Tax Day Coupon

This month's Holy Taco Church Newsletter is out, and inside there's a coupon code for 15% off anything from my author store, as well as the author stores of my friends Kevin Hearne and Wesley Chu. So celebrate getting your stupid taxes done by picking up some rad science fiction and fantasy novels signed by the authors!

The coupon code is "TAXDAY" and is good through this coming Friday, 4/19.

How Much an Author Makes Off Their Books

This is the fourth of my essays about being an author, brought to you by my Patreon page.


One of the most common questions an author gets is "how can I buy your book to support you best?" It comes from readers who want to know what format (be it ebook, audio, or physical) authors make the most money from, or whether we get paid for secondhand purchases or other such considerations. It's a great question, and we love getting it because it means that reader is taking the time to consider the person behind their favorite books.

The standard answer is "however is most convenient for you" because, let's face it, the difference of a dollar or less coming to us is nothing compared to getting a lifelong fan who is reading our books in whatever format is most comfortable for them. But I have some fans who want to press a little further and make sure they get every penny they can into my hands and, not being one to argue, I thought I'd share the breakdown.

A small caveat—a lot of people will be shocked at how small of a percentage an author makes from the books that are being sold. I'm not going to talk about why this is, or why I'm fairly satisfied with my cut, because I addressed it last year in my post on the Cost of a Good Book. I'm also talking strictly traditionally-published numbers here and not self-published.

Here's the short version ordered from the most monetarily-beneficial to least. This is based on my own experiences, which are pretty much industry standard for the big publishers but may vary depending on prices and contract terms:

  1. purchasing direct from the author
  2. hardcover
  3. audiobook
  4. ebook
  5. borrowing from libraries
  6. trade paperback
  7. mass market paperback
  8. secondhand
  9. piracy

The first thing you'll notice is that list is pretty much in order of how expensive the books are to the readers in first place. No big surprise there. But let's take a closer look at each of these and see what the author is getting paid.

Not every author offers books for sale from their own website. But for those that do, this is by far the best way to support them because it means they'll be acting as their own bookstore and taking that cut on top of their standard payment by way of royalties, whatever those might be. So, say you picked up a copy of Promise of Blood in hardcover from my store. I charge cover price of $24. I purchased the books in bulk from distributor for about $16 each, so I get that difference of $8. I also get my standard 10% royalty of $2.40. Of course, this means I also have to deal with stocking, customer service, packaging, shipping, and all that, but I've decided it's well worth the time and cost. Direct author cut on Promise of Blood in hardcover: $10.40

If an author doesn't sell their books themselves, the best way to support them is buying in hardcover (which, of course, not all authors have). As mentioned above, I make 10% off my hardcovers. But that's 10% off the cover price. Meaning if you get a new copy of Autumn Republic off Amazon for $18, I'm still going to make the full $2.60 off the $26 original price. Hardcover author cut on Promise of Blood: $2.40

Audiobooks are a weird thing because, while my contract says that I make 25% of net (meaning 25% of what my publisher is paid), the number is constantly going up and down depending on whether a reader bought it directly from Audible, or used an Audible credit, or bought it during a sale, or what have you. So all I can really give you is the average I make according to my royalty statement. Audio author cut from Promise of Blood: $2.15

I've put ebooks on the list above trade paperbacks and below audiobooks, but to be honest they could hold a different spot depending on pricing. Like audio, I make 25% of net on ebooks. So, 25% of what my publisher makes which is a number I'm not entirely clear on. It depends on the publisher and their deal with the ebook distributors. I've heard 70% of sale price thrown around as standard. Assuming 70%, that means I make 25% of 70% of whatever you paid for the ebook. If you paid $13, that means I got $2.28. If you got it on sale for $1.99, that means I made $.35. Promise of Blood was on sale for many months for $1.99 in a (successful) attempt to rack up sales before Crimson Campaign came out. That means the average amount of made from Promise of Blood in ebook is much, much lower than books two or three. For sake of simplicity, I'll use the $9.99 price point. Ebook author cut from Promise of Blood: $1.75

