The power of perseverance

I just finished writing a fanfic that was 71k words long. That’s about 300 pages. And my brain is totally fried.

Last year, I read the most amazing book. It’s called the Compound Effect by Darren Hardy. Basically, it details how little actions added up over time amount to a huge result. It doesn’t matter if you’re saving money, trying to build muscle, or writing a book. Doing a little bit each day toward that goal pays off.

When I sat down to write this fanfic, I was terrified. For one thing, it would be military science fiction, a genre I’ve read but never attempted to write. I would have to write battles and strategies and politics. For a writer who mostly messes about in the romance genres, this was incredibly daunting. But the game I was adapting had really hooked me with the things it left understated, and I wanted to explore them. I had readers who were hoping I’d take them on this crazy journey and improve on the game’s story. So I spent two weeks worldbuilding, and dove in.

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Yep, that’s a Sonic game.

Worldbuilding for a fanfic? Yep. When it comes to the Sonic the Hedgehog universe, the official worldbuilding is really squishy. There’s lots of hand-waving and stuff that is just outright never explained. So I had to figure out exactly how I wanted to explain EVERYTHING.

And who I wanted to kill off. Since this is a story about an apocalyptic war, basically.

Writing this story was terrifying and exhilarating. I’d read over the previous day’s work each day, and go, wow, this actually doesn’t suck.

Sometimes I’d bog down. But I don’t want to write another battle! my brain would whine. I would argue, But this time there’s AIRSHIPS. Don’t you want to write AIRSHIPS?

The compounding effect kicked in. Even on my worst days, when I was crawling through the story, bleeding emotion all over the page as another character died or was maimed, the words added up. It helped that my characters were keeping secrets all over the place. Anne R Allen wrote a blog post about how important it is for characters to have secrets. And boy, does it keep the story rolling and the readers reading. I’ve had almost 2k hits on this fanfic already, and I’ve only posted 8 chapters so far.

This week, I wrote The End. It was such a relief. Naturally, I’ve spent the last two days doubting that the story is actually any good. I think all writers go through this rebound period after finishing a massive project. 300 pages in two months. I think it’s a new personal record.

But dang it, I persevered. And the story is done, or at least the first draft is.

I’m on social media with a lot of other writers. One of my favorite writers mentioned having Imposter Syndrome very badly, wondering if she’s too old to write her books. It broke my heart. For one thing, she’s not much older than I am. I wanted to wave this 71k fanfic at her. “Look at this!” I would say. “You think you’re an imposter? I just wrote 300 pages about talking animals fighting a war against machines and magic where a sentient rock was the villain!”

Joking aside, just leverage the compound effect. It’s perseverance. A little bit every day adds up. Be like Nehemiah in the Bible, putting one more brick in that wall, even while your enemies laugh that if a fox jumped on your wall, it would fall down. Your enemies are in your head. Keep your sword nearby and keep putting bricks in that wall.

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The top five things I learned about marketing this year

Confession time: I didn’t actually do a lot of marketing this year. Not, like, real focused, aggressive advertising. What I did do was a lot of soft marketing–telling people that my books exist, mostly. I couldn’t afford to run ads in the big book newsletters, but I did try the Kobo advertising thing they have. Anyway, here’s some of the things I learned.

5. Kobo’s advertising is very interesting. Mostly because the international market doesn’t read the same things the American market reads. The American market devours weird things like urban fantasy and science fiction. The international market prefers contemporary romance or political thrillers. That’s what I see dominate their charts month after month. But I did manage to sell a few YA paranormal romance books with their ads, and their ads are pretty cheap (5 bucks for the basic one, as of this writing).

4. People like pretty pictures. If they’re pretty pictures that pertain to your books, so much the better. I observed this phenomenon with the launch of the Mortal Engines trailer. If you read the book description, it sounds like nonsense. “London is hunting again. Emerging from its hiding place in the hills, the great Traction City is chasing a terrified little town across the wastelands. Soon, London will feed.”

But you show them the artwork …

Mortal-Engines
Mortal Engines concept art

All of a sudden, we have a visual for a really amazing setting.

