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It’s been a while coming, but my first DM’s Guild title Dark Deeds has finally reached 50 paid sales (well, 57 – sales through Drive Thru RPG don’t count towards the DMs Guild bestseller numbers) to become my second Copper Bestseller.
I just wanted to take this opportunity to say thanks to everybody who has supported my work so far. The fact that Dark Deeds has done so well as a Pay What You Want title is great, and I’m looking forward to seeing the response to my next release. I’ve got a lot of big things planned, and I hope you’ll stick around for them!
You can see all of my DMs Guild releases here.
EDIT: After talking about my sales figures on Twitter and Facebook with a few people, I decided to expand this post. I’m going to talk about numbers, and money, and stuff like that; if that makes you uncomfortable or seems distasteful to you for whatever reason, then stop reading now. I’m also going to talk a little about how I went about releasing them, because I’m in a talkative mood and my brain is currently full of this stuff while I plan my next few books. This is going to be long, folks. Buckle up.
The first thing to notice is that that’s a crowded release ‘schedule’ (for lack of a better word – ‘schedule’ makes it sound like some though went into this, which clearly isn’t the truth). In reality, the two-ish weeks between Dark Deeds and The Wheelhouse were basically made up of me fumbling around and trying new things. In that time I had to basically retrain myself to use InDesign and Illustrator, and had to somehow cobble togetherreasonable art for Dark Deeds – on top of trying to self-publish and promote these things, which I had never done before.
I initially planned only to release The Wheelhouse – Dark Deeds wasn’t even an idea a week or two before it was published. But as I wrote The Wheelhouse and started building the NPCs, I realised that the backgrounds in the PHB weren’t quite what I needed for these characters. So I started building a new background (The Executioner was the first, I believe) and quickly realised I would need a few of them. As these things do, the project grew, until I had plans for 10 new backgrounds. Eventually, though, I realised that I had what I needed for The Wheelhouse, and realised that if I kept working on Dark Deeds I’d never go back to the prison book. So I released Dark Deeds and promoted it as best I could on Twitter while I finished off The Wheelhouse.
My intention initially was to release everything as Pay What You Want. I’ve been releasing music on Bandcamp for quite a while, and I’ve found PWYW works well there – I’ve actually made more money from PWYW music releases than I have when I’ve asked for a set amount of money. I was interested to see if the same principle held true with DMs Guild.
We’ll get to the numbers in a minute, but the long and short of it is – PWYW isn’t worthwhile on DMs Guild if you want to make money.
Before we get to that, though… Trinkets had been floating around on Reddit for a while – I’d written it almost a year previously, when I first started this site and before it stagnated and I decided to start it up again. Dark Deeds got a decent response in the first week or so – take a look:
The top image is the number of total downloads in the period where Dark Deeds was my only DMs Guild title. The second image is the numer of actual paid sales.
It’s not much to look at, but I was happy with this. The conversion rate of free to paid downloads is only 8.6%, but as a starting point I was pleased – I was an unknown, untested writer. I’d only made $7.79, but that was enough to cover the costs of running this site for the month, and I couldn’t argue with that. An average sale price of $0.70 wasn’t ideal, though, especially when you take into account that I only see half of that. That said, I went into this as an experiment, not expecting to make any money at all, so as I said – I was fairly pleased with this (very humble) start.
With that data in hand, I decided to release Trinkets as an experiment while I finished up The Wheelhouse. I wanted to see whether my promotion on Twitter had helped at all, or whether most of those sales were driven by being on the front page of DMs Guild for those two weeks when Dark Deeds first came out. So I made up a cover for Trinkets – which was and still is available for free on this site – and uploaded it to DMs Guild. Then I just let it sit – no tweeting about it, no promotion, nothing.
Here are the figures from the first three days of Trinkets (i.e. before I released The Wheelhouse) vs. the first three days of Dark Deeds.
Above is the sales data for the first 3 days of Dark Deeds (paid at the top, free at the bottom). You can see that the bulk of those 22 sales from the first couple of weeks came in the first 72 hours, along with just over half my total profits from the book in that period. So how does Trinkets stack up?
