Friday, August 27, 2010

an epic tale of how it all happened

Today I'm going to do something I've debated on doing before: I'm going to talk about what's going on with my books from a writer standpoint. I know that I talk about them a lot, but I always talk about it to inform readers.

The reason I debated is because I know people like J. A. Konrath talk about their work in a frank, transparent way, which is wonderful for other writers to read, but I think that he sometimes turns readers off with his business talk.

So I'm just going to say up front: I truly appreciate every reader who has bought me book, even the ones who hated it and gave it one star. I write because I love it, not because I see readers as dollar signs. I am very, very passionate about my work, and I take it very seriously that people are inviting me to entertain them every time they buy a book.

But two things have happened lately that makes me want to talk about the busissnes aspect of all this:

1. More people are asking me for advice and wanting to know what I did.

2. I need advice.

People ask me, "When did you start writing?" And the truth is I never didn't write. Before I could talk, I would tell stories. When I was younger, I couldn't write fast enough to keep up with the ideas I had, so I had talk and get them out. I was always writing. It never occurred to me until I was about 12 that I would do anything other than be a writer.

When I was 12, I decided that writers were boring people, and I didn't want to be boring, so I'd save writing for my "safety" career while I tried out other ones. In high school, I probably wrote about fifty short stories and started a dozen novels. I also wrote a full-length script for a movie about four teenagers who resort to murder to protect a friend. I'm sure it's poorly written, but I haven't looked at in like 8 years.

I finished my first novel when I was seventeen, right after I graduated high school. It was about a guy with amnesia. In a corrupt institution. Looking for a serial killer. I know, it's shocking that something with that many overwrought cliches never found a publisher. (BTW - my mom still says its her favorite book by me. But its still a very bad book).

I assumed that once I wrote a book, I would become rich and famous. This is apparently not how things work in the writing world. So I spent the next few years researching everything I could find about the publishing business and agents and models and plans.

I went to college, but I only went to my writing class, so I dropped out after a semester.  A few years later, I went to college again, but I only went to my English class, so I dropped out after a semester.

I've taken about three other writing seminars, I think. All my life people have told me that I have a "natural talent" for writing. I don't even know what it means, and I don't know if its true or not. But it did only bolster my belief that I'd some day be a real life author, with real live books for sale.

So I kept writing books, and I kept getting promptly rejected.  Over time, I get much better excepting criticism and better at cutting things out. (On average, I cut about 1/3 of the book out in revisions. Switched, I cut out about half). And generally just writing better books.

Cut to November 2008. I said, "This is it. I'm going to get published." I went to the stores, looked at what was selling compared to what I was writing. I'd mostly been writing about teenagers and relationships, but my stuff tended to be really, really dark. (Think a fictional version of Bully by Jim Shutze or We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver).

At Walmart, I saw 700 vampire novels. I said to my roommate, "I like vampires. I'm going to write a vampire novel, and that will be my door into publishing. From this, I will be able to launch my career." My roommate rolled his eyes, and said, "K. I think you should write a book like Carrie, but whatever you say."

So I wrote the vampire novel in 15 days. Then for good measure, I wrote another. I edited, revised, edited, revised. (I did have a teacher from a college revise it, too, which someone suggested I do, when I did.)  I queried. I got rejected.

I said to my roommate, "There are too many books about vampires out there. It's too saturated. I'm going to write about something else instead." My roommate said, "K. Why don't you write a book like Carrie? Or Scream. I like Scream."

I decided that I really enjoyed writing paranormal romance. Really.  So I knew I wanted to stay in that genre, even if it wasn't popular. I looked up different books, seeing what was popular and wasn't. I came across a few lines on Wikipedia (everything on there is true) from a bit of Scandinavian folklore. It was two sentences, but that was it. That was the idea for Switched.

I went to Star Trek in theaters, and came home and wrote Switched in a week. (During that time I wrote around 9-14 hours a day. I only ate ravioli and Red Bull and Sweet-tarts.) 


