lot of pressure too. I had to learn a dice system, we’re using FATE if you’re curious, which took some time to get familiar with. And currently I’m very slowly figuring how best to represent the various quirks, attacks, quantum mechanics, philosophies and such in a playable game involving dice.

Weird but definitely fun overall.

For example, while brainstorming player skills, I just started writing down phrases that sounded like they fit in with the world of Matthew and Epp.

Some player skills that have already been discarded (or were written down at 3 AM and proved to be utter nonsense in the morning) are:

Condensed Gravity

Ocular Manipulation

Quark Magnetics

Bone Spur

Atomic Humonculous

So…yeah. This should be hella fun by the end.

 

 

Probability Angels – Now with More Pumpkins!!!

PumpkinsOn the one block walk to get my coffee this morning I was assaulted by no less than three different adds all telling me that someone was selling their normal products, only now they was crammed ass-full of pumpkin. You’ve got pumpkin coffees at Starbucks, pumpkin muffins at the corner muffin place, pumpkin doughnuts at Dunkin.

Everyone’s suddenly fucking nuts for pumpkins.

I mean, I understand why, the whole winter gourd phenomenon isn’t a new thing, but the sheer number of pumpkins being crammed into my eyeballs during a one block walk got me thinking.

Maybe I should try and cash in on this…

So I’m releasing a special edition copy of Probability Angels, only it’s got pumpkins all over the motherfucking place.

Probapumpkin Pumpkins

And we’re not stopping with mere cosmetic changes to the cover. Hell no.

You all remember that early scene where Matthew goes to meet Epp in the park? Epp has the tape set up and Matthew steps into it and watches as sound drops away and a lone firefly freezes in time?

Guess what. Now it’s got fucking pumpkins everywhere:

The first difference was as immediate as it was obvious. All noise ceased. Also pumpkins were all over the place. Pumpkins…luscious, sexy, orange pumpkins everywhere. It was like a god-damned pumpkin D-day. As Matthew straightened himself up there was no more wind in the trees, no more muffled sounds of traffic from Central Park West. You know what there were, though? There were some pumpkins all over the fucking place. He continued walking down the path that had pumpkins on it, the second change slowly sinking in as he realized he was no longer walking through a post-midnight darkness. And also he realized how many pumpkins there were. The air was now mellower, lighter, like it was only a little past dusk. You know what color the sky is around dusk? It’s orange. Like a certain winter gourd that right now you wish you could bake down, puree, fill a hot tub with, and sink into like some crazy-ass spa treatment. Then he stopped short and walked a slow circle around a single point of light, smiling as he recognized a firefly, its bottom flashing electric green, frozen in time, hovering in the air. Probably there were some pumpkins here, too. I don’t know. Fuck it, the firefly’s name was Pumpkin. How’s that? He reached a finger up and slowly pointed it towards the glowing beetle, was about to tap it to see what would happen when a voice spoke up behind him.

“Pumpkins.”

Matthew jumped and turned, then smiled and shook his head. “Jesus, Epp, you scared the hell out of me. And why are you slathered in that gross orange mucous crap that’s inside of pumpkins while wearing a pumpkin-orange suit and eating a slice of pumpkin pie and standing on a pumpkin and reading the scene from Cinderella where her stagecoach turns back into a pumpkin?”

Thrilling, isn’ t it?

This version should be hitting stores soon…

Experiment Results

Last week I talked about a little experiment being run by me and a Twitter friend, @Rolling20s. You can read about it in detail here, but the short of it was that @Rolling20s attended Con on the Cob, subsidized by me, and ran a vendor table there selling all things Matthew and Epp.

Here’s the table:

Matthew and Epp table

Frankly I think it looked awesome. As you can see there are the books, some magnets leftover from giveaways, and I also printed up various works of fan art that have come my way through the fan art contests or stuff I’ve commissioned.

The results?

We sold 13 books, a few magnets, and a print or two. The entire weekend came in at a net loss of around $400.

Clearly not a home run, but was it worth it? I’ll get into that in the next paragraph. I will say this, though, I once purchased an ad on Amazon that cost well over $400, ran for a month, and resulted in exactly 1 sale. So this experiment was not a home run, no, but it’s nowhere near the worst idea I’ve ever tried.

Okay, dissection time.

This was, without a doubt, totally worth it. For a first attempt 13 sales is respectable, plus I expect a few more sales to trickle in from people who @Rolling20’s spoke to throughout the weekend. First attempts at anything are going to be clusterfuck’s, that’s just how it is. You can’t expect to walk into a game you’ve never played before and get the high score your first time through. That’s just asinine.

