Thursday, January 12, 2017

Books and Possibilities: Opening Salvo

I'm not here to share wisdom. This entry is simply me processing possibilities.

After purchasing a few Egaeus Press Titles (namely: A Twist in the Eye, The Tainted Earth, and In Delirium's Circle), along with examining Ezra Claverie's outstanding The Shadow Out of Providence and the Tartarus Press edition of Gustav Meyrink's The Golem, I got to thinking. Why haven't I ever made a book like this? Okay: Money. Sure. But now there's Kickstarter, which can go horribly wrong, if not managed correctly. But, hey, I manage projects all day every day at my day job and have done so for years. Besides, I've brought out my own little chapbook Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure, Beyond the Silver Scream (physical copies are still available, by the way), and what is a very expensive, very fancy, professionally-produced book but . . . a very expensive, very fancy, professionally-produced, significantly larger chapbook with a whole lot more risk involved, right?

So I've watched and re-watched Joseph Goodman's seminar on Book Making 101 and have identified some potential printers, including a storied bindery that is, apparently, about a ten minute walk (literally) from my house.

I think I can do this.

The problem is, deciding what it is, exactly, I want to do. Because I can't do everything at once. Yes, I have almost made my money back on my investment for Beyond the Silver Scream, but here, we're talking a much bigger investment with a much bigger risk. One step at a time.

I do know that whatever I choose as a first, trial-run project will have the following characteristics: 1) Cloth-bound cover, 2) marbled end-papers, 3) foil-stamped spine, 4) silk placeholder ribbon, 5) internal illustrations (the number dependent on the chosen project).

So, project options:

  1. Short fiction collection. Yes, this one appeals to my vanity the most. I have a short fiction collection published by Raw Dog Screaming press many years ago. And I've done a short self-published e-book of some of my other stuff. But it's time to do this again. And, as most publishers will tell you, their economies of scale vis-a-vis potential sales do not normally justify producing single-author short story collections. The exception here is the "bespoke" collections like those done by Egaeus Press, Tartarus Press, and Zagava. These are very expensive, limited-edition collector pieces. I know some readers who will snatch up almost everything done by these publishers because of the publisher's strong reputation. Problem is, I don't have that strong reputation. Nor do I have a huge audience of readers, despite what I will call the relative success of my novel Heraclix and Pomp. Given time, I might just make my advance. Maybe. In any case, I think I could probably sell, say 100 copies of a very fancy short fiction collection. Maybe 250 if the dominoes fall just right. 500 if I catch lightning in a bottle. The reason these numbers matter is economies of scale. The price-per book on printing and binding a print run of 500 is significantly lower than a run of 250; 250 is better than 100; etc. In any case, I am way overdue for another fiction collection. I don't say that in a prideful way - I have just written a lot of short fiction and it needs to get collected again.
  2. Novel(la). I have a novella under consideration at a publisher I won't reveal. My agent has shopped this thing around to a number of publishers, one of whom told him "it's too well-written". That's an actual quote. I would have to take a look at my contract in order to produce this thing on my own, but it's tempting. I'm guessing I could push the same numbers as a short fiction collection, with a stronger possibility of a 500-book run because things that are in the novel-ish range tend to sell better than short story collections. Or so I am told.
  3. As you might know, I won a World Fantasy Award and was nominated for a Philip K. Dick Award a long time ago for editing the Leviathan 3 anthology with Jeff VanderMeer. After that, I edited Leviathan 4, Text:UR - The New Book of Masks, and The Nine Muses (with Deborah Layne). It has been many years since I've edited an anthology, however. Yes, I know how to do it, but I have not kept super up-to-date on my ties with people in the industry. Some have washed out, some have passed away. I think I could get a few "big" names, but I would have to pay top-dollar to get some of them, and rightfully so - they are great authors who deserve to be paid well for their work! I'm not certain about numbers here, but again, I would think that 250 would be reasonable. Possibly 500, if I had the right names and the right theme at the right time. Lots of variables there. But given the seeming dearth of really good short fiction anthologies at the moment, maybe it's time to make a go of it again?
  4. Role-playing Supplements. I am working right now on a project for a publisher, a super-secret project I can't let out of the bag yet, which will get my name in front of a fairly large contingent (a couple thousand) of role-playing gamers who like to spend money on very nice RPG projects based on certain game systems. Yeah, I should probably be working on that right now, but . . . In any case, I'm finding that many of the nerds I grew up playing D&D with are now programmers with lots of spare cash. Have you looked at the returns on RPG Kickstarter projects? Holy cow. Gamers will spend when they want something! I know - I'm one of them (not a programmer, just a gamer who will drop some cash on the "right" kickstarter). I have several ideas for RPG books, but I'm loathe to talk about them because a) they are my ideas and I don't want to give them away just yet, b) to talk about them too much would spoil them, and that kind of destroys the whole idea of a game, and c) some of these ideas still need to be playtested, which takes a long time. Still, I think this option might have the most likelihood of getting a return on investment if it isn't too fancy for the system with which it is associated. There's this funny aesthetic in gaming where we still value books with crappy blue maps that fall apart in your hands. Then again, take a look at what Lamentations of the Flame Princess is doing with their books, or Goodman Games, and you'll see some select pieces that belie the "scratched on a pad of graph paper" model.
Now I have the sneaking suspicion that those who read my blog tend to skew to the RPG side. But I really, REALLY want to know what people think. I'm just in the thinking stages at this point (though I am about to send off an email to that local bookbinder to get a quote for an imaginary book run, so I can start thinking about costs vs price, profit margins and such). I need to talk Kickstarter with more people who have experience with it (though I've gotten a bit from people here and there). And, most of all, I have to decide just what the heck I want to do.

