Writer Emergency Pack now in stores, and how online retail works
As backers of Writer Emergency Pack, you helped us make something brand new. In December, you received the very first decks—nearly 8,000 of them, shipped by me and my friends out of my garage over the course of one very busy week.
It was exciting, exhausting and unrepeatable.
I knew that when it came time to sell these decks to world outside of Kickstarter, we would need to do it differently. So I asked you for advice. You steered me towards lots of smart people who were happy to answer all of my questions about warehouses and shipping.
Over the past eight weeks, I’ve learned a crazy amount about how online retail works. Now, in the tradition of my exhaustive Sunday updates, it’s time to pass along what I’ve picked up, and share some of the head-slapping mistakes I’ve made.
I’ll also have news on the Dark Mode decks, the education outreach, and the next project we’re doing.
But first, let’s pay off the headline: Writer Emergency Pack is now available to purchase! Your friends who have longingly stared at your decks can now get one of their very own.
If you visit writeremergency.com, you’ll see two places you can buy decks.
They’re available on my store (store.johnaugust.com) both as single decks and six-packs. Through my store, you can have them shipped both in the U.S. and internationally.
For U.S. customers, they’re also available on Amazon. They’re eligle for Prime shipping and all the standard Amazon features.
The Amazon listing is brand new and painfully barren, so if you have two free minutes, some reviews would really help us.
And obviously, tell your friends. Tweet and Pinterest and shout that Writer Emergency Pack is out there in the world. It’s okay to brag. You helped make something brand new. Something you created is now up on Amazon, which is crazy.
No, really. It’s crazy. The journey to retail has been maddening and eye-opening.
How online retail works
We’ve all bought things online. In most cases, the process is pretty straightforward. You go to the site, pick what you want, and pay for it. A few days later, the item is delivered to your house.
If you’re buying a Writer Emergency Pack on johnaugust.com, it feels like this:
Wait, what’s that crease in the paper? Let’s unfold it to see what’s going on behind the scenes.
It actually takes a minimum of six separate companies to go from click to delivery. That’s why it’s taken almost four months to set up.
We’ll start with me, because one of the first things I had to do was create a new corporation (Quote-Unquote LLC) that could sell the decks and enter into contracts with suppliers and distributors. Setting up an LLC isn’t actually that complicated, and makes it easier to separate my screenwriting income from this new income.
Next comes the store. When you visit store.johnaugust.com, you’re actually looking at a storefront hosted by Shopify. Their servers handle the gallery, the shopping cart, and all the little fields you fill out. One of those fields is your credit card information, which is in fact handled by…
Stripe, a well-regarded credit card processor. For our store, we’re also using PayPal, which can be helpful for international users and folks without credit cards. My team and I never see any credit card information, only whether the transaction went through.
Once an order is approved, it’s whisked off to a third company, Shipwire. They manage warehouses that hold our decks, package them, and send them out the door. They’re in constant communication with Shopify to make sure there’s still inventory to sell.
(Sidebar about inventory: I have no idea if we have appropriate inventory levels. We could burn through it in six months or six days. Last month, we raced through our remaining stock way too fast, so we did a larger print run this time. If we have too many, extra decks can become education decks, so there won’t be any waste.)
The decks sitting in the warehouses came from United States Playing Card Company in Erlanger, Kentucky. Last week, they were delivered by truck to the Shipwire facility in Philadelphia.
The Kickstarter decks were printed in China by MPC. These new USPCC decks are exactly the same, but…different. Not better, not worse, just different.
We’ve been closing our eyes and trying to compare them. In your hand, you can tell they’re not the same, but we honestly don’t prefer one to the other. Ryan says they feel “familar,” and they should: they’re from the same folks who make Bicycle and Aviator playing cards. The easiest way to tell the original decks from the new decks is to look at the bottom (Made in USA vs. China) or the flap of the box (the USPCC one is rounded).
