Thursday, December 20, 2012

An Unexpected Sound

I wanted to sell fifty books. That had been my big goal.

In the Spring of 2007 I had finished writing Wintertide and no one showed any interest in reading it. No one. Not a soul had read a word of Emerald Storm even though that book had taken me almost two years to write (the process interrupted part way due to the move to DC,) and had been finished for six months. At the same time my first agent had stopped emailing me. Hadn’t heard a word on her search for a publisher in almost a year. My hope of getting published, which had seemed so possible a year and a half before (when I signed with the agent), was quickly fading.

All of that was deflating, but what put me into a depression was that even my wife hadn’t read the books. She’d stopped after Nyphron Rising two years before. She was working hard and just didn’t have the time.

I didn’t want to say anything. I saw it as supremely selfish. She was struggling to keep food on our table and a roof over our heads. Robin was stressed and I couldn’t complain that she didn’t read my stupid books. She noticed I was growing more and more miserable as spring came on and eventually coaxed out the truth.

Discovering that my agent had suspended her business due to personal problems and that traditional publishing had already rejected The Crown Conspiracy, my wife suggested we try self publishing. This was crazier than it seems.

Some new authors have complained how hard it is to become successful in self-publishing today as opposed to “the old days” like when I started. But in the summer of 2007 the Kindle didn’t exist. Ebooks were mostly unknown. Self published novels were known to be the product of vanity presses, the foolish and egotistical result of talentless hacks. Success stories in self-publishing were insanely rare and usually restricted to non-fiction. This was the bottom—the place authors went to die.

We hired WendyJo Dymond, an editor we found on the Internet (who I was very pleased with.) I created a CGI cover of a dagger and a crown in a puddle of blood, and laid out the book for print. We even scrapped the cash together for a print run of 300 books that arrived right around Christmas time at the end of 2007 while I was busy writing Percepliquis. Robin was educating herself on how to get reviews, how to get the books into bookstores, and how to use social media to promote. There were no guides, no books, no websites on self publishing back then. We had to figure it out on our own and invent stuff. Then Robin asked me what our goal ought to be. How many books did she have to sell for me to feel I had achieved a level of success.

“Fifty,” I replied. I thought I was being ridiculous shooting for the moon, asking for the impossible, and just to be really mean I added. “Fifty to strangers, not family or friends.”

“I can do that,” she said smugly.

I wasn’t at all certain she could. Such was the state of self-publishing in 2007.

Those original 300 books are still in my closet because on January 1st 2008, we found the email from AMI saying they wanted to publish me and the notion of self-pubbing was abandoned. Instead Robin used her newly acquired wealth of knowledge to hold free seminars to help others taking that path.

Given my goal of selling fifty books, I was thrilled to sell out the first print run of 2200 Crowns that AMI printed. This was success in my eyes—huge success. I was pretty content. And sales continued to rise as more of the series was published even after AMI was out of the picture and we finally did self-publish. I was so pleased I walked with a swagger. I had done it, I had achieved the impossible.

The thing is…I didn’t know what was possible.

I don’t think most new authors do.

When you write a book you hope to get published. You hope to sell several thousand copies. Ten thousand would be fantastic, because most books don’t sell that many. If you managed to achieve this, you figure that’s it, that’s all that can reasonably be expected. Sure there’s always the far-fetched dream of a movie deal, but that’s like winning the lottery. No sane person ever thinks someone will actually make a movie from their book. So if you sell several thousand copies, you’re done. Time to write the next and hope it does as well. That’s what I thought, but I was very ignorant as you’re about to discover.

The first surprise came from foreign sales. I had some overseas publishers approach me before I joined with Orbit. I didn’t think much about them. I’d heard that overseas publishers didn’t pay anywhere near what a US publisher did. And this is true. I think I got about $3,000 from my first deal. What I overlooked was that there’s a lot of foreign countries in the world. For some strange reason I never imagined how big that market was. Then of course there was the Orbit deal. Something else I never thought would happen.

So now that I landed Orbit and fourteen foreign overseas deals, I figured I had finally squeezed out the last bit of toothpaste from this tube. I was confident in my conclusion. I was also wrong.

