Bad idea number 3,229: comparing authors’ book sales

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Mary Robinette Kowal (who seems like a nice person but I know so little about her that she could be a Nazi eugenics researcher and I’d have no idea) posted a Debut Author Lesson that includes this:

I just got an email from my editor that Shades of Milk and Honey is going into its 7th printing.

Seventh.

Between all the US editions so far, we’ve netted 23,793 copies. That’s not counting the UK or foreign language editions.

Seven printings, but under 24K copies. For comparison, Child of Fire sold over 29k copies over the same length of time plus six months. Again, that would be lower than Pat “Maybe I’ll help Nathan Fillion buy the rights to FIREFLY” Rothfuss’s new book sells in a week, but more than many other authors might sell.

Also, we’re not talking identical formats. Ms. Kowal’s novel came out in hardback first, and those editions are more lucrative than mass market paperback. And maybe her sales numbers don’t include ebooks (my paper ed. sales numbers are ~17K). She doesn’t say and I’m not going to ask.

Why?

Because as she says, it doesn’t matter. You can’t really compare the sales figures, because they’re in different genres, different formats, with different expectations. There are probably a lot of UF books that would be considered a success at 29K ebook & mmpb sales, but Del Rey really invested in the CoF, the sequels sold significantly worse than the first, and Del Rey had high expectations.

So congratulations to all writers who are succeeding by their own standards, and supportive fistbumps to all those writers who haven’t succeeded but keep trying.

NaNoWriMo exists so you can fail

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I wasn’t going to blog about NaNoWriMo (which should be called InNoWriMo) again this year, but I’m a writer and it turns out to be one of the job requirements. My main blog (if you’re reading this on LJ or DW) has a search function so you can check out actual advice from earlier years, if you’re curious. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s a plan to write 50K of a novel in the month of November: (Inter)National Novel Writing Month)

In earlier years, I’ve said that I think November is a terrible month for NaNoWriMo. In the U.S., Thanksgiving falls right at the end of the month, and Giftmas planning comes right after. If you’re barely keeping to your daily goals, those big holiday events along with friend/family obligations, can be a deal-breaker.

As CC Finlay pointed out on Twitter, that’s part of the challenge. You’re supposed to make your goal despite increased demands on your time.

To me, though, it seems like an attempt to make writers give up at the last minute, like mapping out a marathon that ends on a long, steep hill, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought it was a fine thing. The thing is, you can work like crazy on a book, fail to meet some arbitrary word count goal, and still succeed beyond your wildest because the draft is pretty good.

It’s good to strive and fail. It’s good to strive and fail at something that is only of peripheral importance (such as the number of words written in a month) if it leaves you with a solid draft.

Sure, there will be plenty of people claiming to “win” NaNoWriMo because they hit the 50K mark. Hell some will declare victory in the first week. Those people don’t matter. All that matters is what you create. And you can’t really call it a failure if the end of November comes and you’ve only written 40K, or 20K, or even 10k words. Just do what you can do, aim for the word count goal if that seems like an opportunity to stretch, and have fun.

Also:

“In our next episode…” Using horror to explore real tragedy

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A recent school shooting in Marysville, WA is all over the news this week. If I owned a car, I could say it happened only an hour north of where I live in Seattle (if you could drive on I-5 instead of creep along on it like a parking lot). Marysville isn’t a place I’ve ever visited, and before this tragedy all I could have said about it is that it’s somewhere nearby.

My point is that none of this feels personal to me… at least, it’s no more personal than a shooting in Georgia, Connecticut, or Colorado. That’s why, when I read the NYT article describing the Marysville shooter–which I won’t link to because of their paywall–which is echoed in this article, my first thought is This sounds like a terrible episode of a supernatural horror show.

Because at the moment, the killings are inexplicable. The shooter was widely regarded as a popular, successful, and engaged kid. He played on the football team. He was homecoming prince. He was widely liked. As for his victims, they were his friends and family, not people who bullied him.

Bullying and resentment are the default narratives for school shootings now, ever since the media settled on a Jocks v Outcasts frame for the Columbine shootings (never mind that it turned out to be wrong). When a new shooting happens, the first questions people ask are: Is the shooter mentally ill? What petty social slights were they trying to rectify? Did they have a troubled home life?

In the Marysville incident, none of these seem to hold. From the outside, he seems like he was a popular kid with a loving home life who attacked people who liked him. Police have been trying to find a clue to his behavior since last Friday, and whatever they’ve found, they haven’t released it. It’s possible they won’t find anything.