3. Fire and Ice Cream was picked for the Fellowship of Fantasy book club last year, and it got a ton of reviews. Not all of them favorable, either, ouch! But hey, readers say they’re suspicious if a book has only good reviews. Long story short: book clubs are awesome. But go into it with thick skin, because if your book has a flaw, it’s going to be chewed over with delight by the readers.

2. Keep writing books. Every time I launch a book, people go, “Oh yeah, she writes books, doesn’t she?” And I sell a few of everything. And only go Amazon exclusive if you’re in one of the weird niche genres that sells a lot on Kindle Unlimited. If you’re any of the big general genres, like mystery, go wide on all the retailers. You never know where your readers are lurking, and Kobo’s reader is waterproof, so maybe they’re in the bath!

1. Be enthusiastic. If you’re writing and talking about what you’re writing and being excited, it gets people interested. I discovered this to my chagrin while working on a fanfic. When I described it as “Beauty and the Beast with Serenity’s ending”, I had all kinds of people sitting up and taking notice. Too bad it was only a fanfic–the plot really was that good. So my next book, I’m going to come up with all kinds of little hooks and pitches for it. And I’m going to talk about it a lot.

I followed a blogger one time who had a concept that totally fascinated me. I stalked her for two years until her book launched so I could read it. And really, isn’t this cover just intriguing?

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By the way, see what I mean about really good artwork selling the story?

So those are the five things I learned about marketing this year. It doesn’t have to be huge glamorous things like book signings and pestering bookstores to carry your book. It can be simple little things like saying, “Hey guys, I have a book out. Think it’s something you might like to read?”

Choosing a word for the year

I don’t think I ever picked a word for last year. I was looking over my resolutions post from last year, and I seem to remember that it was something like Fun or Moving Forward.

This year, my word is Steadfast. It goes along with this Bible verse:

Hebrews 10: 35-36: Do not, therefore, fling away your [fearless] confidence, for it has a glorious and great reward. For you have need of patient endurance [to bear up under difficult circumstances without compromising], so that when you have carried out the will of God, you may receive and enjoy to the full what is promised. 

This year, I’m going to keep on keeping on.

Last year, I was trying to take my art in new directions, trying out streaming with my husband, trying out new school things for the kids. Over the course of the year, what I discovered is that simplicity works best. When it comes to school, a pile of workbooks and read alouds has been great for us. I’ve found some holes in my kids’ education, and we’ve been fixing those this year. It’s been great to have that focus.

Streaming fell by the wayside when we found out that we don’t have the hours and hours of free time necessary to make streaming work. We’ve just been playing games together for fun. Same effect, less stress.

Books published last year were books 2 and 3 of the Puzzle Box trilogy, and the first book of a paranormal cozy mystery with dragons. I also made the decision to unpublish the Spacetime books and completely redo them from scratch. I was still learning when I wrote them, and they were pretty much an unreadable mess.

I also wrote two book-length fanfics toward the end of the year. I just couldn’t get the stories out of my head, and I was very pleased at the way they turned out. It also showed me that it’s better to write for fun than to try to write for money. I’ve been so money-focused for so long that I lost track of the fun. And my writing wasn’t very fun to read. So this year, I’m going to try to balance my writing with more fun. I want to dare to dream and experiment and write crazy things.

I do have the new first Spacetime book in revisions, as well as the second dragon cozy. I’m looking forward to publishing those in the early part of this year, before summer, probably. After that, I want to take a crack at writing a stand-alone fairytale fantasy. Kind of Sleeping Beauty meets Howl’s Moving Castle. Since it’s barely in the concept stage right now, I have no idea if that will be out this year or next. I’ve observed that fairytale fantasies tend to balloon to massive length their authors didn’t intend.

howlscastle
Howl’s Moving Castle from the Studio Ghibli film

If you followed my blog last year, you saw all these little discoveries and growing pains. I want to thank you deeply for coming back and reading my strange little scribblings. I now have more blog followers than I’ve ever had before, and I’m excited and humbled to see you all.

I also want to blog more regularly–once a week, if possible. And good pithy topics. It’s hard to be pithy once a week, but it’s a good goal to have. Let’s see if I can’t knock the chupacabra blog post off the #1 spot for the year.

A tale of two communities

I’ve had this weird, Twilight Zone experience. It’s living on the fence between two similar yet completely different communities.

