I wrote recently about the burst of exciting events in the early days of Draft2Digital before it became mostly nose-to-the-grindstone right up until my visit to Apple in February. Well, as it happened, that sort of became its own burst of exciting events.
A couple weeks after the San Francisco trip, Kris (our CEO) was talking with our company lawyers about something boring, and they invited Kris and me to join them in their courtside seats for an NBA game. Am I a VIP, or what?
The game was March 4th’s outing against the Philadelphia 76ers, when Russell Westbrook got his second triple-double of the season (he’s up to six now). We showed up a little bit before the game and Kris took some photos of the arena from his seat:
We were on the second row, right behind one of the goals (and about twenty feet from the Thunder bench). We had an incredible view of the action, and it was an action-packed game.
Kris’s wife was watching the game at home, and she caught some great pictures of us on the TV. This one’s probably the best:
That’s Westbrook making a break for an incredible slam dunk. You can see Kris and me on the second row. (The dude behind Kris gaping in awe is our superstar lawyer.)
This one shows me a little more clearly:
But we weren’t really there to become TV stars. We were there for the game and, as I said, the game was amazing. I’ll leave you with a shot of the view from my seat:
Livin’ large. I’ll let you know what happens next.
Back in 2013, when my newest company was just getting off the ground, we scrounged up the money to send a volunteer marketing rep and me to represent Draft2Digital at a writer’s conference in Manhattan. It was a thrill.
Two months later, at another writer’s conference (this one in our own back yard), I got to meet Patrick Rothfuss and (thanks to Draft2Digital’s imprimatur) spend two or three hours talking shop with him.
In the time since, I can’t think of a lot of other opportunities like those two. They came in a burst at the beginning, and then we had two years of hard, focused work just keeping the fledgling company from dying.
Don’t get me wrong! The company has been growing at an unbelievable rate. We more than doubled in size during 2014, and we plan to do at least as much again this year. It’s just that all the big, dramatic developments mostly happened on a spreadsheet.
But last week, I went to San Francisco at the invitation of one of our best business partners. Apple asked us to visit the campus to discuss how we could grow the business together.
I can’t get into the details of the meeting, naturally. Naturally. But my biggest takeaway from the meeting was this:
Draft2Digital is one impressive startup.
Several of the Apple representatives took pains to point out the parallels between our companies, our positions with our respective markets, and most of all, our business strategies. One of the execs went out of her way to say that we’ve basically built our business around the same principles that define Apple: easy usability, customer-friendliness, and first-rate execution on meticulous design.
We grinned like idiots and thanked her for saying so. But, in all honesty, none of this was news to us. We did it all very much on purpose. The startling thing–the astonishingly fun thing–was getting to hear from people who definitely know what they’re doing that, yes, we’ve accomplished our goals. We’ve accomplished them so thoroughly that we’ve been noticed. And that feels good.
Apple treated us like kings, and I like to think we conducted ourselves well. Everyone I met was friendly, well-informed concerning a deeply volatile market, and sincerely concerned about the ways we can work together to benefit readers and writers alike. It’s everything I would have hoped for from a meeting like this.
And that wasn’t our only meeting in San Francisco (even if it was the clear headliner). We arranged meetings with a couple other business partners (or potential partners) while we were in town, and that trip left us thoroughly committed to setting up face-to-face visits with all of our retailers in the near future.
It’s amazing how much we can accomplish once we really start talking.
It’s been a busy year for me. I started 2013 as CEO of a charity that no longer exists, chasing a career as a publisher and fundraiser. I end the year as a part-time employee of an author-services company I helped start, with high hopes of becoming a full-time writer again in 2014.
It’s been a strange year.
I founded the Consortium in 2010. It was the cooperative of artists who helped me publish my first book, and over two and a half years we recruited 34 artists, hosted two major art shows, and published 30 titles.
And then, just like Al Capone, we were brought down by our accountant. We’d hired a discount guy in the early days (when we were dead broke), and we paid for it in the end. Despite his repeated assurances, he never delivered our application for charitable status to the IRS.
We finally fired him and switched to more reliable agents in 2012, but after reviewing all the papers, they told us we’d waited too long and missed too many opportunities. It was possible to carry on, but it would cost a fortune and probably involve years of legal uncertainty.
So, as much as we hated to, we folded the business. I’d been the first employee in April 2012, and I received my last paycheck in March 2013. We formally dissolved the company at the same time.
Of course, it’s never that easy. We’re still working on closing the books, managing paperwork from the state of Oklahoma, and wrangling with the IRS. With any luck, we’ll get it all settled in the early part of next year.
I also spent most of 2013 experimenting with traditional publishing. That experiment started late in 2012, when I delivered the first Godlanders book to 47North in November.
Based on all my experience with indie publishing, I really mostly thought of the book as finished when I turned it in. Legacy publishing doesn’t work that way. I spent just as much time working on the book in December as I had in October.
