On Writing

I went in. The room beyond was large and square and sunken and cool and had the restful atmosphere of a funeral chapel and something of the same smell.”

I don’t know what, if anything, I thought about that last sentence when I first read it many years ago. But when I read it a few days ago, as an author, I was blown away by it. It is an amazing sentence. The author wrote a clunky, awkward, and ugly sentence to describe an unpleasant room using plain, bland, and ordinary adjectives. The structure of the sentence rather than the words convey the image, the meaning. I have to believe that someone could only write a sentence like that if that someone was completely confident in their ability as a writer. If they knew what they were doing. If they didn’t care if anyone else did. Ram you, damn you, they were good even if you, and everyone, thought otherwise. This level of confidence in one’s talent, skill, and vision is what is needed to be a great writer. I think that you have to find that confidence within yourself – or perhaps in a bottle. In any event, you’ll not find the real vein of confidence in critique groups, beta readers, editors, or reviews. It has to have been there before that feedback, and perhaps, persist in spite of that feedback. You have to know you’re good and accept that not everyone will get it. What “they” think doesn’t matter. What you know does. And you do know, and are good. That’s what art is about.

The paragraph goes on:

Tapestry on the blank roughened stucco walls, iron grilles imitating balconies outside high side windows, heavy carved chairs with plush seats and tapestry backs and tarnished gilt tassels hanging down their sides. At the back a stained-glass window about the size of a tennis court. Curtained French doors underneath it. An old musty, fusty, narrow-minded, clean and bitter room. It didn’t look as if anybody ever sat in it or would ever want to. Marble-topped tables with crooked legs, gilt clocks, pieces of small statuary in two colors of marble. A lot of junk that would take a week to dust. A lot of money, and all wasted. Thirty years before, in the wealthy closed-mouthed provincial town of Pasadena then was, it must have seemed like quite a room.”

– The High Window, by Raymond Chandler.

Ram you, damn you, he didn’t even care if all the sentences were even sentences. And trips you up at the end. He was a great writer.

Just say’n.

Are you being followed?

Amazon has a tab on your author page that readers can hit to follow their favorite authors to get alerted to new releases. Do you know how many readers are following you? I believe that until recently, this number wasn’t shown to authors. But it is now, if the number is more than 20. To find out if you have any followers, you need to go to your Author Central page. There you can:

Click the “Reports + Marketing” tab

Go to the “Reports” section.

You can then see the number of your followers under “Amazon Followers.”

If you dare.

Who Helps?

Who, if anyone, helps you write and publish your stories?

In my last post I talked about how I didn’t think paid “professionals,” specifically editors, were worth their expense in indie publishing. The logical follow up question is, if not them, who? Who helps writers polish and publish their work? Or can you do it all by yourself?

Like in the previous piece, I’ll focus on the editorial side of indie publishing and ignore things like cover design and marketing. I’ll briefly discuss alpha and beta readers, critique and author groups. But what I, and I suspect other readers of this blog would really want to know, is who do you turn to, personally, for help in writing and publishing your stories? Please share your approach with us so that we can all learn. I certainly don’t profess to be an expert. Onward.

Alpha readers are people who read an unfinished, or unpolished version of the story and provide feedback on their experience. They are usually friends whose opinions the author trusts. Basically they are asked to say what, in their opinion works, what might not, and perhaps suggest ways to proceed. The YA author Alexa Dunn talks about submitting chapters of her work in progress to her alpha readers for feedback. And our own Mark Paxson has mentioned in a recent comment that he has exchanged the first 10 chapters of his WIP with another writer, to get feedback on it and how to proceed.

Critique groups, both in person and online are also a common way to get feedback during the writing process. I know of one self-publishing author who used an online critique group, however, it seems that she has settled on just one critique partner these days. I believe that our own Audrey Driscoll has at one time been a part of an in-person writer’s group that critiqued members’ work. I joined a discord group of mostly aspiring traditional authors with a scattering of published and self-published authors who will post their first chapters, or short stories and query letters for critiques, just to see how it works.

And then there are beta readers. Ideally these are readers who read a polished version of the story with the eyes of a regular reader. They can offer feedback on how a typical reader might find the book. They may suggest parts of the story that need clarification, or areas that are too wordy or unnecessary in their opinion. And they may also serve as proofreaders.

So how do you use these human resources, to help you produce the best story possible?

