Today on the Functional Nerds Podcast, I talk with John and Pat about author self-promotion. It's something that's been on my mind a lot since I have a book coming out in two weeks, so drop in and give it a listen!
Hey guys. Today is my 29th birthday. I was going to write a rambling post about aging and accomplishments and all sorts of deep, philosophical stuff. But my folks are coming over in a few hours and I have a pork roast to make, so I'm going to hijack my own birthday for this:
All week I'll be giving away a bundle of three Powder Mage short stories: "The Girl of Hrusch Avenue," "Hope's End," and "Face in the Window." YOU CAN DOWNLOAD A ZIP FILE HERE.
*This is a post of mine that I made last year before Crimson Campaign came out. Since I have significantly more readers/blog followers now, I thought it would be a good idea to bring it back out and update it for Autumn Republic.*
We all know that sales are good for an author. I mean, of course we do. Sales get money to the bookstores, the bookstores pay the publisher, the publisher pays the author. Or in the case of self-pubbed authors, sales get money to the distribution channel (Amazon, Kobo, etc) and then the distribution channel pays the author. The former is how it works for my Powder Mage novels. The latter is how it works for my Powder Mage short fiction. How those two benefit me in different ways is a whole new blog post. Some of you know that my third book, The Autumn Republic, is coming out in three weeks. That means that sales are on my mind a bit lately.
What most people don't know, and what I certainly didn't know before getting into the industry, is that even with all other things being equal some sales are more important than others. Pre-orders land in this "more important" category. These are any purchases made before the official release date of a book and can be made for ebooks, hard copies, and sometimes (but not always) audiobooks from major publishers.
Why are pre-orders important? The most obvious reason would be bestseller lists. Pre-orders count toward first week sales that often determine whether a book winds up on a bestselling list, a possibility that can be huge for any author. Aside: first week sales also land in the "more important sales" category for this same reason.
Pre-orders also affect what happens behind the scenes. A large number of pre-orders can cause a vendor (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million) to go back to my publisher and ask for another order of books. That's before the book is even out. How cool is that? That order could be 200. It could be 2000. Doesn't matter how small it is, another order is fantastic. In addition, notes will be made about how well these books seem to be selling. My publisher can go to their other vendors and say "Hey, X just ordered another 300 copies of Y, which means you'll probably have a high demand as well. Can we send you more?"
It's a snowball effect. It can cause sales to grow and as we established before, sales are good for an author. And remember that we're still only talking about pre-orders. The book hasn't hit shelves yet and it's already gotten both booksellers and publishers excited for it, and when booksellers and publishers get excited about a book they will push it all the more to the book-buying public.
If one or more vendors order more books this can cause a novel to get a large first printing or to go back to a second printing. This means that the book has sold better than expected even before it comes out and guess what? Both publishers and booksellers take note of this as well. Last year Crimson Campaign went back for a second printing before it even came out. How rad is that?
All of these facets spin together to make pre-orders a huge part of the business. They're good for bookstores, publishers, and most especially for the authors whose living depends on their books selling well.
If you have an author whose book you're planning on buying and you can afford to put the money down ahead of time, please pre-order their book. This could be one of my books or books by any author you would like to give an extra boost. Some of my friends with books coming out soon include Myke Cole with Gemini Cell, Wesley Chu with Time Salvager, the paperback of City Stained Red by Sam Sykes, and Half a World by Joe Abercrombie
If you want to read a bit more about this, Kevin Hearne talked about pre-orders over on his site as well!
As a run-up to the launch of The Autumn Republic, Orbit Books is releasing a breadcrumb trail of chapters across several different blogs online! If you want to get in on the preview action, follow the links below:
CHAPTER ONE - courtesy of Orbit Books
CHAPTER TWO - courtesy of Civilian Reader
CHAPTER THREE - courtesy of Orbit Books
CHAPTER FOUR - courtesy of Fantasy Book Critic
CHAPTER FIVE - coming January 27th
This coming weekend is one of my favorite each winter because it's time for the fantastic little convention called ConFusion. It takes place in Detroit Michigan and for as long as I've been going (this is my fourth year) they've managed to have an incredible selection of guests authors. This year they've got people like Joe Abercrombie, Steven Erikson, Karen Lord, and Monte Cook.
