Sunday, June 26, 2011

Day 98 – My Pricing Dilemma: How Much Would YOU Charge for This?

Alright, so here’s a question for you folks, and what makes it really interesting is the variety of people reading this. Some of you are family, some are “real world” friends of varying degrees of familiarity and connection, some are online writing/forum friends, some are friends of friends, and some just found this blog randomly. What makes that interesting is that I hope it will translate to some really good advice, especially from those of you who DON’T know me very well (sorry, Mom).

Here's the deal: I have to decide what I’m going to charge for this book. Yes, there are going to be e-versions of the book for Kindle and all that stuff, meaning, yes there will be cheap ways to read it, so DON’T freak out when you see what is about to happen (even though I kind of am). But I’m talking about the actual, physical book, the paperback.

To begin, fantasy/sci-fi readers like, in general, long books. They like to be “in” the experience for a while; it’s escapist reading. In fact, fantasy pretty much has to come in trilogies, and the most successful stuff goes on forever (eight, ten, fifteen books … sometimes they go on so long that other writers jump in and start writing in the original fantasy world too—don’t worry, my book has an ending). That said, my book is going to be about 520 pages, standard paperback size. So, that’s good. The downside is, the bigger the book, the more it costs to make.

To get some kind of baseline, I went to the book aisle at the grocery store today and did some checking on paperback prices there. They were all pretty much $8.99 for the average length (300-ish pages), and some of the 400-600 pagers were $9.99. A couple of 800 and 1000 page ones were $9.99 to $12.99 (I only saw one $12.99). This includes stuff by known authors with names you have all heard of.

Going to a retail book store like Borders doesn’t lower the price.

Going online to Amazon I find HARDCOVER books showing $9.50-ish prices, pretending to come down from a “retail price” of $18.99. Right, we all know how that works. It was the same at  $9.50. For hardcover.

Did I mention those were hardcover?

... On to my book. Createspace has a little calculator that helps authors figure out cost and profit. If I price my paperback at $9.99, which appears to be the going rate for this type of book, here’s what I get:

Alright, let me break that down real fast for those of you who aren’t big graph people, or if the graphic doesn't show up too well. First, notice the blue circles. The pricing breaks down in two ways, one is the “Standard” <cough>stupid<cough> plan and the other is the “Hey, give us an extra $40 bucks before you get going and we won’t hose you later” plan, or, as they call it, the “Pro Plan.” Apparently, the way you know you are a pro writer is by not being an imbecile when it comes to money.

So, in red, you can see on the left the $9.99 price I entered followed by what I would make (or not) using the various distribution channels (marked with red arrows). Feel free to ignore the "standard" column in each section, for reasons already covered. The estore section is for the Createspace direct bookstore. That is the self publishing store where everyone’s books are. Keep in mind, Createspace is a part of Amazon. (I don’t blame them for wanting to separate out self published books from “real” books. Plus, there is a community of writers doing this; so, that’s what the estore is.) The Amazon section is just that, the Amazon book site you all know and love. The last one, Expanded Distribution, is all other channels, the kind that sell through book stores or go to libraries etc. It’s basically what it costs to distribute outside of the two Amazon channels from the first two sections.

Notice that through the estore, I can make money at $9.99, but I will LOSE money if someone buys through Amazon or if I get some book store chain wainting to carry my book—Yes, that’s probably not going to happen, but let’s not assume that, because the story really is awesome, as you will see, so you never know. Word of mouth, here we come!

Obviously I don’t want to write Amazon a check every time I sell a book through that major channel, so I have to raise the price. That said, here’s what it looks like if I price it at $12.99, which is what a lot of other fantasy and science fiction authors have theirs priced at. It’s higher than grocery store and other retail books as I've shown above, but, hey, it’s only $3.00 more, so, with a really amazing cover and great jacket blurb, maybe that won’t be a problem. Here goes:

Hey, lookie there. At $12.99, I will now make a whopping 58 cents if people buy through Amazon. Which is fine. I don’t care. I’m not doing this to make money. I really am not. Sure it would be great to make money given how far in the hole I'm going to be when I start, but I’d rather get this awesome story out, get people into it, and, well, I’ll make money on book three when you people are all hooked and breathlessly waiting to find out what happened next (and don’t worry, my book is not a cliff hanger, I promise). But notice that third column. I’m still losing money. I’m three bucks higher than established writers (assuming I end up on a bookshelf somewhere), and I am in the hole for two dollars. Grrr.

