Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Span of One Orbit

It's been an eventful year.

Today marks the anniversary of when I started work on my first novel. I finished it in October of last year, and published it on November 8th. (Auspiciously enough, that is the same date I reported to boot camp at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, Great Lakes Illinois, back in 1998, and the date that I recieved my honorable discharge from the Navy six years later in 2004.)

No Easy Hope recently reached a milestone. As of yesterday, it has sold over 7000 copies. That translates into $20,930.00 in gross revenue. After takes their cut, that leaves me with right about fourteen thousand in net earnings. After taxes, it's a little over ten grand. I only get about half the pie, but hey, half of something is better than all of nothing. And that's only what its earned thus far; it's still selling and averaging between thirty to fifty copies a day.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not bragging here. I really do have a point.

To a lot of authors, even self-published ones, seven thousand copies is no big deal. There are plenty of authors out there who see sales like that every month, and I say good for them. The reason I bring this up is to reinforce a point I made on my previous post. Traditional publishing models have left niche reader markets grossly underserved, and there have been a lot of missed opportunities there. That is where Amazon and guys like me come in.

I'm a business guy. I like numbers, I like understanding the truth behind how things work, and I like spotting opportunities. It doesn't take an advanced degree in marketing to spot opportunities for potential readers who want a particular type of literature, just a sharp eye and a good idea for a story. Case in point: Jim Butcher. He is the author of the wildly successful Dresden Files series, a favorite of mine, but initially, in spite of the quality of his work, he had a hard time getting published. His particular brand of dark urban fantasy, centered around a modern day wizard, had a huge potential readership that the big publishing houses had no idea even existed. But Jim Butcher did. He submitted manuscript after manuscript, and was repeatedly rejected. Why? Because the publishers who read those manuscripts didn't see the potential there.

The Dresden Files series is brilliant. It combines action and adventure with horror, mystery, and even a little romance thrown in for good measure. It is a genre spanning masterwork that has sold millions of copies wordwide. Jim Butcher is a fantastic author, way better than I am or ever hope to be. Which begs an obvious question.

If a world class writer like Mr. Butcher has to jump through a thousand flaming hoops to get published, what chance does a mediocre amateur like myself have? Not much of one. About a snowball's chance in hell, I would say. This sentiment is exactly what kept me from writing anything until after I turned thirty. I just figured it would be a lot of wasted effort.

The advent of self-publishing has changed all of that. Maybe No Easy Hope, or any of its sequels, will never appear on the NYT bestseller's list. My side project, Jeremiah Cain: Vampire Hunter will probably never make it there either. But if my first book, published without aid of an editor, agent, or publishing house, can sell 7000 copies in four months without any kind of marketing effort on my part, then I am willing to stay in the game and keep writing. Ten grand in take home cash may not be much to some people, but for a guy like me with a wife and kid to look after, that money can do a lot of good things. Daycare is expensive, and gas isn't getting any cheaper.

I don't need to write a bestseller. I don't need millions of sales (although that sure would be nice). I'm not trying to get rich, I'm just trying to earn a living, and make things easier for my family. When I got my last royalty check, I paid my bills for the whole month, set aside money for gas, groceries, and daycare, put some money in my Roth IRA, and still had a good bit of cash left over to put in non-retirement savings. For a guy who has spent most of his adult life living paycheck to paycheck, fretting over bills, and losing sleep at night wondering how he is going to make ends meet, a surplus of cash is nothing short of a Godsend. For the first time in years, I'm not worried about whether I'll have enough money to get by until my next paycheck.

Amazon, B&N, and all the other ebook retailers out there are the ones who made it possible. They gave niche market authors like myself access to our underserved clientele, and there are hundreds of other writers in hundreds of other markets out there doing the same thing. We're not getting rich by any means, but we are doing something that we love, and making money at it. That's a blessing any way you slice it.

The big publishers are not interested in these small literature markets because there isn't enough money there for them. That's fine with me, I'm more than happy to step in and give these readers what they are looking for. That's my business strategy. While I'm at it, my focus will remain firmly fixed on improving as an author, and publishing quality, fast paced, entertaining stories. I will keep up with my readers on social media, I will read every single review as it comes in, and I will take all comments and criticisms under advisement. Feedback from my readers is as valuable as gold, and I always welcome it, be it good or bad.

Ultimately, my goal is to be able to write for a living. To not have to wake up to an alarm clock every morning and dread going to work. I'm a long way off from that goal, but I believe that I will get there eventually. If my time in the Navy taught me anything, it is that life is about the journey, not the destination. Writing enough books and building a sufficient readership to write full time is a large, daunting task. When I think about this, I am reminded of an old joke I heard who-knows-where a long time ago.

Q: How do you eat an elephant?
A: One bite at a time.

Becoming a successful author, which means making enough income from writing so that I don't have to work a day job, is my elephant to eat. Years ago, I would have would have walked away from so large a task, but not anymore. Ebooks have leveled the playing field, and for those of us with the drive and the determination to see it through, our dream of being professional writers is no longer an unattainable one.

But that is the big picture.

Small picture is to take the next bite. All the ambition in the world ain't gonna do me a damn bit of good if my books suck. It's easy to get caught up in money, but at the end of the day, a book is a work of art. To be a good author, one must always seek to improve his or her writing, and the love of the craft must ever and always remain the writer's foremost motivation. The bottom line here is that if I didn't love writing, I wouldn't do it. I would get a part time job, or work overtime, or something. Writing is hard, it is time consuming, and it can be an incredibly frustrating process. If you don't love it, you won't last long at it.

I have learned a lot in the past year. About myself, about the world of publishing, and about my readers. The feedback that I have gotten from the people who read my book has been, far and away, the most rewarding part of this whole process. More than money, or anything else, I am incredibly grateful to have been able to share something that means so much to me with so many people. The surprising part is that most of them actually liked my book. That is what motivates me to keep writing. The fact that people out there will read my books and enjoy them is as validating as it is humbling. I don't want to let you down, Dear Reader, so when I finish this blog post, I will apply my rather bulbous nose firmly to the grindstone, and get to work on finishing up the sequel to No Easy Hope.

Just in case you haven't heard, the title to the sequel is This Shattered Land. It picks up a couple of months after the epilogue in No Easy Hope, and details the beginning of Gabriel and Eric's journey to Colorado. I'm about halfway through, and I am actually in the middle of writing an action scene involving...

Well, I don't want to spoil it for you. I need to get back to writing, and finish up the chapter I am working on. That is the next bite. One step at a time, one foot in front of the other. That's how you get to where you want to go.

I hope you decide to tag along, I'd appreciate the company.

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