Lucy Smokeheart

A Patreon ARG?

No, this isn't an announcement... yet. So far this is just a thing I've been turning over in my brain every so often for probably a year now.

I have a Patreon, but I haven't used it in ages now. I'd initially set it up as a short-story-of-the-month club, but to be honest, it seemed like a weird way to run things; I was limiting my possible audience to only the people who already knew my work. I tried posting short stories on my site after a time delay, but that felt both like I was cheating my Patreon subscribers AND nobody was actually reading 'em. In the end, I got busy doing more lucrative things (not to mention projects where I could see immediate growth) and the Patreon fell by the wayside.

But I keep thinking about ARGs and about Patreon, and wondering if the time isn't right for a Patreon-funded game. Here's how it would work: backers would be charged monthly. If it's not a lot of backers, it would be a fairly simple thing: a few characters who are only lightly responsive, maybe one central website that gets updated once a week with story and puzzles to solve. People who went in at higher levels could get tangible ephemera; that's your postcards, letters, etc.

If the amount of funding ramped up, I'd be able to justify spending more time on more elaborate storylines and more intensive interaction. Patreon supports that model pretty well by allowing you to define specific income goals and what you'd add to an experience (or project) when you reach that level.

The story structure is the kicker here. In order to make it constantly accessible to newcomers, it would need to be absolutely episodic, with each episode playing out over the course of 4 to 8 weeks, tops, and only gradual change in characters over time. In order to keep overhead costs down, it should always be roughly the same storyworld, so I don't need to build out a whole new web presence every few weeks. And in order to keep me sane, it should probably be something rompy and fun in tone, along the lines of Lucy Smokeheart.

So what I'm thinking is... maybe... Lucy Smokeheart ARG, anyone? Is there an audience for something like that? Would you want to give me all of your moneys...? Or is there some other kind of thing you'd much rather see? I'd really, really treasure your feedback if you have any for me. I am all ears.

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The Daring Mermaid Expedition

HEY GUESS WHAT I have a game out today!

It's called The Daring Mermaid Expedition, and it's published by the fabulous people at Choice of Games. Available for iOS, Android, on Steam, on Amazon, or you can just start playing in your browser!

Mermaid Expedition is a game set in the Lucy Smokeheart universe. This time, you play as an aspiring scholar of the esteemed Royal German Marinological Society. It's your job to discover proof that mermaids exist, and present your findings to the committee. Also: Pirates! Romance! Deception! It is, if I do say so my own self, very funny and charming. Also entirely scientifically inaccurate and riddled with anachronism!

There are ten endings. "Winning" is probably the most boring one. Sorry?

Anyway! Mermaid Expedition is a special game to me for a lot of reasons. For one, I coded it was well as writing it, which I'd never done before. It's making me question a lot of parts of my self-image, in good, stretchy ways. I don't identify as a programmer, and yet, here I've written a whole game! by myself!

This was also an arduous production process, mostly because my entire life has fallen apart several times over the last couple of years. It's been intense around here. So I want to call out Choice of Games in genera and Rebecca Slitt in particular for being extraordinarily kind about the fact that I blew every deadline they ever gave me, and in some cases by several months. It's not like me, I swear! But thank you, thank you, for your patience, and for working with me to get this lovely little thing into the world.

Anyway! The game is out! Available from multiple outlets! Hurry and give it a shot, it's only $1.99 until Feb. 19. And after that it'll only be $2.99! Cheap!  Consider it buying me a cup of coffee. Happy adventuring!

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The Complete Adventures!

AVAST! Today is Talk Like A Pirate Day, so it is only just and fitting that today is the official launch for The Daring Adventures of Captain Lucy Smokeheart: The Complete Adventures! This all-new edition includes all twelve gorgeous cover illustrations without the pesky title text for your max enjoyment of Heather Williamee's art, a solve appendix that gives you the answers to all the puzzles and how to get to them, and a second appendix that decodes Captain Robert Carver's journal entries, which are what you get on the website if you solve the puzzles!

