Exeunt Omnibus

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As of this morning, the last of the omnibus editions have gone out to backers.

Well, not the last last, because someone will come along in July and fill out the address survey, wondering where their books are. But large-scale Kickstarter fulfillment of physical goods is DONE.

It’s sort of amazing how relieved I feel right now.

I still have some books left, and I need to figure out what to do with them. I also have some electronic rewards to finish and deliver. But the physical stuff. Out the door.

The Kickstarter update announcing that, and talking about the next steps, is here.

I may be writing one more KS update. Maybe two. I should get that meatbread recipe figured out.

Omnibus Arrival, A Kickstarter Post

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This is turning into a trilogy of its own. I suspect the last part will be Omnibus Departure, or whatever, after they’ve been mailed out.

But yes, the omnibus editions have arrived, and wow, the truck driver dropped a pallet next to my parking space at the apartment building…

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… and I’ve brought them inside.

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That’s right. With all the busy-ness of these past few weeks–the massive (clean-water, thankfully) flood in our apartment, the prep for my wife’s gallery show, the publication of The Way Into Magic–we still haven’t taken down our Giftmas tree.

As for the books themselves, who likes fantasy maps?

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My point-and-click camera doesn’t do the cover justice, but that’s the cover. There’s no price, no ISBN, no author name, no book title. Not on the outside cover.

It’s the map and only the map.

Here’s the whole thing.

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The names of the books are on the front flap. The Chris McGrath art is on the back flap–the picture doesn’t really capture it, but they look good.

Thing is, the books are shrink-wrapped. I’m supposed to sign them, but it seems a shame to cut off that shrink wrap when it would keep it so nice during shipping. I’m trying to decide if I should leave the shrink wrap on and slip little book plates into the envelopes.

And what’s this last picture?

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This is the bottle of fancy whiskey my wife gave me for Giftmas. I’ve saved that last little bit for this: once we finish shipping all these fucking books, she and I are going to pour ourselves a pair of stiff drinks and toast the (pseudo-*)completion of this project.

*Called “pseudo-” because I still have to finish the game supplements, but they will be delivered electronically, so she won’t have to deal with it at all.

Now… to work!

Imminent Omnibus, a Kickstarter post

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My Fridays are usually spent out at the Starbucks and the library, writing whatever writing needs to be written. But today I’m stuck at home. Luckily, the fam has already scheduled a rare day out for immunizations and Thai food.

Why? Because I’m expecting the delivery of the hardback omnibus editions of The Great Way, the ones with Priscilla Spencer’s map art on the cover.

I have ~26 customs forms to fill out, then I can get back to the short fic that I’m supposed to be writing while I wait for the delivery truck. Will it show up today, as promised? Will it show up Monday???

Today. I’m hoping for today.

Pictures to come, I hope.

Brandon Sanderson Thinks You Shouldn’t Give Up On Writing

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On this page for NaNoWriMo pep talks, Brandon Sanderson wants you to know that you shouldn’t give up on your dreams of being a writer because you never know if the book you just finished, or submitted, or self-published, might be the one to break out. Maybe it’ll get you that publishing deal or climb that bestseller list. You never know!

I agree with him up to a point. You shouldn’t give up on writing, unless you have something better to do. Perseverance is a fine quality until it isn’t, and it’s hard to know where to divide the line.

Because I was in a similar place once. I had a day job I hated, answering phones for a doctor’s office, and we were so understaffed that calls were 20-30 deep all the time, and people who have waited on hold are rarely polite when they finally get someone. I spoke to addicts who’d been denied a refill of their narcotics. I spoke to people in terrible pain who were denied relief because of the fear of addiction. I spoke to a man whose wife was vomiting feces. I spoke to women who had just had miscarriages. I spoke to the parent of a chronically ill teenager who had run away with her boyfriend and left all her medications behind.

It was an endless succession of other people’s pain.

I was sick of working a job I hated, of not having any money, of not having time with my family, and with the constant failure and rejection from the writing end of things.

And I was ashamed. I’d pursued the writing dream for a long time, and had nothing to show for it but a family I could barely support.

So I decided I was going to quit writing, go back to school, and get a new career. I took GRE study guides out of the library and said things like “There’s got to be a better life!” to my co-workers.

However, I’d already written CHILD OF FIRE, then called HARVEST OF FIRE, and I’d spent part of the summer on the query letter. We didn’t have much money, but I could afford postage. The weekend before Labor Day, I started sending out queries. By February, I had an offer from Del Rey.