Putting library borrows in this spot, or rather any spot at all, is kind of arbitrary and I'm sure people can make a good argument for it being higher or lower. Libraries pay the same as anyone else for physical books, and a very large markup on ebooks and audiobooks, and then they lend them to an unknown number of patrons for free. So why is it here? Does this mean I'd rather someone borrow my books from a library than buy it in trade paperback? No... but I think a library patron's contribution to a writer's income is incredibly important and I have a soft spot for libraries. Every borrow gets my name out there and talked about for free (as far as the patrons are concerned), and still puts some money in my pocket. What's more, every borrow of my books in hardcover makes it more likely they'll have to replace it when it comes out in paperback, and/or they'll buy the hardcovers of the next two books as soon as they're out. Libraries are an author's best friend. Library borrow author cut from Promise of Blood: ?

Trade paperbacks have the same sort of deal as the hardcovers (percent of gross), but with a slightly lower percentage. Probably to account for the larger risk of the larger printings. For me, that means 7.5% of cover price goes into my pocket. Trade paperback author cut from Promise of Blood: $1.20

Same deal with the mass market paperbacks, except that they generally cost half as much as trade and a third as much as hardcovers so they're not making the author much money at all. To do very well in mass market, an author has to depend on very high volume. Now, my books have not been made into mass market and I'm not sure if they ever will, so my number will be an assumption based on an $8 price point and 8% royalty rate. Mass market paperback author cut from Promise of Blood: $.64

I've had a few people ask about secondhand books. An author makes no money off of books you buy from Half Price or the "used" section of Amazon. However, these books have already been sold once, which makes them good and paid for as far as I'm concerned. Sometimes I've made full price off the original sale ($2.40 on a hardcover) and sometimes I've been paid pennies on a bulk sale of remainders. But regardless, they've gone through the right channels. Would I prefer you buy my books new? Certainly. Would I be annoyed that you bought them used? Absolutely not. I love used books. For fiction I almost exclusively buy new, but I get most of my non-fiction from Half Price Books because it lets me try out things that may or may not be useful on the cheap. Secondhand author cut from Promise of Blood: $0

I'm not going to get into the whole piracy debate thing here, because it's kind of tiresome. Some argue that every book pirated is the same as a lost sale, while others argue that pirating helps get the word out and is used most often as a preview for things the person will buy in the future. Like I deal with most issues, I try to walk the middle of the road: I don't go all self-righteous on people who feel the need to pirate for whatever reason, but I absolutely will not condone a pirating of one of my books. If you want one of my books for free then please, please go get it from your local library. That's what they're there for. Piracy author cut of Promise of Blood: $0

All in all, the best "reader cost" to "author paid" ratio seems to be ebooks but, as I said, all these things vary depending on a variety of circumstances that include small clauses in an author's contract that changes how much they get paid depending on different circumstances, like remaindering or books sold internationally. In the end, though, making a living as an author depends largely on volume of sales after you've earned out your advance. I could talk about the way all of that works at greater length, but I think I'm going to save it for a future post.

At the end of the day you should buy books in the format you enjoy the most—but if you do change it up for my benefit, you have my eternal gratitude. And if you want to find out a little more about helping your favorite author, go read what my friend and fellow Orbit author Sam Sykes has to say about reviews and word of mouth.

Attending a Convention as an Author

This is the third of my essays about being an author, brought to you by my Patreon page.


Most of my readers are probably at least somewhat aware of SFF (science fiction and fantasy) conventions. If you're not, here's the short version: conventions are where us nerdy types get together to geek out over our various fandoms. Imagine that conference your dentist went to over the summer with ten thousand other dentists, except instead of dentists going to lectures on hygiene and flossing we have people dressed up as Doctor Who going to panels on how to write epic fantasy novels. It's an oversimplification to be sure, but it works for the purposes of this essay. These SFF conventions vary from the 250,000-attendee San Diego Comic-Con all the way down to the local get-togethers in small mid-west cities that only sport a few hundred people.

Though some conventions focus almost entirely on literary SFF and others ignore it in favor of other medias, you'll have a good bet at finding at least a couple authors at every one of them.

Authors have a weird relationship with conventions. We're not B-list celebrities, making twenty grand off an appearance where we'll sign photos for $45 a pop and be whisked around by a volunteer handler. Nor are we (usually) vendors, there for the weekend mostly for business, to sit at our table of goods, expecting to take home a small profit. Nor are we the basic fan, showing up for the sole reason of taking in the spectacle.

