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Brendan Detzner's Journal

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4/13/17 03:33 pm - The Plan

Just a quick note here that I haven't forgotten about finishing up this little blog series here. I've got a new project coming out in the next couple of weeks, and I'll be a lot better informed once I see how the release goes. Thanks for the patience, everybody.

3/18/17 06:07 am - Le Project continued

Picking up where we left off, $700 a year in the hole and adding in other revenue sources.

SHORT STORY SALES/CONTESTS

As ever, this is a complete crapshoot. It's a rare year that I don't pick up at least twenty bucks from short story sales. Every so often I pick up a couple hundred bucks, but no more than that. Let's be generous and say I pick up a hundred dollars a year on average? That puts me at $600 a year behind.

Another way of changing things around in such a way that I could get into the black almost immediately would be to just write short stories. I'd make the occasional buck from getting them published, put out an anthology occasionally (grabbing the rights to pre-existing art, which is pretty cheap), and could probably figure out a way to keep the Patreon going. The thing that makes me hesitate to do that is that I don't think you can attract a crowd that way. The audience for short stories is cool and sophisticated and intelligent, but they don't follow you back to the source. Fans of a particular magazine or podcast are basically fans of that magazine or podcast. If you appear again in that venue and they liked your work the last time they'll be excited, but that's about as far as it goes. I thought the "Beasts" collection would get a sales bump when a story from the collection appeared in Podcastle, for instance, but I sold zero copies that week.

It's worth mentioning that getting published in classy markets put out by dedicated people is an honor in and of itself. Not everything needs to be about money, or even about building an audience. It can also be a force multiplier to have a track record of getting published in big markets (it can look good on a blurb, for instance). It just won't get you any further than that.

PAPERBACK SALES

I sell a few books a year to people at my reading series, a couple of other events, and consignment at a couple of friendly independent bookstores. Let's be conservative and call that $50 a year, which is about what I did in 2016 not counting conventions and other experiments that cost more than I made selling the books. That puts us at $550 for the year.

It would be great if I could make more money this way. I've experimented with selling books at dealers and artist's alley tables at conventions (both the "all weekend in a hotel" and the "one-day farmer's market for nerds" styles) without ever selling enough books to justify the time, money, and travel. This seems to be par for the course. The only creative folks who seem to make money working tables seem to be arts-and-crafts types who make relatively cheap items based on popular culture. There are a couple of approaches I haven't tried yet (hopping between doing panels and the dealer's room at a weekend con instead of doing one-or-the-other, splitting a table with friends and making it more of an event, seeking out free shows at public libraries more aggressively), but for now this appears to be a dead end.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Tamale Hut Cafe Presents reading series in lovely North Riverside, IL. Every time I'm featured at that show, I sell a fat stack of books and have a great time on top of it. If I could do a show like that once a month, it would change my whole deal, and I'd cheerfully travel.


Let's stop there for now. $550 a year down, a little less than $50 a month. I'll pick things up next time talking about e-book sales, which is where I really start to have conflicts.

3/15/17 11:42 pm - Further updates on The Project

So when last we left our hero, he (meaning me) had fixed (if not unchangeable) expenses or about $105 dollars a month, $1260 a year. Time to talk about revenues. These break down into four, sort of five, different food groups.

PATREON

SHORT STORY SALES/CONTESTS

PAPERBACK SALES

E-BOOK SALES


and kinda/sorta COMMISSIONED WORK if you want to count that. Let's work through these one at a time.

PATREON

This has been may main source of writing-to-money success over the last 18 months or so. You can check out the page for yourself right here. As of right now, every 10000 words I write nets me $81 on Patreon out of $87 pledged. This is a good incentive to try and get my output up to a steady 120000 words a year, but so far life has gotten in the way, so let's assume I stick with ten payouts a year. That gets me up to $810 dollars a year, but I also have to take care of backer rewards (mostly printing and shipping paperbacks). Those costs wobble, but if I'm putting out two paperbacks a year I think $250 for the twelve months is a good estimate. So that's $560 a year from the Patreon, reducing my yearly money hole to $700.

As of right now, my Patreon backers can be roughly divided into three groups: Family, Friends, and new fans from Instafreebie. These groups are equal in terms of head count (if not necessarily in terms of money pledged). I've got a lot of relatives, and their support means the world to me, but I'm hoping that as time goes on the proportion of backers that share my last name goes down. I don't feel quite as anxious about the Friends category, if for no other reason than because almost all of my social life revolves around reading series and other writerfolk, and I don't think that anyone who's decided to back me is doing it just to be nice.