When I finished, I edited and revised, then I sent out queries. A few agents said that wanted it. They ultimately rejected it, but they gave me good advice about the story which I implemented. (The biggest one was that Wendy was too unlikeable. She needed to be tough without being rude, and I did work on softening her.)

I queried again. Nobody was interested. I worked on the sequel to Switched anyway, and another vampire book. The series wasn't done, so I had to finish it even if no one bought it. I edited, revised, and gave them out to a few more beta readers.

I started following Ginger Clark on Twitter, and I decided I liked her. She posted an article about trends in YA urban fantasy, and she said dystopian is up. I was going through a zombie phase, and I wanted to write a book where a girl kicked a lot of ass. I like damsel in distress, but after MBA I wanted the girl to take care of herself. So I wrote Hollowland in 21 days.

I edited, revised, edited, beta'd. I queried only about 5 agents with that one. I was getting burnt out on being rejected. But these five agents rejected me. Again.

So here I was. February 2010. I'd been determined to make 2009 the year I would get published. And I hadn't. I said to my roommate, "I don't think it's going to happen. I don't think I'm ever going to get published. I don't know what more I can do. I've worked like a factory putting out the best books I possibly can. I've studied trends, the industry, business models." And my roommate said, "Cheer up. You'll get published. Why don't you try the Carrie novel?"

So I did. I wrote Honalee. But then I got distracted by an article on Twitter. Somebody directed me to a link about Elisa Lorello and her novel Faking It. She made it to the top 100 in Kindle, and she didn't have a publisher. And then I heard about Karen McQuestion, and I found J. A. Konrath's blog. 

I didn't think I'd have any kind of success with ebooks, but I kept researching it. Eventually,  I decided that even if I only sold a few copies of any book, it'd be better than the pile of rejections I had building up. And the no money I had in my checking account could use a boost. 

(In case your wondering, the whole time I've been writing books, I've had a full-time job working with the people with disabilities for the past five years.)

In October, there's a Jim Henson exhibit coming to Chicago that I really, really want to go to. I'd planned on saving my income taxes to go see it, but between catching up on bills and going in on an X-box with my roommate, the taxes were gone (Side note: I literally only bought an X-box so I could play Arkham Asylum. And it was TOTALLY worth it). 

So I had no money, and I said to my roommate, "I'm going to sell books on Amazon through Kindle, and I bet I can make at least a couple hundred bucks by the end of the summer to go to Chicago." My roommate (who has heard my make lots of plans that I never follow-through with) said, "Yeah. Okay. I'll see that when it happens. Have you finished the Carrie book yet?"


In March, I made My Blood Approves available in paperback on Amazon through Lulu. In April, I published it to Kindle. About a week or so later, I published the second book in the series Fate


Here's where the story picks up. The two books combined, I sold 45 books in about 2 weeks. I thought to myself, "Not too shabby. Let's add another book to the mix."


I put out Flutter  at the end of May. I distinctly remember one day in May before it came out, I sold 38 books in one day. I took a screen shot. I emailed my mom and my roommate, and I knew there was no way I was ever gonna do that. I mean, I was just a me, publishing books on the internet. There's no way I could ever really be successful with this. 

In May, I sold 624 books and made $362.


Then in June, something truly magical happened. I discovered book bloggers. I had no idea such people existed. They just read books and write about them. And I don't mean "just." These people take times out of their busy lives to talk about books and have contests and connect with followers and writers and other readers. 


These guys are honestly my heroes. I'm a little in love with all of them. 


I asked several if they would be interested in reviewing my books, and most of them said yes, even if they didn't generally review self-published work. 


Then something surreal started happening. My books were selling. Like, really selling.



So, thanks in large part to book bloggers, June turned into a very good month. I sold 4258 copes of all three books combined, and I made a total of $3180.


In July, I turned 26, decided I wasn't a total failure, and released the first book in a new series. This is important because I consider Switched to by my 8 1/2. This book is THE BOOK. If I ever had a shot of getting published in print, I thought Switched would be the book to do it. It's better paced, more original, and just ... it's a good book. I cannot say enough good things about Switched. I know I wrote it, so I shouldn't say things like that, but it's the project I believe in most.

