Fabled Kingdom v2 Shortlisted for the Ledger Awards!

Exciting news! “Fabled Kingdom” v2 got shortlisted for the Ledger Awards, which is the Australian comics industry award for excellence. It was a handful of books chosen out of about 200 entries, so this is a good thing for the “Fabled Kingdom” series of course (all three books). It’s also helpful at conventions (and elsewhere) for advertising reasons, so I decided to make some printable placards to and book bands for this.

Here’s what they look like:

Other News: As for what else I’ve been doing, I’ve just finished a short colour kids mini-comic called “Counting Sheep” and printed it. Let me just say that at 14-pages long, I’ve still yet to nail down this colouring thing, since I’ve noticed that the colours were different on my monitor and on my printer. Best to do more research on this. Also, my short 20-page horror story “Mother and Son” seems to need a bit of a workover because of mild pacing issues at a particular point in the story, so I’m looking at that soon to see if that can be smoothed over.

Why are Indie Comics so Difficult to Sell?

This is an article I sent around on my Mailing list, amongst other things such as progress reports, art and other announcements. Please join my mailing list via this form.

IMPORTANT:  Book Expo for the weekend of 8-9th Oct has been cancelled, folks. Tickets will be refunded – it’s sad, but unfortunately it’s no longer happening.

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Hello all, since I’m nearing the end of my “Fabled Kingdom” series (book 3 will be finished after 2 chapters), I’ve started thinking about marketing myself and my work. As a result, I’ve decided to address a common topic as part of my research, but from a perspective that may not be common in artistic circles.

I’m writing this because “Why are indie comics so difficult to sell? is a question that is frequently bandied about on forums by comic book artists, but few can provide a good, straight-forward answer to it. I’m going to try to answer it from a different angle: through a business investment approach.

 

Why Fiction is Hard to Sell

You may be wondering what I do for a day job – I’m actually an investor, which is the family business. For that reason, I like to look at questions like “why is product X not selling?” from a business perspective, because it’s a perspective that would benefit artists a lot by understanding.

fungible

Before I continue, I should clarify something. The title for this post was originally “Why is fiction so hard to sell?“, because most indie comics also count as “fiction” even though that term is rarely used to describe comics. However, both fictional comics and fictional prose are subject to the same problems, so perhaps this article may be useful for looking at all works of narrative fiction, including movies or games.

Here’s the truth:  Fiction of all kinds, including indie comics, are a “WANT”, not a “need”. As a “want”, they are also a NON-FUNGIBLE PRODUCT.

That’s just ONE reason why they’re difficult to sell in a general marketplace, but an important one if you want to understand how to market an indie comic.

 

What is Fungibility?

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“Fungibility” is the property of a good or a commodity whose individual units are capable of mutual substitution. In other words, the likelihood of a consumer to buy one brand over another brand, because in the consumer’s mind, there’s not much difference between them. Fungibility is a spectrum, and it measures how mutually interchangeable a class of products are.

For example:  If I go into a supermarket and I need some apples, I’m going to buy Pink Lady apples. If I can’t get Pink Lady apples, then I’ll buy Red Delicious apples, because I need apples, and I’m not too picky. If neither are available, maybe I’ll buy Granny Smith.

In that scenario, apples are fungible. If I want apples, I’ll buy whatever brand is available. Likewise, so is peanut butter, eggs, a pair of shorts, shampoo, pencil lead, notebook paper, etc. Most perishable items and mass-manufactured household items are fungible, because most people buying them will end up buying one anyway even if their first choice of brand isn’t available.

 

But Fiction Doesn’t Work That Way

bookexchangeIf I go into a bookstore wanting to buy “Dr Sleep” by Stephen King and they don’t have that book, I’m not necessarily going to buy a Dean Koontz book instead, even though both Stephen King and Dean Koontz are both blockbuster horror writers. Likewise, I’m not suddenly going to buy “Carrie” either, even if it’s also by Stephen King, because I’m not interested in that story.

This is an example of how fiction, even well-known fiction, isn’t fungible.

Authors/artists may act as brands in fiction, and genres are used to direct customers to their favourite type of book, but neither of these actually make fiction fungible.

Books that are by the same author aren’t necessarily fungible, and sometimes, not even books in the same series is fungible. For example, if I want to get into the “Harry Potter” series and the bookstore doesn’t have book 1, I’m not going to go and buy book 6.

There is an important distinction to make, because fiction is different to non-fiction. Non-fiction is easier to sell than fiction, because non-fiction serves a practical, functional purpose in many people’s lives. If I want to learn how to play a guitar, or how to bake a pumpkin pie, two how-to books on the same subject is the same to me so long as they teach me what I want to know. Conversely, fiction doesn’t have the same function.

