Self-Publishing for Beginners

The following materials are from Sanguine’s panel at Midwest Media Expo.

Self-Publishing for Beginners

Anything will sell – the questions are how much, for what price, and how fast.  It’s perfectly fine to make a niche comic or game that will only sell to a dozen people if that meets your sales target. If you’re going to sell to 3,000 people, you have to make something 3,000 people are going to want to pay for.  If you want to make $10,000, you have to sell a thousand at $10 each, or a hundred at $100, or ten at $1,000 each.

The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 Rule, is that 80% of any traffic comes from 20% of the environment. When applied to sales, it means that 80% of your sales will come from 20% of the customer base.

A premium product is expensive and only for hard-core buyers – sell with high margins to the few who will buy it.  Premiums are for that 20% that have disposable income and really want your product.

An economy product is cheap and markets to a broader crowd – sell with low margins and low production cost but to lots of folks.  Economy is for that 80% who have a passing fancy, but they won’t want to spend a lot.

Where Your Product Comes From

Creating is making a product no one else is making and filling the niche.  If the niche is small, go with premium pricing.  If the niche is large, go with economy.

Licensing will get you a product identity people already know and identify with, and you’ll get lots of art and design to use.  There will be expenses and riders, and all licensing agreements expire, leaving you with a product you can’t sell anymore.  Licensing should almost always be economy product – you’re banking on lots of people knowing the brand and wanting a piece.

Imitating is like creating, only more mercenary – it’s following popular trends and making a product that synergizes.  It can be cheaper than licensing and allows you to ditch any unwanted baggage.  Plus your company will own the property.  Imitating should almost always be economy product – you’re hoping lots of people who already like things like your thing will like your thing, too.

Updating is buying an older product and bringing it “to a new generation.”  Re-releasing should usually be premium – you already have the last generation hooked, any sales on top of that will be gravy.

Payment

All talent contributing to the project should be contracted, and in writing.  All contracts should include deadlines.

In-house talent are the members of your own company.  You should file a business agreement with your state; each one varies.  You really want a limited liability corporation (LLC) – this means that your company is only liable up to its own assets.

Anyone not a member of your LLC is a freelancer.  Freelancers will need to be paid:

  • Flat fees treat the work as a single piece. These vary going with the talent of the artist, the materials needed, etc.  Writers are usually paid by the word; artists are usually paid by the full-page (or portion thereof); your contract should state that this is work-for-hire and thus it all belongs to your company – but you can sweeten the deal by including a clause that after 10 years of disuse, copyright reverts to the author.  (This means that if you go out of print or lose interest, the author gets it.).  Artists are usually paid by the full-page; your contract should state that your company has unlimited non-exclusive reproduction rights; don’t expect to keep the originals unless you want to pay a lot more – instead, encourage the artist to promote the artwork separately and to sell it at art shows.
  • Royalties effectively lease the work for a fixed time period.  Don’t consider a royalty period of less than 3 years; shoot for 5.  (Royalties work great for licensed product, which is going to expire over time, anyway.)  If you want to keep your accounting simple, offer a royalty based on manufacturer’s retail price, not on “wholesale cost” – otherwise, be prepared to keep track of what you sold direct and what you sold to middlemen.

Pricing

Ask yourself, “How much am I going to charge for this product?”  For economy products, it’s best to heed the Jackson rule: a multiple of 20 minus a nickel, or a multiple of 20 minus 5 dollars and a nickel – $14.95, $19.95, $34.95, and $39.95. For a premium product, go with big numbers like $59.95, $79.95, or $99.95.

Next question: “How many am I going to sell?”  Logically, the more expensive it is, the less you will sell.

Once you set the final price, you can see a breakdown of how to budget for your product.

Your materials are the pieces of your game, the pages in your book, etc.  This includes the printing costs.  If you publish electronically, this piece drops to 0%.

Your retail mark-up is the profit the store makes by selling your product (if they ever sell it at all).  If you sell direct to customers, this piece drops to 0%.

Your distributor costs are how much your warehouser and your distributor make off each copy. If you sell direct to customers, you will most likely have to take credit card sales, and this piece will actually rise to about 10%.  If you sell electronically through a third party, this piece could rise to 20% or higher.

Your talent costs are how much you pay freelancers to work on your project (whether it’s royalties or fixed amount), as well as any fees for licensees.  If you do everything in house, this piece drops to 0%.