I’ll begin, just to start the ball rolling. I approach writing as a work of art, of personal expression, not as a commercial product. As with my painting, I want to create something that is as original and personal as I can make it. Though there are many cooperative and ensemble arts and complete originality is very rare, I view writing as a solo performance. Thus, no one sees my stories before I have written the first, second, and final draft, whatever that number turns out to be. In other words, the most polished version of the story I can produce. I write the story I want the way I want it, and assume that there are readers out there, somewhere, with similar tastes. Though please note, I don’t write to make money. If you want to make money, you need to create a commercial product, and you will likely need to write what your extensive market research has revealed about what your large target audience expects in its books.

Having produced my best copy, I then hand it off to my wife to proofread, knowing that, as my wife, she will feel free to criticize me, er, my work. And she does. Thankfully, not a whole lot, and I always find some way to address her concerns. For example she likes happily ever after endings for the romance elements of my stories, while I like to keep them somewhat open – life goes on after my story ends – and they keep open the possibility of a sequel. So my stories often imply an eventual happy resolution of the romance. However, in one case she didn’t think I had made that clear enough. I thought I had, and since I liked my ending, I added an additional scene with the couple after the original final scene with them, that better clarified their commitment to each other. In my most recent published work, she felt that I had ignored the fate of the other characters in the story at the end of it – the narrator should have been more concerned about them. While I didn’t think it was absolutely necessary, I did add a paragraph or two addressing her concern. In short, if she criticizes, I listen and usually find a way to address her concerns. She also finds the first 95% of my typos.

After my wife gets done with her proofreading, I send the story out to my beta readers. I have about half a dozen of them. Most, but not all of them, are readers who have taken me up on my invitation to email the typos they find to me so I can fix them, an invite I include in every ebook. They have stayed on and volunteered to beta/proofread my books before publication. As I have remarked before, their lists of typos rarely overlap by more than a couple of obvious typos. The more eyes on a manuscript, the cleaner it will be. And while I also invite comments and criticisms from them, perhaps because most are readers rather than writers, they rarely do make comments. But rarely is not never, and I consider any comments and suggestions they make just as carefully as I do those from my wife, and generally make changes to reflect their concerns. For example, in my yet to be published novel Berthold Gambrel suggested that I used a tagline a little too often, so I went through the MS either eliminating or altered the line here to there to reduce the number of times it was used. All my helpers, my wife and beta readers are all very helpful, and make my books so much better than if I had to do it all on my own.

So, in summary, while I closely guard my creative process, I also recognize my deficiencies as well, and welcome the help of others.

Now it’s your turn. Who do you turn to for help? I am sure we all have our own methods, and reasons behind them. Please share them in the comments below. Or, if you, like Audrey Driscoll, have posts on your blog about how you write and don’t feel like writing them again, please leave links to those posts in the comments below. While the name of this blog is Writers Supporting Writers, it is also a place where writers can talk about writerly stuff. Let’s do so.

Editors, Who Needs Them?

Indie publishing gurus often advise would-be self-publishing authors to hire professionals – editor(s), proofreaders, cover artists, etc. – to produce their books in order to raise the perceived level of quality of indie published books. They are told that it is “best practice” to do so. I find this advice disingenuous, at best. The people who dispense this advice are certainly aware that for most would-be indie authors seeking advice, taking this advice the author will lose just about every cent they spend on these professionals, with no discernible result. I shall focus my rant on editors, but my points apply to all freelance professionals offering their services to indie authors.

First off, indie publishing is not traditional publishing lite. Mimicking traditional publishing processes is expensive and unnecessary, since traditional and indie publishing serve two distinct markets, each with their own requirements. Traditional publishing serves casual readers, discerning readers, and lovers of physical books who enjoy the popular culture around well known authors. Indie publishing serves avid, story orientated, value conscious readers. Consumers understand that if you pay a tiny fraction of what another similar item costs, you should expect something less. In the case of indie readers this compromise includes reading stories as ephemeral digital files on ebook readers or phones, with perhaps, nondescript style and less polished grammar, compromises they are willing to accept as long as the story itself is compelling. The story is king in indie publishing. And thus whatever value editors bring to a book is greatly devalued in indie publishing.

The role of editors in traditional publishing and indie publishing are significantly different and are likely to produce different results. In traditional publishing, authors are casual labor hired by the editor. The editor is their boss, and while they may only “suggest” changes in an author’s work, the author is wise to comply with the editor’s suggestions or risk being labeled “difficult,” and likely less employable. Unless, of course, they write books that sell. On the other hand, in indie publishing, authors hire editors, making editors the casual laborer. While freelance editors may, or may not be selective about the projects they take on, editors still know that they need to please their boss, the author, or risk being labeled, “difficult,” making it more difficult to land future gigs. Given this dynamics, it is not unreasonable to expect that the results of these two types of editorial processes will differ, with the indie editing process being potentially far less rigorous. In addition, in traditional publishing a number of different types of editors and proofreaders go over the manuscript, so that hiring a single editor is not the complete traditional editing process.