Considering the complete lack of promotion on my part, those numbers aren’t too dissimilar. Ignore the Dark Deeds entry on these reports – just look at Trinkets. 11 paid sales in the first 72 hours, vs. Dark Deeds‘ 13. 120 total downloads vs. 165. People aren’t paying as much for it as they are for Dark Deeds, but Trinkets is just one page, so that’s to be expected.
Which just leaves us with The Wheelhouse. Let’s take a look at the first 72 hours, since that’s what we’ve been doing so far.
That’s not as good. I promoted The Wheelhouse in much the same way as I did Dark Deeds – it didn’t seem to have made much difference with Trinkets whether I promoted it or not, but I’d rather do it and know I’ve done as much as I can. And yet, Trinkets sold just as many copies as The Wheelhouse during the time that The Wheelhouse was on the front page, and the number of free downloads of the latter was much less.
That’s not the important bit, though. Look at that $15.09. Now, it still isn’t much, but that’s an average sale value of $2.51. That’s a big step up from the other books. And there’s obviously a reduced market for products like Adventure Seeds, because they’re only going to be of use to DMs.
Before we draw any conclusions, let’s take a look at my figures from my first day on DMs Guild to today (which is almost exactly 4 months).
Firstly, let me just point out that the 33/55/77 pattern on my paid sales makes me gleefully happy in ways I can’t quite explain.
Now, you might be wondering just what happened with Trinkets; why is it my highest seller, and why are the free downloads so low comparatively? Well, there’s a very good reason for that.
Since I released The Wheelhouse and started trying to build this site, I also started getting to know a lot of other DMs Guild writers. One in particular who you may have heard of – Mr Jeff C Stevens, the man behind Encounters In The Savage Frontier – has been incredibly supportive, and a big source of knowledge and advice when it comes to the DMs Guild. He has been telling me since day 1 that I shouldn’t be using PWYW, and I’ve bullishly ignored him.
As an experiment, though, some time around November/December (I can’t remember for sure) I decided to put a price on Trinkets. I initially started at $0.75, because the average sale value had been hovering consistently around $0.71. To my surprise, sales didn’t really slow down at all. And when he released Encounters and I bumped the price up to $0.99 to capitalise on that, I found that the sales numers actually went up – and I got my first Copper Bestseller.
So, what does this tell me? Well, there’s not a huge amount of data to work with, and I haven’t kept very good notes, but it tells me two broad things. First, that people are more willing to spend money on adventures (or things that look like adventures) than they are on supplementary material like backgrounds and trinkets. Second, it tells me that if I want to make money, PWYW isn’t the way forward.
With 3 releases and 4 months, I’ve made just over $75. In real terms (i.e. converting to GBP, because I’m English), that’s ~£60. That money has paid for me to keep this site running, and for me to purchase other people’s work to review for my Best of DMs Guild posts. I’m very grateful for it, and to the people who’ve chosen to buy my books rather than download them for free.
The more this site grows, though, the more it costs to maintain, and I’ll eventually stop being able to afford it if my sales figures on DMs Guild stay at the same level. Now, obviously, if I maintained a more regular release schedule I’d make more money, and that’s something I’m trying to work out how to do. Currently, though, between updating the site 3 times a week and working on my MA, I haven’t had much time to work on longer releases. My MA assignments are done for a few months, so i can get back to work, but for at least the next 6 months I won’t be able to release anywhere near as many things as I’d like to.
The decision I’ve come to is that I need to stop releasing products under PWYW on DMs Guild. Now, I’m not about to change Dark Deeds and The Wheelhouse overnight; instead, I’m working on some significant content updates for them (remember those missing 4 backgrounds from Dark Deeds? How about a fully written-up and statted adventure for The Wheelhouse?), and once they come out I’ll change the pricing accordingly. The content on Loot The Room will remain free, though. I’m committed to that, and I’m happy that I’m managing to stick to my thrice-weekly schedule (even if the timing of posts has slipped recently).
I’ve spent a lot of time talking about me in this post, but really I’d like to hear from you – because you’re the people reading this stuff I write, and (hopefully) using it in your games. So if you have any thoughts on any aspect of this – whether you agree or disagree with me moving away from PWYW, if you have any thoughts on the kind of content you’d like to see, if you want to laugh at me for sharing my small sales figures, if there’s something you think I could be doing to convince you to buy my books, whatever – I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
If you read through all of this, thanks. Go get yourself a cookie. You deserve it.