As some of you may recall we are tracking the first year in the professional life of a brand new M/M author, in this case the funny and talented S.C. Wynne. We’re a little late with our second quarter segment of "Anatomy of a Writing Career," but that’s because we were holding off in an attempt to get some real numbers. We don’t have a lot to go on yet, but we do have enough to give you a glimpse of what the starting line looks like.
This is how S.C. summarizes her work: “Most of my books feature flawed characters. I have plenty of heroes with commitment issues. And horrible childhoods. But my books also have lots of humor. I suppose most writers pull from life the things that have wounded them -- or helped to save them. I take what I’ve experienced or watched others close to me go through, and then I tweak it, and push and pull till I get to the real emotions of it, until I’ve made a sort of literary, angst- flavored taffy.”
So here, without further adieu is S.C.s account of her latest adventures in authoring.
I submitted my first M/M book to Loose Id in May of 2013. They had a special call-out for boss-themed stories, and I actually happened to already be writing that exact type of story. Josh spotted the call and suggested I submit to Loose Id. Being so new, I was getting overwhelmed by the sheer number of publishers out there. Josh thought Loose Id might be a good fit for me.
I only turned in the partial for Hard-Ass on May 25th because it was the deadline for the call. I received an email May 26th saying it had been passed on to an editor for further consideration and that it would be 6-8 weeks for a decision. On May 27th I got an email from the editor saying she liked the story and wanted to see the whole manuscript. I had expected to have more time, so I went into hysterical panic mode and Josh came to my rescue. He let our critique group know what was happening and they all jumped in like troopers and gave me the swiftest critiques in history. I managed to get the full manuscript to my editor by June 3rd and on June 10th Loose Id accepted my book.
The pure joy of that first-ever letter of acceptance was so over-the-top-exciting nothing will ever meet it. (I mean in my writing life. Yes, dear husband, our marriage license is still my greatest letter of acceptance.) Don’t get me wrong I’m over-the-moon-excited anytime a publisher accepts my stories -- sending books off and stalking my inbox makes me feel a little bit like a heroin addict waiting for my fix -- but there is just something about that initial acquisition of a book that makes you giddy. I started edits in July for the first book with Loose Id and it was released in October 2013. Oh what a naive little dove I was!
I wouldn’t have suspected it, but the next two weeks after my first book’s release were the most difficult of the entire experience. I was so easily wounded by unkind words, really any hint of criticism was painful. I spent the majority of the first week with a perpetual stomachache, wishing I’d never written anything. I grew afraid to even peek at Goodreads or Amazon to see how the book was being received. Goodreads is loads of fun as a reader, but most writer friends of mine steer clear, and with good reason. But when it’s your first book, you foolishly can’t help looking. Imagine my surprise when every single person in the world didn’t enjoy my book!
Well, to be honest, I knew everyone wouldn’t love it, but it never occurred to me anyone could actually hate it. Out of self-preservation I went to look at the reviews of several of the writers I love and respect. I was able to see that all of them had received mean and sometimes hateful reviews. I am talking about authors that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt are good. That helped me to realize that you will never, ever be able to please everyone, and frankly you just have to learn to not give a crap.
I’ve since learned to just write my best, do what I do, and ignore the hostile reviews. And honestly there are always many more positive -- or at least constructive reviews -- so those are the ones I pay attention to.
As I said, the first two weeks were rough, but once I gained my confidence back I wrote a Christmas sequel to Hard-Ass is Here called Hard-AssChristmas. It’s a continuation of
From there I sold a short story to Dreamspinners Press for a minimal flat fee. I looked at it as a promotion opportunity; I was being paid to advertise myself. “Doctor in the Desert” is in the Doctor Feelgood anthology. Everyone says anthologies are a great way to expose your writing to new readers, so I gave them the story and took a chance it would pay off eventually. It’s hard to give away your hard work for so little, but I’ve had really great feedback on the story, so it was well worth it.
Josh is always stressing the importance of backlist, so I kept my eye out for other publishing calls, and right away managed to place two short stories with Evernight Publishing. “Christmas Crush” is about a nerdy bookworm who catches the cool kid’s eye on Christmas Eve, and “The New Boss” is a story about a guy who has commitment problems and the man who loves him. Both were for Evernight’s Romance on the Go line.