For example, if you plan to sell 3,000 copies of a board game at $39.95 each, you’re looking at a gross budget of $119,850.

Materials

11,985.00

(up-front expense)

Talent (art, writing, etc.)

10,786.50

(up-front expense)

Retail Mark-up

65,917.50

Distributor Costs

7,191.00

Profit

23,970.00

(income)

$39.95 × 3000 copies =

$119,850.00

In this case, before you go to press, you’re going to have to pay the talent and the materials – so you’re going to have to put $22,771.50 … and then when all 3,000 have moved, you can expect to get $1,198.50 back.  That 1% net gross is called the profit margin.  When you hear business-people say “the margins are thin”, that’s what they’re talking about.

Remember that when you’re putting your product together, to exceed any of these percentages, something else has to give.  If your materials and talent costs add up to more than 19% … you either have to take something out of another slice, or you’re going to lose money.

Production

Electronic printing has the lowest material cost – effectively zero to make duplicates.  However, consumers will also demand lower prices. Since you don’t want to skimp on talent, and since your materials were only 10% in the first place, this means lower retail mark-up and distributor costs.

Print-on-demand is expensive and works better for premium product.  You won’t need to put as much money down – usually a fixed set-up fee, then a cost per unit.  Many print-on-demand businesses will also distribute for you.

Mass printing will have lower margins, but you’ll also need warehousing for all your stock.  There are brokers who will do this for you.  If 10% of your product goes into the production cost, then the more you print, the cheaper your per-unit will be, but the more money you’ll have to lay out in the first place.  Mass printers will want 50% of their costs up front, and then 50% before they even deliver.

Marketing

Start a mailing list about your product. Get a web page and a domain.  (Unless you have the talent or resources for full-time web design, put up something simple.)  Get a blog and post updates.

Conventions are great for growing awareness. Go to conventions, and get a table or booth.  Take out advertise­ments in convention programs.  Have a freebie giveaway at your table, like candy or buttons or something.  Conven­tions are fabulous for premium products. For economy ones, have a gimmick to make them buy then and there, like a 10% discount or some extra add-on.  (If you sell at full price at the conventions, your customers will be too tempted to just go home and buy it later … if they remember.)

Advertising is expensive, but can be well worth it.  Going by the model above, every $1 you spend on advertising needs to generate at least $1 in revenue – and your profit is only 20% of your product’s price. For example, If you spend $1,000 on a full page ad in a magazine, you should expect a sales spike of $5,000; if your product sells for $39.95 each, that means that 126 people who read the ad need to go buy it.

Other Hints

Games must be tested to destruction.  Be prepared to throw each and every line of your first product away if you have to.  Remember, if you’re going to sell a thousand copies, you’re making a game that has to be playable for a thousand people. Never make a game you wouldn’t play yourself.

Your projects should be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Aggressive, Reasonable, and Time-tabled.  Don’t say, “I’m going to make a game and sell it!”  Say something like, “I’m going to sell 3,000 copies of my role-playing game in two years, starting on June 1st!”

Deadlines are very important. Always give your freelancers precise deadlines.  Be ready for the “whooshing” noise that deadlines make as they go by, but have them anyway.  Remember – your project’s not behind schedule if there was no schedule in the first place.

Get a business card for a lawyer.  You probably will never need to call one, but have a number ready in case you do.  If someone threatens you with legal action, give them the contact info for this lawyer and then stop talking to them or about them, forever.

Get your first product and the two supplements done before you even go to press. Release them in the summer, six weeks apart.  If you get three books out over one summer, you will completely amaze the hobby industry.

Treat everybody right.  Consider putting “kill fees” in your contact that say you will pay 10%, 25%, or 50% if your project stalls.  If you rip someone off, the Internet will hear about it.

With production costs decreasing and direct-sales increasing, some people will tell you there’s too much stuff out there and the market is glutted.  If you self-publish, make something no one else is making, or make something better that what everyone else is making.  Take calculated risks.

Get the full version of Adobe Acrobat, and write everything to PDF.  Use whatever programs you want for your layout, but put the finals of everything to PDF.

The race is long, and in the end, it is only with yourself.  Look back two years, five years, ten years, twenty years, and take pride in what you’ve done.

Reference

Last update: 24-Apr-2014
Copyright © 2014 Sanguine LLC.