So, I figured, what the heck, I’ll bump it up the two extra bucks and just rely on the awesomeness of my book and the amazing cover art to sell it at that pretty high price.  So, here’s $14.99, still a semi-popular price on Createspace for the genre, especially for people arguing that as a writer, we deserve to make money for our hard work:

DUDE! WTF? Do they even know how to calculate profit? You have a fixed cost for the damn book for crying out loud. Raising the price does NOT raise the hard cost to produce the f-ing book. How can I be two bucks in the hole at $12.99, add two more dollars to the price and yet net only an 80 cent profit improvement. That makes absolutely no sense. They need to stop smoking crack.

So, to make any money through any form of distribution outside of Amazon and its self-pub estore… No wait. Screw profit.  Just to break even, here is what I have to sell the book for:

Really? I have to sell it for that? For $18.03. Just to make nothing?

And worse, remember that thing I was saying about hardbacks up above? Remember the price for them right now, the $9 and change thing? (Yeah, I know you really do end up paying close to $20 for a good hardback most of the time, but still, really?)

Sheesh. So anyway, the clear lesson I think I have come away with is that I WON’T be going through expanded distribution. Which is too bad, but I’m sure I can readjust something when that happens.

I suppose I could set it at $18.99 and then discount it down to $12.99 on the other two channels (I think), but then I am starting out doing that lame retail thing that annoying stores do: “Hey, here's an amazing deal on our crap. Now 69% off, YOU SAVE BIG!”  But I hate those kind of retailers. Why would I want to be one? And that assumes the system has ways for me do that.

So, there you have it, my pricing dilemma. I’ll be reading up on the discount structure and permissions, but I am interested to hear what people have to say about pricing based on what I know now.

What would you charge if you were me?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Day 92 – Map Illustrations Survive Temperatures on Surface of the Sun

Evidence of God's mercy.
Well, it's six thousand degrees here today and the A/C in my house doesn't really make it as far as this room because the contracting outfit that built our neighborhood were a bunch of cheap bastards (gee, I wonder why they went bankrupt even before the housing bust), so I’m sweating like a crack addict detoxing in a Death Valley sauna at high noon. It's so hot that, honestly, I'm afraid if I type too long or too fast, the friction will ignite the molten air and the entire neighborhood will explode. That said, I’ll keep this report short and sweet, so I can go lie under a ceiling fan and beg God to drop a glacier on my face. So, here’s where the book is to date...

Cover art: Cris Ortega emailed last week, has some sketches nearly done and is working on some ideas she came up with while doing so that might not be precisely what I described but that she thinks might be very cool, which is… well, very cool. Can’t wait to see.

Book file: So I have the whole book in .pdf format, and I’ve spent the last several days going through it to make sure it’s right (535 pages). It’s not. Chapter 45 somehow ended up in there twice, and Chapter 46 didn’t get in at all. And there’s a bunch of blank pages in between. So, there’s some work to do on that front still. Which means I will have to go through it all again just to be safe. Ugh. Man, I’m telling you, there is sooooooooo much labor in this stuff.

Interior art: So I have been working on the map for the interior of the book and a couple of other things. I spent a few afternoons working on some of it, and I finished up the frame for it yesterday after a marathon drawing festival (also in the sweltering roast of this room, and also which explains why my wrist hurts from so much tightly controlled drawing). I believe I am very pleased with the end result. We shall see, because I often love my work the day I do it and as days go by and I come back to it, I am astonished that I can possibly suck as bad as I do (which explains the crapton of unpublished and abandoned articles, short stories and even one novel that I have laying around). Oh well.

So, that’s been my week and weekend, and this is my Monday. Below are the three pieces of my book map. The map (yes, there are no names, but the calligraphy—or not—is something else completely), the rose, and the frame. Let me know what you think.


Names and the rest to be added in graphic program (in theory)

Map rose...

This will have calligraphy for N, S, E W
Map frame...

So, that's pretty much it. All this stuff will get assembled, letters/names will get added, and it will be what it will be. The graphic artist that's helping me is scanning them into better files and going to see what we can do with fancy fonts that are available so I don't have to use my yucky handwriting in lieu of calligraphy.

Now you are up to date. I hope I don't burst into flames when I stand up. If there's any static electricity in my jeans or the carpet, it's over. So, if you don't see any more posts from me, you'll know what happened. Send flowers to my wife.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Day 84: How to Do Big Things - a.k.a. "Eating the Elephant."