 

So How Do you Sell Fiction?

bookmarketingThis is a question that many people, myself included, struggle with. In the next article, I’m going to look at some marketing ideas, particularly passive marketing ideas, that can help sell fiction better.

Keeping in mind that fiction is a non-fungible product, there are actually advantages that fiction has over more fungible products – the key is to figure out what that is.

Chapter 14-15 of “Fabled Kingdom” is out now!

Well, well. This has arrived quicker than I thought. I’ve powered into book 3 of “Fabled Kingdom,” and I have about 6 chapters to go. I’m halfway through Chapter 16 as we speak. SInce book 3 is due at the end of this year (December 2016), I’ve certainly got plenty of time to do the book. Books 1-3 of “Fabled Kingdom” is a self-contained story, so it’ll be neat to get it done and out!

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Chapter 14-15 of “Fabled Kingdom” is out as a PDF: You can buy it on Smashwords. It’s an odd book because Chapter 14 belongs to book 2, while Chapter 15 belongs to book 3. Either way, it doesn’t matter. Interestingly enough, SW has also upped

Working the Self-Publishing Tutorials: I’m SLOOOOWLY getting this done, and SLOOOOWLY putting up a bunch of tutorials on DeviantArt. I’m doing a self-publishing workshop on Saturday the 13th February 2016 for the Sydney Comics Guild, which is from 11:30-1:30pm at ArtSHINE gallery near Central Station. It’s an “Intro to self-publishing” workshop, so it’ll be pretty basic, but valuable to those who may not know much about the subject.

Attending ACAF: As you may know, I’m currently working on an online retail hub for comics, and I’ll be showing the system off at the Australian Comic Arts Festival. The ACAF is at the Novotel Canberra, and runs from the 20-21st February. I’ll be there talking on a number of panels, but most of all showing off the BentoNet, the name of my system.

Fabled Kingdom – Chapter 12-13 and Smashwords

Hi all! Fabled Kingdom book 2 is still waiting on its proofs, but I have chapters 12-13 up already on Smashwords. It’s US$1.59 to buy these two chapters, while I wait to release the full version of book 2 in print and ebook.

This 2-chapter ebook will not be released on any other platform besides Smashwords. I have also withdrawn all of the “Fabled Kingdom” books distributed through Smashwords, and they should ONLY be available on SW (though it’s unlikely). I’ll talk more about it below.
 

As you may have noticed, I re-designed the covers:

FK-covers-123

The main reason, apart to make it less “busy”, is due to the font. The original font I used was a fan-made font for the “Lord of the Rings” community (Ringbearer), which is rather inappropriate to use for self-publishing. I couldn’t secure permission for the creator to use it, so I used a paid font (which I bought the license to) called Mantinia instead. It’s an obscure font, but looks a lot like Ringbearer, so it sufficed. It’s important to own the rights to fonts and images you use in your work, folks!
 

About Smashwords:

I may have mentioned before that I’ve soured on SW as a distribution system, but I want to make it clear that this has nothing to do with SW itself, which I still think is a great platform. Instead, the reason is rather complicated – it’s due to the consolidation of the book market, and problems with SW’s downstream distributors.

There’s been a whole bunch of news reports lately about the e-book market stabilising to around 30% of total book sales, but much of it is misleading. First of all, these figures don’t distinguish between fiction and non-fiction books, but that’s not the main issue – the main issue is that while the e-book pie of the market isn’t growing as explosively as in 2008-2012, the number of new e-book selling platforms entering the e-book market has increased. This means that an increasing number of e-book sellers are fighting over a pie that isn’t growing as quickly as new sellers are entering.

Obviously, this leads to companies going bust, or being bought up by other companies. E-book selling in 2015 is a hot mess, with Amazon dominating everyone by far. This means that it’s become impossible to keep track of which e-book companies are still in business – including those which SW distributes to.

Hence, the problem with not SW, but the platforms SW distributes to. I know SW sells my books, but since SW also distributes to iBooks, Nook, Kobo, and other places, do I know who these platforms distribute to? Apart from iBooks (Apple ain’t in the e-book distributing business), the answer is NO. There’s currently no way to track which e-book platforms that, say, Kobo is distributing to, or whether these platforms will still be around in 2 years time.

This means that there’s a potentially infinite number of dead e-companies out there, with nothing to show for but large data warehouses full of e-books they may not even have the rights to distribute. Does this bother everyone? No, but it bothers me.