Posted by Imperator • 26-Apr-2014 12:01 am

BOOK OF FOOLS adds pay-to-win system

See the summer lightning cast its bolts upon you as the hour of judgement draws near! Would you be the fool stood in his suit of armor while the wiser man rushes clear?

We are happy to announce that the fan favorite Book of Fools has gone free-to-play!  That’s right, the most-expensive gaming book of all time can now be downloaded for no charge!

To help us serve you better, Book of Fools now has implemented a “pay to win” system.  While you are still welcome to level your characters up through experience, after 20 minutes of game-play, all experience-points are then on a one-megasecond cool-down timer. And after 40 minutes, all d12s are removed from the game.  If you don’t want to wait the short time for the cool-down to refresh, you can use your persistent Internet connection to send us money.  (Yes, another handy feature of the “pay to win” system is that we’re constantly aware of what you’re doing, where you are, and what’s stored in your device’s memory that you don’t think anyone else knows about.  Don’t worry, this was all covered in that “I have read this” AUP dialog.)  Send us enough money, and we’ll let you use d20s!  Heck, we’ll let you use d22s, too. I’m sure someone out there has one of those. Pay us even more money and we will declare you the winner of the game!

One thing we really want to express—and it’s something that hasn’t really been touched on in a lot of the discussion about the game that we’ve seen—is that in Book of Fools, all content is accessible to paying and non-paying players. It’s just that paying players get all that content before 2020.

We’re always looking at new ways to gather player feedback so that we can improve our games.  For example, we’re looking to improve the one-click rating system that, at present, only lets you rate Book of Fools at “six out of five stars”.  While this system performs 20% better than a typical rating system, we have listened to your feedback.  Some of you expressed concerns about a rare bug.  Apparently, a confused user sometimes finds a way to rate the book at less than six stars.  (At this time, our staff has been unable to reproduce this error.)  If that happens, you are automatically signed up for a service that mailed you every 45 minutes to ask why.  And then the service goes through your friends list and emails them to ask why.  And the service makes your portable devices automatically turn on, just to ask you, again.  Even when your device was in “airplane mode”.  Our attorneys have advised us to say that there’s no scientific proof that cell phones actually crash airplanes, so you should totally be safe.

BOOK OF FOOLS – we didn’t make this for us. We made it for you, the players. And your money. You’re welcome.

Click here for BOOK OF FOOLS free-to-play on DriveThruRPG.com.   Rate our book “seven out of five stars” and we’ll lower your cool-down to 0.2-megaseconds for the next fortnight!

Posted by Imperator • 1-Apr-2014 2:34 pm

Myriad Song presents DAVID LILLIE

DAVID LILLIE has been working on the Dreamkeepers story since 2008.  After three graphic novels, and a few extra projects along the way, he shows no signs of slowing down. With his partner Liz, they make the core of Vivid Creations‘ independent publishing.  David took some time off from drawing 432 individuals in front of 112 minarets to include some concept art in our book, Myriad Song, and to share with us his thoughts on creativity and art.

“I have this nagging belief that when passionate, dedicated creators are in charge of their work, the results are often better than what comes out of the Hollywood board rooms.  So we’re having a blast making our own stuff, and seeing just how far we can take this roller-coaster of far too much color.”The source of the desire is simple — cartooning is potentially very powerful, and it’s nearly always treated by mainstream culture as a medium for patronizing idiots and children.  Even the word ’cartoony’ is synonymous with unserious, simple-minded caricature.  But cartoons are a powerful tool.  They’re inherently evocative, appealing, easy to empathize with …. Used well, they focus on the details that matter.  We see the sorrow, despair, joy, frustration, action, dynamism of a character….”[W]hat if we used it for something with more adventure, more life, something more vibrant and honest and interesting? Everything else has kind of flowed from that desire, to see cartooning used at its full potential.”
Dream Keepers Cameos

The main characters from Dreamkeepers, Vivid Creations’ graphic novel of science-fiction and fantasy.

 

DreamKeepers' Bast & Lilith

Their powers were outlawed long ago… but our heroes find themselves the targets of the nightmares of legend, evil forces who know only the powers of the Dreamkeepers can stop them.

