Friday, August 30, 2013

Maybe I Should Have Been An Accountant

Because clearly numbers are what people want to read blogs about! Seriously, my blog saw a HUGE spike over the last two days with this post aboutmy Kickstarter and a breakdown of the money.
Here are some stats for you (since you clearly like stats so much):
- Typically, my blog gets about 50 hits for any posting I do. A low-traffic post gets about 30 hits, while a high-traffic post will garner upwards of 75 hits. I go over 100 once in a while, and 163 was my previous ‘record’ for number of hits on a single posting. That posting garnered 251 visits.
- Typically, I’ll get a handful of +1s for posts that people particularly like – if I hit 4, I’ve done really well. That post got 15!

Not only that, but traffic on my webcomic is up as well!

On a typical day, my webcomic gets about 125 hits, with occasional spikes when I release something new or when I’m especially active on the forums. My webcomic has generated an average of 175 hits over the last four days. The number of unique visitors is up as well, from an average in the teens about a month ago into the lower 20s for the last few days.

These numbers may not be staggering, but they represent an awesome trend from my point of view! I really feel like my work is gaining some traction and generating some awareness. It’s pretty cool. This is especially heartening after I swing by various webcomic forums and read about hard-working creators who find it hard to generate more than a few hits each time they post.

I want to keep the pedal to the metal, too! The webcomic interface will be undergoing a facelift in the next week or so, and I’ll be releasing the first MTDAA RPG newsletter, the Army Ants Adventure Journal, which will be ‘pay what you want’ (so you can get it for free, if that’s what you want!) on RPGNow (assuming I can figure out how the ‘pay what you want’ works…).

I’d love to step up the publication schedule on the webcomic for the month of September, but I need to get a few more comics ‘in the can’ before I do that. I don’t want to hit the end of September and run out of strips and then go dark for a few weeks while I get caught up… I would rather know that I have enough strips backlogged to keep publishing regularly. We’ll see what the next few weeks bring on that front.

Thanks for swinging by! 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Kickstarter: A Postmortem

Kickstarter encourages transparency and open communication between the creators and the backers of the projects... since I put the wraps on the KS this morning (it is now 100% in the books), I thought I'd share how the numbers break down and let you see how it all works out. If you were like I was - 'holy crow! I made 4 grand!' - you might want to wait until you see how the numbers actually play out... remember that I started with an amount after the Kickstarter and PayPal fees:

Running Balance
March 22
Starting Kickstarter Deposit

March 22
Cover Art Deposit
- 394.00
May 3
- 115.00
May 3
- 163.95
May 8
Custom Ink t-shirts
- 245.40
May 17
Createspace 5 copies + expanded distribution
May 27
Fulfilled Orders for all copies of Volume 1: Tour of Duty
June 24
Cover Art Final Payment
June 28
Padded Mailers
July 12
Character Pad Printing
July 16
Post Office: Shipping Backer Rewards
July 22
Post Office: Shipping Backer Rewards
Aug 10
Expanded Distribution for RPG
Aug 10
Fulfilled Orders for all copies of RPG and Volume 2: Year of the Ant
Aug 11
Hardcovers via Lulu
Aug 13
Lunch Boxes
Aug 17
Hardcover Reprints
Aug 25
Reprints YoA Softcovers
Aug 27
Post Office: Shipping Hardover/Lunchbox/ Art Rewards
Aug 27
Final Hardcovers via Lulu

A few notes:

- All told, I ended up ‘making’ 11% of the Kickstarter’s total. I initially expected to make about 20% when I worked out a projected budget in March. Considering this was my first time around on KS, this wasn't too bad!
- International shipping was a killer. My costs for international shipping for several backers ended up going a bit beyond what I expected.
- Direct shipping books is the way to go! I assume that CreateSpace and Lulu have already crunched all of the numbers (or do it immediately) for each package by size/weight/destination for each carrier, and get the best price. I had the post office, and a postal worker who kept telling me she was giving me the ‘best possible’ rate on packages that I suspect there were better options for… I just couldn’t spend the time/energy comparing shipping on each piece through various carriers. I know that this ended up sucking up some of the money.
- The snafu with the printing was a big problem, but not as disastrous as it could have been thanks to the generosity of so many backers who elected for the pdf reprint only. This error, just in printing, cost 204.97, and shipping for some of the art cost another 27.82, for a total of 232.79.