Which immediately makes me think of a horror storyline, where inexplicable violence is attributed to demonic possession or some shit, and the whole thing comes down to Basically Decent People Who Would Never Do Such A Thing.

I mean, consider this io9 post about the upcoming CHILL third edition. The game is organized around a secret society that battles the supernatural, and for this edition they’re regrouping and reorganizing around a capable new leader, as detailed in the article. Pluses for making this new leader a woman, a Muslim, and a soldier in the Syrian Free Army, but minuses for suggesting that al-Assad’s cruel regime is somehow the result of supernatural evil. Sure, the article suggests that maybe creatures are drawn to human evil, but leaving it up in the air isn’t good enough.

Because I’m tired of stories that portray perfectly normal human “evil” as if there must be some sort of non-human explanation. Yes, as a narrative device, the supernatural helps us address difficult or inexplicable aspects of our own lives, but it’s not there to explain them or to reduce culpability. That’s shitty fiction.

As for the real world, I want to offer my sincere condolences to everyone affected by this tragedy.

Authors with six-figure incomes

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Twenty years ago, Donald Maass interviewed authors to find out who had six-figure incomes, and what they had in common. What did he discover?

No conventions. Hear that? They don't attend many conventions

Excerpt from ‘The Career Novelist’ by Donald Maass

Download a free copy of the book this is from at this link.

Obviously, none of them listed “Lucky” among the important factors in their success, but we can take that as a given. You can do everything right, but if you’re abandoned by your editor, or your preferred subject matter appeals to a small audience, well, that’s just too sad for you.

But how much of this advice (to the extent that it actually constitutes advice) still holds, twenty years later?

I suspect that writers really do need to be somewhat “plugged in” right now. Writers aren’t going to make a lot of sales by going onto social media and calling for readers, but they can recommend other authors, and those other authors can recommend them in return, if they like. Log-rolling! It’s not actually evil, if you liked the book.

I also wonder what other factors would weigh in here: how quickly do they publish? Are their books largely within a single series? Do they win awards?

Personally, last month I passed the five-year mark on my publishing career, and it hasn’t be great. When the trilogy and the new UF comes out this winter, I’ll have published or self-published ten books.

I’m not looking for six-figures here, but mid-five would be nice. Very very nice, actually. We’ll see.

Time is running out on Dark Fantasy StoryBundle

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Mind if I show some covers?

All 9 StoryBundle Covers

The countdown for the dark fantasy StoryBundle is about to run out. If you want to do a little early Giftmas shopping, now is the time.

Some points:

    Pay $3 or more, get five books.
    Pay $12 or more, get all nine.
    You get to choose how much goes to the author and how much to StoryBundle.
    You get to choose which charity, if any, your purchase will benefit.
    You can buy the books as a substantial but inexpensive gift.

Anyway, I’m trying one last push to sell some books. The more retweets this tweet receives, the more free bundles I’ll give away. If you have a Twitter account, please consider clicking that RT button.

No one is ever going to hire me for my graphic design skills. Yikes.

The last Twitter giveaway got over 70 RTs, so I have hopes this one will do ever better. Thanks for clicking “retweet.” Frankly, I need the money.

Novelist given psych exam, locked away by police for work of fiction he published at 20

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[UPDATE: According to the L.A.Times, McLaw was not removed from his job and taken for treatment because of the novels. Apparently, he wrote a four-page letter that alarmed authorities, and they’ve known about the novels for a couple of years.

It’s frustrating, because I heard about this story a week ago when it first broke, and I was waiting to see what would shake out before writing a post. If I’d waited until this afternoon instead of this morning, I wouldn’t have relied on the ridiculous early news report, which was disseminated widely and which explicitly linked his books to administrative action.

I’ll leave the original post below, for the obvious reasons.]


You may have heard about Patrick McLaw, a twenty-three year old teacher in Maryland who has been kicked out of his job, is being investigated by the county sheriff, has had his home searched, had the school where he taught searched, has been forbidden to go onto county property at all, is being given a psychological exam in a location that the police will not name, and is not free to leave, according to the cops. Has he been arrested? Authorities will not say. Try not to be surprised when I say he’s black.

His crime? Three years ago he self-published a science fiction novel, set 900 years in the future, about the race to stop a school shooter.