From there, my story and Sanderson’s… let’s just say they diverge. He went on to become a bestseller and I’m doing whatever the fuck I’m doing. Still, he has followup advice here about marketing yourself and quitting your day job, and I don’t want to disagree with him. I do want to point out that not every writer can follow his path (and they shouldn’t try).

But it’s interesting information.

30 Day Self-Publishing Trends, with a few numbers

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Jan 16th marked 30 days since The Way Into Chaos went on sale, and I know (because they ask) people are curious about how it’s doing and what effect it’s having on my backlist, aka, the Ray Lilly novels.

Before the graphs, the explanations. First of all, we’re talking about Kindle sales here. Most every other vendor is selling books in the low two digits. Paper copies (added together) are slightly better. But while Kobo, iBooks, Nook, Smashwords, etc, made a decent showing in the first few days after the books were released, they’ve since fallen off. The Kindle is where most of the action is, and these figures are 100% copied from Amazon’s Kindle page.

Next, Book one, The Way Into Chaos, was published on Dec 18. Book 2, The Way Into Magic, was published on Jan 13. However, Amazon treats the release date as GMT. So, once it hits midnight in Greenwich, England, they start delivering pre-ordered books.

For the graphs they show me, though, the sales are attributed to each date according to *my* time zone, which is PST. So from my perspective, my pre-ordered books were loaded onto people’s Kindles starting at ~4pm on the day before release. Meh. It’s not something I worry much about.

Other next, I’ve removed the Y-axis data from some of these graphs. For Twenty Palaces and the short fiction collection, I’ve left the numbers in the Y-axis because each line is one sale and people have asked if The Great Way is giving a boost to 20P (obviously hoping the boost would be enough to revive that series. Spoiler: nope.)

As for the new books, I took them out, mainly because I didn’t want people sitting down trying to calculate what I’m earning, so they can give me advice. This is a thing that happens to me.

So, the y-axis for “All” books is identical to the y-axis for book 2, but not for book 1.

Okay, that was longer than I expected. Let’s do the thing.

Kindle sales for all books.

Kindle sales for all books

Obviously, the first thing you notice is that gigongo spike on the right side. That’s the sight of many many pre-orders being delivered, just after GMT turned over to 1/13, as I mentioned above.

There’s no corresponding pre-order spike for book one at the far left because a) there weren’t many days for people to pre-order and b) it helps when book one is already out.

There’s also an utterly unsurprising dip on Christmas day, with a little bump just before. What I didn’t expect was that the days after the holiday would be even better. I thought the gift-buying effect would be stronger than the gift-card effect, but nope.

Something I like? The way it keeps trending up. In December, the best sales day was the 28th. The sales on that date tied with the worst sales date in the first half of January. Good thing I don’t believe in jinxes.

There’s also a little bump on and after Jan 3rd, but we’ll come back to that.

Here’s the trend for book 2, The Way Into Magic:

Kindle sales The Way Into Magic

Book 2 Kindle sales figures

As I mentioned above, the y-axis for this chart is identical to the one above, so this just proves that the big spike really was all those pre-orders. And yeah, sales have dipped afterwards, but that’s not a big surprise. It’s still early days, as far as I’m concerned.

How about the trend for book 1, The Way Into Chaos:

Kindle sales The Way Into Chaos

The change in y-axis makes comparing numbers sort of useless, but the trend is there.

There’s an odd little dip on Jan 13th, the day book 2 was published. I’m not sure if it’s just the attention book 2 got that day, with it’s own blog post and everything, or if there was something else that made sales dip.

There’s also a nice jump on the third of Jan and after, but it dips again, so I’m not sure what it could be.

By the way, I’ve compared these peaks and valleys to the days I post on the blog, and there seems to be no correlation. Some blog posts come on low sales days, some high. Maybe I could compare tags or something, but it doesn’t seem worthwhile.

Let’s go with the short fiction collection, Bad Girls Die Horrible Deaths and Other Tales of Dark Fantasy.

Bad Girls Die Horrible Deaths Kindle Sales

This time, it’s a 90-Day graph.

As the caption says, this time the graph covers 90 days, because I wanted to show the effect on a backlist item when a front list item came out. Not powerful, is the verdict. As you can see, there’s some effect, but not a lot. Frankly, it’s about what I expected. Ebook-only short fiction collections are not exactly known for burning up the bestseller lists, which is why I released this last July. I was hoping for a little extra in my bank account.

There’s also what looks like the new book dip, although there are other troughs, too, so maybe it’s just noise. The first big spike came on the day I talked about being unable to get my backers to download their books. On the day after, sales were a little lower, even though I posted an apologia along with a note about the short fiction collection’s availability.

