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Saturday, 2 November 2013

Kickstarter - the results are in

No need to look glum. I don't know what's going on with quiff boy and those other fellows in Bob Harvey's picture above, but the Way of the Tiger campaign on Kickstarter has now concluded and it was an outstanding success.  If you didn't have enough money to buy one of the full-cover hardbacks, don't despair. There will be a paperback edition from Fabled Lands Publishing sometime next year.

Fabled Lands book seven? It's the inevitable question. We're certainly considering it. But if you're thinking it would be a shoo-in on Kickstarter, I do just have to point out a couple of caveats.

Nobody actually gets to take home forty thousand dollars for The Way of the Tiger. Kickstarter takes a fee off the top. Artists must be paid. The text must be scanned, cleaned up and edited. Printing, packaging and postage eats up most of what remains.

And Way of the Tiger was already written - six books of it, at any rate - and the new artwork was able to build on what Bob Harvey and the cover artist had aleady done.

In contrast, FL book 7 needs to be written. It must have all-new illustrations by Russ. (Everyone agree? Thought so.) An awesome cover image too that must hold its own beside Kevin Jenkins's classic paintings. And then there's editing and typesetting. That all has to be paid for by the profit margin, not the whole amount raised.

Profit is not the right word anyway, as the hundreds of man-hours that Richard S Hetley, Mikaël Louys, David Walters and others put into running the WOTT Kickstarter campaign were purely a labour of love You could say, in effect, that Kickstarter took all their unpaid efforts at one end and turned those into a couple of thousand bucks to pay editors and artists with.

Of course, that's not all a Kickstarter campaign does. Its main value is as a publicity campaign to make people aware that Way of the Tiger is back. If new readers flock to join the nostalgia buffs willing to spend $50 a book, then it becomes a viable business.

About a decade ago, there was a show on British television called Restoration.The idea was to get the viewers to vote which of several worthy but crumbling old buildings would get lottery funding. Each project had to explain how the restored building would save itself from sliding off into penury again. In most cases you had well-intentioned twits pitching the repurposing of (say) an 18th century Shropshire manor house into an arts commune. "Artists will live here and paint and the public can come and buy their work, and that will pay for maintenance of the property." They might just as well have dynamited the bloody building right there and then.

Faced with the exact same problem, the Landmark Trust came up with an ingenious solution. Charitable donations pay to restore old buildings, which are then rented out to the public as holiday homes via a second, non-charitable organization whose profits go to sustaining the buildings. This works because it is a real business. A successful Kickstarter needs to be less like Nigel Means-Well, more like the Landmark Trust.

What that boils down to is whether Way of the Tiger or Fabled Lands can make the next step. Can they go from having a hundred or so fans who remember them with open-walleted affection to several thousand fans who will buy the paperbacks and apps at a moderate price? We'll test the water with WOTT paperbacks next year, and that may indeed point the way to Fabled Lands books 7, and 8, and 9, and...

Whoops, mustn't get carried away!

32 comments:

  1. I plan on buying all WOTT paperbacks, especially if the legendary Book 7 is available. I loved several gamebook series, including WOTT, Lone Wolf, Sorcery! and other FF, etc. Recently I read an article about the Choose Your Own Adventure books, and commenters started discussing gamebooks. Someone recommended the Fabled Lands series I'd originally missed out on. I ordered all six from Amazon and loved them as much as any gamebooks. I was tickled to see Jamie co-wrote both FL and WOTT. As for your work, I vaguely remember reading some of your Golden Dragon books. So I ordered two of the Critical IF books you advertise hear. Down Among the Dead Men was pretty good, but I just finished Heart of Ice tonight, and it's amazing. I might buy it for my 13-year old nephew, and hope he likes it as much as I do. As for FL Books 7-12, I'm hoping for the best. If I were a multi-millionaire, I'd seriously consider paying you to make the books, for a cut of the sales. If I'd lose money, hey, fine by me!

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  2. Once upon a time in Arabia is great fun as well! Down among the dead men is one of the best pirate books, along with George macdonald fraser's the pyrates, a very silly novel!

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    1. James, Todd, glad you like the books. I also have a soft spot for Roman Polanski's movie Pirates.

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  3. Apps. Apps is 100% where the focus should be. There are literally hundreds of millions of millenial-generation nerds out there (like me) who probably wouldn't buy an actual book or even a Kindle version or whatever, but have thousands of idle man-hours that need chewing up (on the tram, in the doctor's waiting room, walking to the convenience store on their lunch break) and will happily shell out $1.99 in the Apple store to buy an "electronic gamebook" with good ratings. King of Dragon Pass can only fill so much time!

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    1. You're going to like what we have planned for Blood Sword, in that case ;-)

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  4. Nope, the production team thinks that the printing business is 100% where the focus should be, because it is hard for them to make money from Fabled Lands 1 & 2 iOS Apps in the competition with millions of other apps. I'll suggest going for Kindle e-books but I don't think they would do another apps like Frankenstein again.