ConFusion has also developed into a bit of an "author vacation" convention where many of us go to just hang out with our friends. I plan on seeing Peter V. Brett, Myke Cole, Sam Sykes, Wesley Chu, Howard Tayler, Robert Jackson Bennett, Kameron Hurley, Delilah Dawson, and many, many more.
If you're in the Detroit area this weekend you can catch us at the Dearborn Doubletree. Find more info on their website here. I'll be hanging out and chatting with fans, and I'll have books and novellas to sell and sign at the mass autograph session. My panel schedule is as follows:
Friday 6pm: What We're Reading Now
Writers are almost always avid readers, and being in the business sometimes allows more insight into new and exciting authors, series, or just ideas that different people are playing with. If you’ve looked around and wondered what’s good that’s out now and in the near future, this panel may give you a new slew of books to track down.
Saturday 12pm: Fantasy Authors Interview
Jackie M. interviews Peter Orullian, Brian McClellan, and Wesley Chu
Saturday 3pm: Mass Autograph Session
Saturday 6pm: What Should I Read Next?
Suggestions of what to read next, based on what you just read and loved
Saturday 8pm: Building the Next Great Epic
What does it take to plan, write, and sell an epic series?
This is the first of my essays about being an author, brought to you by my Patreon page.
The Powder Mage Trilogy went to auction between three major publishers in November of 2011. The timing couldn't have been more fortuitous. I was fresh out of a job working minimum wage as a fry cook in the prepared foods section of the worst grocery store in the world and just settling into work as a debt collector--a job I knew I wouldn't be able to handle for more than a year. Six months of unemployment prior to the fry cook job had my spirits at an all time low, and Michele was already struggling with her new job at a vet's office.
The email about the auction from my agent was typically understated, but Michele and I spent the next twenty-four hours dancing around our little five hundred square-foot rental and celebrated by going out to Olive Garden.
Don't laugh. That was fancy dining for us at the time.
The results of the auction were good enough that I had a decision to make. I could do the smart thing and stick with the job at the collection agency for as long as possible, writing in the evenings, keeping our health insurance and a steady income and pocketing the money from the auction for a rainy day. Or, I could drop the job and throw myself at this writing gig with all my gusto.
It wasn't a hard decision to be honest. I wasn't getting paid all that much, and I've always hated office jobs and structure. This was my chance to be free of them. My dreams were literally about to come true. I leapt on that chance like... well, like I would on a triple-layer chocolate cake. All our problems were over. We thought.
Thing about life though, is that no matter how awesome it is there's always a new set of difficulties. When it comes to any job these are often psychological. As far as most people go, I thought I was pretty well-equipped to adjust to the writing life. My dad was self-employed, working out of the house most of my life, so I was aware of many of those particular challenges. I'd had mentors in the writing community that gave me insight into what it was like to be a writer.
But you don't really know something for real until you experience it.
One of our first struggles was getting paid one very large check up front. Surely that's not a struggle, you say. Take it in perspective: up until this point we had both been working minimum wage jobs since college, barely getting by, having to borrow money from family at times. Then we get handed more money than we had ever made together in a year all at once. It's so tempting to buy ALL THE THINGS. That thing you hear about where someone wins the lottery then is bankrupt a year later? We didn't want that to happen to us...
...because we knew we weren't going to get paid again until book two was handed in, or book one hit the shelves, which was still sixteen months away. When Michele quit her job at the vet's office and started editing for me full-time we had to tighten up even more. As a full-time author, you don't have the benefit of being paid every two weeks, knowing exactly what money you'll have and where it'll go. You have to plan and budget out a year or more.
We had mixed success on that budgeting thing over the course of the first two years. I started diversifying income with self-published short stories and that's helped stabilize us but there's always that monthly budget review where I look at the numbers and check to see when we get paid next and give a little grimace and figure out how to pay the quarterly taxes.