Your opinions might just help me decide. Feel free to comment below or E-mail me at forrestjaguirre at gmail dot com with your thoughts, suggestions, or wish-lists. As with any project, I can't do this on my own. And while I think I know who I want to tap for design work and internal art, the rest, including the decision on which project to start with, can be influenced by your opinions. 


  1. I assume your contracts preclude you from just doing a limited edition of Heraclix and Pomp? Commercially I would think there'd be more demand for a popular book in a collector's edition for fans, than for an unknown property in an expensive edition. Because buyers are taking a gamble whenever they buy a book, and making the book much more expensive makes that gamble look a lot riskier. I almost certainly wouldn't buy effectively a collector's edition of a book I hadn't read before, unless I was a devoted long-term fan of the author. [and establishing the concept through a limited edition of H&P would probably make a subsequent limited edition of a new work more attractive to buyers (people do like to build a set!)]

    That said, a new novel might appeal to your existing fans to some extent. One hesitation I'd have is with that "(la)" parenthesis. To me, the shorter the book the less sense a lavish edition makes, both economically and in terms of personal reward. After all, while printing costs will increase a bit with larger books, binding costs are probably pretty fixed (until you get to the really big, engineering-challenge-to-hold-it-together lengths)]. And you end up with something less weighty and substantial to hold in your hand, and less impressive on your bookshelf.

    I'm not a publisher or an agent, but I think that commercially the best bet might be an interesting anthology with big name authors, if you could manage that. Some authors might even kind of like the idea of appearing in a limited edition high-quality book, and do some advertising for you - if you could get authors with non-overlapping fanbases, you wouldn't have to draw many fans of each in order to have a viable market. After all, a lot of fans dedicated enough to buy a limited edition will be dedicated enough to buy an entire book just for 'their' author's story. And if you add the coolness of your edition to the cachet of a few big names, you could probably get plenty of lesser names submitting for inclusion.

    On the other hand, a collection of your own stories probably won't be very commercially viable - which may be the best argument for it. After all, if you can put together an anthology with some big names, you might be able to sell that to a real publisher and make some money out of it. Whereas your own edition might be the only way to get a collection of your own stories into print, letting you kill two birds (get stories into print, make limited edition) with one stone.

    1. I'll have to dig in and see the contractual caveats for Heraclix and Pomp. That's actually a good idea (though the "normal" hardcover is pretty darned nice, so far as stock hardcovers go).