Let's talk about money first because, to be honest, it's the primary thing on my mind when I try to plan out my convention attendance for the year and it's probably the reason your favorite author isn't going to be at your local convention. SFF conventions often have a budget to bring in celebrities. At Comic-cons, most of that budget will be spent on the Stan Lees or the Sarah Michelle Gellars. If there's a writer's track at the convention, or if the convention focuses on the literary, then money is set aside for bringing in Brandon Sanderson, Pat Rothfuss, or someone else with an immense global fanbase.

This means that when the average author attends a con, they have all the same expenses that you do. Flight, hotel, ground transportation, meals, snacks, souvenirs. When I decide I want to go to a convention, one of the first things I do is try to whittle those expenses down (and to be fair, I have more opportunities to do this than a regular person). I'll contact the convention organizers and see if they have any extra budget to pay for my hotel or my flight while I cover everything else. They usually don't. Next I'll check around with my author friends to see who wants to share a hotel room, or has a couch to crash on, or even look for someone who wants to share a cab to and from the airport.

For me, this kind of planning goes all the way through the convention—on Friday night I might see who wants to split a pizza for dinner so I don't have to pay $25 for some chicken tenders at the hotel bar. Finding out that a particular convention always has an amazing Green Room accessible by authors (and authors aren't always on the list) is a godsend, because it gives me someplace to grab breakfast and lunch for free. Basically what I'm saying is that myself, and most of your favorite authors, have to budget these things like regular people because even the moderately successful of us aren't making huge amounts of money.

So, you might ask after hearing all that, why would an author even bother attending a convention?

Most authors, like any of the artists out there in SFF, are fans. I'm there to see the cool displays and buy geeky jewelry for my wife or get a glimpse of Bruce Campbell's chin. I don't really attend panels any more unless some of my friends are on them but there's plenty of other stuff I want to see and do. This makes the weekend crazy hectic because when you're an author going to a convention, there's a good chance you're on the programming so you can justify to your accountant the convention as a write-off-able expense.

So you're not just there for yourself. You're there for all the rest of the fans, too. Over the course of three days you'll be on a number (anywhere from 4 to 10) of hour-long panels, a handful of signings, and perhaps a few other random events that pop up at these sorts of things. You're running around an enormous convention center, staying "on" for any fans that might come to your panels or ask you to sign their books, and still trying to be awake enough to hang out with the friends you only get to see once a year when you congregate in the hotel bar at 2AM.

Personally, I like to bring my own books to sell when I can because the profit can pay for all or part of my trip. Sometimes the books are left with a vendor who takes a cut and sometimes I'm sitting there for most of the day selling them myself. That makes me a fan, a (very) minor celebrity, and a vendor.

It's crazy. It's crazy fun, but it's also plain crazy.

I could go on at length about the psychological aspect of conventions, but at the end of the day they're emotionally and physically exhausting for the regular attendees—so I think you can imagine how draining it is for someone juggling all of the above. If you approach an author at the wrong moment and they give you a dirty look or seem dismissive, try to cut them a little slack. Most of us aren't huge jerks, just tuckered out.

As an aside, it's really weird referring to myself as a celebrity, even a very, very minor one, because writing is not a career that makes you feel terribly celebrity-ish. I've never had someone recognize me out in the wilds of the public, for instance. But I have had people recognize me at conventions which is a huge ego boost. Last year at Gen Con I had grabbed some burgers with a friend and we found a side hall where we could sit down and relax out of the noise. While we were talking I noticed a guy walk by holding one of my hardcovers—a fact which by itself was pretty amazing. I smiled and kept eating and a moment later the guy came back and very politely asked if I was Brian McClellan. I signed his book and chatted a little and was totally blown away that someone would recognize me at such an enormous convention where only the tiniest fraction of the attendees were there for the authors. It was a very surreal moment.

If you'd like to know what conventions I plan to be at this year you can check out my Event Page.

Art Contest Winners

I've been very wrapped up in working on the next book lately, so I've been remiss in not announcing the winners of the first Powder Mage Fan Art Contest. Here you are!