The third category has been the biggest surprise for me. The way building a mailing list is supposed to work is that you get the e-mails of as many potentially-interested people as you can, send out an e-mail when you release a book, and then get your book purchased by some of the people who get the e-mail. This hasn't really worked for me at all (a situation I'll discuss further once I start talking about e-book sales), but ever since I set up the Patreon two releases ago I've found that every release leads to a $5-$10 increase in support, mostly from people I've never met who have never contacted me before.

I've got another story coming out in a few weeks, and I'll be interested in seeing if this pattern continues. If it does, that obviously has some implications. It's also worth noting that if I shut down my Instafreebie and switched to a free mailing list service I could get my fixed costs down to $600 a year, which would almost put me in the black all by itself. I don't think this is a good option while traffic from Instafreebie is still causing my Patreon to grow, but it's worth keeping in mind. I could also fast-forward to the break even point by not paying as much for book covers, but that's feels like a risk also, for reasons I'll explain further.

I'll stop for now, still $700 in the hole for the year. I'll touch on my other 3-4 sources of revenue in my next installment.

3/13/17 06:49 pm - Update on The Project

Those windmills think they've gotten the better of Brendan Detzner, but let's see if they're still smirking after this next pass. Onward, noble steed!

Yeah, I'm still trying to make money by making up stories. It's been a while since I posted one of these share-the-knowledge posts. I've been in a "see how things play out" kind of a place for the last few months, but it's getting to the point where I have a few decisions to make and it'll be helpful to get the state of my union down in writing. I'm sharing it because there's still a lot of bullshit pertaining to self-publishing on the internet. I have a lot of writer-friends and I don't want anyone to be losing opportunities because I didn't share information. I also especially don't want to be projecting a false image of success. I'd feel bad if anyone made the leap I've made on the basis of thinking that I'm doing better than I am.

So here's how things look. We'll start with expenses. I've been releasing a new project every three months for almost two years now. Even considering that some of those releases have been novellas and not full novels, that's not a pace I'll be able to continue forever. I've been able to write about 100K finalized words a year at my current pace. When I've tried to increase my pace, I've ended up having to spend more time revising and have pretty much ended back where I started, so let's assume that future improvements are going to go towards quality rather than quantity. That means that once things settle down I'll be able to put out about two books a year. Using the sneaky free copy-editing trick I mentioned in my last post, that means that my main unavoidable expense in putting those books out is book covers, which at the moment average out to about $300 a pop. So book covers cost about $600 a year.

My other two main subscriptions are my Mailchimp account (which manages my mailing list) and my Instafreebie account (which is overwhelmingly where my mailing list signups come from). Not paying for these any more is an option, but has consequences I'll talk about later. Mailchimp costs me $25 a month and might cost more eventually once my list gets big enough. Instafreebie costs $20 a month, plus about $10 a month in advertising/promotion so that I get enough people taking my free stuff and joining my mailing list to make it worth it. That's about $55 a month, which adds up to $660.

So my baseline expenses are $1260 a year, $105 dollars a month. There are plenty of other things to spend money on, specifically advertising and conventions, but I'm becoming cynical about both and in any case they're easy expenses to scale up or down at will, so let's stick with book covers plus mailing list for right now. There are also ways these fixed expenses could be reduced or eliminated depending on whatever the New Plan ends up being. I'll talk about those as they come up. I'll also talk about the costs involved in printing up paperbacks. For right now, let's just say that I'm $105 a month in the hole before I start making any money.

Good stopping point, I think. Next time we talk revenue.
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8/28/16 02:39 pm - self-publishing best practices update

Hey folks! I've been a busy bee getting my ducks in a row for my next book release, and I'm realizing that my list of expenses for a new book releases is very different now than the one I posted a few months ago, and considerably cheaper. I know there are a few friends of mine keeping track of what I'm doing, and I want to make sure that the information I make available is up to date. There are lots of things I'm still figuring out, so when there's a problem I have yet to crack I'll be honest about it, but I've gotten ahold of a lot of

There are four major expenses you need to deal with when you put a book out: the cover, editing, formatting, and promotion.

*I'm still figuring out where and how to get the best book covers, and even how to evaluate if a cover will or will not sell books, but one thing I'm confident about is that while you can get a cover for less than twenty bucks (or free with some Photoshop-fu), quality still costs. I'm continuing to budget 300-400 clams per cover, and if that changes it'll be because I can afford to spend more.

