Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Life with Lulu

I thought I'd share a little bit of info regarding my experiences with selling the Miscellaneum of Cinder through lulu.com and other related nonsense involving life as a self-published RPG author.

Today I got my first funds transfer from the lulu people, so I guess that officially makes me an RPG professional. Expect all my future posts to contain snide disregard for all you mere consumers. Actually, I want to offer a big "Thank You!" to everyone who paid money for my dumb little book. I know at least one buyer has actually used it in his campaign. If you've rolled on some Miscellaneum tables for your own game, please share in the comments!

Lulu tells me that since offering the Miscellaneum for sale on their site a total of 85 copies have been sold, 62 PDF downloads and 23 printed books. Thus I've already met my goal of selling more copies of the Miscellaneum than the print edition of Asteroid 1618, my Encounter Critical adventure that was available for one month through S. John Ross's Cumberland Games & Diversions lulu storefront.

At my pricing of one buck for the PDF and $5.50 for the hardcopy, I make 80 cents on each download and 9 cents on each book. That adds up to a total of $51.67 in gross profits. Since I got my buddy Pat to do all the illos for free, the net profit equals the gross profit. There's a lag time between sales and getting paid, so today's PayPal transfer was for the sales period ending 6/16. That amounted to $45.98.

I'd been eyeing this website called Kiva.org since the beginning of the project. Kiva is a non-profit that facilitates micro-lending. The basic idea is that a bunch of sappy do-gooders each chip in some dough, which Kiva passes down a revenue stream to people normally unable to take advantage of modern financial services. The borrowers on the other end use the funds to try to bootstrap themselves out of poverty. For example, I put $25 in a pool totalling $650 that is going to a farmer in Viet Nam. She's borrowing money to buy livestock, trying to turn her subsistence farm into an economically viable commercial venture. Me and some other folks from all over the world have pitched in to give her a chance to do just that. Assuming she pays the money back (and the default rates for Kiva microloans are quite small) everyone gets their money back to either lend to another project or put back into the ol' PayPal account.

I also made a small donation to Kiva itself to help pay the cost of operations. My original plan had been to use some of the profits to buy Jim Raggi's Green Devil Face #1 and the new Carcosa module Obregon's Dishonor, but since coming up with those ideas GDF has come off the market temporarily and I just got a review copy of Obregon. That leaves about 17 bucks burning a hole in my PayPal account. Anybody care to make a recommendation?

So far I've received some nice comments on the Miscellaneum but also one complaint. One fellow was dissatisfied with his PDF copy because the cover was omitted from the download. Have you seen the front cover? I was suprised that anyone cared about it besides me.

When you put something up on lulu you upload the insides of the book and the covers as separate files. When you buy a download Lulu does not send the covers. This is probably why most everybody else I know lists downloads as separate items from the print version. That way they can upload a second copy with the covers incorporated into main file, but people who buy the print version don't end up with two covers. I sent the dude in question a PDF with the covers included, but right now I don't plan to change the storefront. If you want a PDF with the covers attached, please email me at jrients at the gmail to the dottity com.

Turns out a few other people cared about the cover. A couple weeks ago I approached YourGamesNow.com about listing the Miscellaneum with them. Not everybody likes Lulu and I thought I should find another channel for selling the PDF to those folks. YourGamesNow was the first PDF-only vendor I contacted because I like how they run their operation pretty much as a hippy commune of game vendors. Well, that came back to bite me in the ass, as apparently many of the commune members thought the cover was unacceptable. When I got the news, I was a little bit upset. Here were a bunch of people who I had assumed were fellow enthusiasts for the fine art of writing stupid crap about RPGs, yet they go and judge my book by its cover? I still think YGN is a nifty concept with a bunch of cool people involved, but that caught me off guard.