Eating an elephant can be intimidating.
Someone asked me the other day how I “do it.” They were looking over my blog, and thinking about the book project and were kind of intimidated by the amount of work going in. And I get that. There is a lot of work. Writing a novel takes a long time. Revising it actually takes longer. But that wasn’t even the thing they were asking about. They were talking about my website, really, because I have been bitching about it for a while trying to make it work, and this person, like myself, is not a technical person at all. This person was issuing lots of “Ohhs” and “Ahhs” about my site and was just really thinking how cool it was that it got done—and, that it got done in the vein of the larger novel project. I took the inquiry as a compliment, and it made me feel good to have someone appreciate my hard work. But, I also took it as evidence that sometimes people believe they can’t do stuff that other people can. Big stuff. The stuff of dreams. Stuff that people really want bad, but believe it is too huge, too far away, too complicated and time consuming to really make happen. Stuff that, in the corporate world, is sometimes called “an elephant.”

The purpose of the elephant idea is to represent the big dream. The desire. Stemming from that is the question “How do you eat an elephant?” How do you make something that is big and intimidating become part of you for real, an internal fulfillment rather than something you can’t do anything about? So how do you do it; how do you eat an elephant?

Answer: one bite at a time.

There are books and seminars and all sorts of things you can find on this idea, so I’ll try to be brief while still providing something useful. (Some of this I hit in an earlier blog HERE. )
Find ways to cut it up.

To eat your elephant, whatever it may be, you have to step away and figure out how to cut the impossible task into possible ones. Just like you can’t shove a whole elephant into your mouth, you can’t shove an “I’m published now” into your reality either. You can’t do it with opening a restaurant, getting a college degree, learning how to paint, fly a plane, or even making a website from scratch. Those are elephants. To enjoy any one of them for real in your life, you have to cut it up (sorry vegetarians), so you can eat it. Then you make a plan to eat a bite or two every day and actually do it until your plate is clean and your dream fulfilled.

To make that plan, you have to start from the goal and then figure out what the halfway point looks like. Figure out what the quarter point is. The eighth of the way. Etc. If you don’t know what those are at first, then start with what you do know. You do know what your first bite looks like, because having no clue tells you what you need: a clue. For my website, as an example, I had no idea how to start. I knew I needed to buy a domain name, but that was it. So my first task was not building a website, but researching how to begin. So bite one was: Find an article on how to start a website. But from there I was still lost, so my plan looked like this:

  • Bite 1: find at least two articles by Wednesday of next week
  • Bite 2: read articles by Friday of next week
  • Bite 3: Schedule next five tasks (bites) based on articles by Saturday, with first task to begin by Monday.

That’s pretty much how it began. I write that stuff into my daily planner/calendar (covered in the blog post I linked above), and I begin. Even though I don’t know what the next steps are going to be after bite 2, I have arranged for them anyway. I know after I read the articles, I’ll know what’s next after steps one and two. It’s important to note that there’s a due date on each one, including the tasks that are undefined. You have to have an end point, so you can hold yourself accountable.

Also notice how small those bites are. I didn’t make myself a task that was “learn how to make a website.” That’s too hard. It’s like a mini-elephant almost. A rhino. Or maybe a cow. You can’t just “learn how to make a website” any more than you can just make one. Same with “write a novel” or “start a restaurant” or “learn how to start a restaurant.” So each task is something that I can, for sure, without any question at all, definitely do, typically in one attempt, one day, one sitting. I know for a fact I can definitely find an article. That is a specific task with a clearly defined outcome. I will know when I have achieved it. A task can even be, “Ask my friend Josh to help me past this problem I can’t figure out.” It doesn’t matter what it is. Each “bite” you schedule just has to have those two traits: specific and doable.

Once you figure out how to make bite sized pieces, you can approach the dream, eat the elephant, in a realistic way. You make your plan, you write it down with each bite on its own day, spread out over the course of time. If you really want that dream, now you can have it, because rather than being a big, intimidating thing that serves as its own excuse for why it will never happen, it is a series of little things you have no excuse not to do. It’s all stuff that you can do. So do it. Or don’t bitch that you don’t have the things you want in life.

A last thing I will add in is tracking. You have to track progress or you get lost. I covered a little of this in that blog post I linked, and I hit some points on strategy in an article I wrote on novel writing a year or so ago (part 3 of THIS article ). A dream is a big thing; it’s a journey. And one of the dangers of journeys is getting lost. So you have to track yourself. You have to keep score. It’s the only way you know how you are doing.  And it’s extremely important for motivation and staying on course.

On the right you can see the little chart I made for myself when I was going through my manuscript reviewing each edit my editor suggested. Honestly, that was a monstrously painful task. It was long, tedious and just plain un-fun. So, as with all long, tedious and un-fun tasks, I might easily have procrastinated on it. Which I did not want to do. So I broke that mini-elephant down into bites and then gave myself a timeframe in which I wanted to have it done. To do that, I needed to get an idea of how long each page would take to go through, so I timed myself and did it for an hour. I came up with 18 pages in an hour. The manuscript is 276 pages, single-spaced, 12 font, 8.5” x 11” paper, so at that rate was going to take 15.64 hours. I decided I wanted it done in ten days (boy was that a mistake), which meant at 18 pages per hour, I had to do 1.42 hours per day. Being a moron and a masochist, I committed myself to that and drew up my tracking chart.