The other, slightly larger spike, comes on the third of January again. I’m still not sure what that’s from. I’ve been told that, when a book on Amazon hits 25 (and then 50) reviews, Amazon’s algorithms begin to show it more frequently to readers. On Jan 3rd, I got my 25th review for The Way Into Chaos, and maybe that caused a bump across a bunch of different books.

But it wasn’t a particularly long lasting one. It followed the upward trend, but didn’t establish a new, deeper one. So maybe it was something else. After all, Jan 3 is the day I retweeted this:

Finally, the last chart that shows 90 days of sales of my last book, Twenty Palaces.

90 Days of Kindle sales for Twenty Palaces

90 Days of Kindle sales for Twenty Palaces

Yeah, there’s a bump, but it’s pretty negligible. Part of this is because most of the people buying The Great Way already have the Ray Lilly books. Part is that new readers haven’t even gotten their hands on book 3 yet, because it comes out the first week of February.

So maybe 20P sales will pick up. I hope so. I could use the money, and a bump would take me closer to earning out in my contract with Del Rey.

That’s it! Thirty days.

One thing: I’m sure people out there could look these graphs over and make a pretty good estimate of the number of books I’m selling. Please don’t. It’s creepy.

Last thing: I’m glad that sales keep trending upward. I hope it continues for the next thirty years or so. But I have to say that most of that trend isn’t down to my marketing efforts. Yeah, I wrote the book, and people like it, but I’m not the one spreading the word, making the sales. I’m tweeting to the same people, sending Facebook updated and G+ posts to the same crowd of followers day after day. The real reason new people are trying the novels is because readers are spreading the word.

So thank you.

Some things are hard to satirize.

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I didn’t get a chance to mention this yesterday with all the Book Day activity (Book two of my trilogy is out. Look at that cover! Then buy book one because these things don’t stand alone. Book three comes out in less than three weeks.) But, I had a brief conversation with my agent, and I started talking about the book I plan to write next. This is what I told her:

It’s a present-tense, second-person epic fantasy called Only You Can Save The Kingdom, Farmhand. I was originally going to use “Farmboy” but that would cut out half the readership. The best part was, when readers got to the part that read “You sneak up behind a guard and knife him in the back,” the reader would actually have to sneak out and kill a security guard.

Which I thought was absurdly hilarious, but from her? Nothing. Silence.

See, she reads queries, so whatever I try to think up, as a crazy, ridiculous idea for a book is pretty tame compared to what she’s used to. And that, frankly, is funnier than the joke I was telling.

Tough crowd.

Also, buy my books.

“Your Margin Is My Opportunity.”

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The water cooler talk around ebooks and self-publishing is that revenues for self-published authors are falling and it’s not just for authors in the Kindle Unlimited program.

For those who don’t know: Kindle Unlimited works like Netflix Streaming. Readers pay a set fee and can read as many books available in the KU program as they like. One fee, limited choice, unlimited reads.

One of the reasons that self-publishing took off as well as it did was because there was a bunch of voracious readers out there who could tear through a book a day, and they liked buying cheap books. With the sales commission that Amazon took (do not speak to me of “royalties” from Amazon), authors could do pretty well with this readership. Some did very well indeed.

And those authors grew to love Amazon and Bezos himself for fixing the distribution issues that have long limited self-published work. But of course, that quote in the subject header is from Bezos himself, and everyone knew the sweet payouts that Amazon’s been turning over to indie authors would come to an end soonish.

Now it appears to be happening. Instead of taking a commission, Amazon has started setting aside a pot of money, and dividing it between authors. Bringing new readers into your series by making book 1 permanently free isn’t really viable any more, since so many of those readers are in KU. Instead, self-publishers are releasing shorter and shorter works–or serializing their novels–to increase the number of shares they get in that pot.

Still, it appears that Amazon has skimmed off self-publishers’ most fervent readership. Instead of taking commissions, they offer what they like. So much for our margins.

I’m not sure how this affects me. I’m not really aiming for the readership that likes them cheap and disposable. I can’t; I’m not prolific enough. I have to price my work a little higher and hope to attract readers who see my books are more of an event. If I’m aiming for the “This is affordable; I might as well” crowd, I’m doomed. (Those readers are welcome to give my books a try, I encourage it! but I doubt they will in great numbers.)

Not that there aren’t other options: Nook, Kobo, iBooks, Indiebound, etc etc. Right? Except that, speaking for myself, the majority of my sales come through Amazon’s Kindle program. (I should do a post on that.)

The problem, I think, is not that there’s a glut of terrible books. There’s also a glut of really good books. I’ll never be able to read all the awesome books in the world, even if I did nothing else for the rest of my life. Even if your book is great, it can be difficult to catch the attention of new readers.