The next thing to realize is that editors are pretty bad at their job, if their job is to help you sell books. Editors, with the input of the marketing department and perhaps the publisher, are the people who buy the books in traditional publishing. The editorial team then goes to work to shape and polish these stories into books that sell. Nevertheless, in the end, only about one book in three turns a profit in traditional publishing. What other business would tolerate a 35% success rate? Given their success rate in traditional publishing, how likely is it that professional editing will have a positive effect on sales when it comes to indie publishing? What is undeniable is that it will have very adverse effects when it comes to making a profit.

Luckily, in indie publishing editors can easily be replaced, since there are many free or inexpensive alternatives. If an author feels the need to get an outside opinion on their work, their manuscripts can be vetted by partners, friends, beta readers, or critique groups for free. In addition, the free version of the app Grammarly will check for both spelling and grammar usage. While I have not used it myself, I understand that over the last dozen years or so, Grammarly’s AI has greatly improved, and that it can be trusted to correct your spelling and polish your grammar, thus doing the job of both editor and proofreader. Plus, you can choose to follow its suggestions or not, without being labeled “difficult.” In short, there is no reason to employ a professional editor to polish your prose.

Lastly, indie publishing is all about freedom. You don’t have to conform to the expectations of editors or the “industry.” You can write the story you want to tell, how you want to tell it. No one – agents, editors, publishers, critics – need to be looking over your shoulder when you write and publish your own book. You can write a product aimed at a specific bestselling market, or you can write a work of art that is a unique personal expression. The choice is yours. This choice should be celebrated and valued.

The bottom line is that indie and traditional publishing are not the same business. The differences need to be recognized and the process of producing a book approached from different angles. Mimicking traditional publishing procedures in indie publishing is both unnecessary and potentially very expensive. And given the realities that most indie published books – like traditional published books – will not turn a profit, it is wise, in my opinion, to increase your chances of turning a profit by minimizing or eliminating production expenses. This includes not only editing but cover art and all the bells and whistles that people are quite willing to sell to indie authors – before the book even has a chance to earn a cent. Perhaps once you have become a best selling indie author you might want to employ professional editors and artists, and such, knowing that the sales of the book will pay for them, and that you have more important things to do, like writing your next novel to get it out the door in three months. But until then, I’d say, produce your own book from chapter one to hitting the publish button.

As always, what do you think? Do you use, or have you used, the services of a professional editor? What has been your experience with editors?

Through Query Hell and Back, on a Lark

As I recorded on this blog some six months ago or so, I decided to submit my most recently completed novel to a publisher during their once every couple of years open window for un-agented authors. With six to nine months to wait for them to get back to me, I decided to query this novel, i.e. send query letters to literary agents to see if they would take it on. I had no real expectations of success in either venture, I did it for the experience of doing it. The last novel I had queried – directly to publishers – was in 1980, so it was sort of a trip down memory lane.

Here is my literary agent report card. I set the bar for passing very low; a response. Professionalism is a two-way street. A response to a business inquiry deserves at least a 10 second response in a timely manner. All an agent needed to do to pass was to hit the return arrow on the query email, cut and paste a canned rejection letter on the reply page and hit send. Since agents can control not only the flow of queries via opening and closing query windows, but the number of clients they take on, there is no excuse for not responding to every query they accept. “Too busy” is not an excuse, for who knows what else they would be “too busy” to do, should they take your work on.

All these are American agents. All represent science fiction. All are open to queries from unpublished authors, and all were open to submissions when I submitted my query. All but one query was sent on or before Oct 1 – i.e. 3+ months or more ago.


Hannah Bowman, Liza Dawson Associates; 4 Weeks – Stacy Testa, Writers House; 9 Weeks – Adam Schear, DeFiore & Co.; 9 Weeks – Jim McCarthy, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret LLC; 12 Weeks – Andrea Somberg, Harvey Klinger Literary Agency; 6 Weeks – Zoe Plant, The Bent Agency; 1 Week – Cameron McClure, Donald Maass Literary Agency; 5 Weeks


Markus Hoffmann, Regal Hoffmann & Associates – Peter Rubie. FinePrint Literary Management – Shannon Snow, Creative Media Agency – Stephen Barbara, Inkwell Management – Joshua A Bilmes, Jabberwocky Literary Agency – Matt Bialer, Sandford & Greenburger – Stacy Testa, Writershouse – Michael Harriot, Folio Literary Management – Suzie Townsend, New Leaf – Lane Heymont, The Tobias Agency – Amanda Rutter*, Azantian Literary Agency – Naomi Davis, Bookends A Literary Agency

So what did I learn from this exercise?

