Tag Archives: literature

The As-Required-By-Law Kickstarter Post-Mortem

Kickstarter Post-Mortem (Updated 2-25-2014)

As Seemingly Required By Law


So, my first Kickstarter is done. I beat the odds in several ways… it was funded. The product was produced, if not 100% on time, at least mostly under budget. (That is, I paid for all expenses out of the money raised…. with the exception of paying myself for the time involved. At the end, after expenses, I “earned” approximately $0.75/hour, or 1/10th minimum wage.)

So what have we learned?

Writing The Book Was The Easy Part

You’d think actually producing the core product would be the biggest hurdle, and after that, it would all be gravy. Well, that’s not the case. I found this experience an object lesson as to why any argument to the effect of “Dude, publishers and producers and agents are all just parasites feeding off the creative soul! Eliminate the middleman! Fight the power!” is total bull bagels. You know why middlemen exist? Because the skills and knowledge involved in turning a word processor document into an actual book are not instinctive, and time spent on that process is time spent not doing anything creative. I’d estimate it took almost as much time to handle the post-writing work as it did to write the book. Fortunately, a large chunk of that time was learning curve — it will go more smoothly next time. Yes, I’m stupid enough to think there will be a next time.

Figure Out The Art Early

One of the major delays was getting the art done. Some of this was due to Life Happening on the part of the artist, which is unavoidable and in no way his fault — my own current situation is ample proof that the universe is going to kick you in the balls and then shove you off a cliff at the worst possible time. Another part of it was due to me not knowing what scenes I wanted illustrated… or even what scenes would be in the book… until I was done writing it. Ordering art earlier in the creative process runs the risk of being locked into story elements you might later decide to change, but ordering it later means everything is delayed.

Size (And Shape) Matter

Another exciting discovery was that the costs of a book increase dramatically with page count, and that page size reduces page count — and thus cost. The reason so many self-published or small-press books are 6 x 9 is because that’s an optimal point between increasing cost-per-page due to larger pages, and increasing page count due to smaller pages. However, if your art was commissioned at a different height/width ratio… it won’t fit properly. And if you’re running really late getting the book out, you have to bite the bullet and deal with things that aren’t perfectly sized, cropping or scaling and hoping for the best.

Details Matter

Margins matter. Font size matters. Headers/footers, page numbers, and making sure things look good when viewed in a double-page spread as a print book, not just as a scrolling PDF, matter. Some fonts don’t embed properly. These are all things I didn’t know, and had to learn, and each one added to the delays in getting the books out. (And I shall be honest — the final print copy was “acceptable”, not “perfect”. The kerning is a bit off. The inner margin is too narrow. It’s well within the bounds of “readable”, but it could be better, and now I know.)

"Now I know! And knowing is half the battle!"

“Now I know! And knowing is half the battle!”

Software

I figured the only program I needed to know how to use was Word. Bwaahahah! One of the things I learned was that I needed to learn image-editing and image-conversion software… which I didn’t own and didn’t have time to learn. Fortunately, I did have skilled friends who took pity on me. They probably won’t take pity on me a second time, so I  either budget money to pay people for their hard-earned skills and talents, or I budget time and money to learn this stuff myself.

Graphic Design

Seriously, I'm Not

Seriously, I’m Not

I have  very little graphic design sense. Contrary to grade school philosophy, people can and do judge books by their covers. Even with good art, the total design — font choices, placement of title and author, background — had to be good enough to say “This book is professionally written.” Is it logical to judge the quality of the words by the layout of the cover? Somewhat. Just as poor grammar/spelling in a post sends the message “I don’t care enough about my point to write it properly; why should you care enough about it to consider my message?”, sloppy design and layout says, “I don’t care about how the book looks; why should you trust me to care about the plot, characterization, and editing?” So, while I had some placeholder choices for the “late beta” PDF I released when I realized there would be a long delay for the final copy, I knew it wasn’t good enough. Further, the fact the scaling had changed meant understanding appropriate design “tricks” to make the art look good despite having the wrong height/width ratio. Fortunately, as noted, I had friends come to my assistance.

Let It Flow, Let It Flow, Let It Flow…. (Added 2-25-2014)

Something else discovered fairly late in the process. When I was finally getting around to adding in the credits for the backers, I wanted them to look good (and also not increase the page count too much). I knew enough Word stuff to set up alternating sections with different column counts, so I could have a header listing each backer tier, and then a two column list below that, and then the next division, and so on. It did look pretty decent, all in all. Until I converted it to epub. Then it sucked. Why? Because epub and mobi (and probably all other e-reader formats) are designed to flow text across all sorts of screens. They throw away all but the most basic formatting information to allow for maximum flexibility. So, I ended up having two different files (which I have to manually maintain in parallel — if I fix a typo in one, I must go change the other, then re-export both), in order to have one version that looks good in print and one that looks good in silicon. (I understand that “real” layout tools handle this automatically, and by “automatically”, I mean “someone who knows what they’re doing can set them up to do it”.)