The next struggle, and it's still something I deal with on a daily basis, is the dangers of setting my own schedule.
I don't have a boss. I don't have a manager. I have an awesome editor and an incredible agent that check in on me from time to time, especially when deadlines loom, but that's not the same thing. I can (and have, I'm loathe to admit) spend six weeks playing video games and then work fourteen-hour days for several months straight to hit my deadline and no one will be the wiser.
That kind of thing is not healthy. Many of the most successful authors I know have set work schedules. They get up at 6AM or whenever, have their coffee, sit down and work until they've finished 2000 words, or some variation on that daily goal.
So far, I haven't been able to make it work. This is about the healthiest schedule I've been able to accomplish:
I'm fortunate in that I write quickly. When I've got a scene planned I can bust down around 1500-2000 words an hour, so often times I'll spend the better part of the week staring at the ceiling or doing something that lets my brain subconsciously compute the various plot threads I'm trying to tie together, then get all my writing done in one or two days.
Still not very healthy.
This brings up something else about being a full-time writer. It's really hard to figure out how much time you've put in.
I used to beat myself up when I had only spent ten hours or a week writing. Brian, I'd say, what the hell is wrong with you? This is your job! You should be writing forty or more hours each week. Get to it! Chop chop!
That was really self-destructive because it would depress me and then I'd get even less done. Thing is, a full-time writer is working all the time. Driving to the store? Plotting. Laying in bed unable to sleep? Developing a new character. Even when I'm playing computer games or having a conversation I'm still filing things away in the back of my head, trying to make a scene work or considering a new detail to add. Even when you're not "working" as an author, you're still working.
And all this background stuff is essential to being an author, full-time or not. Some people plot by taking notes, or by just sitting down and writing and expecting to throw out 90% of what they've written. I like to write as few drafts as possible, so I have to get it all done in my head ahead of time and it took me forever to convince myself that all that time is real work.
Neurosis. Every author has it, full-time or not. Checking your Amazon ranking, drumming your fingers every day that your latest royalty statement doesn't arrive, peeking at a new review even when you know you shouldn't. It's just part of being an author.
We all fear that our latest book will bomb or that an editor won't want the next pitch. But when you're full-time, it goes a little deeper. You won't just take that psychological hit. You won't be able to pay your rent. Maybe you're latest contract has you set for a couple months. Maybe a whole year or two. But you're always looking forward, knowing that there's a good chance there will be a day when the whole full-time gig will end.
It's my greatest fear.
The final thing I'm going to talk about is something that took me a while to realize. I'm the youngest kid by six years, which means I was in many ways an only child. I'm introverted. Love being by myself. It was a long process, gradually seeping into me, to figure out how dang lonely it is being a full-time author.
It didn't really start until I began going to conventions as an author. I'd get to meet fans and other authors and industry people. These were my new friends and colleagues, the people I had been searching for my whole life. I'd hang out and talk and laugh and geek out. And then I'd go home and be back sitting at my computer on Monday.
Writers don't have coworkers or a water cooler. We have conventions, which all depend on guest invites or budgeting into your finances as "work." So the average full-time author is going to attend a handful of those each year and the rest of that time? Staring at the screen, all by yourself.
Twitter, Facebook, and Gchat all help. But even if you're constantly in contact, you're still lacking that human connection. I'm fortunate enough that my wife is my (literally) in-house collaborator, always there for me to bounce ideas off and to look over my latest chapter. Many authors don't have that benefit. And despite that, and the fact that I generally prefer to be by myself, I still count down the days until my next launch party or convention.
I know thousands of people dream of having the problems that come along with being a full-time author. Three years after I left my last day job, it's still a dream come true. But there is so much more to being an author than what you read about in interviews or "how to be a writer" books. Authors, even very successful ones, all deal with the fear, isolation, and neurosis that come with this strange career.
