Madame Zee

Partnership Strategy: Tiers 1 and 2

I've laid out the baseline creative strategy and revenue stream for Felicity: serialized e-published text as the core platform, plus light interactive elements on the web in which the audience can be members of the Ancient Order of Turtles. This is Tier 1. It is all, by design, something I can create and execute on my own. 

But everything would be better and more wonderful if I could bring in a partner for even this core tier. Given what I'm trying to make, my best bet for a partner would be a publisher to help with cover art, marketing and PR, distribution, story editing, and web design. These are all things I can do... but the work would benefit markedly if I had help. I'd get access to more resources and probably a much larger audience out of the gate; my publishing partner would get the prestige of trying something innovative and ambitious, plus of course money. I will do everything in my power to make sure it's lots and lots of money.

This structure might be hard to implement with a traditional publisher, simply because the timing would be lightning-fast by publishing standards, so such a partnership would bring in some significant challenges for me and for them regarding process. But if someone believes in Felicity enough to go in on it with me, then that's halfway toward solving that equation in the first place.

If any of you out there happen to be a publisher interested in talking to me about Felicity based on what I've said so far, please do email me. I'd love to chat about it over coffee.

Philosophy of Adding Tiers

Now let's talk about how and why I'd add in other tiers of content to Felicity. New tiers would absolutely have to do two things: 

  • Add value to the story for the audience. If the new platform isn't actively making the story better or providing an experience the audience genuinely wants, then I'm not being true to my vision, I'm disrespecting my audience, and I should be very, very ashamed of myself. Especially because every new element must also...
  • Create a revenue stream. Every single one of these additional tiers is something I don't think I could implement DIY-style, because they require resources and skills I don't have. The people and businesses who do have them deserve to be compensated if they decide to throw their lot in with me. Even aside from any idealistic stance, it's a bad bet to go to a partner to ask them to fund my web series or indie film or graphic novel with no plan for how they'd recoup their investment. I have to know where the money will come from to sell the concept to a partner.

With those two items on the table, let's look at Tier 2 of Felicity, probably the easiest one to implement: tangible goods.

I'm a big fan of story archaeology. It can add tremendous depth and immersion, and make the audience feel more connected to the events of your fiction. A few books have been printed that include bundled artifacts ranging from photographs to letters to cards, and even a board game. Unfortunately, the whispers I hear from the publishing world indicate that the cost of creating such a bundle is a little too high to make it a sustainable practice. Including all of that stuff increases the cost of designing and fabricating the book markedly, but the price point you can charge for it isn't enough to make up for it. The margins are too slim, the ROI isn't there, it's awesome but it's just too expensive.

But... what if you were to make that stuff and sell it separately? Then it becomes its own independent revenue stream, instead of sucking the margin from an existing one.

So Tier 2 of Felicity is tangible artifacts. Printed stuff is easiest: An initiation pack for new Turtles, to start with. Madame Zee's tarot cards. Plot-pertinent documents that Felicity finds over the course of the story that I do not want to spoil for you. Maybe other small objects, too, if my partner could accommodate it: Poker chips, weighted dice, singed footprints from a hellhound.

In my perfect vision, a reader would subscribe to a service during the serial e-publishing phase and receive items in the mail over the course of the season at precisely the moment in the story when they become the most interesting. When the season is over, individual items or even the whole bundle would go on sale in store shelves alongside the bound version of the whole season.

You could still have a deluxe print version with all of this bundled in, like those other books have done before... but since it would be the deluxe version of something else, you could get away with charging a higher price point for it. Creative purpose: Check. Revenue stream: Check.

Next up: Tier 3, over which I am having a fierce internal debate with myself. I'll share it with you, and maybe you can even help me sort it out.

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Felicity and Social Media

Continuing on from yesterday's assessment of the resources I have for free: words aren't my only skill. I also have mad technical skills! Or moderate ones, anyway. I'm fluent in social media tools, I know my way around a domain registrar and I've spent time with a host or two in my day. I'm no web designer, but I know about templates and can fumble my way around a CSS file if need be. I can set up a MySQL instance or a wiki. In a pinch I can write code or modify someone else's, but I'm not very good at it and I don't enjoy it, so making my own iOS app (for example) is probably not a winning strategy. (There are more things I can do, too, but we'll wait on that for next time.)

All of this adds up to a logical conclusion: It would be easy for me to make a web and social media component of Felicity. So I should do it, right? Well... maybe. It's complicated.