On one hand, I have my professional writer groups on Facebook. This is a group of hard-working writers. We give critiques. We discuss pricing and marketing. We band together to promote each other’s work. Sometimes we even read each other’s books.

We’re all writing speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy), but the details wildly vary. Some people are writing dystopian civilizations. Some people are writing high fantasy with elves and dragons. Other people are writing urban fantasy, where the elves and dragons live in Los Angeles.

highwayman_centaur_by_coldevey-dajm868
Highwayman Centaur by Coldevey. I thought this was the coolest idea I’d ever seen.

On the other hand, I have my Sonic the Hedgehog fanfiction and art community. This is a group of laid-back young people who are doing this for fun. We write, but there’s no drive to sell anything. We read each other’s work because it’s fun. We draw pics, not for money, but because we like to draw.

And the fun thing is, we’re all writing and drawing the same characters. We might place the characters in space, or in a jungle, or in a city, but it’s the same characters every time. It makes every single story or artwork instantly accessible to everyone in the community.

As I flip back and forth between the driven, hardcore people and the relaxed people having fun, I’m really noticing the difference. And I keep asking myself, why? Why is it this way? Is it because the professionals are trying to create a product to sell?

I haven’t cracked this yet, although I’m definitely thinking about it. Participating in a fandom is like having a book series that you can write additional novels for. You’re welcome to it, and there’s lots of people who will read what you write and tell you what they think of it. You’ll never make any money off it, but it’s sure fun.

When you’re a professional, out there creating new products, you’re on your own. Nobody else knows these characters except you. Nobody else cares about the world except you. The only way you’ll ever get to the wide, warm community stage is to write long series over many years. Collect readers like a snowball rolling downhill. Eventually, people will read and interact with your world. But in the beginning, when your world is only one or two books, there’s nothing there yet.

I think a lot of writers burn out early on. They want the big warm community, and they’re not going to get it by only having a few books. They’ve got to craft a world (something speculative fiction authors excel at!), and it’s going to take years. Maybe people don’t realize this when they start out. Everybody wants to be To Kill a Mockingbird. But not everybody is Harper Lee and will hit it out of the park on their first book.

So, I guess the difference between the fanfic community and the professional community is that the fanfic is focused on one intellectual property. And the professional community, EVERYBODY has a small, unpopular IP that they’re trying to build. It’s a much tougher world over there. But the people who stick it out and write a ton of books (GOOD books) are the snowballs who roll the farthest and grow the biggest.

Audiobooks are hard to do

Audiobooks are exploding right now. There’s lots of articles talking about how everybody likes to listen to books on their phones, like this one. Listening to books on your commute is another one. I’m constantly seeing cozy mystery readers who are frustrated that their favorite series aren’t available on audiobook yet (especially people whose eyesight isn’t so good.)

I’ve been tossing around the idea of narrating my own books, for example, my cozy dragon mysteries. They have a female protagonist, and I think it would be a good fit. But I need to practice. So when somebody asked me if I planned to turn my fanfics into audiobooks, I thought, why not?

The fun thing about fanfics is I don’t have to mess with Audible. I can drop them on Youtube without worrying about Audible’s strict sound quality requirements. I can flounder around and make production mistakes and have volume issues and nobody cares because, hey, fanfic.

thunderhead_and_pirate_ship_by_ebineyland-d6ff3yz
Thunderhead and pirate ship by Ebineyland

My hubby gets up at 4:30 AM most mornings for work. I get up with him, and after he leaves, I have about an hour before the kids wake up. Beautiful, beautiful silence. So that’s when I sit and record a chapter, which usually takes about ten minutes. My hubby has a very nice microphone that I commandeer.

I still had a bit of echo after my first few attempts, so I scoured the internet for workarounds. A lot of people record in their closets, where the hanging clothes muffle the sound. My closet is about eighteen inches deep and filled with junk, so that’s not an option. Then I found a podcasting tips website. This podcast is more like a radio drama. They recommended recording with a duvet draped over you and the mic. I tried it, and my background echo vanished. People are so brilliant.

Over the course of several weeks, I recorded all fourteen chapters of a fanfic. I learned to repeat a phrase if I stuttered or coughed or something, which made clipping it out during editing so much easier. I used an old, free version of Adobe Audition. I had used it years ago, when it was Cool Edit Pro, before Adobe acquired it. I know how to use the program well enough to remove background noise and things like that.