You can find The Complete Adventures in ebook format for $6.99 on Amazon, iTunes,  or directly through me on!  Barnes & Noble and Kobo are coming soon, and for the same price. There's also going to be a paper edition, but alas production on that got held up a little too long to make today.

But! If you want to hold off, the black and white trade paperback edition will cost $14.99 and comes with Amazon Matchbook for FREE, which means if you buy the paper edition through Amazon, you can also have the ebook for free through Amazon! Huzzah! 

I'll keep you posted as editions trickle out. But for now: Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day, matey! Blue skies and smooth sailing on your adventures!


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Writing a Serial: Cast Adrift in the Middle

As you may know, I'm in the middle of writing an e-published serial pirate adventure, The Daring Adventures of Captain Lucy Smokeheart. So far I've run a Kickstarter, written and released seven episodes, and been extremely forthcoming with my sales data. Now, though, I'd like to turn my attention to a more creamy and delicious topic: the process and craft of writing serial fiction. 

You might think I'd start at the beginning, and talk about beginnings and outlining. But no, not today. I'm going to start out in the middle.

Not long ago, someone asked me if I've become tired of writing Lucy Smokeheart. It's a fair question. I work on most projects in one giant stretch -- novels and games alike -- and there comes a point where you find yourself utterly adrift. You've rowed out so far that you can't see the shore anymore, you definitely can't see the island you're aiming toward, and you can't be completely sure you're even going in the right direction anymore.

The middle is scary. You get to wondering how deep the ocean is under your boat and what lives there. You get to thinking about how nice it was before you started the journey, how much more picturesque the view was from the beach. You wonder if your destination is all that, anyway; the brochures always make these things sound better than they really are.

The middle is where a lot of writers give up on a book. The middle is squishy, it's nebulous, it's ill-defined; maddening in the utmost Lovecraftian sense. It's difficult, both emotionally and from a perspective of craft. It's where you start seeing the differences between your perfect vision and your imperfect execution. Doing anything else -- anything it all -- is easier than carrying on toward the end.

I'm outlining episode 8 of Lucy Smokeheart, so call me roughly 60% of the way through. If this disquiet were going to occur, it would've set in some tens of thousands of words ago. I think I can safely say that I'm through the middle and just about to the roaring wave that tumbles me to shore. And I think it's been so easy, I haven't grown tired at all, because I'm writing Lucy as a serial.

To be sure the series has had its share of difficult moments -- the insecurity, the inability to solve gnarly plot problems, and so on. I run into it... roughly in the middle of each episode, in fact. But since each episode is so relatively small, the middle is faster to row through. It's possible to grit my teeth and press through the agony in a couple of days, not over the course of weeks or months.

It's like the squishy middle part has been chopped into twelve equal pieces and apportioned between the episodes, and as a result each piece is much easier to work through. Writing one big work is an enormous bell curve, but writing a serial is a sine wave.

In terms of emotional difficulty -- if I may shift metaphors here -- it's the difference between climbing a mountain and taking a stroll through the hilly countryside. A serial is just plain easier to write.

We'll see how that holds through the end of the series, of course. There's still lots of time to get tired of pirates or lose my way. But I have a good feeling about this.

Lucy Smokeheart is on sale episode-by-episode exclusively on Amazon (and affiliate link ahoy); in omnibus editions on Barnes & Noble and iBooks; or you can buy a subscription including future episodes on Payhip!

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Lucy in Cold, Hard Numbers: Part 3

This is a continuation of a series in which I share my sales numbers for the Kickstarted e-published serial pirate adventure, The Daring Adventures of Lucy Smokeheart. For earlier analysis, see Lucy in Cold, Hard Numbers: Part 1 and Part 2. Readers may also be interested in The Economics of Lucy Smokeheart, which laid out my budget for the project while the Kickstarter was running: Part 1 and Part 2. 

There's a lot of talk going on in the social medias right now about author income. Publishing Perspectives released a pretty chart showing typical author income by type of publishing (aspiring, traditional, self-publishing, hybrid.) The data the chart is based on is from Digital Book World, and it shows about what I'd expect: writing books is a lousy way to make a living, and very few people do so. 