Next I submitted a story to Ellora’s Cave in September 2013 for their Va Va Boomers call. There was a nerve-wracking wait of three months before they let me know they wanted the story -- and then they signed me for two more books! My editor at Ellora’s Cave is Elizabeth London and she’s wonderful.
Not one to rest on my laurels (not that I know where to find my laurels, if I even have any) I got busy writing something new for
I’m always either writing or editing. Often I’m doing both at the same time because edits have a way of popping in when I least expect them. I have at least seven projects contracted this year and, who knows? I might try to throw in a few more if I get bored. (Hardy har har!)
It’s been really enlightening to see how each different publishing house handles everything. There are similarities but also big differences. Some are better at editing. Some offer more author support. Some move very slowly. Some are impersonal in their dealings with you, while others make you feel like you are part of a big happy family. Each contract and each editor is unique, and it’s important to not assume every publishing company has your best interests at heart. You have to be your own best advocate.
It’s been a very interesting, and sometimes frustrating nine months. I’ve made a lot of progress in the short time I’ve been writing professionally, and I’ve learned a lot about this industry as well as myself. Even though it’s made me question my choice to become a professional writer sometimes, ultimately I always come back to my love of writing M/M.
It’s too soon to know if this will be a lucrative endeavor, but it is certainly a fulfilling one emotionally and creatively. It just happens that because of the timing, I don’t have any numbers on most of my books just yet. The numbers I can offer are for the two Loose Id releases in October and December 2013. (I can’t believe I allowed Josh to talk me into this. It just shows how much I adore him. Okay, rip off the Band-Aid and I will try and keep the screaming to a minimum).
Josh: I talk to a lot of writers, and as I look at S.C.’s numbers -- not just her sales numbers but the number of contracts she has lined up with reputable publishing houses -- she’s off to a great start. That said, it takes a while to build your sales and really start earning. This is why getting to the point of being able to quit your day job is a big deal.
So the first thing to note is that S.C.’s first month royalties only reflected what she sold on the publisher’s site. (And these days we don’t sell a lot on our publishers’ sites.) So she sold 42 units at LI in October. And she was paid for those sales in November. Meanwhile, she sold 317 units on Amazon US and 82 units in Amazon combined foreign sales -- but she was not paid for those sales until January.
In November she sold an additional 27 units on LI’s site. Her Amazon Sales were 70 and 15.
In December, her second story, a holiday sequel to Hard-Ass came out.
Could there be other factors to consider in S.C.’s second release numbers? Of course. You always want to examine your numbers and, if they’re not rising, try and figure out why. Here we have the sequel to an earlier story, so one possibility is that readers just didn’t connect enough with the characters to want to spend this holiday with them. Looking at S.C.’s reviews, there are comments about the original story being too short and a little heavy on erotic content. That means as S.C. looks to writing her next stories she might want to focus on writing longer and more complex books, and questioning politely when her publishers request more sex. There are many possibilities for low release numbers, and you always want to consider them all objectively. But my own experience, and the experience of other authors I talked to, was that sales for non-holiday or non-incentive-priced books were low this year.
On a positive note, even though S.C.’s holiday release sold less than she’d like, because it was regularly priced, she’ll earn as much or more as many of those authors who technically outsold her with rock bottom pricing. That’s the big picture.
Speaking of big picture, Hard-Ass was also listed on various other bookseller sites, and has cumulatively sold a total of 139 copies. In fact, at last accounting, Hard-Ass has sold 752 copies. Hard-Ass Christmas has sold 310. These are respectable numbers for someone who only began publishing six months ago and who does minimal promotion and marketing.
Can S.C. quit her day job? Her highest monthly earnings so far were $460. That was in January. But that was also without receiving any particular holiday bump. And these numbers do not include her Evernight numbers (Evernight pays quarterly). By the time we get to our third quarter check-in with S.C., she’ll have another title out with Loose Id as well as her Evernight earnings. She -- and we -- will have a better sense of whether her numbers are climbing or whether she needs to rethink some of her strategies. In particular promotion and marketing.
Again, a big, big thank you to S.C. Wynne, AKA The Little Author Who Could. It takes real guts to put your numbers -- especially your numbers as a newbie -- out there for all the world to see and marvel at.
If you have questions or comments for S.C. or me, just post them in the comment section below.