Then I actually listened to my recording. Egads, I thought. I’m BORING. I read like a robot. I enunciate very carefully, and I do the voices decently, but the straight narration! It’s so dull! How do professional audiobook narrators pull it off?

Well, the best ones are all actors, for one thing. You’re giving a performance.

I went ahead and posted my boring performance–it’s just a fanfic and it’s good practice–and now I’m starting on a second one. This time I’m trying to be more expressive and really perform. It’s quite a bit harder than just reading!

I thought I’d put this out there for other authors who are considering narrating their own audiobooks. Practice first! What sounds good as you read it may sound pretty dull when you’re playing it back.

A sense of wonder

David Farland says that all stories need the following beats in varying amounts: wonder, humor, horror, adventure, romance, mystery, suspense, and drama. Depending on the genre, you might have more suspense or more romance, more humor or more horror.

One that I enjoy and don’t find very often is the sense of wonder.

Dave Farland gives the reason for this.

When you’re a child—between the ages of 0 and 11—you’re in what I will call the “discovery” phase of life, a time when much of the world seems strange and new to you. In some ways, the world seems boundless, because every time that you turn around you learn about some new wonder or some new region of the world that you have never heard about. And so children in that age are predisposed to what I, and a few others, call “wonder literature.”

In wonder literature, the main emotional draw (outside of the essential story itself) is typically that it arouses a sense of wonder. Hence, stories set in fantastic settings are extremely interesting to children. But when you encounter something new—say a new animal—there is more than one possible outcome to the encounter.

1) The encounter can in some way be more satisfying than you had imagined. (In which case a sense of wonder is aroused.)

2) The encounter can twist away from your expectations in a way that is neither wondrous nor terrible. (In which case a laugh is usually evoked.)

3) The encounter can be more painful or traumatizing than you had imagined possible. (In which case terror or horror are aroused.)

Because of this young readers, by virtue of age alone, are biologically predisposed to be drawn to works of wonder (fantasy or science fiction), humor, and horror. Those are the largest draws for them.

Source

Maybe it’s because I have kids in this age range who are really into wonder literature, but I like it, too. I want some wonder mixed into my mystery or romance or fantasy. Something new and unexpected that makes me sit up and go, “What is this? Tell me more!”

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Saggitarius by Sandara. What is this?? A sci-fi faun??

One of my favorite things in urban fantasy is when a myth, creature, or historical period is given a new twist. A Minotaur who has become a Buddhist? The conquistadors used black magic to subjugate the Native Americans? The number of people who disappear every year are the same percentage as herd animals eaten by predators? Hitler was a werewolf? TELL ME MORE.

I love this genre because it’s fantasy, mystery, wonder, and drama all in one package. Its also a very glutted genre, full of copycats. Like a copy machine trying to copy a copy of a copy, about all that’s left is the darkest of the lines. Urban fantasy has gotten darker and grittier, the detectives ever more hard boiled, the monsters ever more nonsensically sexy. Lighter strokes, like wonder and humor, have fallen by the wayside. The humor has become darker and meaner.

Yesterday I was clicking through a promotion page of urban fantasy books on sale. They went like this:

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The art of Don Dos Santos for the novel Black Blade Blues

A woman/man has fire magic/is half-demon/is a vampire/is a dragon/is some other magical creature. They have just moved to a new city/lost a job/broken up with a partner. Then an assassin finds them/they find a mysterious magical item/they are hired to find something/kill someone. But that mission will damn the main character/empower the villain/doom the world.

Dozens of books. Same plots. Same characters. Maybe the summaries were bad at conveying what made their books unique? But there’s no hint at wonder, or fun, or the other experiences I want from this genre.

When I wrote the Malevolent books, my goal was to invert the expectations of vampire romance novels. I lampshaded the heck out of the tropes, sort of like elbowing a friend and going, “She’ll never figure out he’s a vampire! Eh? Eh?”