Runner-ups, who will each receive a signed hardcover of Promise of Blood, include the following:

by Clare Henry

by Kristina Bunnell

by Kristina Bunnell

by Daniel Wheatley

by Daniel Wheatley

by Lauren Butler

by Lauren Butler

And finally, in first place, who will receive all my collected works in hardcover:

by Jeff Yargas

by Jeff Yargas

Powder Mage Fan Art Contest: All Entires

I am absolutely overwhelmed by the awesomeness of the contest entries. Holy crap, so cool. It's going to take me a couple days to choose the winners. I plan on announcing them by Friday. For now check out all the awesome art! A few of the entries are posted as links to cover spoilers and then the rest can be found in the gallery below:

Lyrics of a song by Coen Zuidervaart (spoilers book one).

Julene (spoilers book two, and NSFW for nudity).

Taniel and Tamas by Christian Obereder (spoilers book three).

Fan Art Entries So Far

With just four days left until the deadline of the end of the day on March 10th, we've got a lovely stack of entries for the fan art contest. Check them out below, and make sure you get yours entered soon!

There is one more entry, but it's got fairly major spoilers for Autumn Republic, so I'll put it up behind some kind of spoiler wall when I get some extra time this weekend.


An Author's Complicated Relationship with Self-Promotion

This is the second of my essays about being an author, brought to you by my Patreon page.


Somewhere toward the beginning of a career as a published author, many of us are asked by our new publicist how comfortable we are on social media and whether we have, or would be interested in, an active account on Facebook, Twitter, or any of the other big social sites out there. It's a pretty important question, because (and this is something that won't necessarily be spelled out for you right off the bat), an author's presence on the internet may end up being the majority of the public marketing for his or her books.

Finding out the size of the marketing budget (hint: it's probably not much) for your books is one of those big wake-up calls as a new author. Not that they'll tell you in so many words—you'll just get the gist of it eventually. But don't worry! No one else out there (except the million-dollar advance people) is getting much more. Publishers don't have the cash these days to buoy the mid-list authors, and our publicity teams have very strict instructions on where to put the little money they have. So it's sink or swim to everyone who just found themselves in the deep end.

This means that you can either let the book go on its own merit and trust to luck that it'll take off, or you can wade into the internet looking for soap boxes from which to tout your new novel.

Let's talk about the first problem with self-promotion: most of us find it distasteful. From the reader's perspective it feels like just one more person trying to sell us something and seriously aren't we already being bombarded by that on a daily basis? It's annoying. Many readers have the misconception that authors tend to be wealthy people (they're not), which makes being sold to by them even more annoying. There are also a number of readers who think that writing is art and that all artists should do art for art-sake and not for money, which is an elitist, idiotic opinion I won't say any more about because it makes my ears bleed.

It's easy to forget that self-promo is just as awkward, or even more so, for the author themselves. You, the reader, will dismiss a tweet from an author with an Amazon buy link in it in as little time as it takes for the signal to travel from your eyes to your brain. But that author just spent fifteen minutes composing and rewriting that tweet, wringing their hands over the idea that someone will be annoyed by it and unfollow. "Am I being too much of a bother with this self-promotion" is a genuine anxiety-causing question for many authors.

I wrestled with the self-doubt over self-promotion for a very long time (and I still do sometimes) after I got involved with social media as an author. I worried that I'd lose followers each time I mentioned my books. The anxiety didn't stop until I realized that https://twitter.com/BrianTMcClellan is my area, filled with content created by me. If someone wants to follow me to see recipes or pictures of castles or my cat or whatever else I put up there, the cost of that free content is to see me tweet about my books. If they don't like it, then they don't have to follow me. We go our separate ways and nobody's feelings are hurt! This applies to all social media to a greater or lesser extent than Twitter, but you get the idea.

Once authors get over the psychological aspect of self-promotion they have to move on to the next big problem: where do they focus their time? There are a slew of free things an author can do to promote themselves; guest blogs, social media, blogger interviews, being active on large forums, etc.