First, and foremost, how happy I am that my creative works are not being held hostage by these people. I can reach a small but appreciative audience all on my own, doing it my way. I knew that already, but it made me appreciate the choice I made eight years ago all the more.

I came to better appreciate what people who view being a writer as a romantic occupation, and want to be a “real” one, have to endure in their pursuit of their dream. Better them than me, but still, they should be treated better than what they are.

The other benefit was a little more speculative. As time went on, I found myself vaguely dissatisfied with some parts of the novel, even after I had sent it off to my beta readers. Since I had the time, I took that time to try to address those nagging doubts by doing some revisions to the novel. I ended up adding over 5,000 words to it in the process. The question I can’t answer is; would I have done that if I hadn’t submitted the novel, or would I have released it with those nagging doubts? By the time I finished writing it, I knew that I would be submitting it. I knew that if, on the off chance, it would be picked up, it would go through several bouts of editing, so that it didn’t have to be perfect. But if this hadn’t been the case, would I have released it as it was in June? Or would I have held off and revised it, as I eventually did?. I can’t say. On one hand, I’m not the most patient of men, but on the other, I did delay the release of one of my early novels because I was dissatisfied with it, so going over it again would not have been out of the question. In any event, I see the advantage of waiting a while before releasing a story, though whether I will or not do so in the future is an open question, one that may never arise again. We’ll see.

At any rate, I have emerged from query hell unscathed and wiser for it. All to the good.

*Just as I pushed publish on this, I received an email from Amanda Rutter saying that she was leaving the business. It is a tough business, for writers and agents alike.

My first report can be found here:


The Lark Returns From Query Hell

This is my followup to a post from July 2 2022 called “Through Query Hell on a Lark” that can found here:


In it I described how and why I decided to see if I could get my most recent novel traditionally published by going through the time honored query process. The short answer is that on a whim I had submitted the novel to Gollancz, a British SF publisher, during one of their rare open windows when they accept manuscripts from authors directly.Since I would not hear back from them for six to nine months,I had the time to see if I could find an agent to represent it. I have not yet heard back from Gollancz yet, but I am drawing a line under the query process.

Over the course of the summer and fall I submitted my query letter to 15 agents, four on the first of each month starting in July, from my list of 31 agents who handled science fiction and accepted queries from unpublished writers. The remaining 16 were either closed for submission or did not seem worth the trouble. To date I’ve received 7 form letter rejection emails, and with the last submission 6 weeks ago, I think I can safely conclude that the other 8 queries are rejections by default.

Given that I did not expect to sell my book, and I was going through the process on, as I said, on a lark, the process was actually sort of fun – a challenge that resulted in several very good things.

The first positive thing was I joined a discord channel run by a “Traditionally published Fantasy Author” which he set up to raise a little money and provide a forum for writers to help each other on their quest to get published. It was not as active as I had expected, but it did provide a forum to talk about the writing experience, see the work of other writers. I was able to get into the mindset of people who are serious about being traditionally published.

Secondly, it was interesting to think about my story and how I could sell the story to an agent and publisher. I tried several different query letters and actually changed the title of the novel from The Road to EuraEast to the rather tongue-in-cheek title of The Girl on the Kerb to make the story sound more mainstream. Nothing worked, but qua sera, sera.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, I used the extra time I had in waiting on the publisher and the querying process to rewrite and improve the final third of the story, adding nearly 6,000 words to it in the process. I had some little nagging doubts about some parts and the time to address them. Now, I don’t know if those nagging doubts would’ve kept me from releasing the book myself since by the time I was finished writing it I knew I needed to submit it to the publisher within two weeks. However, the extra time I had gave me the time and eto improve the story – a lesson learned for any future story. Usually I’m too impatient to let a story sit around for several months. At my age I could be dead tomorrow and no eyebrows would be raised.

Fourthly, I now have a much better appreciation of what thousands of writers have to go through in their pursuit of their dream of being a traditionally published author A “real” author in their mind.And how crushing every rejection email, or perhaps even worse, silence, must be for them. I have to admire the strength of their commitment to their dream. Still, better them than me.

Fifthly, because of the process I looked deeper into the realities of traditional publishing, and it’s not a good place. Between discussions on the discord channel and what the Penguin/Random House-Simon and Schuster trial revealed about the publishing business, it is clear that the so-called midlist author is a dying breed. Traditional publishing is dominated by multinational corporations who only care for the bottom line, and as I reported in the post below, best selling books are the ones that pay the bills.


