The Serpent King's Domain, seventh book in the Fabled Lands gamebook series, is about to hatch out into the world. Thank you for your patience – and there I’m not just talking about the two years since the Kickstarter campaign, which is actually a pretty quick turnaround by KS standards, but the twenty-year gap before that. When Pan Macmillan pulled the plug on the FL series back in the ‘90s, Jamie and I thought it was stone dead. Various attempts over the intervening decades to bring it back as a massively-multiplayer game, a CRPG, an app, etc, only raised hopes to dash them again. And then crowdfunding came along and opened up a new way of funding books. Not a particularly efficient way, admittedly – most KS projects are still barely-funded labours of love and/or duty – but it did the trick.
We’ve had Paul Gresty’s finished text for some time now. Richard Hetley meticulously edited it (all 1200 sections) by setting up spreadsheets to keep track of stats and make sure this is the best-balanced and most challenging FL book of all. I typeset it over a month ago, for both the paperback editions (large and regular format) and Megara’s hardback edition for backers. Russ was held up on the interior illustrations for a while for personal reasons, but happily he returned to the job with renewed energy and has delivered some of his best work.
And the final piece of the puzzle arrived at the start of this month. Kevin Jenkins, who these days is swamped with work on Marvel and Star Wars movies, graciously found the time to provide us with three different cover designs, one of which he painted up in some detail before deciding that it would make an interesting change to go for a night-time effect. I've got both paperbacks set up on our print-on-demand service ready to go on sale on Amazon in the New Year, and meanwhile Mikael Louys can be getting on with shipping out deluxe hardbacks to all the backers.
Some people have asked why the new cover isn’t a panorama like the first six. The fact is we have no way of printing books with fold-out covers like the Pan Macmillan editions. The back cover of the large format paperback will be needed for the colour map, in any case.
I’ve never actually seen the physical paintings for the first six books, but I know they’re big. I met Kevin once, back in 2010, to ask if he could help us find clean, text-free copies of the cover art for our new paperback editions. “I’ve got them in my attic,” he said. And he dug them out, set them up in his studio, and spent a good chunk of his weekend photographing them for us to use. How much did he want for us to re-use them? Not a penny. That’s one of the reasons I insisted that he and Russ should be fairly recompensed at their normal rates for work on this book. I’ve seen artists and writers exploited far too often, the people who actually make the content struggling to pay their bills while publishers luxuriate in second homes, which is why I won’t be a party to it.
Some FL fans have asked how the Kickstarter funding will be shared out to pay for the content. The campaign was run by Megara Entertainment SARL, not by Fabled Lands LLP directly, but I can share the details as they have been stated throughout to all backers on the Kickstarter page. The campaign was a model of transparency, thanks to Richard S Hetley, who managed it under the express instruction of Mikael Louys of Megara, who decided to take a back seat following his summary cancellation of the Crypt of the Vampire campaign back in June 2015.
Richard began by showing backers how their pledges would be spent:
That's nicely straightforward, isn't it? As I have commented before, the tricky thing about a Kickstarter for a new book is that you have to pay for writing, editing, typesetting and artwork on top of print and shipping. This pie chart explains where the money is going to be spent in terms anyone can understand.
But wait, it's not quite as simple as all that, because not everybody was simply pledging €35 for a copy of the book. There were other pledge levels such as personalized character drawings. So for the sake of further clarification, Megara maintained an art meter on the page:
That's how it looked by the end of the campaign - gratifyingly full. In the early days there was no guaranteeing it was going to get that far, so Megara identified the two highest art priorities:
First, a new regional map by Russ Nicholson. As the KS page stated: "You cannot play a location-based game if you cannot see a map. At [€550 on the art meter] we will be able to afford a new map. It will be printed in the book as black-and-white, but Russ will draw it in color for the map print also available during this campaign."
Next, upon reaching the €1150 mark on the art meter, €650 could be set aside as the base cost of "a new cover painting by Kevin Jenkins. To be clear: a painted cover by a famous artist costs far more than the above. If we reach the meter mark, we will continue to pay half of all art funding to Kevin Jenkins after this point on the art meter."
Well, the campaign raised €30,589. So, by the art meter formula that was made explicit to backers, the final allocation results in €3300 being owed to Kevin Jenkins for a new cover. Russ's map and interior illustrations meant that €7209 was set aside to pay him. Meanwhile Paul Gresty's 10% share as author netted him €3058.
It's not much considering the talent and creative work involved, is it? Of the total raised, after content costs, Megara has €17,000 left that's earmarked to pay for the printing and shipping of around 490 hardbacks. In other words, the physical production costs are considerably more than the amount allocated to the creative team. So you can see that it's only possible to do a project like this, and attract art and writing skills of this calibre, because of the love and commitment those guys have for the series. In fact, Russ and Kevin were better paid than this back in the mid-90s when they originally helped us create the Fabled Lands series. When you consider that UK inflation since then has been a whopping 78%, our stalwart creatives are getting barely £1000 each in 1995 terms. That's why I'm so grateful to them for agreeing to work at the rates specified on the Kickstarter page, and thus for lending their names and reputations to make the campaign a success.
And by the way, that €17,000 left for printing and shipping might look like a windfall, but bear in mind these are quality hardbacks and they're being sent to backers all over the world. At least €10,000 is probably eaten up just by printing and postage costs, and that's before you even get to the organizational side of it: spreadsheets of addresses, tracking who paid for what reward, signing bookplates and producing other extras. Even if you ran a successful Kickstarter like this every month, the "profit" isn't enough to run a company on. That's why I've said that it's simply not possible to run a publisher using Kickstarter as the core funding model. Something like this has to be done from the heart. If you've seen Mikael Louys's comments on Kickstarter and Facebook where he lays into me and Jamie, that's my response. I take my hat off to him.
The devotees of the Fabled Lands obviously liked the deal being promised because you pledged in your hundreds to revive the Fabled Lands series. I only hope that if and when Fabled Lands LLP launches our own Kickstarter campaign for book 8, The Lone and Level Sands, that Paul, Richard, Russ and Kevin are still so amazingly generous with their time and effort. It's really because of their help that we are able to do projects like this at all. And because of the passionate intensity of Mikael Louys, who kept asking us if he could publish some of our old gamebooks and finally convinced us to authorize a new one. And, last but very far from least, because of all the FL fans who are willing to put down their hard-earned dollars (okay, euros) to see more exhilarating artwork and thrilling prose by our dedicated creative team.