*I had been paying for e-book formatting after getting frustrated with all the home-brew options, but I've found that Scrivener does a great job and isn't hard to use, so I'll be doing it myself that way from now on. Even better, Scrivener is free for the first 30 discrete days of use, so if you only use it to make e-books and get the job done over the course of a day you're not paying anything for your first 30 releases.

*Proofreading (and to a lesser extent line editing) is now free. It takes kind of a sketchy trick to make this work, but if you're making a bid for respectability you might be in the wrong place. There's a service called Tutor.com that you can use for free at many public libraries. You don't even need to go in person, you can access it from your library's web site. The proofreading feature on Tutor.com is meant for academic papers, but it works just fine if you send in your manuscript in five-to-ten page chunks. I've tried this with the rough drafts of books I already paid to have edited, and found that I actually got better results with two passes through tutor.com than I got with a fairly expensive editing service.

*Promotion is still something that I'm figuring out. Book Barbarian and Fussy Librarian are still good investments, as is Bookbub if you can get them to accept you. I've also heard good things about Book Butterfly, although I haven't had a chance to try them out yet, and plan on doing more direct advertising on Amazon when the school year is rolling again and I've got a little more spare cash. Not all of those things necessarily have to happen right when the book gets released, however, and I'm wondering if it makes more sense to think of them as ongoing expenses, rather than things you do right when the book comes out and then cease to worry about.

So that's it. The good news is that these changes make the initial release of each project considerably less expensive. The bad news is that there are more ongoing expenses, but the bad news isn't actually that bad. If you've got any questions or have had luck with any methods I haven't mentioned here, please let me know!

Back to writing now. Chugachugachuga.

-B
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7/27/16 12:59 pm

See, this is why I'm not great at blogging. I can go weeks without thinking of anything I care to share and when I do think of something worth talking about briefly it takes me a week to finish talking about it. Anyway, the more that I think about all those other bullet points that were on my mind, they mostly tend to boil down to this:

*People aren't going to buy a book if they don't feel like they know what it is.

There's a lot of fear in profit-motivated self-publishing circles of not giving people exactly what they want and expect. I'm not that profit-motivated, but even if I was I'm starting to think that the real enemy isn't just "doing something different." It's doing something people don't immediately understand. You can do something different, but you need to be able to explain what it is that you're doing differently in one quick burst. If someone scans your cover and skims your blurb and still isn't quite sure what the hell this thing they're holding is, that's when they're almost certainly going to move on.

This has definitely affected planning for my future projects. It hasn't even been a conscious decision on my part. Ever since I first had to sit down and try to write cover letters for literary agents, I've found myself trying to plan my elevator-pitch in advance before I even start writing something. This means that I probably won't be using the messy "start working and figure out where this wants to go" method that produced White Rabbit Society again any time soon, for better or for worse.


So, what's the plan at this point? Here's what I have in the trunk of my car:

The next installment of "The Orphan Fleet" (entitled "The Hidden Lands"), all ready to go with a release date (this October) and a commissioned cover and everything.

Part two of "White Rabbit Society", all ready to go with a release date (January) and a commissioned cover and everything.

Almost enough short stories to fill up another collection. One or two more stories should do the trick.

One and a half Charlie Harmer novels with no particular release plan, with plenty of ideas for more installments.

A couple of ideas for new series, basically living in the same dark fantasy/horror kind of space as "White Rabbit Society" and the Charlie Harmer stories.

And of course I'm still producing.

If I had all of this to do again with perfect knowledge of the future and the ability to fly and turn invisible, I'm still not sure how I'd handle all of this. I've deleted this paragraph a couple of times in the process of writing it. I can think of a couple of good courses of action, but the course of action I went with the first time sounded pretty good too. Looking back justnisn't going to help that much.

Moving forward, I still have some time to figure things out, just because my release schedule for the next six months is a done deal. But the short story collections and "The Orphan Fleet" seem to be the things that people are most excited by right now. So for the near future, those are the things I'll be focusing on, and while "White Rabbit Society" had the possibility of being a series, creatively I'm totally fine leaving it where it is, and launching the Charlie Harmer series can wait until the series that I've already got going are each a few books long.

Finally, when it comes to ideas for new series, one of the main things on my mind is that if all goes well I might end up with kind of a fractured fan base. Coming up with something that would sound good both to people who like the weird short stories and people who like the adventure fantasy stories might be a good move. It'd also be kind of a challenge to come up with, but that's the kind of challenge that puts a smile on my face and gets me excited.

