Gamebook store

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

For art's sake

Finally all the pieces are in place and 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.

A Kickstarter campaign is a public contract with backers. It tells them what they will get for their money. If they like the deal, they pledge. If not, they click on to another project and spend their money there. It's incredibly refreshing to see a campaign like this where the contract with the backers has been so open throughout. Many projects avoid making promises because they know that Kickstarter's Terms of Use require them to fulfill those promises or refund the money, but Megara has shown exemplary transparency in putting those promises front and centre from day one.

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.

23 comments:

  1. Dave you are a gentleman.
    As kickstarter backer for the new book I was disappointed to see the manner In which Mikael aired his grievances. You have put together a very gracious and concise response.

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    1. Thanks, Thomas. Jamie and I were also disappointed by Mikael's comments, but there is good and bad in everyone and when people act that way it's more often a sign of some other unhappiness in their lives than it is of genuine malice. We just try to focus on the positive.

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  2. Thank you for the detailed explanation, artists really deserve it all (and sorry for my English, I am not a native speaker). In fact, I am really happy with the news of the publication of the seventh volume of the Fabled Lands series and hopeful that the rest of the books will continue to be published through Kickstarter. I have as a treasure the other six volumes and I play them from time to time. Thanks again and happy holidays!

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    1. Who knows, maybe there will be more FL books. As the figures given here indicate, it really is a labour of love for whoever works on it. It has to be as they can't make much of a wage off it. But if Paul, Kevin and Russ are willing to undertake book 8, and if we can find somebody to run the campaign and edit the books the way Richard did on a shoestring budget, then we'll go ahead.

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  3. Very classy post Dave, good on you. I feel for Mikael, who clearly has some personal anguish over this, but Megara have had a difficult year overall it seems, so I daresay FL is but a small part of the cause.

    Actually I most feel for Paul now, as that's a very small sum for a writer to earn for such a piece of work, even though he's clearly written considerably more than would have initially been anticipated just due to sheer excitement for the project. I'd be interested to hear his plans for 2018 when he's surfaced (from the pub I can only assume he's retreated to since submitting his manuscript).

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    1. Good point, Michael. Writers often get paid even less than artists. I never received a penny for my Mirabilis comic, for example, even when it was being serialized in Random House's weekly magazine The DFC. Not that RH didn't pay, just that everything had to go to the artists, including buying them Wacom tablets and other bits and pieces. Paul has plunged into other projects, which hopefully will provide him with better recompense than working on FL. He might even be able to afford a round of drinks at the pub.

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  4. Dave, I echo the words of praise above for the manner in which you have responded to slanderous things that were said about you and colleagues/ friends. I hesitate to go on, as I know you’re not the biggest fan of Moffat- Capaldi moral grandstanding speeches, but in particular because of the current season I was rather touched by the Doctor’s ‘final words’ in this week’s episode and though I would repeat them here as your post clearly encapsulates the same sentiment, which on the one hand is so obvious and on the other so frequently betrayed by us all in practice - “Never be cruel, never be cowardly...Remember- hate is always foolish... Always try to be nice and never fail to be kind.”

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    1. I'm glad to hear that the Doctor is still standing up for decent principles, John, and long may he - or she - continue to do so!

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  5. I just want to say thanks to all involved in bringing this project to fruition. I'd lost all hope in ever seeing the later books in the 90s so to be so near to having a physical copy of Book 7 in my hands is a dream come true... though I'm sure in a few months I'll be tapping my feet impatiently for Book 8!

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    1. No more than Paul Gresty will, Kieran. He's already written a few sections of book 8. I keep reminding him that he'd do better to shelve it for a while and concentrate on more lucrative work, such as his superb apps for Choice of Games, but it's like I said in the post -- a labour of true love.

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  6. I've done some (limited) freelance writing for RPGs and was paid around 3c a word; this is pretty competitive in the market for someone with little or no experience. However, I need to eat (among other things1) so only getting paid $300 (nevermind £s!) for a 10,000 word adventure was never going to cut it.

    Considering the above, to get a salary per year of just $30k I'd have to write one hundred of those babies, which isn't going to realistically happen. I therefore don't freelance any more and the experience has really turned me off in general. I certainly don't see how in general such markets can support anything other than a few 'professionals' with the rest being commited enthusiasts that have a day job to supplement their forays into writing.

    I suppose I'm just sharing my first hand experiences as to how little the creative elements of a project get paid, especially the writers, for their work. The fact that Paul has only been paid around 3000 euros for authoring this gamebook supports this; I hope he has a royalty agreement for further sales and can get a share in any future success - something I, as a freelance and rookie writer, wasn't given.

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    1. To anybody who wants to find out more about the lot of professional writers, I recommend George Gissing's novel New Grub Street. It's 130 years old but could just as well have come out yesterday. The t-shirt version: you need a bestseller, or preferably several, and don't expect royalties to add more than a pleasant surprise once in a blue moon.

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    2. It doesn't seem fair at all. Without the talent, we'd have nothing to share, and yet the way it is treated it is starved and left to wither and die. For every wealthy writer there must be countless that make hardly a crumb. Certainly a case of "Don't give up your day job" but should we really be living in a society that places so little value on the creative arts?

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    3. No argument from me there. If I fail to sell my latest book to a publisher I will have nothing to show for nine months' work. If I do sell it, I'll still probably make about as much as I could have earned in two months if I'd stayed in the videogames industry. But bear in mind that nobody forces us to make these choices, and life doesn't have to be fair. It was my own decision to spend my time writing a book instead of doing a salaried job, and that's a decision each author, artist, poet, musician, etc, must make for themselves.

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    4. I quite agree, and placing a lack of value on professions doesn't just stop at creative arts, does it? How to politicians refer to certain careers in order to justify low wages; ah yes, "vocations".

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  7. Will "The Serpent King's Domain" be available in bookstores some day? I have missed the Kickstarter Campaign, but would buy the book.

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    1. Yes, the paperbacks are set up already on Createspace and will appear on Amazon the moment I hit the publish button. I was waiting to see if there's any further news from Megara as to when backers can expect to receive their hardcover copies. Ideally they ought to get to see the book before anyone else, but if there's going to be a long delay then we'd get the paperbacks on sale sooner.

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    2. Look forward to ordering the (paperback) book!

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  8. Well said. Spoken like a true Paladin of Ravayne, Dave.

    And the funding throughout has been a model of clarity and honesty that even Cato the Censor would have trouble finding something to quibble about!

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    1. Thanks, James. Cato, eh? A good role model!

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  9. Maybe if/when you guys do a Kickstarter for FL8 the packaging/shipping costs should be an extra by region kind of thing that people add on and pay for separately.

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    1. I think the way Kickstarter is set up you can make postage an add-on that's separate from the pledge itself. I don't know why more campaigns don't make use of that. Maybe they want the total amount raised to look impressive, so they roll postage & packing in with the pledge?

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    2. You can do that. I've pledged to several campaigns that have done that. My thing is that of all the costs in the KS pledge the largest was that of sending the thing to people. Why not make that an add-on for the physical books that can very on the idea that books printed in London will cost less to send to Liverpool than they will to send to Outer Botswanna or what have you.

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