Not long after I put up the initial post announcing that the Miscelleneum was for sale I got a very kind offer to do up a splashier cover for me. I got another such offer last week. But here's the deal: I am completely satisfied with the cover as it currently exists. That cover went through something like six full drafts and numerous minor tweakings. I decided on the top-to-bottom purple-to-whitish fade only after rejecting several shades of green, fades from left-to-right and vice-versa, a fade from purple to black, and a totally different take with a beige textured OD&D-esque thing going on. The font I used (also used for all the table headers) was based upon my own handwriting, but the font went through a couple drafts as well. And then I streched it vertically for the cover and outlined it, both of which needed a few attempts to get the effect just right. I didn't expect anyone but myself to appreciate these efforts, so I guess I shouldn't have been surprised when the cover cost me a spot at the YGN table.

So that's life with one toe on the bottom rung of the RPG business ladder. Glamorous, ain't it?


  1. Anonymous12:00 PM

    hello... hapi blogging... have a nice day! just visiting here....

  2. Hasn't been used yet... but soon... very soon... as soon as the players are done with their pirate diversion. :)

  3. I am, alas - and please take this in the spirit of constructive criticism in which it's intended - in agreement with the YGN folks. This cover screams "amateur'. Not "retro and elegant" but "slapdash". Yes, it's unfair that the first impression provided by the cover will also extend to the content (which I have no doubt is of the highest quality,) but it's true nevertheless.

    I have no idea what the typical YGN product cover looks like, but my guess is that they thought this looked unprofessional in comparison.

    Now, at the same time, there is nothing wrong with this cover, per se, from the point of view of an author who wants to publish it for himself, and share it with a few other people. But from a business perspective, I can see where the YGN people are coming from. I can't say I'd have flatly refused to carry the book just because of that (given the nature of their business, I think that's a bit of an extreme reaction,) but I can see why they balked.

  4. The YourGamesNow people should be aware of their loss; your little booklet would be a credit to the group; it's gamerly joy from front to back.

    The cover is perfect. It's distinctly you, and as Ardwulf points out, it "screams amateur."

    There's nothing else that such a cover, for such a style of work, should ever scream.

    It's underpriced, tho' :)

  5. Lending the money to the cow farmer kicks ass. Good on you, my man.

  6. I've already used the table for the living dungeon to re-stock a partially plundered dungeon from last game. Hasn't been revisited yet sadly, but when this happens, it will hold at least two new surprises for the unwary treasuremonger.

  7. I couldn't care less about the cover. I happy to claim membership in the almost two dozen strong print copy ownership club. I'll be using some tables soon, or at the very least the following few for inspiration:

    People to Meet, Carousing, The Living Dungeon...and perhaps the single greatest random table ever devised:

    What are the Goblins up to?

    Five and a half clams for this is a steal. I'm looking forward to more Cinder stuff.

  8. Congrats Jeff! What plans do you have next?

  9. Given the ease with which one can become published now, it takes a true amateur (in the finest old sense) to resist. Good on you.

  10. I have both the print and PDF versions of the Miscellaneum, Jeff, and really love it. Thanks for making it available! Your 'six sages' has given me some plot ideas for my campaign already ...

  11. Thanks for revisiting this, I'd been meaning to get it and then forgot all about it... Hope you get a bump in sales from others too. I lol'd at your "they go and judge my book by its cover". Still, I have to admit I was hoping to get a purple cover with my PDF too, if only because it would look nice next to my purple Labyrinth Lord copy!

  12. I got mine, Jeff - I love the MISCELLANIUM!!

    Also - kudos for the charity aspect, man -- I wish more people would recognise that gaming is for fun, and not profit, and that the money might be of more beneficial use elsewhere.

  13. I'm with Christian, giving part of the profits to Kiva is a nice move on your part, since you weren't relying on the profits for living expenses. Makes me glad I got the PDF, since that produced almost 10 times more money for Vietnamese farming ladies.

  14. Kudos for the Kiva donation, Jeff. I donated to a small business man in Eastern Europe and a W
    woman in Africa. I got the money back about two months ago. I meant to reinvest it in someone else, but instead I spent it on a couple of gaming PDFs. You understand.

    I'm going to go back to Kiva tonight and put that money back to work.

  15. Congratulations on your 'professional' status. I found this post an interesting insight into the world of business. Makes me wanna get a paypal a/c.

  16. I believe it was Rob Kuntz who first said, "You, too, can make hundreds of dollars in the rpg publishing industry."

  17. roflmao... that should be a t-shirt.