You can read about his story at The Atlantic. I encourage everyone to read it; it’s short and it matters. If you’re curious about the book, not only is it still on Amazon, but the publicity has bumped it quite high in the sales rankings.

I guess it’s possible that there’s something else going on here beyond administrative freak out, but I would be surprised. This sort of over reaction from a school administration is all about the fear and power of petty bureaucrats who are terrified of being seen to have done too little. Any possibility, however slim, that they might be dissected in the media, post-catastrophy, about what they knew and why they didn’t act, drives them like fanatics.

It doesn’t help that so many school officials seem ready to accommodate the most paranoid parents in their district. It all feeds the little voice inside them that says thinking up the plot of a book is the same thing as fantasizing about it.

Based on the news reports we’ve had so far, Patrick McLaw has broken no law. It’s possible he’s being told that he has to do everything he’s told to keep his job, but I can’t understand how a sensible member of the judiciary thought publishing a novel three years earlier was probably cause for a search of the guy’s house.

It’s disgusting.

In which I invite another author to kiss my fat ass

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Usually, when I see a stupid thing on the internet, I laugh and maybe tweet about it. “Look! Someone spilled a pile of dumb on the internet!” Then we’ll all share a laugh together and I’d go back to blocking “Emergency Cat” accounts. If I think the source of this particular piece of blockheadery is a pernicious sort who is actively courting the attention, I won’t bother.

But some things are annoying enough that I feel moved to blog about it. Here’s the deal: When Guardians of the Galaxy came out, a lot of people were talking about how upbeat it was, as though it was this bright, cheerful thing. They were also contrasting it favorably with Man of Steel, an objectively terrible movie no matter how thrilling the special effects were.

Me, I didn’t think GotG was all that upbeat. In fact, I thought it was pretty dark (without being grimdark) and said so.

You don’t have to click through on that link. Basically, I embedded a Kameron Hurley tweet about the movie’s success being the “sound of grimdark being over”, then I talked about the actual darkness in GotG, why it was a welcome contrast with MoS, and the piece ended like this:

So, don’t expect GotG to be light, cheerful fare. It has more than its share of darkness. The difference is that it also has clever, dedicated protagonists who are capable of prevailing in the end.

That’s it. That’s the whole deal.

I don’t know how that got interpreted as As fantasy authors Kameron Hurley and Harry J. Connolly observed, the success of Guardians of the Galaxy heralds “the sound of grimdark being over. over on io9. If I’d agreed with Hurley’s tweet, I would have just retweeted it, not written a fucking blog post. Anyway, I tried to clarify this in a comment over there, but it didn’t go and I’m too busy to fuss with blog comment systems.

And now I have this shit, in which Richard K. Morgan links to my post (and only my post) and responds to it as thought I’m personally calling for the end of the grimdark subgenre.

As anyone who’s read the actual post (rather than the io9 summary) would know, I’m not. Maybe Kameron Hurley would like it to go away forever; I’m not her so I wouldn’t know. Personally, I’m happy to see grimdark on the shelves, because I read it. Not only that, but anyone who’s picked up my short fiction collection knows I write it, too.

In fact, I have never felt the urge to call for the end of any genre. Some I read. Some I don’t. It’s no big deal. When I go into the supermarket, I see vanilla AND chocolate ice cream in the freezer. I get to choose the one I like and leave the other for someone else to buy, maybe. I don’t require everyone to want what I want. In fact, I don’t really care what you like (unless it’s my books, in which case why not buy some, please).

But all I have to do is point out that MoS was deeply muddle-headed in its attempt to be serious and grim, and suddenly I want to take away people’s favorite ice cream.

What is it with that shit, anyway? Why do these guys reflexively read any criticism at all–even of something dumb like MoS–and interpret it as “You’re trying to ban something I love!”

Anyway, that’s the stupid thing, what I would normally just tweet about for a laugh. This is the annoying bit.

Is this a constituency so totally bombproof resistant to cultural shift that they want to go back to a fictionscape dreamed up in the middle of the last century, back when women and coloured folks still knew their place, the cop on the beat was a lovely cuddly (white) guy, war was a glorious endeavour undertaken against dastardly foreign foes, and real men walked like John Wayne?

Hey, Mr. Morgan, you can kiss my fat ass for this. And if this wasn’t meant to be addressed to me directly, you should have linked to someone else at the start of your post.