If I had it to do all over again…
- I’d simply be more patient in shipping, planning ahead better. Everything went out on time, but I was anxious to get things to backers ASAP, especially early on. This means that some people at the upper ends received up to five different packages from me: the initial rewards (t-shirt, patches, tattoos, 2E copies, card sheets) followed by a softcover of comics volume 1, followed by the YoA/RPG softcover, followed by a reprint, followed by hardcovers and lunchboxes… if I had been more patient and planned ahead better, I could have tightened up shipping for everyone by at least one shipping rotation, saving at least $250.
- I’d triple-check my proofs! The misprint of the Year of the Ant (and the hardcovers that had it inside) was the only big problem in this whole thing. 
- I'd package flat things with different mailers and/or hard backing to protect the trading cards better; some people reported that the cards got banged up in shipping.

- The Kickstarter was a true kickstarter in every sense of the concept. I was able to get my complete comics back in print, launch a webcomic and begin to promote it, revise my rpg and put print and digital copies of an entire catalog up for sale that I will be able to build upon for the next several years; the real benefit here is not the money I made on the KS itself, but the ways in which it allowed me to develop an infrastructure going forward.


Monday, August 26, 2013

Kickstarter: The Final Stages

I spent the evening boxing up the signed, limited edition hardcovers and lunch boxes, and those who ordered lunch boxes and/or hardcovers will have your books ship tomorrow (they are all on my living room floor right now, ready to go out)...

I decided to lay out everything that was produced as part of this Kickstarter... it's an impressive little haul of Army Ants merch, if I do say so myself. What's most amazing is that all of this existed only as notes and the raw art six months ago...

By the way, I am SO enamored of the hardcovers that I am going to put those up for sale as well. I still have to price it out through Lulu, and it's going to be a bit expensive, but to me they are completely worth it. The hardcovers are the bee's knees...

Knock on some wood for me (please!) but I am pretty sure that I will have completely fulfilled my Kickstarter (I'm talking 100% yo) before the end of the month of August, which was my targeted release date. Go me with my bad self!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Webcomic Banner

I'm in the process of upgrading my webcomic presence, and I worked up a banner...

While I'm updating you, I should remind you to sign up as a subscriber and comment on the webcomic, and you could win a hardcover of the collected comics!

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Great Ant Giveaway

The Michael T. Desing’s Army Ants Webcomic is shifting into high gear! Starting today, the next Army Ants graphic novel, the Fall of Valhalla, begins – with a new page from the novel posted every Monday.

This is where you come in!

If you subscribe to the webcomic any time through September 30, you will be entered for a chance to win some awesome MTDAA stuff. In addition, any time you post a comment on one of the comic pages, you will earn an additional chance to win (you have to be a subscriber of the comic first to have a chance to win).

So, what can you get?

- The Grand Prize Winner receives a signed, limited-edition hardcover edition of the Complete Comics (only 1 of 10 copies that will ever be printed), a page of original art from the book, an Army Ants patch and a set of Army Ants tattoos!

- Three Second-Place Finishers will receive pdf copies of the complete comics (Volumes 1 and 2), an Army Ants patch and a set of Army Ants tattoos.

So, get your anterior over to the Army Ants webcomic, get caught up on all of the fun, and get posting today to win!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Thursday Review rAnting – Mouse Guard: Fall 1152

I don’t normally post reviews, although I thought I’d try my hand at it. Today, let’s take a look-see at David Petersen’s Mouse Guard: Fall1152. This was my first foray into the world of the Mouse Guard, and let me say it was quite the enjoyable visit.

Visually, the book is striking. Images are lush, and the storytelling is top-notch. Petersen does a fantastic job establishing a milieu that is rich in sensory detail. This is a dirty, gritty, old world, and the author masterfully draws you into it. As you read, you can feel the heat from the bellows, smell the bread baking in the ovens, and hear the rain spattering in the mud. Throughout, Petersen strikes a perfect balance between cartoony and realistic, creating cute little critters while pulling off blood splatter and hints of gore. This is a violent, brutal world, in spite of the pinch-their-cheeks mice that populate it.

As for the story itself, Petersen displays an exceptional sense of pacing, picking up the action when needed, and using still images and transitional frames throughout to create a compelling narrative. He’s not afraid to pause and let us spend a little time lingering in the world of the Mouse Guard, and the story is all the better for it. The world he creates has a rich history, and the glimpses of it we see in this volume hint at even greater stories to come.

Quibbles? I’m not a huge fan of the computer-generated lettering, which feels slightly inorganic as an overlay on top of the rich, textured and carefully-crafted images. Even here, however, Petersen manages a few storytelling flourishes, using overlapping text bubbles to show characters’ overlapping dialogue. Throughout, his minimalistic approach to text, putting the bulk of the storytelling on the shoulders of the visuals, is a wise choice, and mitigates this concern. If dialogue and captions dominated the pages, the use of computer-generated lettering would have been a distraction – as it is, I’m really looking for something to critique.

