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’.
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.
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.
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.
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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