Anyway, I’m sure regular readers (both of you) will be startled to discover that grimdark is totes progressive. You know those olden days, when everyone’s art was all about capital G good and capital E evil, no nuance need apply!

Please.

For the record, the only work of Mr. Morgan’s that I have read was a trade collection of a Black Widow comic, which I thought was excellent. In fact, I thought it should be the basis of the character’s first movie. The blog post he wrote is still as dumb as a sack of ice cubes.

Also, the short fiction piece of my own I consider grimdark is the title story in my collection: “Bad Little Girls Die Horrible Deaths” even though no girls (bad or otherwise) die in the story. #spoilers

Yes, I realize that last link is basically an invitation for punitive one-star reviews. So be it.

The awful stink of writer desperation

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Last night my wife received an email from a fellow she sort of knows. He’s a fantasy writer, apparently, and after hearing that she’s married to me, he pressed her to take a copy of his novel (which comes with supplemental materials, it seems).

My next sentence will have even more commas.

There’s a lot of calling people “friends” and more than a few claims that Goodreads, et al, make certain books more visible based on an algorithm that blah blah blah. Seriously, do these sites not also sell co-op? I don’t actually know if they do or not; I’ve always just assumed.

Anyway, the whole thing reeks of desperation, it’s awkwardly written, and it makes the deadly mistake of (politely) ordering people around. That’s why I’m going to address the rest of this post to the unnamed and unquoted indie author.

Yes, word of mouth is important. Yes, readers spreading the word about books they love does good things for those books. However, that word of mouth has to be done out of love. If a you’re relying on some sort of social obligation (“I’d better give Arlene’s new book four stars before I see her at the office on Monday…”) then everyone loses, because that reader is going to resent being recruited as a volunteer PR person, the review they write won’t be honest, and anyone fooled by it is going to be disappointed. That’s not what you want.

Look, I know it’s tough. I know it’s hard to get any kind of visibility, especially as an indie author. It’s hard to get reviews, or any sort of attention. It’s like shouting in a crowd of other shouting people.

You want to know the real secret here? It’s not about the marketing. It’s not about emails to acquaintances begging for reviews. It’s about three things: the book itself, your ability to identify the people who would like it, your ability to give them a reason to read a free sample.

If you can get those three things right, you don’t have to worry about the book too much. It will take off on its own. Breaking it down:

The book itself: This isn’t a question about whether your book is “good” or not. There’s no point in arguing that your book is good (which won’t stop people, but that’s beside the point here). Is the book a story that people love and want to share with their friends? Do they read it and then buy three copies to give as gifts?

If you’re not getting that kind of response, no marketing in the world is going to help you.

Your ability to identify the people who would like it: You know how much fantasy fiction my wife reads? None. Well, it used to be none before she got tangled up with me. Now she reads mine, but I don’t think that counts. Thing is, she’s not what you’d call a geek at all. She’ll see the movies because that’s fun mass entertainment. She’ll watch ARROW if they remember to include workout scenes. When she sits down with a book, she reads about non-fiction about education reform.

Seriously, that’s her thing. She’s a homeschooling parent, and she wants to do a good job. So pressing a fantasy novel into her hands will do nothing for you except waste your time.

Your ability to give them a reason to read a free sample: See, even if you can identify potential readers of your work, you need to pique their interest. You ought to be funny, or kind, or insightful. You should be out in the world, most likely in social media, sharing things that interest people. And right beside that, you have a bio that reads “I write books. Read a free sample here.”

That’s it. Yeah, there’s more to it, obviously, but those are the basics.

I understand how frustrating it is, but some choices can actively hurt your chances of success. Sending long emails to my wife is one of them.

Good luck.

Another strike against Smashwords

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On July 8th, Smashwords said my short fiction collection would be distributed to Kobo’s ebook store. As of yesterday, that still hadn’t happened (just like last year). So, I canceled Smashwords distribution and uploaded directly through Kobo, which meant the books were available for sale in less than 12 hours.

Three and a half weeks: nothing. <12 hours: listed. There's no doubt that Smashwords is less useful all the time.

Yes, I could have done what I did in May '13, emailing customer support and asking them to straighten things out, but I'm not willing to do that every. Single. Time I put something in Smashwords's distribution channel. Too much bother.

Anyway, the book is now available on Kobo, too, for you international epub buyers.

Cover art for Bad Little Girls Die Horrible Deaths And Other Tales Of Dark Fantasy

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