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There’s a new start-up business which could turn out to be very useful to indie authors, game producers etc.

Gumroad is a sales service where everything is contained within a link. This seems, to me, to be perfect for indie authors and game publishers as a short-link is eminently sharable and essentially allows the ‘shop’ for an individual product to go viral across Twitter, Facebook etc. It also means you can code a ‘store’ with basic HTML by listing the sales links and while it lacks a shopping cart for multiple it seems bloody useful otherwise, particularly because of the immediacy.

You’ll lose 30 cents plus 5%, which for cheap items (smallest price is a buck) is not really any worse or better than most middle-man storefronts (35% being a typical cut taken). As your prices rise though, the rate of return improves quickly until it outstrips the offerings of most storefronts.

For people with a pre-existing, built in audience and a strong social media presence, this could be a fantasy solution.

I’m testing it out, but I don’t know that I have the audience to make it work yet, I’ll let you know how it goes. So far my only problem is that it seems to create every link twice! That’s probably just me being a spooner though.

Doubletap: Two short pulp stories, $2 https://gumroad.com/l/UcZf

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Anyone and everyone can write and produce a book now and apparently in the minds of some this means that the pillars of heaven are shaking and hell is coming to Frogtown. I beg to differ.

It is cock-explodingly awesome that anyone who loves words can slap together something in Word, pay a mate a fiver for a stick figure drawing and throw their work up on to the Internet for anyone to download, read and enjoy. This is a good thing. It is revolutionary. It is amazing. It means that the barrier to being able to get something published is not, necessarily, being moneyed but having a reasonable amount of savvy for pecking at a keyboard with your fingers.

Of course, a lot of this stuff that comes spewing forth from the minds of The Infinite Monkeys is shite. Sturgeon’s Law still applies (90% of anything is crap) but this has always been the case. For every Charles Dickens there’s a Thomas Prest, for every Charlotte Bronte a Joanna Trollope, for every Robert E Howard a Jim Theis.

The difference now is that we need to rely on our own discernment and that of our friends. The great guardians at the gates of publishing are in the process of being rendered irrelevant. Bookshops are vanishing at a rate of knots as online ordering continues its rampage.

If we’re going to find good books, good stories, then we need to find reliable people who know what they’re talking about. To become our own ‘gateway guardians’. Writers groups, review blogs, a stamp or mark of quality from writers who back each other up and share audiences. Consumers and producers need to look out for each other and need to make a conscious effort to rave about it when we find something cool, rather than just whining and complaining and spewing comedy invective when we find something we don’t like.

I’ve been writing RPG material since ’99, and full time since 2004/2005. It takes time to make a reputation (and it’s not always the one you want) but I have to believe that genuinely trying your best and turning out quality will eventually bring you an audience, appreciation and exposure. The writing business is just broader and more dilute.

Agree or disagree?

How can we turn people on to quality?

How can we create a marque that people can trust without the traditional model?

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I normally write role-playing games, not fiction. The ebook revolution has, in many ways, already happened to the RPG industry and a lot of the problems and concerns that regular publishing – and authors – are now facing have already been faced by that niche industry. There are some big differences, of course, as a niche RPGs have a close-knot and incestuous community, even more so than genre fiction, and while the output is quite big and quite creative it is not as easy to get lost in the crowd in gaming as it is in writing.

Still, I think there’s some lessons to be learned that might travel across to e-publishing on a more general basis.

Sturgeon’s Law – Or how I Learned to Stop Worrying about other People’s Crap

Sturgeon’s Law states that 90% of anything is crap. 90% of what’s on television? Crap. 90% of what’s published? Crap. This hasn’t necessarily changed with the advent and ease of epublishing, it just means that there’s a much bigger volume of stuff and that makes it much harder to get noticed. While that means numerically there’s a lot more crap it also means there’s more gems and that’s going to include your stuff and mine, because we’re awesome.

You just have to trust that people are capable of separating the wheat from the chaff and knowing crap when they smell it. Persistence and quality pays off in the long run, it’s paid off for me in producing RPG material and good rep builds on itself over time. Reviews, samples and endorsements help a hell of a lot.

The more you produce, the better quality it is, the more likely people are to find your work and the more likely people are to check out your other work. The ‘long tail’ as its called. After all, it doesn’t really cost anything extra to keep an ebook in ‘stock’.

In-Community

It’s been really helpful and useful to build an inward community of like minded writers, designers and so on. Nobody has every necessary skill and working together acts like a ‘force multiplier’ for skills, contacts and so on. A strong in-community that is known to be associated with one another also creates a crossover for promotion and reputation that can be useful for everyone involved.

Out-Community

The more you talk about what you’re doing, your ideas, what’s coming up the more interest and excitement you build up and the more opportunity there is for interested parties to spread the news. Talking about your ideas, your products, why you wrote them, what you were thinking… this all takes up time but it can pay off in a big way if you genuinely manage to engage with people.

You’re Not Just a Writer Now

You’ve got to do so many things, especially if you want to minimise costs as much as possible, which is going to be important especially when you’re starting out. In RPGs we can skimp on the editing, people’s standards aren’t too high, you can’t do that in conventional writing so much – it’s one of the main markers between a professional and an amateur, but you can do a lot of other things yourself.

Publicity, sales, presentations, conventions, online presence, all of this you’ll need to do yourself and it eats time and often enthusiasm. It’s exhausting and not what you get into writing (or game design) for by any means but if you want to make any money you’re going to have to.

I suck at selling myself, so much so that I took on someone else to do that for me on a semi-voluntarily and in exchange for help/mentorship. Most of us have reticence about that and unease about spamming and so forth, but to an extent you have to, if you’re going to sell.

Wincest

Gaming benefits to a big degree from its incestuous community. This isn’t a bad thing, really. A lot of the consumers of games are also designers of games. The community is informed and mutually supportive (much of the time). They get excited about each other’s projects and talk about them which helps spread the news and up sales and exposure for everyone. Provided an incestuous community is not also an insular community, it can help everyone involved.

Don’t Sell Yourself Short

Low prices can be a driver of sales but won’t do it by themselves. People will pay more for quality and can perceive higher prices as an indicator of quality. If everything by everyone is selling at the lowest possible price there’s no real benefit to be had.

Paradoxically if you have a reasonable or good name you can do a lot better by dropping your prices. More people want it, more people are willing to take a risk.

Bits & Mortar

Lots of people still like to buy hardcopy. E-versions should be cheaper but they’re also so cheap to send/provide that they can supplement hardcopy sales. There’s no harm in sending someone an e-book version free of charge if they’ve bought the hardcopy. They get their book instantly and don’t have to wait and that can tide ’em over until the physical book arrives in the post. It adds value and accessibility.

In Conclusion

I think there’s a lot that ebook fiction writers can learn from the experiences of the RPG industry. We’ve been through a lot of  and the same growing pains. Paranoia about copies and piracy (short version – fuck DRM, it ain’t worth it for anyone). Inappropriate pricing (e-versions should be at LEAST half of the hardcopy cover price).

There’s a lot that can be learned that’s advantageous. Creating community ‘brands’ from like-minded people, finding outlets that work for you to sell and directing custom there and, over everything else, I think the main thing is to have patience.

I know a lot of these sorts of things have been said by others, so you can view this as practical confirmation of those ideas. I’m sure there’s things I’ve missed and I don’t claim to be a guru, but if anyone has any questions I’m happy to answer them in the comments.

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