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.

Looking at numbers, part 1

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Actually, this conversation happened on Twitter Thursday night, but here you go:

Of course I meant “on Reddit” and “big traffic” but by that point I’d had more than two beers.

Last I looked, there was a fifth, complimentary comment on that thread (which I’m not linking to, because I’m not trying to drive readers there).

Re: sales, Amazon has continued to sell about the same, but B&N sales have dropped off sharply since that first day. And this conversation is all about ebooks. Print sales don’t come into it.

Bad Book Marketing Ideas

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Cracked has an article on outrageous stunts people have pulled to get their books out in the world, and it’s way way worse than the endless streams of promo tweets most people adopt.

Weirdest of all are the people who think public stunts will get them a publisher. That shit is just sad.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to crash a motorized hang glider into the Space Needle, then shoot myself.

The Way Into Chaos post

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My new book, first in a new trilogy, is on sale now. Let me start with a blurb.

“It’s Epic Fantasy that reads like a Thriller” — Kat Richardson

Here’s the description from the back cover:

The city of Peradain is the heart of an empire built with steel, spears, and a monopoly on magic… until, in a single day, it falls, overthrown by a swarm of supernatural creatures of incredible power and ferocity. Neither soldier nor spell caster can stand against them.

The empire’s armies are crushed, its people scattered, its king and queen killed. Freed for the first time in generations, city-states scramble to seize neighboring territories and capture imperial spell casters. But as the creatures spread across the land, these formerly conquered peoples discover they are not prepared to face the enemy that destroyed an empire.

Can the last Peradaini prince, pursued by the beasts that killed his parents, cross battle-torn lands to retrieve a spell that might—just might—turn the battle against this new enemy?

Several free chapters start here. Go forth and sample.

And here’s the cover itself:

Cover of The Way Into Chaos

Art by Chris McGrath. Design by Brad Foltz

God, I love that cover. (Chris sells prints at very reasonable rates.) Spoiler: the art on the inside is gorgeous, too. If you want to see a larger version of the map, the artist has put it on her site.

Let’s have some backstory. When I announced that poor sales numbers meant I was not going to be writing any more Twenty Palaces novels, I kept telling readers “I hope you like my next series just as much.”

Well, no pressure on me, but the next series is here. Anyone who’s been following this blog knows it was written as part of a homeschool project with my son. I tried to find traditional publication for this book and the two sequels, and when that failed, I turned it into a successful Kickstarter.

Hold on, let me just post this to see if I’m tired of looking at it yet.

Nope. Not yet.

It has a map by Priscilla Spencer, illustrations by Claudia Cangini, and the paperback was designed by a professional (who uses the pseud “thebarbarienne” online).

Anyway, the original working title for this trilogy was Epic Fantasy With No Dull Parts, which everyone thought was funny but few understood was mostly aspirational. Most epic fantasy has a slack, touristy feel to it, and I wanted to try for something different.

But I like to think this is more than just a thriller. It’s also about empire, and how it feels to live in one, and how you come to identify with it even if you hate it.

It’s also about being invaded. In fact, one of the NY publishers who turned the book down explicitly complained about this: a portal fantasy where the enemy is magically transported to a new land? Apparently, that’s Doing It Wrong. Portal fantasies are supposed to be about protagonists invading other places, not being invaded.

Please read the sample chapters. Book 2, The Way Into Magic is out right now. If you like the books, please tell your friends.

| Amazon (print & ebook) | Apple iBooks (ebook) | Barnes & Noble (print & ebook) | Books-a-Million (print) | CreateSpace (print) | IndieBound (print) | Kobo (ebook) | Smashwords (ebook) |

Packaging for Kickstarter Fulfillment (with pix)

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After being six months past the “there’s-no-way-these-books-will-take-longer-than-this” deadline, I finally ordered the trade paperbacks for my new trilogy, The Great Way. The expected delivery date from UPS was last night, and I rescheduled a bunch of work so I would be ready when the boxes of books arrived (16 of them) and could slip them into the already-addressed and sorted envelopes.

Then, on Tuesday morning, I double-checked the UPS tracking numbers and realized the books had been bumped a day, to Wednesday. Sure, the boxes had arrived in Seattle before 3 am on Tuesday morning, but apparently UPS needed 30 hours to get them on a truck.

Do I need to say I was disappointed and angry? I griped about it on Twitter, and a UPS help account encouraged me to email their customer service department with the tracking numbers and other details to confirm that they were actually sitting in a warehouse down in south Seattle.

The customer service rep confirmed it. My books, which had been delivered to Seattle the night before, still had not been unloaded and sorted. I’d have to wait for them to be delivered the next day.

Three hours later, sixteen boxes of books arrived.

My son, to my great surprise, believed me when I said I needed his help. He got off his computer (not a small deal) so he could slip bookmarks into books so I could turn to the title page quickly and seal envelopes. When my wife got home at 9pm after a long day of physical work, she cheered to see us working together, then chipped in.

I started alone at 5:30. We sent the boy to bed at midnight. My wife and I didn’t finish until almost two am. This morning, we got up early, called a cab, and transported all the books to the local post office to mail them out.

Pictures behind the cut. Continue reading

News about my upcoming epic fantasy trilogy

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Curious where things stand with my upcoming fantasy trilogy, The Great Way? Well, I just did a Kickstarter update laying out the details. Short version: I received the proofs for the trade paperbacks, approved them, and placed the order for backer copies.

Which means they’re being printed right now.

I’m just waiting for the proofs for the omnibus cover and, assuming that’s all correct, I’ll order those, too.

In other words… SOON.

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.