Friday, January 6, 2012

How Has It All Come Down To This?

Year in Review

Countdown, Day-11

I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be at ground-zero of something—something historic but in a good way. At Kitty Hawk working on a tan when two brothers in goggles showed up, in London brushing up on my acting when The Theater was rebuilt and named The Globe, in Athens just trying to figure things out when Socrates began teaching, in Paris between the wars, and Lexington when the shot was fired.

Then it happened.

The explosion occurred in November 2010. I don’t remember the day, I doubt anyone remembers the hour. At first only those of us who were connected noticed. Just like in any of the science fiction movies where the researchers buried in their labs are the first to spot the shadow out in space or hear the sound that isn’t supposed to be there. We were on the frontlines and we saw the numbers doing the impossible—we started freaking out.

The revolution had begun.

People speculated for years afterwards as to what caused it. They asked us because we were there, and it was damn strange to watch the news and see them getting it all wrong. Makes you wonder what else they get wrong. How much is just bad guessing. They didn’t even get the terms right. It was like listening to the older generation trying to street-speak, not certain what’s a noun and what’s a pronoun.

The Kindle. The death of books. The end of literature. Chaos. The sky always falls when winds blow, and there are plenty of little chickens screaming doom. Not because they’re scared, but because they were excited. They wanted to see something go boom. The truly scared people didn’t say a word.

Us self-pubs were toiling away in the silent brown plains, sod-busting in the lands no one else wanted. Then someone was drilling a well and it came up a gusher. Before long all the wells looked to be gushers. The Kindle, the iPad, the Nook, they ushered in the age of the ebook, the electronic revolution that changed everything.

Well, not everything. I’m still married to Robin, still have the same three kids, still live in the same little house, still driving the same crappy car. When I think about it very little changed in my general life, but a lot changed in regards to my career. For example…I suddenly had one.

After years of trying to get folks to read my books one at a time, more than ten thousand people bought at least one of the five I had on the market in December 2010 alone. January of 2011 was even bigger. I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t even special. Amanda Hocking, John Locke, H.P. Mallory, D.B. Henson, David Dalglish, Nathan Lowell, B.V. Larson, Victorine Lieske, Joe Konrath, we were all near the eruption point, all touched by the blast. If real-life was a comic book, we’d all have developed powers and become superheroes, maybe formed a league by now. Instead we made money with our books, many of us for the first time in our lives. We were dying of thirst, reaching out our cups into the surf and were hit by a wave.

The first reaction was not to do anything, too afraid we’d wake up. Only it wasn’t a dream and most of us found offers from the big companies. I wasn’t any different. Orbit noticed the numbers. The sales caught their attention, and my story did the rest. If it was a Steve Spielberg film the publishers would be the folks in black suits and SUVs with the tungsten lights and the insta-tents with their own air filters. Only it wasn’t a summer blockbuster, it was a winter miracle that made a lot of dreams come true.

I reached an agreement with Orbit and spent last winter getting to know Devi Pillai, the senior editor who championed my books. She edited the manuscripts. The process was remarkably painless. In the cold months that saw three record snowstorms in the area, I went over the proposed changes and in between edits, I played with creating another novel that had nothing to do with Royce and Hadrian, or epic fantasy. At that time, no one knew what was happening. No public announcements had been made yet. I was waiting on Orbit who wanted to break the news.

At the same time my wife was having to fly all over the country for her job, (something neither of us enjoyed) a job she was growing to dislike more each day. As the sales of my books continued to climb, her employers grew nervous. Those of us who were there at the explosion discovered each other and talked. I even met Joe Konrath and Blake Crouch for dinner in New York. We all had the same story—wow.

As February ended I was settling into my new life as a secretly New York published author. I chatted with my agent frequently, and exchanged a flurry of emails with my editor, and even had calls with my marketing exec and publicity manager. I had seen book cover art for the series and the first set of edits were done, but still there was no announcement. Normally I’m a patient guy, but it was coming on March and my readers all expected Percepliquis to be published in April. I was already receiving emails asking when it would be available, when they could schedule book clubs, when they could get advance copies to do reviews, and all I could do is say I can’t talk about it. This quickly became intolerable and I spoke to Orbit and on the 22nd they published the announcement.

Almost immediately I received a deluge of negative posts, and emails complaining about the delay in the release of the last book of the series. On forums across the net I was labeled a sellout and a liar. I was accused of sacrificing my fans and my integrity for money. This could not be further from the truth as one of the biggest problems with signing a contract with Orbit was that I would be sacrificing far more potential income because of a smaller piece of the pie. I’m also miserably honest, so these two accusations hurt.

I spent a week in a deep depression. The prevailing wisdom was that I should not post in response to the comments as it would only make things worse. By the end of that very long week, I was ready to quit writing once again, to burn Percepliquis, halt the Orbit deal, and pull all the books from the market. I’m fueled by appreciation—not money, and my pilot light was flickering. I’d go get a job at the local Starbucks. I told my wife this. She knows me and looked ashen. Finally I cast caution aside and posted on the 27th explaining what happened and apologizing for not keeping my promise to publish the last book in April.

