Thursday, February 23, 2006
"The Big Meow" ...is a go!
In mid-December I posted part of a message from a reader and fan of the "Feline Wizards" books who wanted to know when the third book of the trilogy begun with The Book of Night with Moon and continued in On Her Majesty's Wizardly Service / To Visit the Queen was going to come out. I wrote back saying that, though the outline for the book was complete, the publisher hadn't been interested in bringing out the third volume because of relatively low sales figures on the first two: so that book would probably not be written.
And then I started thinking... You can see the whole response post here, in which I laid out my thoughts on the subject. In that post, I asked people who were interested in seeing a third book to mail me and let me know. If enough of them (meaning enough people to cover the costs of writing a book and self-publishing it via a print-on-demand publisher like Lulu.com) expressed interest, I would consider writing the book and publishing it myself.
Now it's two months later, and that being -- I thought -- more than enough time for people to express their interest, I wanted to get some closure on the issue. Last week I asked the readership one last time for their emails, intending to make up my mind once and for all this week on what to do about the project so that I could get on with other things.
I spent most of this last Monday counting and rereading all the emails since December. They were all very positive. A surprising number of people committed to buy multiple copies of the book when it was finished. Many others offered suggestions for ways to self-publish. A lot of people offered to send money up front, which was nice, but per se was a suggestion I preferred to resist: I'd rather there be something concrete on the barrelhead for people to put their cash down on, as it were. A lot of the people who mailed me knew about, and mentioned, Lawrence Watt-Evans' celebrated approach to his own version of this problem, in which he "serially" self-published his Ethshar novel The Spriggan Mirror, posting a chapter every time the PayPal donations from interested readers reached a certain point. (And afterwards, his book found a publisher, too.)
That particular business model had been on my mind for a good while. Certainly it has an honorable and ancient cultural precedent in the storyteller who unrolls his or her mat in the marketplace and tells just enough story to get your interest...then shakes the bowl in front of him/her, and waits for enough coins to jingle in it to warrant a continuation. But at the end of the day, when you start a project like this, the question is always going to be: is there going to be enough interest to see it finished? Yes, I want to tell this story -- there are characters in The Big Meow who I've been wanting to write for a long time. And at the same time, what goes on in my household is still a business, about which I have to be fairly hardheaded if it's not to flounder in the face of present market conditions. I set a number of financial conditions that were going to have to be met if this whole business was going to be worth my while: these conditions were tied to the approximate cost of a book of this size as published at Lulu (between USD $20 and $25, approximately) and whether I was going to be able to make back my expenses, at the most basic acceptable level, from projected sales.
Unfortunately, after the count was finished, and even after putting the best construction on the number of books that the people who wrote me were committing to buy, the numbers still came up short of the results I'd been looking for. This depressed me, and I spent some hours afterwards trying to figure out what to do. And during that period, something rather unusual happened. An email came in that started out like this:
If you find yourself a little short on responses for "The Big Meow", I
hereby offer to write a check for $1000.00 USD up front if you commit on your blog to start writing the book and self-publish it.
You may imagine that my jaw kind of dropped at that point. (BTW, I'm not going to reveal the person's name at the moment, not being sure if it's OK with him.) At no point in this process had anyone stepped up to the plate and started swinging quite like that. And so substantial an addition to the economics of the situation could, under certain circumstances, make a significant difference to the way the rest of the numbers played out.
So here's how it will be.
Adding the challenge like the one in that last mail to everybody else's commitment...it's simply impossible for me to say "no". Therefore, I'm going to start writing The Big Meow. (However, everybody please note that at the moment, the chief priority on my side of the household is getting A Wizard of Mars off to its publisher, so the "delivery" of the first chapter of TBM is likely to be delayed a couple/few weeks.)
I will conduct this operation along the lines of Lawrence Watt-Evans's model, which seems to have served him well, but I'm going to add a few tweaks of my own to it.
The Big Meow mailing list
I'm assuming that all of you who mailed me about TBM are willing to be notified when material is ready for you to see: so I'll be constructing a mailing list using all your addresses (you'll get a confirmation /opt-in-or-out mail in the next few days). When Chapter One of TBM is ready, I'll mail you all and "shake the can", alerting you that it's time for you to make a payment. I'll put a link up on The Big Meow's website so that those who want to add themselves to the mailing list can do so.
