GenCon 2013 Interview: Mike Stackpole
September 12, 2013 | 3:44 am
Here’s the first interview from my attendance of GenCon this year that I’ve had the time and energy to transcribe. It’s a follow-up to a three-part interview I did a couple of years ago (part 1, part 2, part 3). Mike Stackpole has some interesting things to say about Kickstarter and Storybundle. His speculation about the effects of the Apple trial has been largely rendered moot at this point by the judge’s subsequent decision not to impose the harsh penalties the DoJ wanted, but they were reasonable guesses at the time.
Me: Since last we talked two years ago, a lot of stuff has gone on in the world of publishing. Have you seen any changes in the opportunities that are available for self-publishing authors?
Mike: Oh yeah, I think the opportunities have really expanded. I think that the influence of Kickstarter, and being able to Kickstart projects for getting people interested in your books, getting presales, really has opened a lot of doors. The numbers of backers you get are kind of low, but their enthusiasm to back books in collectible editions…if a project is put together well, an author can actually make a decent amount of money on a kickstarter project. The backers know exactly what they’re getting, so they’re not disappointed. That’s just great.
Me: Do you think there’s any danger of "Kickstarter fatigue," where there are so many Kickstarters that people get tired of them?
Mike: I don’t think so. We haven’t seen that yet and I think that people just need to be far more cautious or at least aware when they’re backing Kickstarter projects. For example, I would never back a Kickstarter project for authors that I don’t know who says, "I want you to fund me while I’m writing my book." On the other hand, if it’s an author that I know, like Matt Forbeck when he did his 12 for ‘12, I backed all those because I knew Matt would deliver. Or more recently, Lawrence Watt-Evans had a book that he’d already written and his Kickstarter was to get the financing to produce that book in the formats that he wanted to see it in. That was a safe bet. And the cool thing was that that allowed him to turn out a book for all of us the way that we knew that the author wanted it. And so I think those opportunities are there, so if you’re a self-published author, what I would look at doing is making sure that the book is already done, that you contacted the printers, you know how to price it right, and then you offer it to people, and you drum up support for it. I think that’s just fantastic.
Me: Lawrence Watt-Evans was doing that kind of thing before Kickstarter, even, with the "Storyteller’s Bowl" model.
Mike: Absolutely, but I think Kickstarter now gives you a new opportunity for a viable market, to actually make some real money. There are bundle sales that are out there, people putting together bundles of stories where a number of authors contribute to the bundle and then you pay what you want, authors split that money. I’ve participated in that, that works out really well. And we still have that opportunity of authors to collaborate back and forth on big projects and little projects, and that is a very cool opportunity.
Me: That leads me to my next question. Tell me about your participation in StoryBundle.com.
Mike: That was a project that was put together by Kevin J. Anderson. Kevin got in touch with a number of authors t hat he knew and they were putting together a science fiction bundle and said, "What have you got, what can we put in?" I put in In Hero Years I’m Dead, the deluxe edition, and it worked out great. We kept pumping that up, letting people know that it was out there, and we had phenomenal response. I think we had over 5,000 people bought that bundle. It was extremely lucrative for all the different authors.
Me: That’s one of the things that’s kind of puzzled me, because, doing my own thumbnail calculations on what the average price was for these things divided by how many books in the bundle, I can’t imagine you would have made as much per book as you would by selling directly.
Mike: No, you didn’t. At least in my case, I made about half per book of what I would have made if I had sold them. But all of a sudden I get those sales all at once. And because the people have bought them, they’re in that bundle, they’re going to be excited about that. They will read those books, and that is going to be something they consider a bargain. And if they like it, and it’s the first time they’ve read one of my books, they’re going to go out and look for more stuff. So if you’re a savvy author, you like getting the money but you also realize this is a marketing opportunity. That someone came to that bundle to buy a Mike Resnick book or Kevin Anderson book, and they got one of mine, then they might never have looked at my stuff before. So that’s an advertising bonus for me.
Me: Do you think that recent developments between Apple and Amazon in that trial that’s been going on might have any implications for self-publishing down the road?
Mike: Well, the real big implication is going to be this: that if the settlement the DoJ wants Apple to agree to, which voids all of the agency model contracts and if Apple is forced to allow Amazon to sell through apps without Apple taking a cut, if those two things do come to pass, the next thing to watch for is whether or not Amazon goes back to paying authors 35% of cover. If you recall, before the iPad, before the iBookstore coming out, authors were paid 35% of cover. After the agency model, Amazon went to, "If your book is between $3 and $10, you get 70%," which was the Apple model. So that’s going to be the negative, that’s going to be the little thing. If Amazon decides, "We’re now the big dog, there’s nobody that can challenge us because Apple’s got the DoJ on top of them, they decide to cut authors back to 35%, that totally disrupts the economy, and that’s going to create all sorts of problems all over the place. The logical thing would be, since iTunes is making more money for authors, the logical thing for authors is to cut back what they’re selling on Amazon and supporting iBookstore, or supporting Kobo, or supporting Barnes & Noble, who are going to be paying us more.
Me: Do you think that’s likely to happen?
Mike: It’s going to be a decision that a lot of authors have got to make. I’m not looking forward to having to make that decision. But I do think that because we’ve got PoD, because we’ve got Kickstarter, because we’ve got bundles, because we’ve all got our own websites where we can sell things, and we have got other websites that are coming on line too, that sort of ecommerce stuff, that for the independent publishers or independent authors there are a lot of avenues where we might be able to preserve our income. We’ll just have to see. I mean, me as an independent author, I would much rather have people come to my website and buy from me, because I make more money than having them go to Amazon or having them go to anybody else.
Me: But even Baen, who’s been running their own bookstore successfully for over ten years, found it was worth disrupting the entire store and possibly upsetting their customers to get their books into Amazon.
Mike: But that’s provided Amazon is paying them that 70%. If Amazon goes back to the 35%, they might reconsider. It all boils down to money.
Me: One more thing. I remember from your seminar a couple of years ago you talked about various editing and writing tools. I was wondering if you’d had a chance to play around with Scrivener.
Mike: I played around with Scrivener a couple of years ago, and I really didn’t pursue it any further. I understand it’s fine software and I get a lot of people who like it. It just had a learning curve, and I don’t have the time for that learning curve when I’ve already got the other stuff I’m comfortable using.
Me: So do you think that for people who don’t have a tool yet it might be a good choice?
Mike: I don’t think it’s a bad choice at all. I haven’t done e-book production with it, so I don’t know how it is with that. But again, I haven’t heard any complaints about it, and there are a lot of people that really really like it.
Me: Well, I appreciate you taking the time to speak to me.
Mike: My pleasure.