I’ve been thinking a lot about this word lately. Part of it has been that I’ve just come through the two-year anniversary of nearly dying from an infection that ravaged my right leg, shut down my kidneys, and sent my heart into tumbling runs. Ten days in the hospital, four of which were in the ICU, will give you some perspective, for sure. I am thankful to be alive. I still get to be a husband, a father, and a writer. I am very lucky and I want to make the most of all of the things that this life has to offer. The truth is that nothing is this world is guaranteed. I understand that now, more than ever. But my anniversary hasn’t been the only significant thing to happen since my last update.
In early February, I had the chance to be with my Tribe at the Superstars Writing Seminar. Outside of the fantastic instruction and awesome networking opportunities were the chances I had to sit down with Bill Fawcett and discuss my career path (all systems go!) and to have a now traditional Saturday lunch with Eric Flint and work forward on an alternate history idea that’s slowly coming to fruition. Superstars always seems to happen right around a significant snow storm (17 inches this time) and a time when I need a kick in the pants for my writing. This year was no different, and I came out of the seminar ready to tackle new challenges and opportunities – all while dealing with a massive dose of anxiety.
With two novels traditionally published this year, I shouldn’t have been anxious about anything, but I was. You see, I knew about three months ago that Sleeper Protocol had been selected for a review at Publisher’s Weekly. This is a very significant achievement, and while I had no delusions of grandeur, I hoped that the review would be positive and encouraging for potential readers and booksellers. When the review came out on February 20th, it was a mix of criticism and praise with two very key sentences – they called the novel “an emotionally powerful debut” and said that my “insight into the human side of the military mind has strong appeal.”
These two key aspects were exactly what I was trying to accomplish. I did not receive a “Starred” review, nor did they say the book was crap. It was a positive review of a new author. I never expected to hit a grand slam in my first time at bat, then again, the second time up has seen something very unexpected. And totally freaking crazy.
Let me turn to British science fiction and fantasy author Kameron Hurley. You can find the entire article here, but she talks in great detail about what to expect (numbers-wise) as a debut author.
“I want to talk about the reality of being a debut author, because nobody actually talked to me about those numbers. What defined success? What should I expect? Was I a failure if I sold fewer than 80,000 copies? Fewer than 20,000? I know selling 100 is bad, but outside that….?
The average book sells 3000 copies in its lifetime (Publishers Weekly, 2006).
Yes. It’s not missing a zero.
Take a breath and read that again.
But wait, there’s more!
The average traditionally published book which sells 3,000 in its entire lifetime in print only sells about 250-300 copies its first year.
But I’m going indie! you say. My odds are better!
No, grasshopper. Your odds are worse.
The average digital only author-published book sells 250 copies in its lifetime.
It’s not missing a zero.
If you sell fewer than 1500 copies at a traditional publisher, you’re generally considered a commercial disaster by any publisher but a very, very tiny one who paid you an advance less than $1000.
So: hope you sell more than that.”
Again, you can find her excellent post in its entirety here.
This article really spoke to the data-oriented part of my brain the first time I read it several months ago, but as both novels were published, I started to look at the statistics very closely. By these numbers, I’m off to a great start – much better than I’d hoped to be.
Here’s what’s happened to date:
Released in January 2016, this novel sold 70 copies through the end of January. Not bad. I’m almost a third of the way to the 250-300 mark for the first year. That’s fairly decent. This also doesn’t take into account that so far I’ve sold 30 copies in small local events. So, all told, I’m around 100 books sold. Not bad. Again, I’m on track for a successful first year and right were I want to be.
Runs In The Family
This is where things get crazy. With the push for Sleeper Protocol, and the subsequent Publisher’s Weekly review, my publisher and I have done very little external marketing for this book. And it hasn’t mattered. Released a week later than my debut, Runs In The Family sold 105 copies by the end of January and is on track to sell nearly 600 copies in the month of February. That’s not a typo – 600 copies. Nor does that take into account what I’ve sold at recent conventions and signing events. These numbers are nothing short of amazing. What gives?
I have my theories about price points and sub genres, but realistically, I don’t know why Runs has taken off like it has. I can only hope that both novels will continue to enjoy some cross-traffic. What matters here is the perspective. I went into the launch of Sleeper Protocol with the idea that it would be the lead and Runs In The Family would be a slightly different follow-on book that would draw potential fans of the debut.
I was wrong.
Let me say that again – I was wrong. I felt that both books were solid stories, and my military-sf focus was much stronger in Runs In the Family, but I thought Sleeper Protocol would launch stronger. Man, was I wrong.
Just like my health scare and my perspective following, the lesson is this: you never know, nor can you really forecast, how your books are going to launch. This is why it’s important to keep writing and not put all efforts behind one particular title. Build fans by writing more. That’s where I am. The sequel to Sleeper Protocol is complete and almost ready for my beta readers. I’m hoping to have it to my publisher this summer. I also have a prequel for Runs In The Family ready for that publisher.
Having a little perspective has changed the order of my to-do list, but it’s also made it much longer and more defined. I plan to tell stories for a very long time.