Here’s why that matters. On the left of the chart, you can see the timeline. Each day, regardless of my page progress, the day gets filled in. Time passes, whether I’m working towards my dreams or not. So, that line moves steadily towards the goal of ten days. The column on the right is tracking page count (yes, my graph is crude and weird, but I’m an old hat at this, so I don’t need the fancy stuff I used to make… just a little scorecard to keep me on track). As you can see, the last timeline day filled in is May 22 (it’s gray because I shade it lightly at the beginning of the day, and fill it in at the end, when it’s “time’s up” for that day—yes, I am anal). The reason for that being done two days early is that I got behind on this dreadful task during the week. All week prior to the weekend of May 22, the page-count line was lagging behind the timeline. An hour and forty minutes was too much to honestly expect of myself every day after work, so my scoreboard showed me slipping back all week. The timeline was moving faster than my progress. I was LOSING.

I hate losing. When Sunday rolled around and I hadn’t caught up quite yet, I was pissed. So I spent seven and a half hours grinding out the rest of my goal. I was motivated by not wanting to fail in my commitment, and I decided to make a push rather than suffer defeat. It worked, I got it done, and yes, that Sunday sucked ass. But you know what, I felt really good that night when I was done. Early. It felt like victory.

So, as dumb or childish as keeping little charts or filling in calendar squares seems, it works. If the tasks you set are truly doable, something as cheesy as a little hand-drawn “time vs. effort” graph can really make a huge difference in getting things done. You are human. Humans are emotional, and humans are weak. But we are also smart. We invent tools to help us overcome our weaknesses. We invented spears and guns to hunt animals we are too weak to defeat alone, like elephants. We invent graphs to hunt dreams we are too weak to achieve alone, like websites and restaurants.

If you have an elephant you want to eat, carve it up. Plan it out. And make a chart to keep score. You can do impossible-seeming things. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Day 74 - Alright, Rate THIS version of the blurb.

First, thanks to everyone who commented on the last post for all the input you gave. I had people sending me rewrites via email plus all the wonderful and ultra-useful input I got in the comments section. So, before I do anything else, I want to say thank you, thank you, thank you.

You know, it's funny how we (I) writers can think we have something so spot-on, you know? I mean, you write stuff and you tweak it and revise it and spend all this time on it, and once you're done, you're like, "Dizzzam! That is some bad ass writing right there. I own this medium. This blurb is mutha-F-ing PERFECT!"

Then you toss it out there and, Dizzam, no it's not.


So, again, thanks for all the awesome suggestions. I read them all several times, very carefully.

Anyway, so as not to make more of a reading project out of this than it is (and I do hope a few folks will come back for round two on this), here's what I came up with based on what people had to say. In particular I addressed the need for more on the "why" of Altin's part of the story.  Let me know what you think (and don't worry, I'm not going to keep doing this. This is my last pandering for input). It's a little longer, but still way under the word count allowed by Createspace's template:

They told him space travel was impossible. They told him the five greatest wizards who ever tried it died. He’s going to do it anyway.

Altin Meade is planet Prosperion’s most promising young sorcerer. He’s also the only Six. Six is the mark of death on that magical world, a mark few socerers are born with and a mark foretelling ruin for every wizard touched by it in history. Always. Which is why Altin has to prove them wrong. And he’s not going to do it by hiding from his destiny.

Driven by curiosity, stubbornness and an inner mystery he must unravel along the way, Altin knows the only way to escape the fate of Prosperion’s previous Sixes is to escape Prosperion itself. And so his quest begins. He wants to find a way out into the stars, but he's going to discover that ignorance is more dangerous than even orcs and dragons are.

Far across the galaxy, Ensign Orli Pewter wants the exact opposite. She wants out of space. Bright, strong and beautiful, Orli is an officer aboard the Aspect, a ship in the fleet from Earth. Brought aboard as a child, her entire life has been spent in the cold emptiness of space, a life she never asked for, a prisoner of fate. As the lumbering sub-light-speed fleet hunts an inscrutable race of genocidal aliens in the enormity of the galaxy, years are ticking off Orli's life. She’s got to get off the ship. She’s got to get out of space. But there is nowhere for her to go.

Or is there?

The Galactic Mage is the story of two lives, two destinies, and two dreams—whether nightmare or wondrous fantasy will be the mystery.