As I’m rewriting this new Spacetime book, I’m kind of doing the same thing. Sure, James and Indal are running around Phoenix and hitting clubs. They’re also exploring a mysterious island in a pocket dimension that exists on the other side of a door in James’s apartment. The island keeps spawning new terrain–mountains, forests, monoliths, and so on. There’s a huge silver disc-clock-thing that changes when the island does. The bad guys are very interested in it, but the heroes have no idea what any of it does. The island and its secrets will drive the whole series.

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A very early conceptual version of the disc, made by me.

This concept intrigues me. It fires up my sense of wonder. I want to know what will appear on the island next, what new wonders or dangers the heroes will encounter. Sure, there’s the usual urban fantasy trappings–werewolves, demon satyrs, vampire elves, protagonists who kid around and make jokes. The whole package all together is like candy to my brain.

I’m going to send the first chapter to my newsletter subscribers on Friday. If you’d like a sneak peek, sign up! I’m trying to ramp up my newsletter, turn it into a fun thing to read. I’ll include pretty art and progress reports on how writing is going, as well as exclusive sneak peeks.

You guys can also help me pick a title, since I have no idea what to call this book. The working title is Island of Elements, but that’s more of a series title than an individual book.

How about you? What flavors do you prefer in your books: wonder, humor, horror, adventure, romance, mystery, suspense, and drama?

The phoenix in urban fantasy

The phoenix is a mythical bird that dies in fire and is reborn from the ashes. It’s pretty well known as fantasy creatures go. There’s one in Harry Potter, for example, so of course everybody knows them.

I’m plotting a book where the hero has to stop an evil phoenix from stealing a magical artifact of some kind. Since I’m writing urban fantasy, the phoenix will be human-shaped most of the time, the way vampires, werewolves, and most other monsters appear human until pressed. That’s no problem–I’m having so much fun dreaming up powers for him to use against the hero. Bad guys are fun.

The trouble is, I’m not sure a phoenix can actually be killed. That’s their shtick–they resurrect. So I went poking around to find out more about the original myths.

phoenix_by_ei_en-d4fe5hn
Phoenix by NekroXIII

1. They seem to originate in ancient Egypt and Phoenicia. The bird was said to be the same rich purple as the expensive dyes the Phoenicians produced. They were the bennu bird, some kind of stork or heron.

2. In Egypt, the phoenix worked like the dung beetle. After it was reborn, it gathered up its parents’ ashes and carried them to Heliopolis in a ball plastered with myrrh. (Source: Wikipedia)

3. It’s a symbol of peace and prosperity. They’re always considered a good omen, or a symbol of a benevolent god of some kind.

4. When they burned up, it was always on fragrant wood, like cinnamon twigs, so a burning phoenix was basically incense.

The death and rebirth of the phoenix is part of the myth. I don’t think they could be killed permanently, but then, they were considered good luck and I don’t think people killed them anyway.

So, as I’m planning my story, I’m wondering if I should bother having the hero trying to kill a phoenix. They only come back. Maybe have the phoenix be a recurring character in other books? (“That annoying phoenix guy, back again from the dead!”) Should the phoenix not be a bad guy at all, but rather be working for the Greater Good, but with goals that go against the hero’s? (Like stealing magical artifacts.)

I needed ideas, so I went and hunted around for other urban fantasy books that feature phoenixes. These are the ones I grabbed samples for.

The Nix series by Shannon Meyer. Girl with phoenix powers fights the oppressive bad guys, mafia, other magic users, and has her family slaughtered in the first chapter of book 1. Eh. Not really what I want to read right now.

Souls of Fire by Keri Arthur. Girl is a phoenix, but the worldbuilding is set up in such a way that she always has to have at least two lovers. Eh. Infidelity doesn’t strike me as an outstanding character trait. Pass.

Phoenix Blood (Old School series), by Jenny Schwartz. A girl with the power to find things runs into her old flame (ha ha!) who has phoenix fire in his blood and a week to live. I kind of liked the setup for this one. The reviews say that it’s not over-the-top with bedscenes, and the hero and heroine are “emotionally mature adults”. I’m down with adult characters who act like adults without panting after each other all the time.

I’m seeing lots of other books, like book 3 in a series, that features a one-shot phoenix character. I don’t want to have to read a whole series to understand it, though. I’m also seeing some YA and epic fantasy with phoenixes, but they use the actual bird. I kind of wanted the humany kind.