I’ve heard both, booksellers and authors lament that authors these days are only given a book two to become a bestselling author before they are out the door of the big publishers. In fact, the author running the discord channel had his first two trilogies published by one of the big five publishers, but when the second trilogy did not sell as well as expected, he was out the door. His last two books have been published by a small press. And while it’s not one of those very small presses,it is a definite step down, career wise. Now it ain’t easy in indie-publishing, but it ain’t any easier in traditional publishing – even after they let you in the door.

And lastly I have come to really appreciate my decision to release my own books directly to readers. I was 65 in 2015 when I decided to self-publish my books so it was a no-brainer decision, but still… Now I really appreciate the fact that my creative endeavors had not been held hostage by a few dozen agents – people who judge a book by reading the query letter, and maybe glancing over the first five pages of the manuscript. And how lucky I am that real people read and enjoy them. That’s what it’s all about.

So, all in all, my travels in Query Hell was a worthwhile experience. Once.

When the Dream Dies

When and why might the dream of being a writer dies and you decide to call it quits?

For some authors their dream dies when they can no longer write. Like when they are dead. Or when health issues prevent them from writing, despite their desire to continue on. Sometimes real world events in their lives do not allow them the time and/or energy to write. But for some writers, it is a conscious decision to lay down the pen.

For traditionally published authors the end may come when they can no longer sell their books to publishers. When new contracts are not offered. You’re only as good as your last book, so if sales disappoint, new contracts may not be offered and self-publishing may be too daunting or simply unappealing to continue writing. Since writing is a side-hustle for most authors, moving on frees time for other endeavors, even if it means leaving the dream behind.

Much the same dynamics may end the career of self-publishing authors as well. Though in this case, it would be the readers who are either not finding or not buying their book or books in any appreciable numbers. Disappointing sales may lead an author to decide that writing and self-publishing is simply not worth their time, effort, and in many cases, their money.

In both these cases, authors may still have stories to write, but they, or their publisher, don’t see a market for more stories. Books cost money to be produced. Most lose money, so they can’t be published by companies or writers willy-nilly.

On the other hand, a lack of new story ideas may cause both traditional and self-published authors to put down their pen. The spring of their inspiration runs dry leaving them with nothing new or interesting to write. Now this could simply be a case of “writer’s block” that will pass, but only time will tell. In any event, a writer is left waiting for an inspiration that may never ever come.

Another reason for quitting is that an author finds that the pleasure of writing is gone. Writing no longer gives them the satisfaction and joy it once did. It has become a chore, even, [yikes!] a job. And given that for most authors writing is a very low paying job, an author may decide that writing needs to be more than a job to be worthwhile, especially if they don’t have a book contract to fulfill. Or thousands of fans clamoring for the next book.

Or perhaps the writer finds that the need to write – that strange passion – that drove them to spend oh, so many hours pursuing something so iffy as writing stories has been sated. Looking at what they’ve written, they may decide that it’s sufficient. Enough is enough, there is no need to write more. They have nothing left to prove. They have a the hill they’re willing to die on. A legacy that they are willing to be remembered for.

Most likely, when an author draws a line under their dream of being a writer and lays down their pen, it is for more than one reason, it’s a mixture of many different reasons and emotions as well – sadness and relief, regret and pride, and hopefully, a sense of moving on.

I have some experience in endings.

I have been an artist all my life, and indeed for half a dozen years, a very successful starving artist, starving being the operative word. But even when I decided to take down my shingle and stop selling my paintings I continued to paint. However, as the years went by, less and less so. I had taken to painting from imagination rather than photos or life, having no interest – or perhaps not enough talent – to paint from life, so when my wellspring of imagination no longer produced new ideas, I could either just revisit old ideas, or stop painting. I didn’t want to paint the same thing over and over again, so I pretty much stopped, save for painting my book covers, which is more of a chore than a joy. Aiding and abetting this decision was the fact that I had painted something like 2,000 paintings of various sizes, styles, and in mediums over the last 30 years and still have maybe 1,500 of them in a closet under the stairs. I have my hill to die on.

That said, I would like to paint again. I hope to return to painting. But for that to happen I will have to come up with something new to paint, or a new way to paint. But if I don’t, so be it.

I sense the same thing may be happening in my writing as well. Ideas are increasingly hard to come by. I was delighted to be able to assemble a new novel out of several discarded ones this past winter. But while parts of it were fun to write, other parts were more of a chore than I would like – and while I would like to think the story is my best, being my latest, I don’t think it is my favorite, which is discouraging. In short, I fear that my well of inspiration is slowly drying up, just as it did with painting. Still, I have written and self-published 10 novels, 3 novellas, with another novel written and ready to be published. So, if or when it comes time to put down the pen, I have that hill to die on for my books as well. But hopefully not just yet.