We finally finished that book sometime in January, and in February I dove right into the sequel (which was due in May). I wasn’t anticipating any problem with that timeline, but between the pain of dissolving the Consortium and the challenge of expanding a brand new fantasy universe, it turned out to be the hardest book I’ve written since high school.
It was due in May, as I said before. I delivered it in June and, once again, kept right on working on it into late August.
Then book three was due in November. Yeesh.
We were also seeing the sales of book one by then. It had been released in May and, frankly, it bombed. It has limped along since then, but it clearly never caught the attention of all my Dragonprince fans.
So we started analyzing the problems with that book even as I was trying to focus on finishing out the later books. We came up with an aggressive plan to rebrand them all (new titles, covers, and product descriptions) to coincide with the release of book two in January.
So that’s looming large now. I’ve delivered book three (and next week I’ll start doing the follow-up work on it), but now all my attention is focused on the launch of the sequel in a few weeks here.
Most importantly, I’m done. I still have another month or two of clean-up, but I’ve completed my three-book contract with 47North. That series will definitely continue someday, but for now (and probably all of 2014), I’m really looking forward to turning my attention back to Hathor and the dragons.
And I cannot possibly discuss 2013 without talking about Draft2Digital. If you’re not already familiar with Draft2Digital, it’s an internet company built on the software that I used to format, publish, and monitor sales on all my books.
That software was originally developed as a favor just for me, but over the years I became increasingly convinced it would be a thing of real value to indie publishers everywhere.
Of course, it took a lot of work to convert it from a bunch of command-line code connected directly to my Google Docs account into something convenient, clean, and flexible enough for public use.I recruited the people to do just that early in 2012, and the four of us worked feverishly to get it done by the end of the year.
That was 2012. In August of that year, Draft2Digital hired its first employee. In December we launched a beta site and advertised it with a single post on a single writer’s forum.
So we started 2013 with one employee and maybe nine active users. We end it with six employees and 1,900 active users. We have nearly 20,000 titles in our catalog, in our first year we’ve seen over 2.4 million paid sales of our users’ books.
I mentioned in the introduction that I’m one of those employees. They hired me in July to help manage distributor relations, and recently promoted me to Director of User Experience. It’s my job to understand how authors and publishers use our website, to figure out how we can improve that experience, and to design the new features that will make our service even more valuable as we grow.
It’s been a wild year. I feel like I somehow crammed a decade’s worth of life into 2013. I’ve had some victories and some failures, but most of all, I’ve had experiences.
I haven’t even mentioned passing 200,000 sales of my own books. Or the car that caught on fire in the middle of a road trip. Or the bitterly cold Bedlam game I watched with my dad in Stillwater. Or my lawsuit. Or the writer’s conference I attended in Manhattan. Or spending an afternoon with Patrick Rothfuss.
It’s been amazing. Exhausting, true, but amazing. And as I look toward 2014, I realize the most amazing thing of all:
That means you can get DRM-free ePubs even if you’re not living the in the US. (I hadn’t realized Barnes and Noble made that restriction). We’re working on getting all the Consortium Books library up there, and will have it shortly.
Draft2Digital (my new e-book publishing platform) is…functional! Sort of!
Man, that should really sound more exciting than it does. As of yesterday afternoon, we can now add new book projects, input all the basic sales data, upload a source document (Word or Google Docs), and then generate a beautifully-formatted e-book. We haven’t integrated the tools to publish that book to our various vendors yet, but I’ve done proof of concept and tying all the pieces together shouldn’t be too hard.
I just signed a three-book deal with Amazon’s sci-fi fantasy publishing imprint, 47North! (Yes, these all get exclamation marks. If they didn’t deserve exclamation marks, they wouldn’t be news.)
That was actually last Wednesday, but Amazon has agreed to publish and promote three books in the World of Auric superhero-fantasy series. I’m really looking forward to experiencing the (somewhat) traditional publishing process, and especially to the promotional partnership Amazon can provide.
And while I was writing this post, I was contacted by an anime production group interested in developing the Dragonprince’s Heir into a feature film, or possibly a series!
I have no idea how much interest you would have in seeing that, but I find the idea fascinating. And, of course, it gives me an opportunity to find new readers in another market altogether. That some exciting stuff!
And, finally, I recently approved our next title from Consortium Books, Myth Reaver: Downfall, by Joshua Unruh!
It’s neo-noir Viking fantasy, which means it’s huge and dramatic and all kinds of grim. If any of that sounds at all interesting to you, you’ll probably love the book. It’s epic in scale and tone, and perfectly executed. I’m so proud to have been a part of this story’s development.
I really wanted to mention this one sooner, but I saved it to the end because it comes with an offer! Draft2Digital will be building us an Advance Reading Copy of Myth Reaver: Downfall sometime tomorrow, and Josh offered to let me share copies with my readers.
I’ll probably make a separate post about that tomorrow (if I can find the time), but if you’ve read this far, you can get a head start. Leave a comment below asking for an ARC of some grim Viking fantasy, and I’ll make sure you get one.