Wednesday, 7 June 2023

Selling words - a look at the mechanics.

Four days ago I released a novella called The New World

I self-published it.

Get it in the US

Get it in the UK

Get it on any Amazon.

Throw stars at it &/or read the reviews on Goodreads!

Some things to remember about short fiction:

i) Most readers do not like it.

ii) It's harder to write word for word than long fiction.

Whilst some readers look at the length (or more accurately, the thickness) of The Book That Wouldn't Burn and suck their breath in over their teeth ... "It's so LONG!" assured, the complaints multiply by many orders at the other end of the scale.

Sensible people talk about book length in terms of the number of words. The number of pages tells us very little as doubling the font size can double the page count without changing the story.

If I had a penny for every time someone disparagingly called my Impossible Times books novellas ... I'd have a whole handful of pennies!


I released a novella and I used all the powers of my social media to promote this fact - every platform I own, save my newsletter cos I only do 3 of those a year and have used 2 already in 2023.

I knew in advance that despite being (in my estimation) an excellent novella, currently rocking an average rating of 4.71 on Goodreads, The New World would not sell well, because:

i) People don't like short fiction.

ii) It is essentially a continuation of a story that ended in 2016 and devotees of The Red Queen's War have largely moved on.

iii) It was in the Red Queen's War special edition omnibus, so 1,000 of the most enthusisastic Jalan and Snorri readers already owned it.

iv) I had made it available free to my tier 3+ patrons over on my Patreon.

v) People don't like short fiction.

Let's just address that first and last point again. They really don't. Short stories are really hard to write, and even harder to sell. They gain very few reads in the magazines that offer a home for them. The short stories that sell best are strongly tied to an ongoing series, supplying the fix that readers want while they wait for the next book. This is why Bound sold so well. During the Dance is an anomaly in terms of short stories - but also it has always been free so I've never made a penny from it save for the $25 or so I was paid when it first appeared in Fantasy Magazine.

The New World is actually the first 25,000 words of a Jalan and Snorri novel that I started but put aside in favour of writing Red Sister. It turned out to be pretty self-contained so I used it as a novella in the omnibus. I typically write a book a year and they are typically 100,000 to 150,000 words long. I guess 25,000 words, including thinking time, would generally take me about two or three months. So the amount of $$$ I would need to generate from such an effort in order to make it a sensible investment of time would have to be between 1/4 and 1/6th of my annual income.

If I were hoping, as a successful author who has hit the Sunday Time bestseller list 3 times, to make the UK average annual salary of £27,756 then I would need to make between $8600 and $5800 from the novella. This isn't greed - it's mathematics. To justify the work put in I need to make let's say $7,000 if I want an average salary.

I priced the novella at $4.99  -- who knows if that "penny less" psychology works?

I don't think most readers really care if it's $2 or $4. 

YES, to head off the angry legions starting to hammer at their keyboards: I understand that you personally may care, and you may have financial woes or live in a country where the salaries are very low. But MOST readers, I don't think care that much. They decide what to read based on things other than a fraction of a Starbucks' coffee difference in price.

Also - understand that if a book sells for less than $2.99 then Amazon keep 65% of the sale price rather than 30%.


$2 book --- 35% goes to the author -- $2.00 x 0.35 = $0.70

$4 book --- 70% goes to the author -- $4.00 x 0.70 = $2.80  ... four times as much. 

So it really is in an author's interest to sell at $3 or more.

[Note - this is for self-publishing. Traditionally published authors get FAR LESS of the sale price.]

I wanted a cover for my novella and rather than pay for entirely new art I thought I could save some money and use the cover from the novella. I asked the artist Jason Chan to let me license the art for my novella and he generously let me have it for $200. 

Even more generously my beta reader, Mitriel Faywood (read her book), designed the cover for me for free, changing the colours to reveal the detail in the art and providing lettering.

So, I needed to sell 57 copies to cover the cost of the art. 

Here's how the first 4 days have gone:

The blue shows per-day sales, peaking on day 2, and the column is a cumulative total. On day 2 I started making a profit!

Currently I've made:

185 x $5 x 0.7 - $200 = $447.50

That's out of the $7000 I need to earn average wage across the time invested.

