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Looking Backwards

December 1, 2012

I have to say I’m looking back on November with pleasant shock. I don’t think I’ve written as much in a single month as I did just now. Not only did I take my old fantasy novel idea, “The Lion and the Scorpion,” and transform it from a brittle, uncertain 12,000 word opening into a solid, 50,000 word novel (just barely but NaNoWriMo told me I “won” so there you go) that could be the start of a really ripping yarn serial, but out of nowhere I also thought of “Come Dark O’Clock,” my gay demon romance, which at 20,000 words is still officially a story but also makes a great opening to a serial/series. There’s a huge audience out there for dark fantasy, and for “light paranormal” a la True Blood (but no vamps or shifters or werewolves here), and I can only cross my fingers and hope they take off.

“Lion” will be up on Kindle in a week; it’s only waiting for the final cover art. “Dark” in turn will be up as soon as I can get art for that. I’ve thought a lot about promotion, and after reading all the conventional wisdom I’ve had a Tiny Epiphany. It’s funny: people are making a shit ton of money telling you how to promote your ebooks, but the fact of the matter is that the venues into which they send you are armed and ready against the kind of authors who take said advice. For instance, there are blog posts and PowerPoints out there all about how awesome GoodReads is and how you must join it as an author…but none of these propagandists warns you that when you get there, all the boards have large AUTHORS READ THIS posts from the mods, essentially telling you, don’t you dare come in here and start flinging your self-marketing/branding poo before you’ve spent some time as a reader and contributor to the community.

And it got me thinking. Do I, did I, ever respond to the kind of marketing I’m being told to do? Am I more like those marketing bullshit guys, or more like the mods on the boards? Have I not spent my entire life immunizing myself against every form of marketing bullshit? Has marketing bullshit ever, ever, ever gotten me to buy something?

No.

I have clicked on, and I do not exaggerate, exactly two web ads in my entire life.  One for a DNA analyzer (back before 23and Me) and one for a Steuben Glass polar bear (which of course turned out to be thousands of dollars).  It’s all lies, air and deception, rail thin twentysomethings lovin’ Mickey D’s, some idiot with the latest eyewear who thinks coolness is a mineral that can be mined, processed, and applied as a coating to anything, who won’t respect your personal space and gets in your face because “breaking down barriers” is where it’s at. 

And who am I writing for? Am I writing yet another True Blood derivative “shifter” romance, am I writing Twilight derivative fanfic? Am I writing, in other words, for the kind of people who can never get enough of more of the same – the kind of people in essence to whom you can market, who are eager to click on ads and hear about the same old soap in a brand new box?

I am not. I am writing for people like me, at least like me in their taste in fiction.

In fact, I have spent an enormous amount of time making sure I have it both ways in these stories: writing something I know will sell, absolutely, but also something that will sell because it’s fresh and exciting and different. You can make some money doing what everyone else is doing, or you can take a risk, and (possibly, no guarantees in the Western world as the song says) make a lot of money doing something new, that everyone else will then rush to imitate. Okay, admittedly, 50 Shades started out as Twilight fanfic, but didn’t stay that way. If it had, it would have been just another piece of that world, and not what it turned out to be. And the irony, the supreme irony, is described by her husband in this piece:

Throughout January and February, sales grew at an absurd, unbelievable rate. It topped the Amazon erotica chart, then their general fiction chart, then entered the New York Times Bestsellers list and kept climbing. Emails demanded to know the name of the genius in charge of Erika’s marketing campaign. There was no marketing campaign. Apart from a few book blogs, it was all word-of-mouth.

And what about Hugh Howey, my role model for self-pubbing, serializing, and starting out at .99? He said that Wool “took off, quite by accident and on its own.”

Wecks: So when did you realize that Wool was taking off?

Howey: October of last year. I started selling dozens of copies a day, and it kept building, and toward the end of the month it looked like I might get close to a thousand total Wool sales for the month. I stayed up until midnight refreshing my KDP dashboard to see if it would happen. I pleaded on Facebook and Twitter for a little push. I think I sold 1,018 copies of a little 99 cent short story that month. I figured it was the apex of my career and that it would all be downhill from there. I can’t remember the last time I stayed up until midnight. I could barely sleep afterward.

Honestly, I think (and I’ll be corrected shortly by the market if wrong) that given a great story and a low price, you can do more than you ever can with a mediocre story and a metric ton of promotion. So I am now ready to relax a bit about the whole “Hey!  Look at me! Here’s my book! Rah Rah!” thing and see where these two stories take themselves.

Both of them are going up under my “transparent pseudonym,” Eli Outland, which will exist solely as a firewall/force-field against my new fantasy work being bundled up with my old gay stuff by various algorithms. But I’m not going to, cannot afford the time and energy to, start creating multiple personalities and web pages and Facebook pages and so on and whatnot rather than putting that investment into more fiction.

I did do a bit of thinking on this pseudonym. All the authors I like seem to have very masculine-sounding, often “Saint Somebody” first names. Patrick Rothfuss, George R. R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie, Michael J. Sullivan, Peter V. Brett, Brandon Sanderson, etc. And I typed “Eli Outland” into Amazon to see how many other Elis there are writing books (none). And I’m a big New York Giants fan. In fact, I like the name so much that if I were 30 years younger I might even change my “real” name, which nobody ever believed was real.  (Some queen once dismissed me in a review as “someone writing under the preposterous pseudonym ‘Orland Outland’ ”– if only.)

So the agenda for December. Given how fertile I feel right now, I am going to stop worrying about work and money for the rest of this month, the holidays being essentially a wash on that anyway, and do exactly what I did last month, which is write a LOT. I even think I can if not finish at least add heavily to “Less Than,” given the overall confidence I have in my abilities right now, and in between that work on starting the next “Lion” and “Dark” stories. I originally, stubbornly, declared I would publish one of each and then sit and sulk until they sank or swam, but I’m invested in the outcomes of these stories now myself, and full of ideas for both. Also, as Hugh Howey says,

Finally, I think I got lucky with my publishing method. That serial style that I dreamed about with my first book gave Wool a huge boost. By releasing shorter titles at a compelling price point, my stories stormed the charts en masse. A single book is invisible; it’s a tree in the forest. Even a few books by the same author but with varying titles kind of blend in with the noise. But when there’s five books with the same strange title sprinkled throughout the charts together, they sorta build on top of each other like individual ripples growing into a much larger wave. Suddenly, I had seven titles in the top 20 of science fiction, which caught the attention of other authors who blogged about my publishing method. I must have caught the attention of readers in the same manner. Now I know of several authors adopting this same style for their upcoming works, so we’ll see if it becomes a trend or if it was a fluke.

Yes, yes we will.

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