Which means it comes back to discoverability, and reaching the “early adopters” of the book world–those readers willing to try an author for no reason other than they like the cover or the title. If those readers are giving their credit cards a vacation by turning to Kindle Unlimited, some new way must be found.

At the moment, the only genuinely reliable method is reader word of mouth, which is the least-new thing about new developments in publishing.

Read more on this.

Holiday book sales

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I was just tweeting about this, but I thought I should share it here, too. I tried pretty hard to get The Way Into Chaos into stores before the holidays (the whole trilogy would have been better, but there was just too much to do) and I did.

I’m really glad I did. Ebook numbers on Amazon:

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These sales aren’t going to buy me a new house, but they’re better than I hoped for.

Plus, the highest spikes there had nothing to do with me. They werere on days when I was barely online at all. I took time off for the holidays and my son’s birthday, tweeting replies to a few questions, but that was it.

Those sales there are readers buying gifts for their fantasy-reading friends, and posting reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, and who knows how many other places. They’re talking about the books on social media, or writing reviews for online magazines.

Obviously, sales are going to slow down now that the Giftmas has passed, but there are a decent number of preorders for books 2 & 3. (I wish more vendors allowed preorders for self-published books.) And there are still plenty of readers who haven’t finished the books.

I just want to say thank you to everyone who shared their enthusiasm. Your reviews, tweets, Facebook status updates, everything, makes a real difference.

Today is my son’s birthday

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My son was born on Boxing Day, and his mom and I have always made an effort to make this day special for him. Not just a little christmas, where he gets a few more gifts but everything is all colored lights and decorated tree. My wive and I used to strip all the Christmassy stuff off the table and replace it with a bright yellow table cloth, balloons, and birthday pie (never cake).

But he’s turning 13 today, so it’s unlikely we’ll be spending the day together like we used to. He got a new gaming keyboard and mouse yesterday, so I expect he’ll want to spend at least part of the day trying to get used to his new “rig.” (God, I can’t believe he calls it that.)

Still, we planned lunch at a local Japanese place that he likes, and we have gifts to give him: a couple of books and some Tshirts from Threadless.

And I have work to do. Some folks are having problems with the books I published, plus I’m trying to work out some publicity, plus I have end of the year payments and tax stuff to do. Will I be online, doing all that stuff, or will I be press-ganged into a co-op game or something?

Time will tell. In the meantime, if you received bookstore gift cards, you can pick up a copy of The Way Into Chaos. Order a paper copy now and, like the Kickstarter backers, you’ll get the version with the massive but invisible proofing error on the back cover. Seriously, readers send me typos all the time, but no one has caught this. (I certainly didn’t!)

“Superheroes are not a genre.”

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Over at io9, Charlie Jane Anders has a post about lessons learned by the entertainment industry in 2014, and her number one lesson is that subject header above. And I think she’s wrong.

There are two ways to come at the question. First, do we pin the blame of a box office failure on a poorly-used plot structure? Well, you can try, but it’s not very convincing. Eventually, we’ll have something like Raimi’s version of Spider-man which, for all its flaws, made the structure of super-powered-nice-guy-vigilante-with-two-identities-trying-to-stop-crime-in-secret really come together. Audiences went nuts for the first one, and if they’re less enthusiastic now it’s because later iterations have been really, really flawed, and far too familiar.

But are superheroes a genre?

What unifies the books in the horror genre? The emotion they invoke.
What unifies the books in the mystery genre? The central plot question.
What unifies the books in the western genre? The setting.
What unifies the books in the fantasy genre? A plot element.

Some genres are easy to mix. You write a scary story set in the Wild West: Horror western. You write a romantic story with fantasy elements: Fantasy romance.

So the real question becomes: Are superheroes a “plot element” genre or are they a plot structure genre? While it’s true that there’s a standard plot formula that has become associated with superheroes (true with any genre, really), the remainder of the “superheroes are not a genre” argument Ms. Anders makes demonstrates how well they mingle with other genres.

Notice also that those other genres are mainly settings and plot structures: dystopian time-travel, space opera, etc. That’s because the superhero genre is a “plot element” style. You wouldn’t say that Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier isn’t a superhero movie because it has spy thriller plot. It’s both, in the same way that Romancing the Stone is a romance and an adventure.

BTW, did you know that I’ve been pitching my new trilogy as “Epic Fantasy that reads like a Thriller”? It’s epic fantasy because of the setting and the inclusion of magic, and it’s a thriller because of the pace and tone. Genres based on different things are easy to mix. Genres that are very similar can be really difficult.