But I didn't see any reason to let it whither away on my computer. It's a good book. I should sell it. So I did.

Also in July, I finally found an editor and sent her my books. I contacted a cover artist about doing the covers for future books. And I put in notice at my dayjob.


For those of you reading this, you'll realize that leaving my job seems a bit premature. Probably. I am still on-call at work, but I wanted to really focus on writing. I wanted the chance to be a full-time author for awhile, even if it only ended up being a few weeks.


In July, I sold 3532 books and made $6527. 


In the beginning of August, a publishing house in Hungary approached me about foreign rights for their book. I emailed 5 agents then, telling them about my book, my sales (I'd just sold over 10,000 books at the time), and that I had people asking about foreign rights. 

Two agents asked me to email them a manuscript almost right away, and I sent it out, but I haven't heard back from them. On Monday, a third agent emailed me asking for the book, and he emailed me Thursday, asking me to call to talk about things. 


Also on Monday, I released the fourth book in my vampire series. It peaked #25 in the entire Kindle store. If you''re wondering how many sales it took the book to get that high:  150 in a two hour period.  Also on Monday - in one 24-hour period - I made $1200. Working at my day job full time, the most I'd ever made in a month is $1000. I just made more in a day than I used to make in a month. 

Things that should be noted: I just released a book people were excited for. That isn't my average sales. That fourth book is already about to slip out of the top #100 and it's only been in it for four days. So don't think that's usually how awesome my sales are. It's not. I know that. I don't expect days like that to happen very often. But it was still an awesome day.


So, here's what August looks like for me: I've sold 4873 books this month (as of 12:50 am). I'm estimating that I'll make over $9000 this month, probably around $9500-10,000. But I can't say for sure until I get the report from Amazon. 


In total, since April 15th, I've sold over 15,000 books and made over $10,000 with the expectation of making about an additional $9K+ this month. By mid-September, I'll easily have made $20,000. This does not include what I'm making through paperback or Smashwords. (I'd guess, combined, they were under $200, so it's not a lot coming from them). 

Last year, working full-time at my day job, I grossed $18,000. I'm not even joking.


I do have an editor, and I have updated edited versions of the books out. I have gotten a comment that editing still isn't great though, so I may be looking into another editor. Right now, things are so in flux, I'd rather not look for one. But I might in the future, when things are more concrete.


I have not paid for any advertisement on any site. I do give away ARCs to review blogs, but that's the only money I've spent in regards to advertising and marketing.


I do plan on hiring cover artists for future covers. I don't like doing them. It stresses me out. I like writing books and editing them. That's all. 


This is probably way more detailed than anybody needed, but a lot of people have asked, "How did this happen?" So I'm telling you everything I know. 


From what I can guess, it happened because:
-the books are in a popular genre
-the covers are enjoyable
-the price is good
-the writing isn't terrible (although, believe me, some people would argue that point)
-book bloggers recommended it
-accessibility - I'm on Twitter, facebook, goodreads, Amazon, KB. I'm anywhere I can be. I always try to respond to readers, even though most of my responses are lame. I'll spend about an hour replying to fan mail and it only amounts to about 2 sentences that pretty much say thanks. I'm sorry I'm a lame writer-backer. 


My biggest word of advice to any new/future writers thinking about diving into Kindle: Edit. I don't care what you think, you didn't edit enough. Some people won't care that there's errors, its true, but enough of them will. And they paid for it, so they have a right to. So edit more. And then again. Really. 



My problem is that I no longer know what my goals are in terms of my writing career. I've already far surpassed my expectations. I don't know what's realistic for me to want or expect. Don't get me wrong. I'm thrilled and soooooo grateful for everything. I just don't know what's next. 


So tonight, I was discussing all this with my roommate. I was saying how I'm not sure if a print deal would be in best interest or if I should ever sell my erights or what I even want. He said, "It'll work out. You're stressing too much. Even if you sell your books, and it sucks, you can always write more books. You should write a book like Scream . That'd be neat."