Year of a Million Words (Take 2): March (Part 1)

Update: Technical difficulties delayed this post. I am now at 338,647 words as of April 14.

At the time of writing, it is March 31, 2022. I am just under a quarter of the way through my “year of a million words.”

Technically, this isn’t correct. I’m actually closer to a third of the way through on word count, sitting at just around three hundred thousand words written. Because February’s a short month, we’re not even a quarter of the way through the chronological year yet, but I’ve had some health stuff come up and I might need surgery, so it pays to write off a few days in the future.

I figure it makes sense to do a little retrospective and alignment, given my goals.

I tried to do this exact thing last year and had little luck, though there were several reasons for that. This year is off to a much better start, I think.

One thing that was a pretty big issue for me last year was analysis paralysis. I spent almost as much time on figuring out how I would write as I did writing, which should make half of the reason for my failure clear.

Becoming a Professional Writer

Even if I counted writing status updates toward my goal of a million words, the lack of actual deliverables meant I would not make progress toward becoming a writer with money to show for it.

Now, you don’t need to become a full-time writer to enjoy writing. And I’ve always been a hobbyist writer.

But I’d very much like to at least have something to show for it. My last time at a regular day job was back in December, and even if self-employment doesn’t become a sufficient revenue stream by the time my savings run out, I want to point to something and say that I am high-functioning, take the initiative, and get stuff done.

After all, that’s a much better way to explain a gap in your resume.

Unfortunately, I had hoped to get enough freelance writing to support myself, and that doesn’t seem to have a prayer of panning out. Unfortunately, most of my social network are writers, and most of them are hobbyists and amateurs rather than pros, so they can’t even direct clients to me if they have too much work. (Update: have some freelancing, but not writing.)

Plus, I’m anti-social, and marketing is more important for freelancing than anything else. Even some gaps in strengths can be made up for by being careful, but if you don’t have outreach to clients, it will not work.

Of course, I’ve done freelancing in the past. Those clients are largely out of the market, so there’s not a lot to do there, but it sets expectations.

So, ironically, I’m self-publishing stuff right now and seeing if it works.

Self-Publishing

My main background in professional production is in tabletop roleplaying games, and I’ve got a couple of games out on the market for free or with a price tag attached under my Loreshaper Games business. If I had ten, I’d be fine, but I have too little traffic and profile to be self-supporting.

Fortunately, I have two games that are less than a month’s work from having a commercial release. One would be more of a ready-to-play early access scheme, but the joy of digital distribution is that you don’t have the same limits on that as you used to have.

My talent stack is useful for self-publishing. I have enough of a background to do and get feedback on most simple cover and graphic design elements; I enjoy typography recreationally (and semi-professionally), and I have enough people willing to beta-read, playtest, and otherwise double-check my work so that I can get it to a level where I feel confident putting it out on the market.

There’s a reason I’ve gone this route, and it is my content creation strategy.

I’m basically a machine. Given the time and resources, I can put out a title every month. Though I’m not quite keeping up with that yet, it’s entirely plausible that I have six things published by June this year. It’s possible that I get that done by April. if my current editing and game design roadblocks permit. Really, the realistic earliest would be May.

Self-publishing has pros and cons. The downsides are that you don’t have promotion and you don’t have support in the financial sense.

Now, for writers, the support typically starts after you’ve finished your part. Editors (who really will not do proof-reading and other stuff for you, most likely), layout, graphic design, marketing, and whatnot go into your publisher.

Now, I’ve separated promotion from the idea of marketing more broadly because there are two distinct ways to do it. One is pre-release, and the other is post-release.

Pre-release marketing is basically a publisher’s strongest selling point, at least for most people now that social media has partially equalized that.

And I don’t want to downplay that. If you’re not like me and you want to publish traditionally, I’d encourage you to do that.

But I’m operating like a business, and I don’t have the time for a full publishing cycle. It has to work on my calendar.

Publishers have existing networks, though, and they’ll typically promote your stuff. Social media makes that dirt-cheap for them.