Any suggestions of books to try? Or suggestions of how to write a humany phoenix in a way that makes sense?

 

Art for fun or profit?

I’ve been rediscovering how much fun it is to create art and stories about things I love. I thought I had done that with the Malevolent books. But writing this new Spacetime book has been even more so. And fanfics are the most fun of all.

But I feel guilty about fanfics. I’ve had this idea for a long time that art is worthless unless you can make money off it.

Isn’t that a sad, mercenary thought? It’s crept into my thinking and sapped the joy right out of art. When I do allow myself to play with art, it results in teaching the kids to make pumpkins out of clay.

clay-pumpkins

Or in me giving them a crash course in Photoshop. Or the basics of animation.

But none of those things add cash to the coffers, so I sadly steer my brain cells away from them. Instead, I work furiously on my “real” art: book covers, stories written to be published, and so on. I’ve had moderate success with them.

Writing a fanfic feels like a guilty pleasure. I’ve allowed myself one per year for the last few years. This year? I wrote two book-length fanfics, back to back. I hang my head and shuffle my feet. You can’t make money off fanfics, after all. It’s a waste of time. Except I love it so much.

Is it okay to make art purely because you love it?

On my Facebook, someone was talking about this podcast episode of Makers and Mystics. Ken Helser was talking about this idea that we have to make money off our art, and how bad it is.

He told a story about a woman who had a beautiful singing voice. Everyone around her told her that she needed to go professional. So she scraped together the money to record a demo tape and went knocking on doors in Nashville. Everyone said the same thing. “You have a great voice, but you’re not what we’re looking for right now.”

Discouraged, the woman returned to her hotel room and lay on the bed. “God,” she cried out, “why did you give me this voice if you don’t want me to use it?”

God replied, “I thought that you would enjoy it.”

I’ve pondered that and pondered that since I listened to it. You mean that we can just enjoy our art? We don’t have to make a living with it? But that’s crazy, isn’t it? If we have a talent, we should milk it for all it’s worth!

Then I look at the quality of work I produce while trying to be “commercial”, vs the work I produce while playing. The stuff I produce during play is far superior.

When you give yourself permission to play, the shackles come off. You try things. You make a mess. You make a lot of mistakes, but you can quickly iterate on those mistakes and improve. I watch my three-year-old learning to color. She colors the same picture over and over (printing out coloring sheets), until she’s gotten it perfect. It’s play. It’s also iteration.

I’m going to give myself more permission to play and less pressure to sell. It certainly makes life brighter, and the kids happier.

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Jungle Tower, by me. Because it was fun.

 

Shut up and take my money – a conversation about book piracy

Last week, a popular YA author Maggie Stiefvater posted this story on her blog. She essentially did a test to see exactly how much damage piracy was doing to her book sales. Her story has erupted into debate across the authorsphere, because her results are hard to argue with. But they’re also extremely interesting. Here is the short version:


I’ve decided to tell you guys a story about piracy.

I didn’t think I had much to add to the piracy commentary I made yesterday, but after seeing some of the replies to it, I decided it’s time for this story.

Here are a few things we should get clear before I go on:

1) This is a U.S. centered discussion. Not because I value my non U.S. readers any less, but because I am published with a U.S. publisher first, who then sells my rights elsewhere. This means that the fate of my books, good or bad, is largely decided on U.S. turf, through U.S. sales to readers and libraries.

2) This is not a conversation about whether or not artists deserve to get money for art, or whether or not you think I in particular, as a flawed human, deserve money. It is only about how piracy affects a book’s fate at the publishing house.

3) It is also not a conversation about book prices, or publishing costs, or what is a fair price for art, though it is worthwhile to remember that every copy of a blockbuster sold means that the publishing house can publish new and niche voices. Publishing can’t afford to publish the new and midlist voices without the James Pattersons selling well.

It is only about two statements that I saw go by:

1) piracy doesn’t hurt publishing.

2) someone who pirates the book was never going to buy it anyway, so it’s not a lost sale.

Now, with those statements in mind, here’s the story.

. . . .

It’s the story of a novel called The Raven King, the fourth installment in a planned four book series. All three of its predecessors hit the bestseller list. Book three, however, faltered in strange ways. The print copies sold just as well as before, landing it on the list, but the e-copies dropped precipitously.