So there we all are. Thank you as always for reading- I'm always surprised at how many people tell me that they're interested in this kind of shop talk. Also, if you're interested in seeing what happens when my hand is freed up a little bit, I hope you'll think about swinging by Patreon and becoming a subscriber. Two bucks a month gets you all the paperbacks I'll be putting out, and if you haven't noticed there are going to be a lot of those. There's going to be a lot of neat things happening.

Be well everybody,
Brendan
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7/24/16 06:32 pm - Regrouping part 3

So like I was saying, the problem with my book sales is that I desperately hoped they would look something like this:

______X
____X X
__X X X
X X X X
X X X X
X X X X
X X X X
X X X X
B M O W

And was willing to live with it if they looked something like this:

X X X X
X X X X
X X X X
X X X X
X X X X
B M O W


They have instead ended up looking like this:

X
X
X
X _ X
X X X
B M O W


(Ignore that little underscore there, it's the best that the sophisticated suite of tools Livejournal provides could offer.) So what lessons can we take from this merry little surprise? We'll start with reasons to be optimistic, move on to things I might not like but need to expect moving forward, head over to things that still confuse the hell out of me, and conclude on Things I Would Have Done Differently If I'd Had Perfect Information.

*Beasts has a great cover.

This was one area where working the dealer's room at the convention in Indianapolis was really helpful. Watching people float from one book to another and then eventually arrive at Xavier Nuez's awesome photograph over and over again really cleared this up. All the art I have for my book covers are things I'm really proud to be associated with, but there's apparently a distinction between "great piece of artwork" and "piece of artwork that makes people want to buy a book".

*There's a bigger market for creepy short story collections than I thought.

Hey, it's no Amish romance, but people like different lengths for different genres, and for "funny/creepy/surreal" people like short stories. I happen to be well equipped to produce funny/creepy/surreal short stories, so this is good news. It also seems like the "new book in a series promotes previous books in the series" effect works on series of short story collections just like it does in other genres. This all means that you can be expecting a new collection from me, and maybe subsequent collections, a lot sooner than I'd originally planned.

*All readers, even people who are really into what I'm doing and support me, are not equally interested in every genre that I work in.

There are people who like Beasts who are patiently waiting for me to get this other stuff out of my system so I can give them another collection. There are people who liked The Orphan Fleet who aren't really going to tune back in until they get the sequel (coming in October!). And Millersville had admirers who have no interest in getting anywhere near anything that smells like fantasy or science fiction.

I think this is also the reason my Patreon didn't do as well as I thought it might. This was part of why I was in a bit of a funk a few days ago, but I wasn't sure if I should bring it up, because I didn't want the people who did decide to support me to feel like I didn't appreciate them, which is not the case at all. I also didn't want people who are into what I'm doing but didn't do the Patreon to feel like I didn't appreciate them, because that's not true at all either.

Basically, the big P is for people that want ever single thing I'm putting out, irregardless of genre, and want it right away, which is kind of a lot given the release schedule I've been going ahead with. If that's you (and I'll just go ahead an include that link here), it's a great delivery service that's a little cheaper and much faster than Le Zon. But it's not everybody, and that's totally cool.

And I've gone long again. I'll try to wrap up tomorrowish. Thanks again for being lovely human beings.

-Brendan
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7/22/16 08:21 pm - Regrouping part two

So picking up where we left off, I've released four books since I first decided to start taking self-publishing seriously. In order of their release:

Beasts, my second short story collection, released in print and in e-book.

Millersville, my standalone social technically-science-fiction-but-not-robots-and-jetpacks novel set in a maximum security prison for teenage girls, released in print and in e-book.

The Orphan Fleet, a fantasy novella that is the first of an open-ended series, released in e-book only for right now.

and White Rabbit Society Part One, a very odd and hard to explain horror/dark fantasy story, first of a two-part series (that almost could have been released as one extremely long novel), released in e-book form only for right now.

Of the three, Beasts has been far and away the most successful in terms of reviews and sales. I did lots of things to promote Beasts that turned out to not be cost effective. The particularly expensive one was mailing out lots of print copies to prospective reviewers: running the numbers later showed that reviewers who got a print copy were actually less likely to follow through and leave a review than the reviewers who just got an electronic copy, which was free to make and distribute. If I hadn't given away so many print copies of Beasts it would have just about broken even by now. This is very strange because short story collections are supposed to be non-starters commercially. At the time, I figured that the sales that Beasts got were going to be my floor and that I'd do better with subsequent releases.

