It’s actually been a year and a month since I published my first novel on Amazon. How time flies. I’d meant to do a first-year summary of my experience, and it slipped by somehow. Instead, we’ll do a baker’s dozen of months.
13 Months as a Writer
I write the books. My wife handles the nitty gritty details of getting the books formatted and onto Amazon. I can still remember standing there somewhat stunned when my wife told me that Firehurler had gone live in the Kindle store. It was like firing off a flare gun, announcing to the internet that I was there! Except the internet is the size of Jupiter, and I was standing too far away for anyone to see it. All the same, it felt like I was “out there” now, ready to suffer the slings and arrows of vicious, jaded book critics who lurk in the shallow waters where new authors tread.
The first week was a blur. All I remember after that initial reaction is getting in touch with everyone I knew and telling them. It was like I was selling Girl Scout cookies, except I didn’t have a good cause or a box of addictive sugar-rich confections to offer. Begging for money would have felt more ennobling. Nevertheless, those few sales rocketed me off the bottom of the charts, firmly establishing me in the not-bottom-of-charts. Amazon has sales rankings well into the millions, and I’d garnered myself a solid 6-figure number, with occasional glimpses of 5 digits.
After that, I tried to forget about sales. I knew that a first book was a bit of an albatross. Everyone said so. Unfortunately, there’s little to distinguish a slow launch with a complete failure to launch. They really do look about the same. I kept it low key, but I approached some bloggers and reviewers, offered some free copies, and did a couple Goodreads giveaways. I started getting some reviews, and generally some pretty good ones.
I hadn’t stopped writing in all that time. In fact, Firehurler had needed so much editing that I’d gotten a fair distance through my next book while Firehurler was out at the editor. Aethersmith came out just a few months later, in May. I don’t know what the percentages are, but not every writer of a series ever gets past the first book. With a second title out, a few more people stopped to take note. My sales went from “hey, is this thing on?” to “yup, the faucet is definitely dripping.”
Three books. That’s the magic number. Everyone says so! I kept my head down and put my efforts into finishing Sourcethief, the final book in the Twinborn Trilogy. Reviews were starting to build up, especially for Firehurler (which had the advantage of being out longer) and I was starting to get a few fans stalking me on Twitter (in a good way), asking when Sourcethief would be out. It was encouraging. My wife and I put together a promotional plan for when Sourcethief came out (ok, mostly her, but I heard about it firsthand!). Using a combination of a KDP Select Free Day for Firehurler and some paid promotions, we got thousands of copies into people’s hands. It spilled over into paid sales for Aethersmith and Sourcethief as people went ahead and picked up the whole series at once. About a week later, reviews started flowing in from the people who had read Firehurler, and sales of the whole series kept up at a rate 10x what I’d seen on my best days before the promotion. While Firehurler was free, it peaked at #1 Epic Fantasy on Amazon, and once it went back to the paid store, it kept its momentum, and hit #5 in Epic Fantasy, nestling itself in amongst the Song of Ice and Fire series.
That all happened back in Nov 2013. December slowed a little, but kept up for the whole month. It was the first sign that writing might be a viable career. You hear different numbers thrown out there for how many copies the average ebook doesn’t sell. I’ve heard anything from 300-500 for the range where your ebook has been considered “above average” for success. I have now managed it in a single day, and all three books in the series easily qualify by either criteria.
As 2014 rolled in, momentum dropped. Sales are still better for me than they ever were before my third book came out, but it’s nothing like it was in the wake of the big promotion in November. Getting used to ebbs and flows is just something I’m going to have to get used to in this business.
The Next 11 Months (might as well get back to yearly)
However, I haven’t been idle. I have a new series now, set in the same universe as my first trilogy. The Mad Tinker Chronicles introduce a new world, new characters, and a new plot, which will span a 5-book series (a real 5 books, not a Jordan/Martin 5 books). The first book, Mad Tinker’s Daughter, is out now on Amazon, ready for all those Twinborn Trilogy fans who wanted more, and all those new fans out there waiting to discover it.
