Post-Beta Changes for “Bitter Days”

I’ve started working seriously on my post-Beta changes to my story, “Bitter Days.” The blurb for the story is:

Pageeda is a young, homeless orphan girl living on the dangerous streets of the gritty port of Mozanya. When she loses the older sister who raised her to some ruthless kidnappers, she’ll do anything to get her sister back — even become a hero.

There were a number of changes that were suggested by my Beta reviewers, including a slightly revised ending, that I’m implementing in this (hopefully) final draft. The story is officially a novelette according to Hugo Award length guidelines. Novelettes range from 7,501 to 18,500 words, and the story is currently 16,373 words (or about 65 pages in a paperback book).

Can anybody guess how I’ve been planning to spend my 11-day-long Christmas vacation?

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Mozanya Rough Sketch

Even the most complex things can start with just a rough sketch on a napkin, or the back of a Christmas Party invitation in this case (thanks, Liz Hayes). This is a rough map of the port city of Mozanya, where Pageeda and Scuffee from my story, “Bitter Days,” are living a hard scrabble existence as homeless refugees.

Mozonya: Rough Sketch of a Fantasy Port City

OK, I know the map still needs a lot of work, but you can still see the basic concept for this northern port city. The sketch is something I scrawled out while discussing world building details with my friend, Bill Aguiar, after a writing group meeting. By the way, north is to the left.

Here are some details about the city, straight from own own background guide:


Overview

The port city of Mozanya straddles the mouth of the Yangazi River, a highly navigable waterway that wends its way from the Cragenrath Mountains across the entire length of the kingdom of Salasia and thence to the Western Ocean. Positioned southward of the typical freeze line for ocean ice, the port is generally open all year, although shipping is considerably reduced during the stormy winter months. Mozanya’s strategic location makes it a bustling center for trade.

The Yangazi River divides the city into North Mozanya and South Mozanya. Most nobles and rich merchants live in North Mozanya, which also hosts expensive shopping districts and numerous government buildings including the Etisimah Palace, the fortress-palace of the Praytor. South Mozanya is considerably less refined and more vibrant, a veritable melting pot of diverse peoples and raucous trade.

Mozanya’s size, its population of approximately three hundred thousand, diverse peoples, unique geography and sheer amount of trade present unique challenges for law enforcement, tax collection and city safety.

City Geography

The terrain around, and within, Mozanya can best be described as rolling hills. Mozanya itself sprawls across five sizable hills. The two highest are in North Mozanya. The houses of nobles and rich merchants ascend the hills in stately terraces, ostensibly for the admiration of the lower classes. South Mozanya is built on and around three smaller hills. The Tween (where Pageeda and Scuffee live) is located in South Mozanya. Some people derogatorily refer to the two halves of Mozanya as Highside and Lowside. One of the southern hills, formerly known as Beacon Hill, was renamed Temple Hill by the Church of Turkos when it acquired the rights to the land.

Within Mozanya, both banks of the wide Yangazi River are lined with docks for shallow river craft and barges, and are generally referred to by the unimaginative names of North Bank and Riverside. Expensive trade goods and the tourism trade tend to gravitate towards North Bank. Otherwise, businesses on both sides of the river compete intensely for river shipping, including bulk goods, livestock and slaves.

As an ocean port, Mozanya’s primary advantage is the Crescent, a rocky, natural breakwater that provides the city with a spacious bay, the Bay of Fools, protected from the Western Ocean’s tumultuous winter storms. As with the river trade, a sharp division exists between the two sides of the city. Thanks to expensive magical dredging, North Beach supports the largest and best maintained docks for the larger, deep draft ocean vessels. This leaves Dockyards to focus on smaller ships, budget shipping, the slave trade and fishing, including the dangerous arctic crab hunting trade. Dockyards is widely rumored to be one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the Thousand Kingdoms.

Bridges

Since the Yangazi River was too wide to be easily bridged at its mouth, Mozanya originated as two competing port cities, Mozey and Anya, on opposite sides of the vast river (to the north and south, respectively). The era of bitter competition ended 437 years ago when Mozey eventually proved victorious under the leadership of Everard, who became the first Praytor of the unified metropolis. Everard promptly declared Mozanya to be the new name of the combined city.

The city supports three distinctively different bridges:

  • The Bridge of the Morning Mist: Deciding that improved ties between the two halves would be beneficial in maintaining his unification efforts, Everard commissioned the building of the Bridge of the Morning Mist. The bridge, a narrow construction of steel and concrete, was positioned on the eastern, inland side of the city to take advantage of a strategic ridge of bedrock underlying the river. It was the city’s sole bridge for more than four hundred years. The bridge’s relatively low height and the distance between support pillars limits the size of river vessels that can pass down the river and into Mozanya.