And the sales have peaked.

Continuing to hit my socials will bring diminishing returns, it's not in bookshops, and discovery is through a list on the RQW trilogy on Goodreads, which is hardly a wide net to cast.

I could spend money advertising but that's a gamble which frequent annecdote tells me almost always fails. My target audience is small - novella lovers who have either loved the RQW trilogy or who believe me when I say this is a good introduction to the characters. They are hard to reach through Facebook or Amazon adverts.

I was asked several times "is it on audio"? Or more pointedly, "WHY isn't this on audio?"

Let me tell you why.

Making audiobooks is expensive. If I wanted to come near the quality of the audiobooks people have heard my work on before then I would need to spend a minimum of around $350 per finished hour, potentially significantly more. Even this wouldn't be fire and forget, it would consume more of my time to set up.

The novella would take about 3 hours to read, so let's say $1000 for the audio book. I'll put that on the chart.

Yes, I could charge more for the audio, and yes it might bring new sales in. But really, it's too much trouble, too much of a (bad) gamble. Audio is expensive and reserved for projects that are going to move a significant number of copies.


That's a look at some of the mechanics of self publishing, and how even with my sizeable following on various platforms (Twitter: 35,000 - Facebook: 10,000 - Goodreads: 51,000) I can still only manage to shift 167 copies of what really is an excellent, very funny tale of Jalan and Snorri all at sea!

Sunday, 4 June 2023

The New World!

Once upon a time there was a limited edition omnibus!

And lurking at the very end was a 25,000 word novella called The New World, detailing Jalan's unhappy voyage to America with his bestest pal, Snorri.

That novella can now be purchased 😀

“A nun?”

“Well.” I tried my penitent face. Despite all that practice, I still wasn’t very good at it. “Nuns.”

“Nuns!” Omar threw up his hands. “You said it was just the once!”

“It was!” I fiddled with the sleeves of my cassock. “Just once. I swear it . . . Only with more than one nun.”

Get it in the US

Get it in the UK

Get it on any Amazon.

Throw stars at it &/or read the reviews on Goodreads!

Jalan by Lily Yearwood                    Snorri by Pen Astridge

Monday, 29 May 2023

Horn Blowing!

I did a Youtube video on the necessary evil of blowing one's own horn in the writing game.

So this is a post where I'm doing that.

As an author the sizeable majority of publicising your books very often falls to you - and if you are a self-published author that becomes the entirety of the burden resting on your shoulders. Though in compensation you get to keep the biggest chunk of the price of each sale (above a certain sale price ... otherwise Amazon take the majority for ... letting you upload it to their site).

A traditional publisher can (if they love you enough) do things like getting your book onto the shelves of bookshops. And arrange stock signings. This one was on the day after the UK launch of THE BOOK THAT WOULDN'T BURN. I'm in the Bristol branch of Forbidden Planet and have, after 12 years, moved from their confines of a little staff room at the back to blocking customers' access to much of the fantasy section!

Ignore the fact that I chose to suck a lemon in the same instant author Luke Scull took this photo and focus instead on FP's book guru Laura Dodd (left) & shop manager Val (middle). 

The horn tooting here is that all of these signed copies appear to have sold! Fear not though, there are regular copies on the FP shelves across the country (and possibly some signed ones lurking). Plus, I will return to sign more, officially or unofficially!

But why boast about it, you ask? The implication being that my motivations are the same as those of any boaster.

Well, of course it's hard to decouple the commonly seen urge to boast from the commerically motivated variety, and I'm sure there's a mix at play here. BUT - there are valid, non ego-based, reasons for any author to blow their own horn.

i) It is wildly difficult to be noticed. Simply writing a great book is only a small step towards selling many copies of it.

ii) Success breeds success - people like to read books that other people are reading. In part it gives confidence that it will be good, but also it provides a community to talk to about it afterwards. Reading the best book ever, but never finding anyone else who has read it ... that steals some of the joy.

iii) Authors need an excuse to put their book in front of reader eyeballs, and "My book's doing great!" goes down better than pleading for lifelines to be thrown to your sinking novel.