  2. RPG stuff... I don't know, I'm not really in that crowd anymore, but I struggle to see the aesthetics of a fine limited edition combining with those of an RPG supplement. That said, I CAN see two ideas there that would appeal to me, and perhaps to others. One would be to basically copy the style of a trashy old RPG supplement, ideally from the '80s, but do it to a much higher quality. I think there'd be an ironic appeal to that, putting something that looks like the stuff from our childhoods into a 'respectable' format. But this would be risky in terms of hitting a niche, and would require more work in terms of getting the fonts, the art and the content appropriate to the concept.

    The other idea would be something like... I can't remember if you were ever a Ravenloft fan, but as that setting was dying the online fans/designers created an unfinished, multi-part 'gazetteer' of the Domains. This was basically a details description of each sub-setting within Ravenloft, but written in a distinctive narrative voice, strung together with a framing storyin which this was the scholarly report of a woman tasked with studying the Domains for one of the Dreadlords. I think that if you were to do something similar, an RPG supplement within a framing story, with the story framing the book as a whole as a journal or scholarly report, that would make the idea of a fine clothbound edition "make sense", as it were, aesthetically, and I could find that an attractive thing to have. It could potentially find an audience among hardcore RPG fans, but it would also probably be something you'd struggle to publish in print otherwise, and it would allow a harmony between the content and the format. But... maybe that's just me! But I'd find something like that very attractive.
    In any case, that would suggest the opposite direction for the design - something old-fashioned and scholarly. Unless, of course, it's a weird SF setting, in which case who knows what the journal of a scholarly explorer might look like...

    [If anyone actually could finish that Ravenloft gazetteer series and publish them in a limited edition and I could afford it, I'd buy it. But then, I'm weird, so I may not be representative.]

    More generally, I think the question you might want to think about first is: why are you doing this? How much is it about a personal project, to get a copy onto your bookshelves and a few for your friends, and how much is it about trying to make money, or at least break even, by finding the largest market? That might change how you weight the advantages of the different ideas.

    Anyway, sorry for wittering on at rather greater length that you probably required.

    I'm sure I'm not alone, incidentally, in being curious to see what quote you get back from those guys. I mean, I'm not planning on self-publishing a fine edition of anything in the foreseeable future (I'd need something to publish, first), but hey, a boy can dream...

    1. Thanks for this. I like the idea you've presented of a framing story around supplemental material. That could actually be quite good, and I've toyed with similar ideas in the past.

      And "break even" is good enough for me, monetarily speaking. I don't need to make a lot of money on it, but it's more than just a vanity project. Or it's a vanity project that pays for itself, I suppose. :)

      And the potential binders are working on a quote right now. I'm curious to see it, too!

  3. Okay, after 2 comment attempts that just wooshed off into nowhere, I'm fighting Fri the 13th's tactics by writing this in an editor before posting to the blog. Fingers crossed.

    Not a lot to add to vacuoswastrel's comments, which I agree with nearly point by point. I'll serve as his cheering section, and try to add some details.

    The two best bets are definitely a themed anthology with recognizable names contributing, or something rpg-based. I agree that rpg people are big supporters of the right project. I even suggested to another author mulling over a Kickstarter for a print version of his experimental online project that he court rpg'ers both in placing promos
    and designing the project. (For anyone who cares to know, he went with a traditional trade printing, then failed a Kickstarter campaign for a more traditional novel project. A well-known name, but apparently not enough to fund the project.)

    So there's a definite risk in a solo collection. That should probably get floated by agent if you have representation, maybe self-pubbed if no one picks up.

    RPG, depending on exactly what you plan to do, probably has most forward support. You are immersed in the community, as you say have some access to that community, and afaik respect within it. First thing is to ask those
    people if they'd buy what you are proposing. Then you know if it's feasible to Kickstart.

    Anthology requires getting the potential contributors to talk it up just as you Kickstart it. You'll need more pledges from authors than you'll likely pub in the volume, both because some will back out even if it funds and
    so if it overfunds you can add some authors in stretch goals. An original theme is a must.I'm sure you realize you're going to have to individually contact literally every author you know to solicit contributions to an anthology. I would highly recommend approaching them for an original contribution above all else - then see if they have a suitable already-written story they might consider holding for the anth for one of two reasons: as a fallback in case time constraints prevent their contributing the original in a timely manner once it funds, and as a potential add-on for stretch goals. Reprints will sink the whole idea unless they are in addition to a very nice roster of originals, and limited to one or two.