I've got a new powder mage short out from Orbit Books as a bit of an anticipation-builder for Autumn Republic next month. Return to Honor takes place immediately between Promise of Blood and Crimson Campaign. Here's the cover copy:
Captain Vlora is a powder mage in the Adran army. Once the favored, adopted daughter of the field marshal, she is now a pariah amongst those she called her family. Her superior officers would like nothing more than to send her to a far off posting and forget about her, but no one is exempt when there is a war - and powder mages are desperately needed.
When a traitorous guard captain goes on the run with information that could harm the war effort, Vlora is sent on his trail. She has three days to find him; she will have to make new friends and test the limits of her skills. Fail, and good soldiers will die. Succeed and maybe, just maybe, she can begin to work her way back into the field marshal's good graces.
If you're the Redditing type, /r/fantasy has up its yearly award voting. There are a ton of categories from "Best Novel" to "Best Game" and beyond. If you'll remember, Promise of Blood won "Best Debut Novel" last year and I got a pretty awesome Stabby knife with my name engraved on it and everything.
This year, Crimson Campaign has been nominated for "Best Novel" and Murder at the Kinnen Hotel for "Best Short Fiction."
For all two of you who might happen to drop by the website here on Christmas Day, Promise of Blood is a Kindle Daily Deal at $2.99! Great for a last-minute stocking stuffer for friends, family, or yourself. Spread the word!
Over the weekend I set up a Patreon. For those that don't know, Patreon is a crowd-sourced patronage site that allows you to support creative people and endeavors with an automatically reoccurring donation each month. It can be as small or as large as you'd like, stopped and started whenever you want, and the artist gets everything minus a modest site fee (which varies, but is around $.30 + 8%)
The purpose of my Patreon is to allow me to have more time for side projects like self-pubbed stories, annotated fiction, and articles that talk about the business of writing. The articles (like the one where I talked about the economics of a book fair) will start coming for free on my blog every month (instead of sporadically). In addition, Patreon-backers will get advance looks at my new self-published projects as well as other cool peeks-behind-the-curtain.
You can read more by heading over to my Patreon page. Thanks for everyone's support!
Another review is in for The Autumn Republic! This time it's from Kirkus, who have given the third book in the Powder Mage Trilogy a starred review. I'm very happy with this one. I've quoted the best bit below, or you can read the whole thing here.
"...fully realized characters contend with a stunning tangle of plots, counterplots, perfidies and conundrums against a highly textured backdrop. The action sequences that intersperse all this are as ferocious as ever, and it’s so inventive that it sometimes seems as though McClellan’s doing it just because he can.
A slam-bang conclusion to an outstanding trilogy."
Yeah! I'm so excited Just eight weeks from today until The Autumn Republic hits shelves.
I got the proofs of the hardcover for Murder at the Kinnen Hotel this week. After a little bit of color adjusting, I've approved the proofs and sent my order to the printer. That means I can put the hardcover up for pre-order!
Here's how this is going to work: the first 100 hardcovers will be signed, dated, and numbered. Once again, these are first-come, first-serve during the pre-order phase. Once the numbered editions are sold out you'll just get a signed and dated edition. Numbered editions are not guaranteed, so get your order in quick.
If you got one of the initial batch of 100 of Forsworn and Servant of the Crown, you have until the 19th of December to request the corresponding numbered edition of Kinnen Hotel. The logistics of this are a bit overwhelming, but I'm going to do my very best to match these up for people.
The hardcovers of Kinnen Hotel will ship by the second week of January (but quite possibly sooner). PRE-ORDER NOW.
I'm very pleased to report that one of the earliest reviews of book three in the Powder Mage Trilogy, The Autumn Republic, is a glowing piece from Publishers Weekly! The paywall may prevent you from seeing the full review here, so I've quoted some tidbits below:
"...sharp and moving conclusion to McClellan's French Revolution-inspired fantasy."
"McClellan is unafraid to show tragic consequences and he wisely resists tying up his plot into a too-neat conclusion, allowing some character deaths and glimpses of the unending work of nation-building."
"...will please fantasy readers with a historical bent and a taste of the bittersweet."
The Autumn Republic is out February 10th! Find out where you can pre-order here.