Advertising is a big gamble, and for traditionally published authors (whose publishers take the sizeable majority of any sale) it makes zero sense to pay for advertising. So we're left with just trying to be engaging / interesting. 

Readers are generally interested in how your book's doing!

And in the case of THE BOOK THAT WOULDN'T BURN, I'm very pleased to say it's exceeding my expectations.

The Locked Library edition!

In the UK, THE BOOK THAT WOULDN'T BURN became my 3rd novel to reach the Sunday Times Best Seller list! 

It featured at #15 - my highest placing, and unlike my previous two entries (Emperor of Thorns #19 & Holy Siste #20) it didn't have 2/3rds of a successfully trilogy behind it to push its sales.

In the US, THE BOOK THAT WOULDN'T BURN had its 4th printing only 11 days after release. Books are reprinted when the available copies look like selling out. When people talk about 1st editions, they mean 1st printings. (Prince of Thorns is on its 29th printing).

I've never had a hardcover reprinted before!

Reprints are an indication of exceeding expectations rather than of vast sales. It might be that Harry Potter book 7 got only one printing but that they printed 10 million of them, vastly eclipsing the sum of all 29 printings of Prince of Thorns... But it's great to exceed expectations.

To recap - blowing your own horn is a necessary evil as an author. It's easy to overstep the line and move into "being obnoxious" territory, actually putting off potential readers. And part of the reason that's so easy is that everyone out there draws that line in a different place. Some will take the mere mention of the fact that you've written a book as too pushy. Others will need to be metaphorically beaten over the head with said book in order for its existence to register.

It's a minefield - and those are hard to navigate even without a great big horn to blow into!

The Broken Binding special edition.


Saturday, 27 May 2023

AI or not AI? That is the question.

We had a twitter storm spin up over the winner of the blogger vote in the #SPFBO cover contest. A "fun" minor addition to the SPFBO contest, which is, of course, all about the words.

The entry form asked each author 

 and any answer to the AI question other than "no" meant that the cover wasn't considered for the contest.

The author of the winning cover answered "no".

People on Twitter started to dispute that no with some vigour. The artist came on to confirm the 'no' and was called a liar.

I reached out to the author and artist for further confirmation.  I emphasised privately to the artist that if it was true, deliberately or through some mistake with the form, they should just come clean and we could all move on. But they were adamant that no AI had been involved. I gave multiple opportunities to U-turn on this.

The non-verbal part of the artist's confirmation had to wait on the artist getting home from work and getting access to their images.

So - we're at the stage in civilisation where an artist can be called upon to prove they really created an image. I fully understand why. It also seems reasonable that a non-professional artist at their day job could require a few hours to get home and assemble such evidence. So we waited.

Sean supplied a bunch of sketches and photos along with an explanation of how he created the cover using these resources and photoshop - he also supplied the many-layered photoshop file for the cover.

I showed those to the SPFBO judges and the 2,500 members of the SPFBO facebook group, and the overwhelming response was that they were convinced. Not one person said they were sure that it was AI generated.

So, around 1am I shared the link to this page on twitter. People there still weren't convinced. At 2am, in response to my increasing distress over the situation Sean removed the cover from the contest, and I was able adjust the competition result and get to bed.

I've woken up to compelling evidence that the cover was at least partly AI generated, breaking the rules of the contest. So, in addition to having been withdrawn, it's now also disqualified under the existing rules.

There won't be a cover contest going forward.

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Thursday, 18 May 2023

SPFBO 9 - The Cover Contest!

Each year I run a cover contest for the SPFBO entrants. Each blog chooses its 3 favourite covers from their pool of 30 entrants. The 30 favourites collected from the 10 blogs are then voted on in separate ballots by the bloggers and by the public.

We did this in 202220212020201920182017 & 2016 too.

Blogger finalist choices:

4 votes (61 public votes)

Artist: Welder Wings

4 votes (85 public votes)


Artist: Dawid Gardias

3 votes (54 public votes)

3 votes

2 votes 


1 vote

(from when the blogger vote concluded)

222 votes (zero blogger votes)

Artist: Jamie Flack

181 votes (two blogger votes)


180 votes (two blogger votes)