For the rest of the year, I plan to keep my editor swamped. I’m already 70% complete with the manuscript for the second book in the series, and I have a few short stories written and just in need of an editorial touch before they’re ready to publish. I have a schedule set out for when I expect to get things finished, and if I can keep ahead of it, I may work in a side project that’s been latched onto the side of my brain a while, gnawing its way to the juicy core in the middle. I’ll share more on that once I’ve got a bit to show (more than vague ideas, since ideas are cheap).
Highlight of the Year
Hands down I think the highlight of my first year (and a month) of self-publishing was watching Firehurler climb the Amazon bestseller list and seeing it mixed in with the likes of Sanderson, Martin, Tolkien, and all the other “real” bestselling authors. I got a real sense of validation, even if I knew it was going to be fleeting. The nice part was that in the aftermath of that huge surge, I got a lot of reviews, and wasn’t torn apart for being a no-talent hack. It’s always a worry when you get more exposure: increased risk of being discovered to be a talentless, over-grasping amateur.
Lowlight of the Year
This one was more of a mixed bag really, but I lost my day job during the past year. I’d been working toward literary freedom as a long-term goal, and to have the rug pulled out from under me was a shock. While I lost a great deal of financial cushion, I gained a ton of extra time for writing and working on my author platform. There were no longer nights where I just couldn’t fit in writing after a day of working, commuting, and things that needed to be done around the house. Getting in a couple hours here or there was something that happened multiple times a day, not just when I could manage. Weekends stopped being a mad rush to get “caught up” and turned into just normal workdays.
If I was single, I wouldn’t have been able to pull it off, but with my wife’s help (and by “help” I mean “supporting us both”), I’ve been able to get to the point where I’m making an income at this whole writing thing. It’s not a steady income, or frankly even a respectable one, but it’s something, and as long as I keep writing, it should keep growing.
Best Idea of the Year
It is a stand-alone short story that also serves as a prequel to the Twinborn Trilogy. I give it away free on Amazon and Smashwords. Anyone who wants to see a bit of my writing and get a taste of the worlds I’ve created before committing to the 245k word behemoth that is Firehurler, well, here you have it. It’s the story of Brannis Solaran and his previous assignment before being given command of a hundred troops and sent into Kelvie Forest to investigate reports of goblin activity.
As an introduction to my work, it’s win-win for both myself and my readers. I get more people willing to give my work a try. Readers get a no-risk look at an author’s work before spending money on it. It’s like test driving a car, but with more plot resolution.
“With great free time comes great responsibility to write a ton.”
Tips for the First-Year Author:
- Get rid of the word “aspiring.” You’re either a writer or you aren’t, and if you were calling yourself any sort of writer, that counts.
- Develop an elevator pitch, a 10-20 second blurt that can tell someone the gist of your book. You’ll be shocked how often you’ll end up needing it. Practice it. When someone asks you about your book(s), that’s what you tell them.
- Ask for reviews. If someone sends you an email/FB/tweet, or just says to you in person that they read your book, ask them if they wouldn’t mind leaving a review. Let them know that as a new author, it’s a huge favor and helps your career get off the ground. The more reviews you get, the easier it’s going to be to sell books.
- Despite having asked for them, don’t read the reviews. You won’t be able to help yourself at first, and that’s OK. Just get yourself out of the habit. The reviews are about you, not for you. They are for other readers, to help them understand that people have read your book and (hopefully) enjoyed it, and to determine if it’s the sort of thing they want to read. Reviews. Not. For. You.
- If anyone wants to talk to you about your books, talk to them. Engaging readers is more important than anything else you’re doing at the moment, unless someone is bleeding or on fire (and depending just how much of either one there is, you might have some wiggle room). If you want to keep being a writer, you are going to need readers, and people who want to engage with you are fans, which are readers who are eager for more. These are the people who are the difference between sitting in a coffee shop or home office and imagining new worlds, and being cooped up in a cubicle or standing behind a cash register all day. Treat them as such.
- Write more. Write the next thing. Write a different thing. Write more of the same. Just Write. Write. Write.
- And for god’s sake, get a professional to edit. Yes, it costs money, but going pro as a writer is like any small entrepreneurial venture: it has startup costs and business expenses.
- Put a note on your calendar for your one-year retrospective, so you don’t end up doing it a month late.