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    1. The Frankenstein app has now sold nearly 20,000 units on iOS alone, Zacky, and that's mostly just in the UK. We plan to release an epub3 version shortly. That is my main interest as far as interactive storytelling goes.

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  5. Fabled Lands 7-12 please...... There are many spoilers regarding to the underworld (Book 12) so I'm very curious about what the mysterious world is like!!

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  6. I have money for any fabled lands kickstarters. I hope it happens one day. Soon.

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  7. I'm hoping Dave and Jamie are taking heart from the success of the WOTT Kickstarter and thinking of Fabled Lands. While the same level of funding may be unlikely, because WOTT was much better known back in the day, this shouldn't preclude Fabled Lands being successful on some level. Having the basic funding goal excluding interior art, and then having the art as stretch goals, as the WOTT Kickstarter did, is a great idea. The art's nice sure, but I'd gladly sacrifice it for the text.

    The way add-ons worked in both this and the You Are The Hero Kickstarters should give a lot of ideas - particularly if Dave has an attic like Mark Smith's.

    Ultimately, we'll never know until you try!

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    1. Mark's attic contains Rembrandts, a Victorian bicycle and a complete Napoleonic army - or used to. Nothing like mine!

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  8. Well, there is small hint that there might be a Kickstarter for Fabled Lands Book 7 in 2014 after the RPG of WOTT but I see that as an opportunity to save up even more money.

    Either way, I was playing Necklace of Skulls and concluded that the Underworld may be something like the Underworld in Necklace of Skulls, quite gruesome. Of course, we need to see Book 7 first. :)

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    1. I vaguely imagine the FL underworld as being quite Graeco-Roman, but maybe it should depend on where you enter it from.

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  9. Hello again Dave, and thank you many, many times for your reasoned (and amusing!) posts about our Kickstarter. It just so happens that we sold the 1970's character sheets for those "glum" folks in the picture.

    I like also your linked post about Kickstarter as a means of publicity. More people should read it: even up to now we receive messages asking "will these books be available after the Kickstarter?" as though somehow we weren't "kickstarting" anything.

    I'm also eager to see what works best for your future plans. These two very different campaigns (The Way of the Tiger and Arcana Agency: The Thief of Memories) have taught us . . . a few things about audience expectations. With, as you say, a reasoned understanding of what Kickstarter means for a project, a lot is possible.

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    1. As I've said elsewhere, Richard, Leo Hartas & I mean to try out a Kickstarter for our Mirabilis comic. It has nothing like the devoted following of those old '80s gamebooks, but we decided: "nothing ventured..." etc.

      You're not telling me that quiff is from the 1970s, though. That's pure Kajagoogoo.

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    2. Oh, the hairstyle may very well have been an invention of the 80's gamebooks. To know for sure, you'll have to ask whomever played the original Eris the Mage.

      And certainly there are a lot of successful comic book projects on Kickstarter: the area has its own category, even.

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  10. The public library here in Wellington has most of the FF reissues, and they've been well-mauled and mostly by kids: Adults looking for nostalgia often don't even know they're there. So paperbacks still have appeal. I'll certainly buy them if I can: The second hand copies available here are more expensive than your proposed prices for the new copies!

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    1. I just got back from Wellington! One of my favourite towns.

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    2. Um... Just realized you may not mean Wellington in Somerset :-) Well, my mum liked the Antipodean Wellington a lot - and I shall visit it one day.

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  11. I see an opportunity for a highly selective quotation…

    Dave Morris: “FL book 7 needs to be written”

    Why yes, yes it does.

    Seriously though, completion of the Fabled Lands series in book form is the only literary undertaking I can think of (at least, the only one that’s even vaguely likely to happen) that I would be motivated to start saving up for in order to support a year or more in advance.

    That timescale also offers the chance to figure out how to tune the pitch to potential backers. The Way of the Tiger campaign was clearly very successful in identifying its market, or in identifying *a* market, specifically of backers willing to pledge an average of over $200. Most gamebook campaigns have succeeded on Kickstarter with an average of $50 per pledge. The problem is, I think, that many Kickstarter backers, me included, tend instinctively to regard Kickstarter as being just another shop window rather than an investment engine, with the return on investment, or “rewards” for enabling a project to happen that otherwise would not, becoming effectively just purchases. If a campaign is to publish eight books, then it attracts mainly backers who are willing to pledge large, i.e. to be rewarded with those eight books. If the campaign is for one book, then many of the backers end up pledging modestly, i.e. for that one book. So, I suppose the aim and challenge for a Fabled Lands Kickstarter ought to be to attract *both* categories of backer.

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  12. They could always be ambitious stretch goals... Get Book 7 written, Get book 7 illustrated, Get book 8 written, get book 8 illustrated and so on. Just a thought...

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  13. I would pledge up to 500$ for Fabled Lands. Its a childhood dream.

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  14. Rather than trying to write FL7-12 it might be interesting to write just 1 additional FL book that ties up all the open endings to FL1-6. Less fun indeed, but economically much more feasible. And it would make the whole series fully playable for the first time ever!