The Black Friday sale for my website store finished this morning, but people are still doing their holiday shopping, so...
Between now and the 26th of December, you can get 30% off all copies of Promise of Blood in the store with the code BLACKPOWDERCHRISTMAS. You can now also get the entire collection of Powder Mage short fiction in just one download for $9.99 ($12 if you buy them separately).
Happy Holidays everybody!
And for your viewing pleasure: a Lego Field Marshal Tamas sent to me by a fan!
Here are some book recommendations for the Black Friday shopper out there on the interwebs. Instead of my usual "three books" post, I'm just throwing up some cool deals for books/series/authors that I enjoy and letting you guys go to town.
Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth - $24.99 - What's this doing here? It's not a book! Well too bad, because it's my blog. Civ: BE has gotten mixed reviews but I know a lot of people have been waiting for it to go on sale to give it a try. Personally, I'm a big fan and since it's 50% off, you should hop on.
Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn Boxed Set - $15.00 - The Mistborn Trilogy in mass market paperback. It's a staple fantasy read these days, and this would make a great gift for the budding fantasy reader.
Brandon Sanderson's Words of Radiance ebook - $3.75 - The second book in Brandon's Stormlight Archive mega-series. Good time to grab it if you've read the first and been waiting to get this one. Or get them both together. Way of Kings is only $7.68.
Sam Syke's City Stained Red ebook - $1.99 - Sam is a friend and fellow Orbit author, and this book is the first in his new series. I loved it enough to give it a blurb.
James S.A. Corey's Cibola Burns ebook - $3.75 - The latest in the Expanse series. The best space opera has to offer. Seriously, I love this series and if you haven't started reading it yet you should do so now. Book one, Leviathan Wakes, is just $5.99.
Ever since I self-published the first powder mage short story as an ebook, I've had people asking me if there will be print versions of my short fiction for their bookshelves. From the beginning, I kind of waved it off as something I'd like to do eventually but which sounded like a giant pain in the butt. I had novels to write, after all, and I don't like to spend more than 2 weeks worth of work time on any of my short fiction.
I went on writing more, and longer, short fiction, and I'd still get the question about print versions rather frequently. It was pretty easy to brush off over Twitter or Facebook. Then I went to Salt Lake Comic Con, where I sold a lot of books and interacted with a lot of fans and was asked about the short fiction way more than I had ever been online.
I was sharing a booth with Schlock Mercenary and was able to talk with Howard and Sandra Taylor about self-publishing print books. That made the whole idea sound way less intimidating so when I got home, I started to figure out what needed to be done.
My first decision was what, exactly, to publish. At this point I had three short stories and two novellas out. The short stories were too short to print individually. I didn't like the idea of an anthology because I enjoy putting out short fiction set whenever and wherever I feel like in the Powder Mage Universe, and I felt that an anthology should have some sort of theme or set or be providing closure to a particular time period. Basically, I want each story to still be read on it's own (some of you may find this reasoning stupid, but it's how I feel for now). But I realized the two novellas (Forsworn and Servant of the Crown) are each just big enough to make cool little chapbook-type things.
I did a little informal polling on twitter and got some initial cost estimates from online printers and decided to do go with a more expensive, but nicer and more collectible, hardcover.
I met with a locally-headquartered printer that I happened to have a personal connection to (HF Group, who I recommend) and talked through some of my concerns about quality control. Feeling good about the process, I emailed with their production people. I found out what they'd need from me and the printing costs involved.
At this point I had a formatted ebook and an ebook cover. I needed to get both of these turned into print-ready PDFs. Maybe I could have done that on my own, but I don't hate myself so I contracted it out to people who did this kind of thing professionally. That process took a week or two.
The printer took my files and sent me a proof of each book. This showed me what they'd look like, and I was able to see for myself the pros and cons of glossy vinyl versus matte covers (I went with matte). I talked through a couple of changes with them, and the books were sent to final printing.
Once I had proofs (and not before), I felt pretty confident about taking orders on the novellas. I was selling signed, dated, and numbered editions for the first hundred so I sold them in a bundle to make my life easier. Luckily, I already had a store set up to sell print copies of my novels and ebooks of my short fiction.