PayPal will be the preferred payment method, though (as in Lawrence's case) I'll accept checks as well. (It will take a little time to set that up with my bank and the local post office: in the meantime, PayPal payments, or credit card payments processed via PayPal, will be the only available method.) As with sales for A Wind from the South,, fulfillment of the PayPal payments will be via e-Junkie, which has been working quite nicely for us. (You'll notice, by the way, that the email address to which the payments are directed is Peter's. He is acting as "banker" and in-house oversight -- i.e., "nag" -- for this project.)
Please note that I haven't yet decided what the minimum amount/number of received subscription payments per chapter will be: this is going to take a little more thought on my part. I'll be notifying the people on the mailing list of the minimum amount shortly. At any rate, when enough "subscription" payments have arrived, everybody who subscribed will be emailed the first chapter (and a link to a password-protected page on the Web. All the subscribers to a given chapter of TBM will be getting back a receipt back assigning them a unique password for that transaction).
Three days after the chapter has become available to the subscribers, it'll be posted to an "open" webpage at the Big Meow website, where anyone who likes can read it, and (if they like) subscribe to the next chapter.
And so it'll go. We'll repeat the process as long as reader response warrants it. (Please note that I am not committing myself to complete this project if the reader response is inadequate. Each time a chapter is posted, the ball is back in all of your courts.)
After the book is over: publication
Assuming that all goes well, when TBM is finished, those who've subscribed to all ten installments (that's how the book is structured at the moment, in ten chapters) will be getting a "hard copy" paperback produced via Lulu.com. Others who haven't subscribed, or have subscribed only to part of the run, will be free to purchase the book at Lulu, in whatever quantities they desire. All subscribers, whether they paid for the whole run or only part of it, will be acknowledged for their contributions in all subsequent printed versions of the book (who knows, perhaps some day a publisher will step up to the plate).
The challenge grant fund
I'm designating the above chapter-by-chapter payments as "subscription" payments,in order to leave free -- for those who prefer to handle their participation this way -- a separate channel for contribution to the project. My mystery e-mailer added the following good suggestion:
If you like, I give you my permission to publish this note and to convert the $1000.00 USD pledge into a challenge grant where I will match up to $1000 of donations from others, at your discretion.)
I like the sound of that. So I'm going to be establishing a separate payment button (look to the left) where interested parties can add to the challenge grant fund. If the challenge is successful, this will significantly reduce the total costs of the project, and make it possible for me to hit my "earn-out" figure sooner. Those who make contributions to this fund will also be acknowledged in all print versions as "Friends of The Big Meow" or something similar. (US readers, think of the varying levels of support you see advertised in an NPR / PBS pledge drive: this would be like that.) After the challenge amount is achieved, a notification to that effect will be posted on the Big Meow website. The "contribution button" will remain in place, though, for those who want to help the project along in a mode different from the chapter-by-chapter subscription model.
(One note about this: once we figure out a way to configure e-Junkie to handle payments of unspecified amounts, we'll switch the challenge grant payments over there, and that system will automatically deliver you a document confirming your contribution. In the meantime, just use the PayPal button at the Big Meow site; when the transaction finishes, you'll wind up with a copy of the acknowledgement that you can print out.)
My commitment to the readership
I think -- looking at my present work schedule -- that I can finish this book in six months. So my target completion date is August 23, 2006...the first day of LA Con IV.
(Doubtless there will be betting pools starting up immediately regarding whether I'll hit the target. I don't want to know. :) I'll add only this word of warning: it looks like the TV end of my workload may start getting active during the summer. I'll keep people posted as I can.)
Other miscellaneous details
Please note that this endeavor is not being operated by or as part of a non-profit organization, so your payments to the challenge grant fund are not "donations" for tax purposes. Just so you know.
Otherwise, doubtless there will be various minor logistical and technical matters that will come up to be handled as we get this thing going. Please bear with me as I sort them out.
...So there you have it. If you want to be added to the TBM mailing list, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org . Those of you who offered to send money right now (and that was a truly surprising number of you), you can put it to best use by putting it toward the challenge-grant fund.
And now: onward. Let's see what you folks do.
Yes, it's fine. I don't mind going public with who I am.
Woo hoo! I see we're up to $765 as of this writing. Clearly I should have tried to find a few other people ahead of time who'd have been to "pre-donate" and increase the size of the challenge matching fund. Anyone want to step up up now and add oh, another $500 or $1000 to the matching fund? And if someone wants to add another $2000 and totally eclipse me as the biggest contributor, go for it! It's all for a good cause, and what I expect to be a good read. :-)