In the final analysis, Mouse Guard is worthy of all of the praise that has been heaped upon it. If you haven’t read the book yet, I strongly urge you to pick up a copy and get to it. I’d definitely recommend the collection instead of individual issues of the comic – the slower, more methodical pacing lends itself perfectly to the longer graphic novel format.

Five out of five stars

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Community Building: More on Reviews

One of my goals as I move into the next phase of all things Army Ants is to become a larger part of this community – both in comics and games. While maintaining a greater presence on the forums and engaging more in discussions on blogs will help, I’ve also decided that I need to make some sort of contribution to the community. To that end, I am going to start posting reviews once a week. I don’t know exactly what I’ll be reviewing yet over the long term, but I figure that I have a perfectly good library card, and my daughter loves going there at least once a week, so I may as well see what I can take out and review for all y’all. If you have a game or comic you’d like for me to look at, feel free to send it my way, and I’ll try to put together a schedule of some kind. Maybe I'll try to alternate, doing a comic one week and a game or accessory the following week...

The ancillary benefit of this is that I get to focus on the work of other writers and artists, and it can only hone my own craft by examining the work of others in a critical way. If it generates a little more traffic into my corner of the Internet, all the better. It’s your classic win-win-win scenario, my friends.

Tomorrow, I will lead off with a review of Mouse Guard: Fall 1152.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Doing Your Own Thing - and About Reviews

I have to tell you, I’m truly enjoying where things are at right now, and I think I’ve made an important self-discovery about doing my own thing.

Last summer, I went through a process that I’ve repeated many, many times. I worked for months on a game system, carefully composing it, worrying over each detail, testing various elements of it, hemming and hawing over minutiae. Then I release it to the wild. (FYI, I’m talking about Mythweaver: Legacy). I post to forums. I send copies for review. I cross my fingers. Then I sit back and watch other, similar games garner attention, reviews and sales. Last fall, it was Barebones Fantasy. The cover art was comparable (to my eye - maybe you'll disagree). The game philosophy was comparable. The total page count was comparable. My game was $1, and that game was $10. Barebones Fantasy easily hit the #1 ranking on RPGNow, and my game made it into the top 25 for a day or two and then moved into obscurity. That game immediately received a number of positive reviews and was talked up on the forums; my game has received one rating (and no reviews) to date. I couldn’t figure out why (I still don’t know for sure – maybe it’s just a superior game with a better marketing plan. That’s likely!). All I know is that I worked pretty hard on something for a good amount of time, and few people seemed to notice. All I know is that I spent my time after it came out looking at how ‘I was doing’ compared to another game that was, for all intents and purposes, quite a bit like it (only much more expensive).

I’ve done the same with my supers game. The second edition of Resolute came out within weeks of Icons. Icons gathered tons of acclaim and positive press, and Resolute got a small bump. Is Icons a superior game? Maybe. Probably. But Resolute is a great little supers game. It’s rock solid. It’s dirt cheap. It should be a big seller and have a ton of reviews. It’s not and it doesn’t. No idea why. All I know is, spending my time comparing it to Icons only made me feel bad about myself, for no good reason.

Enter the Army Ants, stage left. I tried to compare it to sales of other anthropomorphic military insect cross-genre games based on indy comic books, but I had trouble finding them. Thank goodness! It’s its own thing. I don’t have anything to compare it to, and for that I am exceptionally grateful. Now I can just get to work responding to the people who have been so generous in their kind words about it and working on the comic pages and game supplements that I want to keep producing. I can put all of my focus here, and not worry about what other people are doing in their own corners of the community.

I’ll tell you, though, I still don’t know why no one posts reviews of my game or comics. I’ve asked several times and have sent large numbers of review copies, and maybe I just have a readership that is not comfortable posting reviews. If that’s the case, then that’s the case. Maybe, however, my readers and players don’t know why reviews are important. Maybe I should at least explain it.

When people see no reviews, they often assume that no one likes the game, and that no one is playing it. When they see reviews, they often assume that the game must be up to something, because a lot of people have bought it. No reviews = no interest in this community.

So, I’ll ask one more time. If you have five minutes, please write a few sentences about the game and put it up somewhere – and put the review on RPG Now, or maybe do the same for the comics on Drivethrucomics. It will make a HUGE difference in how the larger community views the game and the comic series. By the way, a review doesn’t have to be thorough or insightful or powerful – it just has to be there. A few sentences go a long way.