. . . .

I expected to see a sales drop in book three, Blue Lily, Lily Blue, but as my readers are historically evenly split across the formats, I expected it to see the cut balanced across both formats. This was absolutely not true. Where were all the e-readers going? Articles online had headlines like PEOPLE NO LONGER ENJOY READING EBOOKS IT SEEMS.

Really?

There was another new phenomenon with Blue Lily, Lily Blue, too — one that started before it was published. Like many novels, it was available to early reviewers and booksellers in advanced form (ARCs: advanced reader copies). Traditionally these have been cheaply printed paperback versions of the book. Recently, e-ARCs have become common, available on locked sites from publishers.

BLLB’s e-arc escaped the site, made it to the internet, and began circulating busily among fans long before the book had even hit shelves. Piracy is a thing authors have been told to live with, it’s not hurting you, it’s like the mites in your pillow, and so I didn’t think too hard about it until I got that royalty statement with BLLB’s e-sales cut in half.

. . . .

Floating about in the forums and on Tumblr as a creator, it was not difficult to see fans sharing the pdfs of the books back and forth. For awhile, I paid for a service that went through piracy sites and took down illegal pdfs, but it was pointless. There were too many. And as long as even one was left up, that was all that was needed for sharing.

I asked my publisher to make sure there were no e-ARCs available of book four, the Raven King, explaining that I felt piracy was a real issue with this series in a way it hadn’t been for any of my others. They replied with the old adage that piracy didn’t really do anything, but yes, they’d make sure there was no e-ARCs if that made me happy.

Then they told me that they were cutting the print run of The Raven King to less than half of the print run for Blue Lily, Lily Blue. No hard feelings, understand, they told me, it’s just that the sales for Blue Lily didn’t justify printing any more copies.

. . . .

I was intent on proving that piracy had affected the Raven Cycle, and so I began to work with one of my brothers on a plan. It was impossible to take down every illegal pdf; I’d already seen that. So we were going to do the opposite. We created a pdf of the Raven King. It was the same length as the real book, but it was just the first four chapters over and over again. At the end, my brother wrote a small note about the ways piracy hurt your favorite books. I knew we wouldn’t be able to hold the fort for long — real versions would slowly get passed around by hand through forum messaging — but I told my brother: I want to hold the fort for one week. Enough to prove that a point. Enough to show everyone that this is no longer 2004. This is the smart phone generation, and a pirated book sometimes is a lost sale.

Then, on midnight of my book release, my brother put it up everywhere on every pirate site. He uploaded dozens and dozens and dozens of these pdfs of The Raven King. You couldn’t throw a rock without hitting one of his pdfs. We sailed those epub seas with our own flag shredding the sky.

The effects were instant. The forums and sites exploded with bewildered activity. Fans asked if anyone had managed to find a link to a legit pdf. Dozens of posts appeared saying that since they hadn’t been able to find a pdf, they’d been forced to hit up Amazon and buy the book.

And we sold out of the first printing in two days.

Naturally, the discussion on this got very interesting. Comments on the Passive Voice blog pointed out that Maggie’s ebooks are priced anywhere from six to twelve dollars. She doesn’t set the prices–the publisher does. Someone also pointed out that the time of her Lily Blue book launch coincided with the huge spike in ebook prices from publishers in 2014-2015. That was when publishers won a big contract battle against Amazon, keeping Amazon from discounting prices on ebooks.

the_ship_by_fantasyart0102-db4isxn
Aye, here there be pirates. “The Ship” by FantasyArt0102

This is why there’s so much talk in the news about “ebooks are over” and “people prefer print”. When the ebook is 15 bucks and the print copy is 12, people grudgingly buy the paper copy. Or they go read cheap indie books. According to the Author Earnings Reports, ebooks are booming–but not for the overpriced publishers. Imagine that.

But that’s only the most obvious problem. Blogger/author Joe Konrath commented,

Years ago, I was in touch with an author who had a decent debut novel that did well for him and his publisher. I don’t remember the details, but there was some sort of contract issue and he decided to self-pub the next book. After some great success self-pubbing, things were worked out with his publisher, or maybe it was a new publisher, and they bought the book. That meant he unpublished his version, and he asked fans who hadn’t read it yet to wait the 12 months for it to come out through regular channels.