Shipwire sends orders out twice daily using the US Postal Service, the same way we shipped the Kickstarter decks. For international orders, there’s a complicated system of agreements with carriers in each country. If we end up selling a lot of decks outside of the US, we’ll likely set up distribution centers in Canada, Europe and Asia, both to save costs and get buyers their decks faster and with fewer customs hassles.
Every deck we sell deck on the site goes through all of these stages. It’s a lot of moving parts, but we’re not inventing anything new. Most online retailers have similar setups, which is why there are already such smart integrations between the different services.
How Amazon works
Writer Emergency Pack is also available on Amazon. From the customer’s side, it looks just like any other product on the site.
In reality, the setup is subtly different than a traditonal retail arrangement. It’s called Fulfilled by Amazon. From the website:
> Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) is a service we offer sellers that lets them store their products in Amazon's fulfillment centers, and we directly pack, ship, and provide customer service for these products.
Essentially, Amazon is acting like Shopify, Stripe and Shipwire all in one. They take the orders, handle payments and ship the decks. If we unfold the paper, it looks like this:
On paper, this seems like a dream situation. We get access to Amazon’s huge customer base, ease of shopping, and don’t have to worry about shipping.
In practice, it’s been really frustrating. That Black Box of Mystery has byzantine rules and contradictory information on how everything is supposed to be done. When we were setting up FBA, I asked Max Temkin of Cards Against Humanity for some advice. He reassured me that I was not crazy; it really is completely opaque. Not Orwellian, just not set up for humans to comprehend.
But I forged ahead, and early last week, sent myself a test order of a single deck. Here’s what came:
Amazon sent 12 decks. Despite all the size and weight data I’d carefully typed in, Amazon thought WEP-1 was the inner carton of 12 decks. After several phone calls, we got the situation sorted out, with new stickers placed on thousands of decks.
On Friday, I received another Amazon package, this time with a single deck.
Amazon FBA charges a significantly higher fee than Shopify/Shipwire, but I think it’s important to be on the store for visibility. I’m sure once I get used to FBA's eccentricities I’ll overlook its annoyances, the same way I loved my old Honda.
Again, it would be a huge help if Kickstarter backers could leave us some reviews on Amazon. There's something sad and untrustworthy about products without reviews.
In future updates, I’ll let you know how sales are going. You made Writer Emergency Pack possible. You deserve to know how it’s faring out in the wild.
Dark Mode decks
March 6th was the last day for Kickstarter backers to order Dark Mode decks. We had 1,301 orders. We decided to print an extra 19 for safety, bringing the total to 1320. These are the only Dark Mode decks we’ll ever print, and each will be hand-numbered.
Ryan has been working with the printer to make sure the Dark Mode decks are truly special. He beefed up the font for contrast, and tweaked the art to work on the dark background.
There’s also an extra suprise inside the box.
We’ll be shipping the Dark Mode decks out in the middle of April. It’s a small enough order that we’re doing it ourselves, just like with the original Kickstarter decks.
We now have decks being used by Young Storytellers Foundation, and teachers have been trying out Writer Emergency Pack with their classes.
Jen Kanke writes on Facebook:
> I used these to do a revision activity with my fiction technique students. They loved it and said it helped them see their stories in new ways. I could tell students to try the exact same things, but there was something about the tangibleness of the cards that made the suggestions stick better.
We have a signup page for teachers and program leaders who want to request free decks you made possible with the Give One, Get One campaign.
Over the next two weeks, I’ll be interviewing candidates for a part-time educational consultant to help write lesson plans and coordinate getting decks to individual teachers and national writing programs.
The new thing we’re working on
In the previous update, I mentioned that we were considering working on a game next. Last Monday, we had our first playtest of our new game at a store in Los Angeles.
It went great. We’re not ready to announce details yet, but when we are, you’ll be the first to know.
Thanks again for making Writer Emergency Pack possible.
You took a chance on it when it was only a dream. Now it’s a real thing anyone can buy. That doesn’t make it less special; it fulfills the mission of helping writers get unstuck.
With your help, we can keep the story going. Keep being awesome.