So how about you? Do you envision a day when you will no longer be able or want to write? How do you think the end will come to you? Will you die in harness, or call it quits for any of the reasons above, or others I haven’ thought of?

Experiments in Publishing

Over the last six months I’ve been experimenting as a writer/publisher. And I thought I would share my experiences.

Let’s start with paperback books. Starting out I took Amazon’s word and made my paperbacks 6”x 9” and I thought glossy covers would be nicer. Well, 6”x 9” might be the most popular size, but I don’t think that’s the case for fiction. Because I am toying with the idea of trying to get my books into a small selection of SFF orientated bookshops, I decided to redo my books in the 8”x 5.25” format with matte covers, just like all the cool kids have. Having put out a dozen paperback books, redoing the books was not a great project, though for my longest ones, I had to reduce the type size to that of mass market paperbacks. Now, you can’t just change the size of published books since it is baked into the ISBN code. You need to unpublish your old versions and publish the new versions as new books. And here’s a pro tip; I discovered that Amazon will no longer let you link ebooks and paperbacks if the metadata does not exactly match. Since these were new editions, I listed them as 2nd editions, and since the ebooks are either 1st edition or have no edition number, I now cannot link the two versions. Given the fact that I’ll sell half a dozen paperback books in a year, I’m not losing sleep over it. Just be aware of it, should you do the same.

Next up, audio books. I have, in previous posts, suggested that if you are self-publishing wide, and don’t offer your books on the Google Play store you should. At last count over 60% of my sales came from Google. And that was before audio books. As I wrote earlier, Google is offering, for a limited time, to convert ebooks in the Google store into auto-generated audio books – for free. In May I took them up on that offer. For most of the last six month I have had a dozen audiobook titles on offer. In those six months I’ve sold, that is to say, given away, more than 4,500 audio books, without lifting a finger to promote them. They’ve accumulated over 50 ratings, and the audiobooks rate as well as the ebooks, with no complaints as to the quality of the audio narration. Of course selling books for money is a lot harder, BUT, since you can convert your ebooks on Google for free, (I did so just a couple of weeks ago) there is no reason why you could not sell your audiobooks for the same price of your ebooks, which would likely be significantly less expensive than most audiobooks. With audiobooks being the fastest growing segment of the book market, I think it’s an opportunity you might want to seriously consider if you don’t want to spend what human narrators charge – two to five hundred dollars per finished hour. Most novels run around 12 hours in audio form or more. Do the math.

My third experiment was withholding my standalone novel, The Girl on the Kerb, that I wrote at the start of this year, from self-publishing. Instead I submitted it to an English SF publisher during a month-long open window for writers without agents. Since I can’t publish it until I hear that they rejected it – in six to nine months – I decided to use the time to see if I could find an agent for it. I have sent out four query letters on the first of the month since July 1. So far, that’s 16 query letters. I have received 4 form letter email rejections and no requests to look at the manuscript. Let’s just say that I’m not holding my breath – but it was always a lark; a nothing ventured, nothing gained sort of thing. Recently, I hear that Orbit Publishing, a division of one of the big publishers, is going to start offering a line of ebooks and audiobooks, without paper editions, and I understand that this line will be open to authors without agents as well. I plan to submit The Girl on the Kerb to them, if possible. That said, I have already painted the cover for my self-published version of the book, so I’m all set to release it sometime in the first quarter or half of next year if things work out like I expect they will. In short, I’ve got my 2023 novel in the can. That said, I plan to spend six months querying any other standalone novels I manage to write before self-publishing them, because well, why not? The gold rush of self-publishing is long over. There is no hurry to get something out there, no boat to miss or train to catch.

I’m not a lad for seeking publicity, but this year I once again entered one of my books in the Self Published Science Fiction Blog-off. I’m hoping to get a review and a little publicity out of it. I didn’t last year, but maybe I’ll have more luck this year. I really wanted to enter my one fantasy book in the far more popular fantasy version of this contest, but I never found the date to enter until the deadline had passed. Next year.

Upcoming experiments include going over all the metadata on all my platforms and adding as many tags as possible to describe my books. For example a book may have only “Space Opera” for a tag, but I’m going to add tags like “Free Space Opera” and maybe “Free SF Book”, etc. This is probably self-publishing 101, but I’ve been rather dismissive of tags. No more. I gather that is how people discover books now, since they’ll never find them simply by scrolling the lists provided.