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  15. Don't do FL 7-12. The system doesn't work at high ranks. Just let it remain a beautiful part of history.
    I'd much prefer another VR book. There are so many amazing settings left to explore.

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    1. I'm with you there, but it seems like gamebook fans are mostly in it for the nostalgia kick, and few read VR the first time round. My main interest personally is to do more interactive novel apps like Frankenstein. Doing just one FL book to round off the series is a lot more attractive to me than writing 6 of them.

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    2. I would be delighted if the Fabled Lands series were rounded off with just the one final book rather than the six promised but unpublished titles, as long as that final book had about 5000 sections.

      Seriously, though, I like (print) gamebooks because I like the format. This is only a "nostalgia kick" in the sense that there are fewer gamebooks published now than there used to be. I can still recognise that some gamebooks are better than others, and I do not consider myself an uncritical obsessive who wants to see the FL series completed just for the sake of it, though it is easy to give that impression when a long-abandoned hope is suddenly rekindled.

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    3. Perhaps that word nostalgic came across as pejorative. Certainly I understand why readers are keen on old projects rather than new ones, for the eminently logical reason that they are already familiar with the old projects. I might wish that more gamebook fans would read Frankenstein or the VR/Critical IF books, and in my wildest dreams I imagine them taking a look at the current projects like Mirabilis that are dearest to my heart, but I'm hardly the first author to feel that way. Conan Doyle chucked Holmes off the Reichenback Falls but he bounced right back; Woody Allen mostly gets asked about the early, funny ones; and what goes through Madonna's mind when the audience calls out for an encore of "Like A Virgin"?

      The real difficulty is in going back at all. If I wrote FL book 7 myself, it wouldn't be at all the same book today as it would have been if Pan Macmillan had continued the series in the '90s. The Holmes stories post-casum are a pallid flicker of what they were when Conan Doyle pulled them from a full blaze of inspiration. I think that can be solved by hiring a writing team for future FL books, to ensure that the quests and encounters don't feel stale. But a writing team costs money, of course, whereas Jamie and I can write in our spare time for nothing. If we had any spare time, that is!

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    4. If your view is that the Fabled Lands gamebooks belonged to a particular moment in time, c.17 years ago, and that the spark that gave them life has long come and gone, then I can’t argue with you; but what I would want to believe, along with at least a few other FL fans (I assume), is that, yes, if you and Mr Thomson were to write FL 7–12 now, they would indeed not be the same books you would have written 17 years ago, rather, with a combined 35 years of additional writing experience between you, they would be something *even better*.

      I’m not expressing a lack of interest in the VR books either. It’s just… well, this has come up before: I appreciate that the FL books are eminently readable on their own, since many of the "quests" are contained within single books and the references between books are relatively few in number, but, it was precisely the concept of the inter-book connections and the idea of the Fabled Lands series as a unified whole that grabbed my attention when I first picked the books up. So, from my perspective, FL 1–6 is always going to feel incomplete, and FL 7–12 would not be merely revisiting the series in some nostalgic sense: it would be finishing what was started; and if the authors now write with different styles and interests, so be it (that might even work quite well, in terms of “flavour”, given that FL 7–12 would be dealing with more exotic domains).

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    5. I take your point. I don't like to leave a project unfinished (even one from 17 years ago) but I must be realistic about what FL enthusiasts expect. What I wrote then were things like Down Among the Dead Men; what I write now are Frankenstein and Mirabilis - not at all the same kind of thing, and probably with readerships that barely overlap. So as not to disappoint FL readers, I need to find a way to deliver what they've waited nearly two decades for. Hence the idea to use a team of writers - much like the group who are revising and extending the Way of the Tiger series. (Indeed, probably the very same group.) Doctor Who returned with new writers, after all - though perhaps that's not a very convincing example. A better one might be Jon Ingold resurrecting the Sorcery series, or Rick Veitch taking over Swamp Thing when Alan Moore left. The difference is that Jamie and I would remain on hand as consultants to ensure that the series doesn't suddenly spin off at a tangent as happened in the case of (eg) Lois & Clark season 2.

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    6. Meanwhile, while you are still deciding the best way to make the next FL books, i was wondering if you would allow your fans to expand the current books.

      The electronic version allows for easy editing and some parts of the initial books could be expanded, for example the city of trees and others.

      Maybe this new version would help draw more people into the fabled lands world?��

      Cheers.

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    7. We're always happy to see fan-created work, Davide. There are two complete FL books that were created by fans, and as you say the original six books are ripe for expansion.

      I was planning to re-release the Fighting Fantasy book that Jamie and I wrote (Keep of the Lich Lord) as an additional adventure connecting to FL book 3. The only snag is that these re-released gamebooks struggle to sell more than a few dozen copies, so it would entail a month or two of full-time overhaul work just to please a handful of readers. That's hard to justify when one is having to make a living. Hence if any fans want to expand the series as a labour of love, I'm all for it.

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