“A lot of people — a whole lot — want to do their own personal project for a living.  It’s an enticing idea.  But it’s very difficult to achieve.  It requires a stupid amount of commitment.  …  I can’t tell other people how to make choices, but for me I sat down and thought about the worst case scenario.  What if I spent my life trying to create what I love, and failed to ever make a living at it, winding up fifty, broke, and struggling to pay the bills with a job that I had intended as temporary thirty years before?  What if I failed?  Would I regret spending my time making my books?”Nope.  I love this so much, I’m willing to see my life jump the shark over it.”If you have that kind of passion and commitment- then, really, you don’t have much choice over whether you’re going to be a creator or not.  It’s in your blood, it’s just what you do every day.  For those folks, don’t give up.  Keep failing, keep learning, and eventually you’ll get somewhere.”
“The biggest frustration over the years has been how much time it takes to render what I had in my head — but, in retrospect, I think it was one of our greatest assets.  I had time to get to know our characters better, let them grow and develop more, refine my understanding of the world, and develop my writing and artistic abilities.  Dozens of story choices changed.  We kept the same roots, the ones cemented into place within Volume 1 — but the tree they are growing into has juggled branches and twigs, pruned itself into different forms.”I’m thrilled with the story taking shape.  It’s not that we’re creating something different from the original vision- but rather, conveying it more effectively than we initially could have conceived.”The magical thing is that progressive edits don’t feel at all like we’re making new stuff up.  It feels exactly like making a discovery, uncovering something that was there all along — like the perfect Dreamkeepers story exists independently in the ether, it always has, and the more we develop and focus our efforts, the more clearly it shows itself.”
"Tendril's Demise", Page 1 (DreamKeepers)

The world of Dreamkeepers is home to wondrous architecture, fantastic creatures, and terrible monsters… and all of it is rendered with joyful, colorful energy.

Be sure to check out the official Dreamkeepers website, where you can see a gallery of the artwork and you can order your own copies of the graphic novels.   You can read more about Dave, Liz, and their exploits on their personal blog at the Vivid Creations webpage.  

Posted by Imperator • 10-Mar-2014 5:00 am

Exclusive rewards added to MYRIAD QUEST Kickstarter

Matt Howarth Exclusives

Thanks to everyone for your support!  We’re excited to be bringing you these new stories, so we’re happy to present to you these new rewards levels.

  • For the first time anywhere, the epic Fire Shrine Trilogy with rare exclusives such as the out-of-print The Anti-Chair newsprint edition and the never-seen-before This is Heat 11×17 poster.  Starring Those Annoying Post Brothers and Hiroshima, the Nuclear Earth Mother, in a battle that threatens all possible realities.
  • The first volume in the long-running Keif Llama: Xenotech series, about a diplomat who must deal with the strangeness of alien life-forms.
  • The complete Star-Crossed, a classic story about two lovers… except one is a genetically-engineered post-human and the other is a sentient rock.  From the late, lamented Helix Imprint of DC Comics.
  • Rare Albedo books, such as back issues and the critically-acclaimed Platinum Catalyst role-playing game, exclusive to this Kickstarter!
  • The fusion of comics and music with rare compact discs from Ozone Player and Quarkspace, with booklets designed and illustrated by Matt Howarth.

For those of you who have already pledged, but who still want these rewards, you can upgrade your pledge using the Kickstarter dashboard.  And if you haven’t pledged yet, now’s your chance to get these rare items while they’re still available!

Posted by Imperator • 9-Feb-2014 8:39 pm

Matt Howarth’s MYRIAD QUEST now in Kickstarter

Science-fiction artist MATT HOWARTH brings you a graphic novel of two star-crossed adventurers braving the dangers of the Myriad Song.

When the alien masters left the Myriad Worlds, great wars raged between the planets, until the Syndicate of the past was no more. Now that an uneasy peace has settled among the stars, fortune-hunters go seeking the lost treasures of ages past.  When two adventurers search for a lost trove of weapons and riches, they will have to brave the trackless void of space, the mysterious defenses left behind … and each other.

Myriad Quest will be a self-contained, 48-page graphic novel written and drawn by Matt Howarth and produced by Sanguine Games, makers of the Myriad Song role-playing game.  Matt Howarth had so many good ideas, we couldn’t fit them all in one book.  With your support, we’ll be producing this all-new story in both print and electronic versions.

This new Kickstarter has fantastic awards such as unique artwork and bonus features.  You can even get both the RPG and the graphic novel in one package.

Click here to pledge to MYRIAD QUEST today!

Posted by Imperator • 4-Feb-2014 1:00 am