For Promise of Blood, I said yes to just about everything I could get my hands on, big and small. I must have done a dozen interviews, as many guest blog posts, an AMA on Reddit, and a number of other things that I've since forgotten, all of which added up to the equivalent of a full work week (or more), not including all the time I spent on social media to promote all said projects. That's a lot of hours! So was any of it effective?

I have no idea. Nobody knows! I'll let that sink in for a moment. Terrifying, right?

Super terrifying.

All that work was exhausting and burnt me out so much that for Crimson Campaign I did only a fraction the amount of online self-promotion. Crimson Campaign had a great launch, so again, I had no idea whether it could have been better with more work or would have been worse without the little I did.

There's a theory with all this internet promotion that surely it must do some good because everyone does it. I'm sure you can see the flaw in that logic pretty quick. There's another theory that surely it must do some good because, from a marketing perspective, getting your product in front of new eyes is the only way to actually sell it and, despite the glut of content and over-saturation of advertising on the internet, there's always someone who will pay attention and those are the people who will pick up your book on the whim and then tell their friends and maybe one day, half a dozen new novels from now, you'll hit the New York Times List and yay!

That last sentence made me tired just writing it. But it's the theory that publicists and many authors hold to because it's the best they have.

Autumn Republic, my latest book, came out just last week which is why all this stuff is on my mind. I decided to spend an amount of time on promotion somewhere between what I spent on Promise of Blood and what I spent on Crimson Campaign. I set up guest posts on Tor.com, Terribleminds, and Whatever, three websites that I knew get a ton of hits every day. I set up an interview with Sword and Laser because they're awesome people and they have a huge audience. I had to ignore many of the smaller blogs and podcasts I've done before because frankly, I didn't have the time or mental or emotional energy to do anything that would not pay for itself in sales.

Not that I know if those posts and interviews did pay for themselves in sales. All I can do is examine the data: how many readers do they get each day? How many hits did the buy links at the bottom of the page get? How many comments did my post receive? Were those posts positive or negative? Did the posts get much traction on social media? And even if I know the exact answers to all these questions, I won't know whether the effort sold any books. I can only hope that the one commenter who said they rushed out to buy my book was not, in fact, a bold-faced liar, but instead representative of a hundred other people who did not comment.

If this is all sounding incredibly uncertain and maybe a tad depressing that just means you've been paying attention.

So I guess the next question is, for many authors, should they even bother? Before reading the previous two pages of information I'm sure most of you business-minded folks would have said "of course!" Now that you have read it, there's probably at least a niggle of doubt.

As far as social media is concerned, I don't think an author should do it unless they enjoy it. For one, because as this recent article from The Atlantic tells us, Twitter may be essentially useless for driving traffic. But also because people, even over the internet, will be able to tell if someone is just there to sell them something and for no other reason. I hang out on Twitter because I enjoy bantering with my author friends and musing about cake. Because I'm already there, I post buy links and updated information about my authorial activity. Same goes for Facebook (though I use it mostly to keep track of family and real-life friends). I've gotten to have a reasonable presence over on /r/fantasy and I do that because I genuinely enjoy the community and have fun commenting from time to time. I do consider taking the extra time to respond to and interact with fans on all these platforms an extension of my work week, but again, if I wasn't finding it all rewarding and enjoyable I would stop.

As a side note, I've found on social media and in forum communities that being a generally likeable, self-aware person can sometimes be the quickest way to sell a book. I like to tell new authors that people don't mind if you haunt these corners of the web with the intent on selling books as long as you don't look like you're trying to sell books.

It's harder to say whether or not an author should bother with all the guest posts and the interviews. Some authors can write a guest post in an hour, while others take days, and with few exceptions no one is paying us directly for that content. I have no doubt that I've expanded my audience by getting people to take the chance on books because of my guest posts, but I have no idea how many times that's happened. Maybe one or two of you that reads this post will think all of this is very reasonable and decide to check out the Powder Mage Trilogy.

Or maybe you won't.

Regardless of all of this, self-promotion has become an integral part of the average author's work week. Mileage varies depending on the author and their ambition (do you want to chase down an interview in a local paper or NPR show?), but from the mega-bestsellers like GRRM going on late night TV all the way down to the brand new, small-advance author tweeting about their book to forty-six followers, it is an exercise that most authors get caught up in to some degree or another. And they have to decide exactly how much mental, emotional, and physical effort they put into it without ever knowing what they'll get back.