I braced myself for the new attacks, the new insults, and I wondered how the others who had been at the blast site had weathered their shifts.

To my surprise there were no more insults. Support came instead. The comments on the forums changed their tone. Email offered their own apologies, and I realized that my fans were only mad because they loved the books. That turned it around for me. Then in March, Orbit decided they would allow me to put out a single volume of Percepliquis with my own cover and layout to satisfy all those who had loyally bought my first five novels and wanted to complete the set. With that news, whatever remaining bitterness disappeared.

Also in March my daughter and I began collaborating on Plotholes, a series of satirical cartoons that I published on my blog. That was before she became obsessed with publishing her own webcomic, Ugly Vampire, and now has little time for Plotholes.

In April, Robin finally was able to quit her job and for the first time I became the sole bread-winner of the family, which I think may have pleased me even more than her. This coincided with her birthday and for once I was able to get her what she wanted.

In May I attended the Nebula Awards here in DC and then went up to New York for Book Expo America (BEA) where I met my publishing crew at Orbit for the first time and did a signing of Theft of Swords ARCs—the first time I ever had a line waiting for me to sign books. It felt like I was pretending, like I had won some fantasy camp weekend where you go and are treated like a real baseball player, racecar driver, or published author. I stood at a big booth while three assistants organized the line, held books open to the signing page and ushered signed fans off like security at a concert. No I’m sorry no pictures of Mr. Sullivan from that side, and yes he only drinks Deer Park. Remember to save the pens, we’re sending them to the Smithsonian. Talk about a rush.

The spring found me going over edits for Rise of Empire and as summer started, I moved on to Heir of Novron. I was still stealing free time to get in some writing on the new book I was calling Antithesis.

The summer was unusually hot. Robin was hit by a car while biking—no serious injuries, but a scare, and the refrigerator just up and died on us. To balance against that, foreign language rights continued to be sold as Riyria marched on in its conquest of the world, making Robin less nervous about quitting her job. I updated this blog and closed the old website, and began a series of writing tips—mostly because I could never think of topics. Write about what you know, they say. I settled for writing about what I think I know and hoped it would be good enough.

With all the edits complete, I began proofing the final galleys for the Orbit editions, as my original five novels, one-by-one, were removed from the market until in August, all of my original books had been discontinued and an era—for me at least—ended. That same month DC had a substantial earthquake followed promptly by a hurricane—coincidence? I think not.

With the last of my duties done for Orbit, in late August, I turned my full attention to Antithesis. Part of that was doing some research out west, and I took Robin and my son with me to Death Valley. An earthquake, a hurricane, a flood, and a forest fire later, we returned home.

With no Riyria books on the market for the first time in three years, Robin asked me to write a short story to keep my name out there and to whet the appetite of potential new readers in the three month interim before the Orbit book launch. I think it took me two days and The Viscount and the Witch soon hit the market detailing a bit of Royce and Hadrian’s life eleven years before the events in Theft of Swords.

The writing advice posts I put out each Sunday, caught a little following and soon the Polish publisher, who was putting out the Riyria books asked permission to publish some of them in a magazine. Sometime later I received a copy in the mail. The only thing I could read was my name on the cover. So while I’ve never been published in an English speaking magazine, I’ve obtained front cover status in Poland. Funny how the world works.

All through autumn boxes kept arriving at the door—boxes of books. Books from the UK, books from the Czech Republic, books from New York. My books. Different covers, different thicknesses. For those of you who remember ordering books as a kid in school and having that cardboard box waiting on the teacher’s desk for the end of class—it was like that.

I also attended the Science Fiction/Fantasy Writer’s Association banquet in New York. I didn’t know anyone and felt like the odd-kid-out and spent most of my time chatting with Tim Holman from Orbit— at least I recognized him. There was no candy cart, ginger-haired kid with a rat, or sorting hat, and no one knew my name, but also there was no Malfoy.

Then in November, Theft of Swords was finally released. It began popping up in the UK and at American book stores ahead of the official release date, and it was fun to see fans posting photos of their finds. The release party at One More Page Books, was a huge success with a crowd of people and the second line I’ve ever had for a signing.

Rise of Empire just sort of dribbled out with little fanfare as they too just began appearing in bookstores. Robin and I began drive-by signings just to see the books on the shelves and found them on the New and Noteworthy tables as well.

 Initial response was tremendous. The books were at the top of Amazon’s Hot New Release lists for Historical Fantasy, Epic Fantasy and just plain old fantasy. All three, actually four because Percepliquis was also making the list based on preorders could be found on the Best Sellers, Top Rated, and Most Wish For Lists. Reviews were better than the first time around, a slew of bloggers had been lined up to post during the initial roll out, and I was soon notified by Orbit that their first print run had sold out and they were ordering a second. As the year ended, there was this pause as the orchestra limber their fingers for the big finale.

And now I’m here, waiting for the conclusion to this epic fantasy, this series of fortunate events. I’m curious and hoping for a happy ending.


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