Next up, if I ever write a new standalone novel, it is going to be a fantasy. Fantasy outsells science fiction, and there are far more agents, editors, and publishing houses looking for fantasy than there are for science fiction. Since I write old fashioned romances using planets as the required exotic lands, I’m going to bury any science fiction elements and just market them as fantasy. Why not reach for the largest potential audience you can when starting out with a blank page?

I have not spent any out of pocket money on my self-publishing efforts. My modest royalties from Amazon cover my modest expenses, which are essentially the author copies of the paper books and postage that I send to my beta readers. I am, as I mentioned above, I’m toying with the idea of spending a chunk of change to get my books into bookshops by offering them as free samples. The idea is a mix of advertising and creating a (tiny) lasting legacy by having my books on some book shelves somewhere years after I’m dead. I hate spending money, so we’ll see about this ide.

There are many ways to promote your books, and networking with other authors is a good one. Newsletter swaps are pretty popular – if you have a newsletter to swap. Sending books to reviewers and YouTube book channels is another — but that’s not really my thing. What have you been experimenting with to promote your books? And how has it worked for you?

All you need to sell books is…

Is fame. Become a celebrity and you are almost guaranteed to sell books – indeed you don’t even have to write them. That’s what ghost writers are for. Ah, I can hear you muttering, if I were rich and famous, I wouldn’t have to try to sell books. Which is true. And you might also be muttering, getting famous is harder than selling books. Now there you might be wrong. For we live in the age of social media. Anyone can become famous if you own a smartphone.

Of course it takes work. But fame in social media is obtainable, you just need to build a large enough audience. I know that some of you are already on YouTube, so let’s start with a YouTuber, Daniel Greene.

Greene talks about and reviews fantasy books. His channel currently has 463,000 subscribers. It has taken him six years and over 460 videos to reach that total, so I think it is safe to say that Daniel Green has put the time and effort to earn his fame. So how does that translate into book sales?

In March of 2021 he self published his first book – a fantasy novella, Breach of Peace. I don’t know his sales numbers, but it currently has 7,402 ratings and 1,458 reviews on GoodReads with a 3.58* rating, plus 2,209 on Amazon with a 4.2* rating. It is currently #333,589 in the Kindle Store, i.e. while it no doubt was a bestseller, it is selling only a few copies today. Compare that to the average debut author offering only a novella, and I think that you can attribute its success to his fame. This is especially evident when you look at his next book.

On October 29th he published the second book in the series, Rebel’s Creed. I gather that he decided to combine the next two novellas together into a novel based on his feedback for the first one. It has 1,215 ratings and 178 reviews with a 3.58* rating, and 458 ratings and a 4.3* rating on Amazon. Its current sales rank is 431,994. All of which suggests that fame can sell only so many books. While Greene’s first book was considered an okay first effort, it was clearly not strong enough to bring anywhere near all the readers of the first book along for the second. Still, 1,204 ratings on Goodreads is nothing to sneer at.

Now let’s look at a new Austrian fantasy author Stacy McEwan, who released her first book, Ledge: The Glacian Trilogy, Book 1 on 13 September 2022. It currently has 1,199 ratings on GoodReads with a 495 reviews and a 4.19* rating and 310 ratings on Amazon with a 4.5* rating. As of this writing the Kindle book is ranked 8,633 which my handy dandy sales estimator says that book is selling on Amazon.com at a rate of 30 books a day, 449 copies a month. The hardcover book is ranked 15,680 which translates to about 17 books a day, 256 a month. These numbers bounce around daily, and reflect the sales on Amazon in the US only. Amazon sales outside of the US and all bookshop sales are not included, and no doubt add significantly to the grand total.

So why have I chosen her? Well, I happened to watch an interview with her, which is the only reason why I am aware of her. But in this interview she told her story. She happens to be a TikTok star, a “Booktok” person, which I gather are people on TikTok who do whatever they do there around a book theme. She happens to be very good at it, and has some 321,500 followers. I’m not on TikTok, but what I gather is that she does short comedy skits about books. So, when she wrote her first fantasy novel, Ledge, and talked about it on TikTok, not only did several publishing companies request to see her story, but something like five agents offered to represent her.

Interestingly enough, she had planned to release her book as a self-published book. She had it all set to go, with a cover done and a release date set when these publishers and agents contacted her, and bid for her book. She had to cancel her publication and at the same time, let all the people that pre-ordered it know that it was going to be published by Angry Robot instead, at a different date.