Fan Art Contest!

I've always been leery of doing a fan art contest out of the fear that literally no one will enter, but hey, I think it's time to move past that and see what you guys have got. Here it is, the first ever Powder Mage Fan Art Contest!

The rules are simple:

  • Produce a piece of visual media (painting, photoshop rendering, drawing, photos of cosplay, whatever) that has something to do with the Powder Mage Universe, whether it be the books or the short fiction.
  • Send it to me as a link to Imgur or, somewhere you've posted it on social media, via email to brian (at) brianmcclellan (dot) com. Put the words POWDER MAGE ART CONTEST in the subject line. Please be sure to include a mailing address so I don't have to chase you down later if you win. Your address will not be used for any other purpose.
  • You have three weeks from today to enter. Entries will close at the end of the day on the 10th of March. Within a week I will have selected my favorite pieces and informed the winner as well as the runners-up. Winners will be announced on my website.
  • By entering you've agreed to let me show off your art via social media and my website.
  • Multiple entries are allowed!

Prizes:

  1. Grand prize (available to all entrants international and domestic) will be a full set of my collected works in hardcover*, all signed, dated, and doodled. That includes Promise of BloodCrimson Campaign, Autumn Republic, Forsworn, Servant of the Crown, and Murder at the Kinnen Hotel.
  2. Four runners-up will be awarded with signed hardcovers* of Promise of Blood as well as the ebook bundle of all my self-published Powder Mage short fiction.
  3. I reserve the right to award no prizes (say, if the only entry is a hand-drawn stick figure with a gun or some other good reason).

Thanks for reading everyone, and have at it!

*the novel hardcovers may have light damage to the dust-jackets (small tears or smudges). Using these copies allows me to afford to open the contest internationally.

Catching Up

A lot has been going on around here lately. First off, The Autumn Republic is out! Yes, that's right, I finished a whole dang trilogy. Crazy, huh? Who knew I had it in me? So far feedback and reviews have been very positive. Thanks to all the awesome fans who supported me along the way!

Today (and probably tomorrow as questions trickle in) I'm over on /r/fantasy doing an AMA. So come join me there if you have any pressing questions you'd like to ask! Also today I'm over on John Scalzi's Whatever talking about the Big Idea behind Autumn Republic.

A few other appearances I've made around the web the last two weeks (I'll add more when I remember them):

Library Journal on Autumn Republic

Another trade review is in for The Autumn Republic! I'm told that most of Library Journal's reviews are printed as opposed to online, so I'm going to go ahead and quote the entirety here:

The Kez Army is marching on the Adro forces, while betrayal and corruption weaken them from within. Even the return of Field Marshal Tamas might not be enough to save Adro, especially if Tamas’s son, Taniel, fails in his efforts to control a god bent on destruction. While everyone is focused on the front, an even larger threat might lie in wait back in the capital of Adopest. VERDICT McClellan’s fitting conclusion to the trilogy (Promise of Blood; The Crimson Campaign) which introduced an amazing world of rival traditions of magic at war with one another, a world of blood-soaked battlefields, gunpowder-snorting powder mages, and gods who can’t help interfering in the mortal world. The action scenes are especially well done, although readers wouldn’t care about the outcome if the author had not crafted such wonderfully flawed characters.

Can't say how pleased I am! Just seven days left until Autumn Republic hits shelves!

Functional Nerds Podcast

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!

You can also find chapter 5 of Autumn Republic today courtesy of Schlock Mercenary. Check it out here, where you'll also find the links to the previous four chapters.

Birthday Giveaway!

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." GIVEAWAY OVER. THANKS FOR PARTICIPATING! The bundle had 1514 downloads.

If you like them, I hope you'll consider picking up Promise of Blood or maybe one of the other novellas. The final book of the Powder Mage Trilogy, Autumn Republic, is out in two weeks.

Enjoy!


Repost: The Importance of Pre-orders

*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!

Autumn Republic Preview

As a run-up to the launch of The Autumn RepublicOrbit 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 - courtesy of Schlock Mercenary

ConFusion

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?   

The Psychology of Being a Full Time Author

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.