You can guess how that went.

The problem isn’t piracy. As long as your book is available, and reasonably priced, piracy isn’t going to harm your sales.

But if your book isn’t available yet, such as the case with ARCs and galleys, your fans are going to do whatever they can to get ahold of it. There is a whole market for selling ARCs, and always has been. Many indie booksellers can only stay afloat by selling ARCs. I’ve visited hundreds of bookstores and have seen this firsthand.

With digital, it is much easier to get your hands on a copy of a yet-to-be-released title. Rather than buy it, you pirate it. And that will almost definitely result in a lost sale.

Piracy isn’t going away. You can’t fight it. The answer isn’t releasing fake versions on torrent sites. The answer is to stop releasing ARCs.

So, basically, the problem is impatient fans. We have an interesting generation of people right now who are used to instant gratification. In fact, they’ll pay extra money for it, like binge-watching entire series on Netflix (Stranger Things, anywone?). And if they can’t pay for it, they’ll steal it, with nary a twitch of the conscience.

But another problem is desperate authors. Another commenter on the Passive Voice said,

You can tell ’em, as I’ve been telling authors, do not upload ARCs to NetGalley other – its the main source for pirate books sites to obtain advance copies of upcoming new releases, but do authors listen? Anyone can sign up at Netgalley as a reviewer and gain access to thousands of books for free.

Also I’ve told authors never send PDFs to book review blogs, no matter how friendly or Kosher the site looks, aside from the fact Mobi other can be cracked with specific software by determined thieves. As for sharing of PDF ARCs on groups and forums (shareware) who didn’t think that would happen between friends in the same way friends will exchange paperbacks.

Authors are so desperate to be noticed (read) common sense escapes them, and it’s another reason so many are obsessed with paying for book reviews, for big splash Bookbub ad days, and gifting books in exchange for reviews. Fame comes with a “price tag” and it’s not always as authors would truly wish for.

It’s a thorny problem, and there’s no easy way around it. People are greedy. Authors are desperate. And books are a funny commodity–people have this idea that pirating a book is like borrowing one at the library. The difference is, the library bought the copy at some point, sending a little money the author’s way. The reader of a pirated book will never pay for that book.

What do you think? Is there another answer that you’ve thought of? Does this steam you as much as it does me?

What’s scarier than Halloween? (The struggle is real)

Halloween is careening toward us, rife with ghosts, monsters, princesses, and jack o’ lanterns. Pretty much everybody loves it, if only for the cooler weather and the changing seasons.

And the pumpkin spice.

pumpkinspice

Today, I just did something scarier than dressing up and wearing fake fangs.

I finished editing Malicious.

This means preorders and cover reveals and hammering out a decent summary that doesn’t give away every last detail about books 1 and 2. (Is that even possible with the third book in a trilogy?) And worst of all: The Resistance.

Seth Godin defines the Resistance as the lizard brain, the part of your psyche that wants to survive. It doesn’t like changing the status quo. “We’re safe right here,” it says. “Why should we do something scary like publishing a book? We might get bad reviews or something! Let’s just sit on it and never show it to anybody.”

I think there’s something spiritual that goes on, too. I’ve seen other authors talk about it. These voices start whispering, “Why should you even bother? You’ll never amount to anything. The book isn’t any good.” And so on. It’s like, really extreme negative self-talk. I generally have pretty upbeat self-talk, so when this negative stuff starts, I always notice it. Once I address it in prayer, it stops.

And publishing a book is pretty terrifying. Particularly the end of a trilogy. The story has to pay off all the plot and tension set up in books 1 and 2. I want my readers to put it down with a satisfied sigh and walk around with warm fuzzies for a day or two. You know, the kind you get when you finish a REALLY good story and you’re all contented inside.

This was also the hardest book to write. I’ve rewritten huge chunks of it over the course of a year. I’ve slaved and fretted and brainstormed. But when I got it back from my editor, she said this was the smoothest of my books she’s edited so far. My beta readers were enthusiastic, saying this was the best book I’ve written yet. That kind of encouragement should make me feel invincible.

But the Resistance drags its feet. The struggle is real.

How about you? Do you get scared when you’re about to finish a huge project? Or am I just weird?