Now, as it happens, I happen to know of another debut fantasy author, Shauna Lawless, from Ireland who published her first fantasy book just two weeks before McEwan did, on the 1st of September 2022. This book, The Children of Gods and Fighting Men, was also traditionally published, this time by the Head of Zeus. It is a historical fantasy set in Ireland. It currently has 189 ratings and 114 reviews on GoodReads with a 4.51* rating and on Amazon it has 26 global ratings with a 4.7* rating. As of this writing the ebook sits at #118,647 on Amazon.com which translates to 2 copies a day and 29 a month with the hardcover book selling at 4 copies a day, 54 books a month. Again, these numbers reflect only Amazon sales in the US. Amazon sales outside of the US and bookshop sales everywhere will add significantly to the total sales.

Both of these books were traditionally published, so sales are not directly comparable to self-published books. And as always, we are comparing apples to oranges when comparing the two books. Still, I think that it is clear that being famous on social media contributes significantly to sales. The numbers tell the tale: McEwan’s 1.199 GoodReads ratings to Lawless’s 189 (with a 2 week lead).

I also know of a booktuber, Bookborn, who’s husband, Zack Argyle’s self published debut fantasy series the first book which was published in March 2020 has sold petty well, with his first book having 624 ratings and 263 reviews with a 3.94*. Now, I really don’t know if it was even promoted on his wife’s YouTube channel, but all these people have Twitter accounts as well that can be used to get the word out to followers.

All in all, while it is quite obvious that fame will often lead to fortune, and books sales, it is perhaps less obvious that in this day of age, fame is not out of the reach of ordinary writers. It may well pay, especially if you are only starting your writing career, to develop social media channels to your potential readers.

Oh, and blogs are too 2012. They don’t make you famous. Just say’n.

Traditional Publishing Numbers

In my last piece I profiled the sales experience of two indie authors, a part-time writer like most of us, and a full time writer. The Department of Justice vs Penguin Random House/S&S trial has generated a great deal of buzz in the book world and a great deal of numbers, statistics, and headlines, mostly out of context. In a blog post, Lincoln Michel put some context to the numbers being bandied about. If you have any interest in the business of bookselling, you should read his post, which can be found here:


And in the comments on this blog post, Kristen McLean, the lead industry analyst from NPD BookScan, gives us some concrete numbers. BookScan is the company that tracks about 76% of the sales of paper books in the US. She provides some specific numbers for the sales of paper books by the 10 largest publishers in the US for a period of 52 weeks ending on August 24th 2022. BookScan uses ISBNs to track sales, and this data set tracks 45,571 frontlist titles from Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Scholastic, Disney, Macmilan, Abrams, Soucebooks and John Wiley.

It should be noted that the numbers below are the sales of paper books reported by about 76% of the US retail outlets, (including Amazon) so they do not include all paper book sales. Nor do they include the sales of ebooks and audiobooks, nor sales to libraries, or sales via an author’s website or at conventions or trade shows. Thus actual numbers will be somewhat higher.

Here are the numbers from this group of publishers:

>>>0.4% or 163 books sold 100,000 copies or more

>>>0.7% or 320 books sold between 50,000-99,999 copies

>>>2.2% or 1,015 books sold between 20,000-49,999 copies

>>>3.4% or 1,572 books sold between 10,000-19,999 copies

>>>5.5% or 2,518 books sold between 5,000-9,999 copies

>>>21.6% or 9,863 books sold between 1,000-4,999 copies

>>>51.4% or 23,419 sold between 12-999 copies

>>>14.7% or 6,701 books sold under 12 copies

The first takeaway is that almost 15% of the books published by these 10 publishing houses sell less than 12 copies. And mind you, this data set only include frontlist books, not books from their backlist catalogs. Nor do these numbers include indie published paper books. These are books that were purchased by the 10 largest publishers in the US. The upside is that the authors of these books were paid an advance independent of sales. They made money on those 12 books, which is more than an indie publisher that sells 12 books is likely able to claim.

The second major takeaway is that 66% of these frontlist books published by these big publishers sell less than 1,000 copies over the 52 week period. They will continue to sell for the next couple of years, so these may not be their total sales. Still, in a nation of about 330 million people, a thousand copies would seem to be a low bar to surpass.

Somewhere in the upper range of the 21.6% of books in the 1,000 – 5,000 range the publisher starts making a profit on the book, and the authors can begin to rest a little easier about getting another book deal. And to put it in perspective, if you have sold 5,000 copies of your book in the last 52 weeks, you are in the top 13% of all authors. You are a successful author with 5,000 books sold.

All in all, the bottom line is that if you are writing books to make money, you need to be very, very lucky to have any financial success at all, and very, very, very lucky to have that success to last for any length of time. For most authors, writing books pays about as much as writing a blog.