“The Crown Conspiracy is three months old with the New Year and yet I have no clear idea of how well it is doing. This being my first published novel, and not knowing any other published authors, I have no idea if this is typical or disturbing.”
—My blog post, January 9th 2009
Almost exactly a year ago, I began this blog with that paragraph and in re-reading it I’m shocked that Crown was only published a year and three months ago. I suppose the six-month release schedule is partly to blame. In eighty days, I will be releasing my fourth book, so in my mind four years should have passed—if I were sane that is. Putting a novel out every six months is just crazy.
And then there is the changes in public attitude and response. I recall being overwhelmed at my first few signings—not with the huge crowds begging for my autograph, but at my total invisibility and the enormous task I faced trying to get noticed. I felt as if I had just landed on an alien planet where I didn’t know a soul, and everyone looked at me with suspicion. They had seen the likes of me before, those who came and went. No matter how rational you are about your chances to succeed, it is still a humbling experience to stand behind a table of books all day at the front of a giant Barnes & Noble and be ignored or avoided by literally hundreds of people. I didn’t start writing to be a snake oil salesman, but that’s how it feels trying to push a book. You want to explain, that it’s not like that, but realize that’s exactly the kind of thing a snake oil salesman would say.
The whole venture appeared hopeless. All the dreams that were ignited the day the publishing contact was signed fizzle to mere smoke. I sold five books at my first real signing. I was miserable. This feeling was deepened when the store manager was so impressed that he’d like me to come back. “Most authors don’t sell any,” she told me.
Even if I made a killing. Even if I sold thirty books (and that’s a killing to be sure) that’s thirty people at a local bookstore, ten of whom might actually read the book. A large number give them to friends, or kids, or just because you seem like a nice guy and they want to support the literary arts. Of that ten you figure only half will care for it, and perhaps one will really like it—like it enough to tell a friend. I had seventeen book signings, which is a ridiculously high number and yet if you do that math, I don’t stand a chance of getting anywhere.
Robin and I see it as this gigantic wheel like something from a science fiction movie. You push on it, shove with all your might and nothing happens. You enlist the aid of all your friends, family, and even embarrassingly tenuous acquaintances. You all push. The wheel moves an inch and then stops again. It’s futile.
That’s where I was a year ago. Sitting with my back to this enormous wheel realizing there was nothing I could do to make it turn, and no way I could ever turn it far enough, or fast enough to spark the engine inside that would make the wheel rotate on its own. Robin tried to include me in the pantheon of authors listed on Wikipedia, but it was soon rejected.
What I hadn’t counted on, is that my wife, Robin, is a little crazy. She’s never understood the definition of the word “can’t.” For her, I think she saw this issue of two people taking on the entire world as merely a sweeter than usual challenge. Left to bookstore signings alone the great wheel would have rusted in the snows of winter, but this was 2009 not 1999. Not only was there an Internet, but there was—Goodreads.
She gained a beachhead on the GR site and dug in. From there she launched daring daylight raids on popular review sites and book clubs. At first, it seemed as if nothing was happening, like when Neo dives into the agent and disappears. By mid-summer even Robin had stopped and sat down beside me exhausted, depressed, and looking close to beaten.
We were both sitting there when the wheel creaked all by itself.
Bloggers began to post wonderful reviews about the books and for the first time reviewers were calling us. The wheel creaked again when people we never had any contact with were writing about the books. Like the effects of a stirring in the deep, bubbles rose to the surface, one here, one there—announcements that something big was happening. I received my first fan mail. Review sites added it to their lists of their “most enjoyed” or subsequent books to their “most anticipated”. And then sales started to rise.
It coincided with the release of Nyphron Rising. The Amazon ranking for Crown began to plummet (that’s a good thing—the lower the better in the way that number one is better than being number two.) Maybe three books is the magic number, maybe people were waiting for half the series to be out before buying, or maybe…
The wheel was moving.
Sales continued to rise and rankings to drop as we moved into the holiday rush. New records were hit almost daily, and every morning I had to walk to the mailbox with a growing armload of books. By late November I had to use a large bag to carry them.
Then came the year-end wrap ups. Here are some from just the last thirty days:
DEC 12, 2009 - The Emerald Storm and Wintertide named to 2010 Anticipated Releases by Fantasy Book Critic.
DEC 17, 2009 - The Crown Conspiracy was a "near miss" (named a close contender) in Top 5 Reads of 2009 by Speculative Fiction Junkie
DEC 22, 2009 - Avempartha rated A (Almost A+) by Fantasy Book Critic during their looking back at 2009 post
DEC 30, 2009 - Riyria Revelations (The Crown Conspiracy, Avempartha, Nyphron Rising) was named to Dark Wolf's Fantasy Reviews Top 10 Books for 2009
JAN 01, 2009 - Listed along with the likes of Patrick Rothfuss, Jim Butcher, and Joe Abercrombie in an article on Suite 101.
The great wheel sputters and coughs. Was it only a fluke of the holiday buying season? Christmas has come and gone and still the sales are holding steady. I sense we are in a very crucial stage, standing at the edge of a chasm that we will either make it across or fall to obscurity, but at least we are this far, and the big wheel keeps on turning.
Here’s wondering what 2010 will bring.