    The novella has same risks as a solo collection. If you don't have strong support before the Kickstart, the KS will fail. Making it a novel would slightly improve the chances. You need at least 125-150 pages to support a bound edition of anything on your own. With that as a guage
    you can calculate how many supporters you need at what minimum pledge amounts - and you need that many upfront, before you Kickstart, or you risk an embarrassing failure doing the KS without that supportive base. I'd give thought to keeping the novella on the market until it sells. "Too well written" suggests a sub-prime market. If you haven't been working your way downwards already, consider starting with top-of-the-line markets if the one currently looking at it throws it back.

  4. I am agented, but my agent isn't compelled to shop short story collections for me, though there is a contractual caveat that the option is always open.

    One of the funny things I'm seeing about kickstarter is that there's no real dollar range for successful projects. You can have two people doing very similar books for a very similar audience with very similar writing credentials and they get two vastly different amounts of money for their kickstarters - both of them successful.

    Any multi-author antho I do will be all original fiction. And I still have contact with quite a few good, name authors. To be honest, I really like finding new authors and will hunt them out and ask for submissions as well. That's how I found a few authors that appeared in my past anthologies. There are great undiscovered writers out there!

    The problem with novellas is they are an *incredibly* hard sell unless your name rhymes with Reeven Ring. Someone had suggested elsewhere doing a novella with a handful of somewhat-related shorts in one volume. I've seen that work, at times, and am seriously considering it.

    I'm mulling the crazed idea of a novella, followed by an RPG adventure/supplement, followed by short stories, each followed by an RPG element (NPCs, encounters, etc). Kind of what Kevin Siembieda did with the Mechanoids comic back in the '80s, but with text instead of comics. Maybe. Mmmmmaybe.

  5. Absolutely include new authors in an anthology (who knows, I might have something to submit when the time comes, lol!) But the established names as anchors will sell those newbies into anthology-hood.

    A mix-up with rpg elements tying it together sounds very promising, and allows you to do a range of things and keep the rpg dollars bouying it up. One caveat - best to have most of the material finishing before doing a KS to keep the "risk factor" down. Every bit of material not yet written increases the risk to supporters. Could end up with lots of 1$-5$ pledges and not enough at the higher levels to fund it. (Or you can use the initial>subsequent material for funding primary and stretch goals, of course.)

    1. I wouldn't imagine doing a kickstarter unless my work on the project was 100% finished. I don't like unknown quantities (like page count, for instance) in business ventures. Yeah, I'll take a risk, but I'll make it as calculated as possible to favor success.

  6. You and I have both talked previously of our shared love of small press like Tartarus so I know that you're hip to the fact that not only small presses like Dim Shores, Dunhams Manor Press, and others besides mainstream heavyweights like Tor have thrown in with novellas the past few years. Thankfully the days of "bugsmasher legnth"== value are dying.

    With that said I think if you mixed a bit of everything, say something completely mad like a shared concept where you wrote a novella combined with short stories from other authors that contained an RPG supplement that would be cool as fuck. There's enough cross over not only in fanbase between audience but also inspiration between weird fiction and RPG's that I think an LotFP or even Tartarus style hardbound with the bells and whistles wouldn't make both camps sit up and take notice. I've always thought it was one of the largest missed opportunities that the RPG based off Thomas's Punktown shared world still languishes in development hell despite repeated promises to its backers. That it made its Kickstarter so handily and the manner in which RPG kicks have been doing so well I feel is an encouraging sign and the Weird Fiction collector (thinking of Tartarus/Centipede end here) are a good one to think of.

    1. Thanks for this. I've had a couple of people mentioned a shared world or shared concept, but not combining the stories and an RPG supplement in the same breath. That is a very interesting idea.

      And I didn't even know that Jeffrey's IP was being made into an RPG. Was it just called "Punk town RPG" or something like that? Which reminds me, I really should re-establish contact with Jeffrey and Scott. It's been a long time . . .

  7. that should say "with the bells and whistles would make both camps sit up and take notice". Mornings.