Meanwhile, I've just released Prisoner's Dilemma, episode 7 of The Daring Adventures of Lucy Smokeheart, and I'm long overdue in reporting Lucy's sales numbers for the last few months. (For newcomers, I try to be as transparent as possible with numbers such as these to give other writers a clear-eyed view into one story, at least. Relevant background: the Kickstarter made $7701 from 251 backers back in March of 2013.)

Here's the raw data to date.

Lucy Raw Data.jpg

The big conclusions: Since the Kickstarter ended and I began self-publishing the episodes, I've made $141.04 extra from Lucy to date (roughly -- this isn't excluding a small amount of transaction fees and some currency conversions may be off.) I've sold 136 individual episodes, 10 new subscriptions, and I've given away 185 episodes in all.

I'll also note that this includes 6 episodes over the course of 8 months; I'm releasing one new episode every five to six weeks, roughly, which is... meh, it's OK.

Income By Month.jpg

But let's see some of this in pretty chart format, shall we? Maybe we can pick out some interesting stories based on this data. Here's the first one: Income by month.

August and December have both been really great months for me, for a definition of "really great" that means "I earned enough to take the whole family to McDonald's one night."

This speaks directly to the heart of that debate about how much money a self-published author can or might be making. It's pretty clear Lucy Smokeheart isn't making me much of a living, and if I had a day job, I shouldn't be quitting it for this. It's also interesting that there just isn't a clear trend here, not up, not down. I have eight months of data and still not much idea what makes a good month and what doesn't.

Sales by Outlet.jpg

Then there's Sales by Retail Outlet.

No surprise here: Amazon is absolutely the gorilla in the room, followed by Barnes & Noble/Nook.

I sell copies on Apple/iTunes, but in a volume only marginally higher than episodes I sell directly through Payhip (or previously, Gumroad.)

In all of the time I have been collecting data, I have never once sold an episode of Lucy Smokeheart on Kobo. As far as I can tell, maintaining a presence on Kobo is pointless.

Sales vs. Freebies.jpg

Then there's one that's a little bit of a mythbuster here: Sales vs. Freebies.

If you squint, it looks like there's a little bump the month after I've done a lot of giving away episodes, but a closer look at the data doesn't support that reading. The giveaways have all been episode 1, so further sales would be skewed toward later episodes. That hasn't happened.

So it may well be that freebies lead to sales... but that doesn't seem to be panning out particularly well for me. I dunno, maybe I'm doing it wrong. But the correlation of freebies=future sales just isn't there for me.

Sales by Outlet by Month.jpg

That said... I had the first episode of Lucy Smokeheart enrolled in KDP Select up until early September, and single-episode sales have been stagnant since then... mostly on Amazon. That leads me to speculate that dropping out of KDP Select has been bad news for Lucy Smokeheart overall.

See this last chart, Sales by Outlet per Month. It's true, Amazon hasn't been so good to me since I dropped out of KDP Select, though that's been disguised by a tiny picking-up of sales from B&N. And given the huge percentage of my sales are in fact on Amazon, I'm reconsidering that whole KDP thing again. At the very least, this is going to require some serious thought.

So in conclusion: This is what a successful Kickstarted ebook serial looks like once it makes it to the self-publishing phase. These are not impressive numbers. These aren't even fund-a-Starbucks-habit numbers. Of course my sales are skewed -- remember I have 248 subscribers getting every episode of Lucy Smokeheart as I write them, and they've already paid for those. (Plus another ten entitled to it... but they never filled out the backer survey.) I cannibalized my base of friends, family, and ardent supporters before I ever exported the first ebook.

But even so, man, it's a good thing this isn't my day job. ...Not that I have a day job...

And if you are so moved to support Lucy Smokeheart, there are manifold buying options online. Episode 1 is free! Or if you want to go big, can I interest you in a subscription to The Complete Adventures?

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