Hence, why I’ve decided to stay off SW’s distributors for a while. I’ll be posting the rest of the “Fabled Kingdom” series up, but that’ll be about it. After I finish book 3, I shall remove “Fabled Kingdom” from that platform until things settle down. It’s not a huge deal, but I don’t want to be caught in the cross-fire of Amazon and internet e-book companies when they start dying (which they already are).

Section 2: Getting a Manga Published (Part 12 – FINAL)

I finally got to finish this series. I bunch of stuff happened in the past 2 months and I just got super busy and failed to post this up on Tumblr sooner. The good news is, I’m finishing this up and moving onto my next project “Fabled Kingdom”, so good to see this finally done! I’ll post more stuff from FK once November starts!

 

  • This is part of an on-going blog series called “Being a Professional Manga Artist in the West“. The Table of Contents is here.
  • My comics-prose stories “Short Ghost Stories: The Man with the Axe in his Back” is available on Smashwords and Amazon. Read more at this link.

 


 

Part 6: Books Shipped, Books Returned, and the Returns Reserve

This will be the last post in this series, since it covers pretty much the end of the chain of production. Here is how it goes:

  1. The rights to a book are bought by publishers.
  2. The advance and royalty percentage is worked out in a contract
  3. The book goes through the publishing editorial process
  4. When it’s ready for market, the publishers look to book sellers to order copies so they know how many copies to print.

Point 4 will be the focus of this post, plus what happens from that point onwards.

 

Part 6a: Books shipped VS Books sold

Firstly, I will tackle a subject that few readers think about, but which plagues authors and publishers like crazy. That is: the difference between the number of books printed, and the number of books actually sold to a person who pays money to buy the book. Mind you, this doesn’t include things like promotional copies, deep discounted copies, or any number of alternate editions (such as book clubs, preview copies, etc) that a book may get.

I bet you when you go into a bookstore, most of you don’t realise that the bookstore doesn’t actually own any of the books on the shelves. The truth is, bookselling is a business that’s based on consignment – bookstores let publishers stock their shelves with books. In turn, bookstores get to keep a percentage of the profit when a book is sold.

That is, if a book sells. What if you printed 1000 books, and only 500 of them sold? That is the difference between ‘books shipped,’ and ‘books sold.’

It’s the bane of publishers everywhere, because it’s possible these days to print 10,000 copies, and only sell 100 copies. A book that doesn’t sell is only taking up shelf space, and book sellers don’t like it when non-selling deadweight flops take up precious, limited shelf space. You can betcha that if a new book is sitting on a bookshelf and isn’t selling, a bookseller will take it off the shelves to make room for new books. All the copies of the non-selling book will then be returned to the publisher – at the publisher’s expense. It’s the sort of thing that can bankrupt a publisher, if they bet on the wrong book.

So, how long will a book get to sit on a shelf, until it’s decided to be a flop? About 6 weeks.

If it hasn’t moved a designated number of copies (decided by a computer) after 6 weeks, then it will be returned to a publisher. The book will then be declared ‘dead.’ Now, this may seem harsh, but then again, this is how much publishing has changed in the past 20 years. Returns have always been a problem, but the pace of new books being published is so fast that this has become the new normal. On average, 25-40% of all books printed gets returned, and the publisher AND author will bear the cost of it.

 

Part 6b: Returns Reserve

The trickle of books returned to a publisher will take a while to be calculated. Some books sell better at some stores than other, so it’s very hard to predict exactly how many books have been sold until the quarterly figures come in and are tallied. Usually, it’s assumed that after 18 months, all copies of a book that are to be returned have been returned. That means that after 6 months on the bookshelf, a book is presumed to have sold most of the copies it would sell in its lifespan.

Because the cost of unsold books will have to be borne by the publisher and author, usually on an author’s royalty statement there is a 25% ‘returns reserve’ provision. What that means is that 25% of your royalties will be withheld from you, until 18 months is over. Since 85% of books fail to recoup their advances (see my previous post on advances), if you didn’t recoup your advance during this time, you probably won’t after this. So withholding 25% of your royalties from you isn’t that big a deal – after all, you’ll get it back after 18 months.

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This ends my series on publishing. There’s a lot more to cover that I’ve yet to cover, but it’s probably easier for people to contact me directly if they have a question to ask.

Since I promised people that I’ll be doing a tutorial on ‘how to do comics-prose’, I’ll probably spend the rest of my time doing that. I’ll include self-publishing in there too, since I feel being able to self-publish and put a price on your work is an integral part of doing comics-prose. Talk to you all later!