  • The Bridge of the Graceful Heron: The city’s western bridge is one of the most advanced bridges in the Thousand Kingdoms. Known more colloquially as the “Archway,” it is a graceful steel construction with a concrete roadbed that soars across the mouth of the river, with pylons on several man-made islands. The Archway is more than three times the length of the city’s eastern bridge, but bears the majority of the city’s cross-river traffic. Unlike the other bridges, the Bridge of the Graceful Heron was mage-built, but designed to not require ongoing magical maintenance.

  • The Bridge of Heroes: The oldest of the three bridges and the closest bridge not within range of the city’s defenses, it crosses the Yangazi River some ten miles north of the Mozanya, at the town of Antigon. Formerly known as the Sudayeen Bridge, it was renamed the Bridge of Heroes after the Battle of Antigon eleven years ago. The Bridge of Heroes is an antiquated but strategically important bridge.


  • There’s a lot more to know about Mozanya, but this at least covers most of the basics.

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Preliminary Anthology Math

Some friends and I have been discussing the possibility of producing a fantasy anthology. Creating a quality anthology requires a business-like approach, since there are real costs that have to be accommodated. I did some preliminary figures on doing the anthology in both print and ebook (Kindle). I’m assuming some sort of IndieGoGo campaign to fund the anthology.

Consider an anthology in trade paperback (like the ones I’ve seen people selling at Capclave). Figure 250 pages at 250 words per page for 62,500 words. At 2 cents a word, the writers would get $1250. At the standard pro rate of 6 cents per word, writers would get $3750. Now figure on getting a real cover for $250. And some professional graphic design work (interior and cover) for a $100. And professional editing for $800.

The minimum figure to create the anthology is $2400, paying all involved parties at least something, and paying the authors an initial 2 cents a word. But that’s not quite the end of the expenses. (The fully price to pay the standard pro rate of 6 cents a word would take us to $4900.)

There’s a cost associated with producing the books, and it’s a little hard to calculate because it’s different for print vs. ebooks. Let’s assume that the IndieGoGo campaign sells books/ebooks at a 1/3 ratio. Ebooks cost nothing to produce. Let’s assume that they can be sold for $4.99. Amazon will take it’s 30%, or basically $1.50, leaving $3.49 profit per ebook.

Printed books, on the other hand, require some fixed costs to produce. For a $14.99 book, you’re looking at about $6 to produce the book. Amazon will take 30% of the sale price, or about $5 (rounding up). So that leaves $3.99. However, the books need to be shipped, which is an additional cost. So, the IndieGoGo campaign would need to add about $3 per printed book for shipping.

Getting back to our projected ratio of one print book for every three ebooks, the numbers look like this for the minimum funding level:

      161 print books
      483 ebooks

This can be ameliorated a bit by adding an option so that anybody that buys a print edition can get the ebook for just a dollar more. If we assume that half of the buyers of the print edition buy also opt to buy the ebook, then the numbers look like:

      78 print book only
      78 print book + ebook
      468 ebooks

This can be adjusted even more by emailing the ebooks rather than sending them via Amazon. The buyers would also have to get instructions on how to get the ebook to their Kindle readers (a solvable problem). That increases the margin on ebooks from $3.49 to $4.99, and on the dollar-extra-special from 70 cents to the whole dollar. Our numbers then become:

      61 print book only
      61 print book + ebook
      363 ebooks

So, these numbers assume that we’ve priced everything as shown below:

      $4.99 Ebook
      $14.99 Trade Paperback (signed)
      $15.99 Trade Paperback (signed) + Ebook

I’ll have to think about other levels we might offer prospective supporters. This will require more research to see what other IndieGoGo or KickStarter campaigns have done in the past.

Bear in mind that some of these figures need a good bit more work, but they’re in the ballpark. There are still things that can potentially be done, such as:

  1. Higher prices for “more stuff”…e.g. – the extra levels that any good campaign should have. Getting mentioned in the book as a supporter, a major supporter, etc. Any extra levels that get bought can reduce the effort necessary to crack the nut (as long as the costs for extra levels are controlled).

  2. Reduce production costs. If the cover, graphic services or editing can be done for less, then that helps. Except that a certain level of quality is mandated in order to attract buyers.

  3. Pay less for stories. The downside is that this reduces the level of story submissions (and our minimum level is 2 cents a word, which is also going to hurt).

  4. Offer zero pay for key authors in return for an unlimited upside, i.e. – the selected authors become “partners” in the anthology and reap any long-term gains from the anthology. Basically, trading short-term reduction in cost for potential long-term gain. Problematic, since most writers want to get paid.

Anyway, these are some of my thoughts, based on preliminary numbers.

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