The ordering was a bit hectic. I ran a small advertising campaign on Facebook and Twitter (nothing paid, just outreach to fans), and sent out a newsletter. The numbered editions sold out in two days, which was a way better response than I'd expected. Fans asked a lot of questions during the process.
Printing had a few kinks, which we managed to work out but that set shipping back by an extra week. That meant answering several emails about when the books would be sent out.
Then came the shipping. Oh, the shipping.
Signing around 250 books and personalizing about fifty of those, and then packaging and addressing them took almost as much of my time as the entire rest of the project together. I'll admit I could streamline the process quite a bit - for instance, I had to hand address every package because Squarespace's system was being a jerk with every label printing software I tried.
Finally, the post office. I had to eat some extra cost on several international shipments because I was an idiot. And I couldn't figure out how to get a ship-from-home option to work for media mail so I wound up spending an hour checking out at the post office.
Some things I discovered:
- Everyone I had working on the different aspects of the hardcovers were people I already had personal or profession relationships with. That made the entire thing SO much easier (and cheaper) than it would have been.
- Selling via Amazon just wrecks the profit margins on these. I still haven't decided whether to put them up there or not. Increased visibility versus losing the majority of the profit on each book. Also, I'm required to buy an ISBN which I don't need for the ebook. Amazon still hasn't answered several inquiries about getting an exemption.
- I should have bit the bullet and paid for a membership to Stamps.com to aid with shipping. I learned this too late for my first shipment, but I'll use it in the future. More intuitive than the USPS option and lets me select media mail.
- You have to decide where you draw the line at pleasing fans/providing something cool and unique versus convenience for yourself. The numbered copies were fun and I think people really enjoyed them, but making sure I had them all stacked and organized and paired properly took a ton of time and energy. And people will want their matching numbers for future novellas.
Final thoughts: Stretched over the course of about about two months, the whole project took me the equivalent of around four working days to research and coordinate the printing and then to do all the signing and shipping. That might not sound like much time in total, but It's a lot of logistical stuff to keep track of for one person and many uncounted hours of agonizing over little tiny things. In the end it was worth it. Fans have received their books and seem to really love them.
On a purely mercenary level, I made enough money for me to do it again, and having extra things to sell at conventions will be very nice. I already have the cover and print-ready PDF prepared for the printer for the next Powder Mage novella, Murder at the Kinnen Hotel. Pre-orders for that should be up mid-December.
The newest powder mage novella is now on sale! Here's the cover copy:
Special Detective Constable Adamat may be the most capable young investigator in all of Adopest. He's sharp, thoughtful, and his particular sorcery gives him a flawless memory. A transfer to the First Precinct seems like the perfect opportunity to showcase his abilities and advance his career.
But things work differently in the First Precinct. The murder of a businessman's mistress quickly pulls Adamat into an unexpected world of conspiracy and politics where he's forced to use all his wits to stay one step ahead of unseen enemies and keep his friends—and himself—from the guillotine.
Occurs twenty-two years before the events in Promise of Blood.
As many of you have heard, it was announced yesterday that Amazon and Hachette (my publisher) have finally come to an agreement that will end months of bickering.
This is a huge relief to myself, as well as the other authors published by Hachette, and takes a giant weight off my shoulders going into the holiday (ie, selling) season.
For those wondering how this changes things for the reader:
The price drops, at least for now, are rather significant and I suspect will result in a reasonable jump in interest for the series over the holidays. More importantly, pre-orders on Autumn Republic will likely make a huge difference for how well the book launches come February 10th.
Thanks to all my awesome readers, and to the people at Amazon and Hachette for finally getting this thing hammered out!
Quick update on the status of the novella hardbacks:
There was an issue at the printer where the art on the cover of Servant of the Crown did not align with the spine. They're reprinting the covers and they plan on having the books to me by early-to-mid next week. Forsworn was fine and should arrive this afternoon.
Thanks everyone for your patience, and if you'd like to pre-order the novellas we still have some available here.