Let's take a little bit of a tangent here and I'll finally tell you what Felicity is about! This is the story of the Luckiest Girl in the World -- Literally: Felicity Stone. It's also about her very much less lucky friend Lindsay Mallory. It's been knocking around in my head long enough that I know the theme: It's about coming to terms with the fact that the world is fundamentally unfair. Also: luck-eaters, Hollywood, technomagicians, dark conspiracies, the Ancient Order of Turtles

You guys, I cannot tell you how much I love this world I'm building. Finding a real thing and giving it a secret, magical underbelly is mad fun. Telling you about it right now, though, is one of the most terrifying things I've ever done. But hey, that's the creative life, isn't it?

So! Back to structure: The obvious thing to do would be make social media presences for Felicity and Lindsay. There are problems with this, though -- lots and lots and lots of problems. Oh, good heavens, the problems, let me list them.

1. Social media for main characters is time-intensive. This approach would require me to put in a lot of hours acting as Felicity and Lindsay online. But there will be periods where I simply won't have the time to do that -- there are periods now where I can hardly even be myself on social media. As fun as it might be to do, if I committed to doing it right, I'd probably have to turn away paying client work. Nobody would be more surprised than me to see Felicity make enough money to give up client work! On the flip side, I'm absolutely unwilling to compromise on audience experience and say "Well, sometimes if I'm busy they just won't be online." That is a lousy, lousy way to treat the people who love you. Sooo... yeah, we need something that will be less of a time sink.

2. It creates a barrier to entry. A social media presence would need to reflect evolution over time to remain interesting. But that means that new readers and participants won't be able to just jump in any time; they'd have a lot of catching up to do first. I want barrier to entry to be as low as possible, in order to reach the maximum amount of readers possible.

3. It takes away value from the core story instead of adding to it. Any social media presence for these characters would necessarily exist in the spaces between chapters, or would overlap with those chapters. Or to frame it another way... with this approach, I'm taking out parts of the story from the middle and giving them away for free when I could be selling them; I'm creating redundancy that negates the need to buy the chapters at all; or I'm creating filler content for social media that is boring and doesn't further the story. All of these options suck.

That means I need to find another way to use my mad web skillz to my advantage. My requirements: Not too time-intensive; plausibly not responsive in real time; not terribly expensive or technically complex to deploy (registering a few dozen domain names adds up); building out a part of the world that overlaps with the books enough to seem linked, but not so much that both aren't adding meaningful layers to the same story. Even better if I can provide a group identity for my audience and create an easy way to deploy a challenge/reward structure. 

My solution: I think I'm going to set up a presence for the Turtles, and induct my audience into that noble and ancient fraternity. The Turtles are a secretive and illustrious group whose behind-the-scenes actions underpin a fair shake of the action in the story -- so this means that the audience will get to affect the things that happen to Felicity and Lindsay even without talking to the luck-addled pair directly.

Also, I've been holding out on you a little bit: Madame Zee is in this story, and her already-intermittent online presence will grow to reflect the goings-on of Felicity. So there's that, too.

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Madame Zee on Hiatus

As a part of Get It Done Days, I am officially putting Madame Zee on hiatus -- both her Twitter feed and her only-just-hardly-launched advice column. This means that I'm giving myself permission not to post for a while; and more important, since I haven't been posting for a while already, to not feel guilty over it.

It's likely that I'll return to Madame Zee. After all, the purpose of Zee is for me to stay in touch with the whimsical-self-amusement part of writing. That's priceless. But I also need to focus my efforts a little more carefully, at least for now. Doing a dozen things at once, and all of them badly, doesn't help anybody in the end, and least of all myself.

So for now: Hiatus. It might be weeks, it might be months, it's possible (thought not likely) that I'll never go back at all. But I'm sure you'll do OK without Madame no matter what happens. I believe in you, peaches.

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Walking the Talk

After that massive piece on how to make money with transmedia, I've gone and channeled just a little of that indie spirit myself. 

Ladies and gents, I'm proud to present Ask Madame Zee. I've been (sometimes sporadically) using Madame to tell futures on Twitter for a couple of years now. It's a nice daily exercise in writing for the pure enjoyment of it, and some people seem to really adore Madame, so everyone wins!

And now Madame has a blog to answer questions at greater length. The problem is that Madame can't answer questions if nobody asks them... so it would be a tremendous help to me if you could email Madame for advice. 

Per my own suggestion, Madame is free content, but she does accept donations to keep her in tea leaves. This is, of course, purely optional; I'll see how it goes. Since I'm sure you'd all be interested, I'll report back here with some hard numbers in a few months.

I'm pretty sure a blog and a Tweet stream don't qualify as transmedia, exactly, but it's creative and it's digital. It's a start, right?

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