Orbit got the audio rights when I signed with them. That is to say, they had the right to sell them to an audio publisher. Of all the venues, I figured audio was the weakest, so no big loss. I was concerned Orbit might not bother to even make an audio book, but I’d live with that. As it turned out they sold the rights to Recorded Books. Cool, I thought. So I have an audiobook for the twenty-five people in the world who would be willing to spend the $40 to buy it. I thought of it as a novelty, (is there a pun there?)

A few months ago I received a bonus check from Audible, who sells my audiobooks. Robin and I were pleasantly surprised to get anything. We did a little dance, because that’s just what you do at times like that.

Then this week something strange began to occur. My author rating on Amazon improved dramatically. Since the inception of the Author Rank (in October) I would fluctuate between 95 – 115 for FantasyAuthors (which meant I was off the top 100 often). Then yesterday I was in the 50’s and today in the 40’s. We couldn’t figure it out. Sure, it was Christmas time. Okay so people might be buying gifts. I had a podcast recently released. I was on a few yearend lists and a few most anticipated books of 2013, but I found it odd that any of this would take me from about 100 to 41. I was beating Neil Gaiman on the Action & Adventure list!

This morning my wife finally sleuthed the mystery: audio books.

Like most authors, I—well okay, my wife does the looking and reports to me—watch the Amazon lists for ebooks and print, and she also checks in on the audible lists. I’m always doing fairly well on each. There was a time during the lull in the summer when only the ebooks were still showing up on the Historical Fantasy Bestsellers list. Then as fall approached my print sales improved and both print and ebooks were there. Today all three of the audio books joined them, and the audio for Theft of Swords was at #4! Now that is strange.

We had recently discovered that one of the editors selected Theft of Swords as their #1
Pick for 2012.  So that might have been the reason. But a little more digging showed that Theft also made two other lists:

The first one is the real shocker. My book is listed along with titles by J.R.R. Tolkien, Stephen King, Nora Roberts, Vince Flynn, and Ken Follett. As it turns out we completely underestimated the audio market. Theft of Swords now has 200 reviews on Amazon. But—on it has over 800 with an amazing 4.5 rating!

All I ever wanted was to sell fifty books. According to royalty statements, unit ledgers, and including my self-pubbed numbers, I’ve now sold over a quarter million. And that doesn’t include foreign language or…audiobooks.

Thank you Tim Gerald Reynolds (the narrator of my audio books), thank you readers, AND listeners, and thank you audible for making audio versions so popular. You’ve made this a very Merry Christmas.


  1. Congratulations! A quarter million!

  2. That is awesome, Michael - a huge accomplishment, and just a great story overall. Again, awesome job!

  3. An inspiring story. I'm glad you found a path to success, and it's good to know that persistence and hard work can pay off. in your case, having a great set of novels also helps, of course :)

    Makes me feel a bit better about my husband not wanting to read my novel too (like your wife, he's overworked).

  4. Woot! Congrats on the audiotbooks, on the quarter million . . . on everything!

  5. I just picked up your Theft of Swords audio book on audible and as of chapter three I think I've told my self while smiling, "I really like this audio book" on more than six occasions. I love reading fantasy books, and would eat between 12-15 books a year sometimes more, but with the downturn in the economy I had to cut back on my reading drastically, because I had to get a second job to keep up with student loans and such. Working 70-80 hrs a week even my favorite books would not be enough to keep sleep at bay, so I was forced onto the audio book scene. I started with the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan may he rest in peace, and I was instantly hooked now I could listen to my books on my breaks, on the way to my jobs, and sometimes even at my jobs when work was slow and the best part; I could still get whatever sleep I could. I still keep E-book copies of most of my audio books on my nook, so I can read them at least once on my own but until my situation changes; it is a dubious endeavor at best that I will ever catch up. Well enough of my life story; I just want to say you work is great I love the dynamic between Hadrian and Royce. They remind of my best friend from college and I, as we bantered through 80% of our conversations. The market of audio books is ever growing, many people who said "I will never read a book on an electronic device" are now reading E-books on their tablets, nooks, kindles and smartphones. The same goes for audio books. With that said, I want to congratulate you on your success and I am looking forward to your future works as I expect that I will very much like and devour this series.

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