After release, you have other avenues such as storefronts and stuff like that to consider. My strategy has always been saturating storefronts with search-relevant terms and having a large catalog. This makes it possible for people to find my other stuff.

That’s a little risky and involves a shot in the dark. When combined with a social media marketing plan that can draw a little attention, you can get much better outcomes than paid marketing might on some platforms.

Of course, I’m not solvent yet, so take my advice with a grain of salt.

Another consideration of self-publishing is that you get to keep the lion’s share of your money. At least until the tax man comes, but that’s the same anywhere. With a traditional publisher, you get an advance and a small royalty—often single-digits.

Publishers get soaked more often than they win, so it’s not a scenario where you should think they’re exploitative. They are stingy with most writers because most writers still lose money for publishers.

However, since my costs are basically time investment (or already paid, like my graphic design software and computer), I don’t have any reason to shy away from doing the things that let me keep, on average, closer to 60-70% of my money, which probably goes down to more like 40-50% by the time you factor in taxes once you get to a sustainable income level.

Status

I guess I may as well talk about where I am for the record, though everything here will change.

I have two games in production: Cybrine Dreams and Kenoma.

Cybrine Dreams needs gameplay content and playtesting, which has become a blocker on many projects. I might also go back and nudge some of the setting and add fiction. Then the layout, graphics, and editing come into play. I’ve drafted a cover, though it might change by the release.

Kenoma is going to release in early access once I finish the character creation and advancement rules and have enough content for players to use it. This means that the final layout and other elements are going to be left out.

The two platforms I release games on are DriveThruRPG and itch.io. Itch.io is a large marketplace that includes all sorts of games and not just tabletop roleplaying games, and has traditionally been less lucrative. I keep something like 90% of the income on there, making it the ideal platform from that perspective. It just attracts less profit.

It also is a little more publisher friendly from a UI perspective.You’re interacting with that so infrequently that it doesn’t make a vast difference, but I worry about messing stuff up on DriveThruRPG.

DriveThruRPG is a large tabletop roleplaying game specific market, though they have associated marketplaces for fiction and comics. The cut’s lower, but you’re going to see more traffic and make more money overall, at least from my experience.

Plus, I have a soft spot for DriveThruRPG, because I used to be a game reviewer over there.

I have three products out already this year: the Kenoma Quick-Start Guide (which is a playable preview without the full feature set) out on itch.io. I don’t want to release it on DriveThruRPG until the full game preview is ready.

Glassmakers’ Fall is a small, free, tie-in game for Aspects of Sand, and is out on DriveThruRPG and itch.io.

I also have Consoles and Controllers, a game I made for a jam over on itch.io. They’ve both done about as well as any of my previous titles, with Consoles and Controllers doing better.

So technically I’ve hit three releases this year. I don’t count the Kenoma stuff yet until the full game is out. It’s not part of a monetization strategy or advertising (at least, for anything people can buy now).

I have two non-fiction books I’m working on.

One is tentatively titled Libertarian Values, which summarizes economics, political theory, and ethics from the Austro-libertarian perspective. It’s sitting at about fifty-thousand words right now, and I’m editing it to send to beta readers. Pruning is the name of the game here.

The other is yet-untitled and examines the education system.

For my other endeavors, I have the Loreshaper Podcast, a co-branding with Loreshaper Games, and something I hope to use to link my writing and game design business ventures.

I also have my Substack, “Not Your Countryman,” where I write polemics and philippics about politics, current events, and economics.

Then there are my blogs for Loreshaper Games and this blog, plus a personal blog that I usually use for book reviews. I’ve been remiss in going back and updating it much this year.

There’s also some fiction stuff I’m kind of working on and kind of not working on, but that’s more or less on the back burner as far as productivity goes. I write a scene or vignette and then flit to and from projects. Fiction for games, fiction for novellas, and even novels are all sort of hit-or-miss thing for me right now.

I hope to edit Daughter of Spades and releasing it this year. Barring that, I hope to have it on the road to publication.

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