Instead, Millersville tanked almost completely, The Orphan Fleet sold a few copies but not nearly enough to pay for the expenses involved in putting it out, and White Rabbit Society completely zeroed. Millersville was never a commercial proposition (as many kind rejection letters from small publishers were kind enough to explain), so I can take the hit there. And even The Orphan Fleet's modest success was promising even as it cost me money, given that it was a genre shift even by my genre-agnostic standards. But I honestly thought that WRS had more going for it than either of those. I mostly have a reputation as horror writer. It's a big old horror novel. Not a novella, not a short-story collection, not a weird literary exercise. It was a big fat coming-of-age story with monsters in it. And nobody bought it.

So what's up? Strictly in terms of sales, I've been losing momentum over the course of the last year, when I expected to be gaining it, so I'd better figure out what's going on. I'd be lying if I said I knew for sure, but I've got some ideas. I'll post again in a couple of days.

-B
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7/21/16 05:40 pm - one more on the pile

Something that's been on my mind a lot lately. The relevant section starts just before the two minute mark (although it's all interesting):



If you're not familiar, DJ Shadow is essentially a collage artist. The majority of his work consists of pieces of other people's work arranged together. The clip is him exploring the gigantic secret basement of a New York record store, full of gigantic piles of old vinyl squeezed next to each other. He has this to say about it:

"Just being in here is a humbling experience to me because you're looking through all these old records, and it's a big pile of broken dreams. Almost none of these artists still have a career, really. So you have to respect that. If you're making records, and you're DJing and putting out releases, you're adding to this pile whether you want to admit it or not. Because ten years down the line, you'll be in here. So keep that in mind when you start thinking I'm invincible or I'm the world's best or whatever, because that's what all these cats thought."

There's a lot to unpack from this quote. It's a little depressing at first glance, but there's more to it than that. I think that the only sane way to justify any kind of creative activity in the long term is to think of yourself as contributing to something bigger than you are. The novel I'm working on will probably be forgotten, and probably sooner rather than later. That's not cynicism, it's statistics. But there should be new novels, and they should be good, and maybe even important, and good important new novels don't exist unless people try to write them. So if you think that's a part of the larger cultural that is valuable, it's worth trying to contribute to it, even if you understand that there's a good chance you might not be the one that gets struck by lightning.

If all of the above sounds to you like the reflections of someone whose books are not selling very well right now, you're not mistaken. No worries, I'm good, I'm still swinging, but it's safe to say that I'm in a regrouping phase. There's part of me that wonders if being candid about the trouble I'm having is a good idea, but one success I can point to in the past year or so is that I've learned a lot about the publishing business, and one of the things I've learned is that an awful lot of the people in it are full of shit an awful lot of the time. I don't want that to be me, especially since I know some of my writer comrades are keeping track of how my little experiment is going. I don't want to be putting bad information out into he world.

So here's the situation. I've put out four books over the course of the last year. The plan was to put out the books I thought would be less commercial first, and have my releases get gradually more commercial as I put them out, which in turn would generate some kind of momentum. It hasn't worked out like that. This is getting to be a longer blog than I'd anticipated writing today, so I think I'll stop for right now. More on this in the next day or two.
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7/13/16 01:33 pm - "White Rabbit Society Part One" out in two days!

WhiteRabbitSocietyResized.jpg

Getting right up to it now, folks. Here's a few more things about "White Rabbit Society".

*There are monsters! Boy howdy are there monsters. In addition to our cover girl Shadow (who folks who read my short story collection Beasts will have met already), we've got a lot of much less friendly critters running around, knocking over buildings and occasionally eating people's faces. My general design guideline for these things was "deep-sea creatures crossbred with geometry problems" and I think it worked out pretty well.

*One of the recurring themes of the story is people figuring out that their family situations are a lot more complicated than they thought they were, with Consequences for their own lives. I think this just short of being a universal experience, and people in the genre realm deal with it too often by having someone turn out to be the heir to something. Being fifteen and suddenly having to make conversation with the uncle you didn't know existed while everyone around you is trying to be polite feels more true-to-life for me.

*A famous bit of writing advice from Raymond Chandler (paraphrased) is that when you're not sure what should happen next, have a man with a gun walk into the room. On the surface, this is silly but still-not-half-bad advice for many genres. You can also go deeper with it. Long story short, many characters in WRS eventually become able to do things normal people can't do. It's a story about magic. Magic needs to be explained enough to not be transparently something that lets the author do whatever they want, but I'm not inclined to explain it so much that it ceases to be dangerous. My ground rules for "things human beings can do supernaturally" in WRS were:

A- A man walking into the room with a gun is still a problem.

and

B- Everything has a price. If it doesn't seem to have a price, it just hasn't come due yet.

And that's it for now. TWO DAYS. TWO DAYS.
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