Far more important than the actual book sales was the Skype conversation I had with @Rolling20’s last night recapping the weekend. I am damned lucky to have him as a fan because he’s a natural salesman and we work well together. Plus, we have a near perfect win-win relationship set up. He loves attending conventions rife with one of my target audiences, gamers, and is happy to continue trying to sell my books in order to defray the costs of his convention addiction. And I, obviously, am happy to have a salesman out there pushing my stuff at said conventions.

Attractive Woman with Business CardThis is, ironically, where two of our biggest mistakes occured this time around. First of all, and this was such a boneheaded mistake I can’t even…ugh…but first of all I never managed to get business cards to @Rolling20’s. He had nothing to hand out to people he chatted with, nothing to give to people who came up to the table, nothing for potential costumers to slip into their jacket pockets and pull out a few days later to cement my name in their head. I waited to order cards until I chatted over their design with @Rolling20’s and by the time we managed to chat it was too late to get him cards. Just a dunderheaded move on my part, but I have a problem pulling the trigger on ideas if I haven’t bounced them off of someone first. I honestly think business cards would have made a massive impact on post-convention sales.

The second thing we did wrong, and this is going to sound weird, but we put @Rolling20’s at a vendor table for most of the day. Oddly, this may have been the worst way to go about selling books. Foot traffic was low and the people wandering through the vendor hall tended to have set destinations in mind. I’m learning that every convention is different, but I think I was picturing more of a sidewalk fair mentality. We have those a lot here in New York, you’ll be strolling to the drug store and suddenly you’ll be in the middle of a smorgasbord of tables selling all kinds of crap. And you slow your feet down and you dawdle and you maybe buy a jar of honey, or something, that you in no way set out to buy on your way to the drug store. You wind up enjoying the browsing aspect of things and almost all the booths have a little crowd of spontaneous browsers around them.

Street Fair

I’m learning that this is not what conventions are like. Some people browse, yes, but a lot of people head to the booths they’re excited to see. Maybe Company X has a new product out and they just want to see that before moving into the convention hall to mingle and game.

Plus, again, foot traffic was slow. I trust @Rolling20’s retail abilities and, having having talked to him a ton, know that he gets the symbiotic nature of our relationship: the worse one of us does, the lower the odds are of us teaming up again (I mean for conventions, pal, not general chat and gaming and stuff 🙂 ). So I know he was actively engaging with any potential sales that wandered by, and yet he said he spent a lot of time with nothing to do and being bored. There was just no one there to sell to. Frankly, hearing his recap of the vendor hall activity, 13 books sounds like a heroic accomplishment.

Both of us came to the agreement that this might have worked better if we had just set him loose (WITH business cards) to be his normal charming self and an active representative of Joseph Devon Industries chatting up our products. This would have gotten word out far more and deducted the cost of the vendor table from the weekend. Not to mention @Rolling20’s would have enjoyed his weekend more. Again, symbiotic. The fact that he was bored most of the weekend is a negative for both of us.

That was lesson one, my main instrument of sales, @Rolling20’s himself, was poorly misused.

Lesson two was…confusing. I sent off the prints of art and the magnets purely for marketing purposes, just to dress up the table and maybe to giveaway to people who bought books. Somehow some of this stuff wound up selling. That baffles me. The fact that someone would buy a magnet with a quote from a book they’ve never read on it is just weird. To be honest, I have yet to figure out what that means, but it means something. Plus I have to believe that someone who sees my magnet on their fridge every day will, eventually, check out the book itself. I also have solid proof that the quotes I chose for the magnets are winners. But there’s some other idea on how to use this information that’s niggling away at my brain, it hasn’t quite solidified yet, though.

Epp's Watch, by Jack DaviesThe prints selling was surprising but not confusing at all. I know that all my fan artists rock and I love their works, that’s why I sent them along, I knew they would be eye catchers. But those were lower quality prints that I made up at Kinko’s on a complete whim. And yet some of them sold. And not only did some of them sell, but they represented, by far, the largest profit margin at the table. Now, technically, I own the rights to some of those for marketing purposes only. But you better believe I will be sending emails out to all my artists asking for the rights to sell their work for a percentage of profits. And just like that a revenue stream I never saw coming with the potential for a higher profit margin than my books themselves has popped up. That was a big win.

So, 13 books and some magnets and a print or two at a $400 loss.

Sounds horrible when you only look at the numbers, but when you try something like this you need to be realistic. You need to understand that the learning curve is frighteningly steep. You need to realize that you’re spending money to gain information. And you need to get your business cards ordered earlier (by the way, 500 business cards costs, like, $20 over at Vistaprint. If you don’t have some, get some).

You also need to be able to take a risk like this, get clobbered, and get back up again.

Plans are already in the works for @Rolling20’s next convention appearance.

Cheaper, better prepared, better used…and with business cards.