Self Publishing

Two new nice reviews this past week, one for HyperBowl on Steam and the other for Talk Dim Sum on the App Store.

The second one in particular illustrates the advantages of making and self-publishing your own app. You can add the personal touch, in this case personal anecdotes like how my mom used to make Chinese scallion pancakes with tortilla shells when we lived in Southern California, and boy was I surprised when I eventually had real scallion pancakes.

Coincidentally, I'm rereading Words for Pictures by Brian Michael Bendis, in which he exhorts you (the aspiring comic book writer, but replace that with app developer) to write for yourself, write what you want to say and want to read, not just for the paycheck.

Now, that's easy to say when you're not behind on bills, but it is painful when I have to compromise on an app design because, well, everyone thinks they're an app designer, and I only get my design back in the app after the client's teenage daughter says it's better (true story, and brings to mind Bill Paxton's memorable line as Private Hudson in Aliens: "Why don't you put her in charge?").

And while making a living off self-publishing apps is still hypothetical – I estimate I've made in the neighborhood of $40,000 in over ten years – it's still better than working with publishers. Or rather, distributors, as they're in the business of amassing as much content as cheaply as possible and dedicating minimal marketing. I've only had an advance from one, a South Korean phone game publisher who paid me $300, which basically compensated me for adding Korean localization. And they only grudgingly pay what they owe (similar to book publishers - I got paid $4,999.99 of my $5000 advance. That is literally penny-pinching).

Advice I never thought I'd give: stay away from publishers of kids apps. I only got paid from Nabi after bankruptcy proceedings required them to pay their creditors, and from Fingerprint after terminating the contract due to non-payment. They still owe me twenty dollars for continuing to distribute my app on Handspring tablets for a year afterwards (I only found out when Handspring contacted me to renew the contract).

All told, I've made about $500 from app publishers, so my self-publishing has been two orders of magnitude more lucrative. And I get to do it my way.

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jamie@example.com
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