General Conclusion: There Is No Magic Book Fairy

Somehow, I had gotten it into my head that all I needed to do was write the book, edit it, and then email a PDF to magicbookfairy@selfpublishing.com, and that would be that. As I learned, not so much. Overall, dealing with art, layout, formatting, and file conversion issues took about 30-40 hours of time. I can probably whack that down to 10-15 now that I know a lot more about what’s required, and that’s going to get factored in to the next budget plan.

The Sky People

The Sky People

Cover of As anyone who has followed my career (if you can call it that) knows, I have a special love for the genre often called “Sword and Planet” or “Planetary Romance”. The platonic ideal of this genre is Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom chronicles. The essential feature of the genre is an alien world filled with monsters, princesses wearing next to nothing, advanced technology alongside swords and arrows, and a heroic square-jawed Earthman who will come along and save the oddly-colored natives from some terrible threat, usually rising from a despised outsider to a revered leader in a matter of weeks. You know… Avatar. Only a lot less pedantic and preachy.

Anyway, this genre is known for several things, good and bad… the bad being ludicrous science, cardboard characters, and considerable sexism and racism. When modern authors approach the genre, they tend to do a conscious pastiche of the “old school” minus the political incorrectness, but otherwise identical to material which would not have been out of place in a magazine published a century ago. (Some of us also attempt a respectful, albeit tongue-in-cheek, approach.)S. M. Stirling tries a surprisingly new approach — take all the tropes of the genre and dump them in world which is psychologically, politically, and scientifically real. Does it work?

Well, I wouldn’t have finished the book if it didn’t, so there’s not a lot of suspense to that question. But click the “Read More” button anyway, OK?

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The World Of Tiers

The World Of Tiers

OK, this is going to be a look at an entire series, not just a single book, but it’s an eminently gameable series. It surprises me that no one has glommed onto the World of Tiers license yet. Really, someone should just buy “Phillip Jose Farmer” as a license, because he creates settings which are extremely rich in roleplaying potential and which haven’t been utterly and completely done to death in multiple editions yet. Then again, my understanding is that most licensed games don’t sell too well, and Farmer was at the peak of his popularity and productivity in the 1960s and 1970s, making him a bit unknown to today’s younger audience.

Anyway, the World of Tiers… centaurs, Teutonic knights, harpies, American Indians, teleportation, demigods, robots, and more!

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Midnight At The Well Of Souls

Midnight At The Well Of Souls

Midnight at the well of souls

Many great science fiction novels and settings have been turned into RPGs, and also some not-so-great ones. This is not one of the not-great ones; that is, it’s one of the great ones. Unlike a lot of great science fiction books, movies, or TV shows, it’s also eminently gameable. The novels, five in the original series (which I’ve read several times) and a bunch more written more recently (which I have not read, but since they were published well after this game, they’re irrelevant, and irrelevance never forgets), take place on the Well World, a kind of cosmic lab where the creators of all life in the universe experimented with different species. Think of it as a biological Google Labs. Some things got out of beta and were published, and some things, well, can we say “Google Wave”, anyone? In any event, the world was divided into hexagons — yes, hexagons — each containing a unique biome and a sapient race, ranging from humans to centaurs to talking asparagus to incomprehensible energy beings, and they all shared the same world, and in some hexes tech worked and in others it didn’t, and in some magic — yes, magic — worked and in others it didn’t, and you can see how a setting like this, with hundreds of races, mixed tech and magic, and a legendary control center (the “Well of Souls”) to quest for would be a perfect RPG setting. However, I’m going to bet you haven’t heard of the RPG, and as far as I know it vanished rather quickly, leaving behind no supplements. Why? Was it a steaming pile of suck, deserving of a painful death, or was it just in the wrong place at the wrong time? We won’t know until we crack open the book and begin!

Quick! Hit “Read More”! We have to begin!

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Android Karenina

{jcomments on}Gameable Literature: Android Karenina

Android Karenina

Having decided to end a rather long period where I haven’t done a great deal of reading (given I used to go through 2-3 books a week and I’ve been barely doing one book every month or two, it’s pathetic), I have also decided to try to make some use of this reading time in terms of adding some content to this blog. Thus, as I finish any book which might even be vaguely useful to gamers, I will compose an essay/rant/review on it here, in the vauge hope someone finds it useful. This time, we shall be looking at “Android Karenina”.

(And if you find this article intriguing and/or useful and seek to purchase the book, well, I’ve just set up an amazon affiliates link.)

Read on for an exciting tale of Robots and Russians, of Androids and Angst, of Cossacks and Calculators! (All of which would make great circa-1978 game titles, except Androids and Angst, which is something the Forge would publish.)

 

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