Friday, April 4, 2014

Anatomy of a Writing Career - Quarter 2











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 Taylor and Phillip’s story, more deeply exploring their budding relationship. I was thrilled that Loose Id wanted it because I adore those characters.
 
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 Loose Id.  In just a few days, April 8th in fact, Guarding My Heart will be released. It’s about a spoiled rich kid and his new bodyguard. It’s my longest work yet, and I’m excited about it. I also submitted a story for LI’s Homecoming call and am planning to submit something for their Resolution call as well. I do a lot of submission calls because I know these are stories publishers are actively acquiring, so the odds of acceptance are higher (but there’s more competition too).  I love working with Loose Id, especially my editor Kathleen Fawn Calhoun. She puts me through my paces, but I trust her implicitly.

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. Holiday stories have a brief shelf life, so we wouldn’t expect to see much action beyond December and January. Competition is always fierce in December because of the slew of holidays stories released, and this year was especially notable for the glut of dirt cheap or free stories starting in November. You can see the effect of those aggressive marketing efforts in S.C.’s sales numbers. She sold 58 units of the new Christmas story on LI’s site as well as 18 units of the first Hard-Ass story. So she’s holding steady, even growing her new release sales. But her new book Amazon sales were 138 and 34, respectively.  She just couldn’t compete as a new, mostly unknown author with a regularly priced book against that landslide of holiday releases and cheap/free stuff. Her Amazon sales for Hard-Ass were 50 and 8, slowly dropping as is natural. 
 
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.

 

74 comments:

  1. A typo you may want to correct? (I'm assuming it's a typo.) "So she sold 42 units at LI in October. And she was paid for those sales in September. " Still reading the rest!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is why authors have a such a hard time in business. ;-P

      Delete
    2. Josh, didn't you tell EVERYONE about your time machine? :)

      Delete
    3. Everyone wants a ride in my time machine!

      (Now why the hell does that sound salacious?!)

      Delete
  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you S.C. and Josh! This is very interesting, informative, and sounds quite nerve-racking/really-really-exciting... :-)
    S.C., good luck! looks like things are on the right track.

    I enjoy your stories, and of what i've read so far, i liked "Hard-ass Christmas" best. I found it added depth and fun to the characters of "Hard-ass is Here," and it was one of the best Christmas stories i read last year (and i read a lot! of them...).
    Looking forward to "Guarding My Heart" :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. thanks for that input, KC! :-)

      Delete
    2. Thank you, KC! That is one of my favorites too. Can the author say that? :)

      Delete
  4. Thank you, S.C. and Josh. This is fascinating reading! I look forward to the next installment. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I wish you all the best for the future, S.C. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Alison. It has been interesting. :)

      Delete
  5. I can't begin to see myself being able to write a book, but I've always been fascinated by your blogs about the process, Josh. This journey with S.C is just as fascinating. It takes real courage to put yourself out there like you authors do because people can be awful. Good luck, S.C., and keep up the good writng!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Denise. It's actually interesting for me too because it forces me to acknowledge my own journey. :)

      Delete
    2. Sometimes I wish I had had opportunity to acknowledge my journey. I think I could have taken away a lot more helpful information, if I had paid attention along the way!

      Delete
  6. Hi Josh & S.C.,

    This was extremely informative and interesting even for the reader only. I congratulate S.C. for her willingness to share this personal information with outsiders. I. too, very much enjoyed "Hard-Ass Christmas," and am looking forward to "Guarding My Heart." I wish you all the best, S.C.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Susan! It is intimidating to lay myself bare like this but it is also makes me a little fearless to a degree.

      Delete
    2. The reality is, eighty percent of what you hear from other writers is just bullshit and saving face. I know. I was THERE. :-D And the more information everyone has, the better and stronger we will be as a generation of authors -- especially when self-publishing figures into the mix.

      Delete
  7. Wow, how refreshing and wonderful to have actual sales numbers posted. Thanks so much, S.C., for your bravery!

    So often, we have to make decisions about what to do (self-publish or submit? Promote? Lower prices?) and these decisions are nearly impossible to make without information. Also, never knowing how other people are doing, sales wise, always gives me the "everyone must be doing better than I am" feeling.

    Very interesting post, Josh. And I wish you continued good luck in everything S.C. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Amelia! Josh had to wrestle the numbers from my clutched hands and slap me a few times. :D

      Delete
    2. :-D :-D :-D

      S.C. fights mean!!! Let me just say that now!!! Don't tangle with her.

      Delete
  8. Not a question, but a "Thank you". I admire S.C.'s courage to share her experience and wow — you've been busy these last months, S.C.! Good for you! You have the best possible teacher and I'm keeping my fingers crossed for you and my credit card ready for your future books.

    And even though you told us that you've had some hard times (reading the mean reviews and such) it's lovely to notice that in spite of those moments your joy of writing is probably even increasing! :-) Take care, be well, S.C. Enjoy writing!

    And thank you for yet another great blog post, Josh.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Johanna, thank you for the kind words. I have been busy because I love writing and Josh always says "Back list, back list, back list!" to all us new authors. lol. Thank you for your support, Johanna!

      Delete
    2. Thank you for reading, Johanna!

      Delete
  9. This is such a fascinating insight to the world of publishing. So often we hear of the acceptance by an agent or publisher, but never anything about numbers As I am a brand new writer in the M/M field, having just completed my first MS, I thank you S.C. for putting this all out there, and you Josh for your blogposts. They are so helpful and informative.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for commenting, Felice! Good luck to you on your journey. It's fun isn't it? :)

      Delete
    2. Thanks for reading along, Felice! I think it helps everyone to have realistic expectations -- as well as a barometer to judge success by.

      Delete
  10. Thank you for sharing your experience, S.C. And thanks for the analysis by Josh. It's interesting to see the number and workings of getting your books published. Personally, I don't buy holiday-theme books for the sake of the holiday theme... So I actually only bought Christmas stories because I love that author's works. Plus I think people "gift" many such stories, so they tend to play safe and it would be tough for new authors to break into.

    Having said that, Hard-Ass is on my to-read list via Josh's FB post, so marketing and word of mouth work!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, thelastaerie! That is interesting feedback about the holiday story thing. There were so many free and .99cent books at Christmas it was hard to get noticed.
      Appreciate the comment! :)

      Delete
    2. Thanks for that insight, thelastaerie. Yes, I think holiday stories are always wild cards. You can't put place too much weight on them, good or bad, because they aren't representative of most releases.

      Delete
  11. Sometimes I buy through the publishers websites but they seem to proliferate at an alarming rate so I usually get my M/M fix from the All Romance website, which is where I found Hard-Ass and the Christmas follow-up, which I enjoyed very much. I generally love holiday-themed stories and I'll even read them past the holiday if I've discovered a new author and want to read more of their writing that I've missed. I admit that I'm often disappointed with anthologies with multiple authors and I prefer to buy the stories separately. Of course a collection of your stories, Josh, is a completely different matter! [Waiting eagerly for the next one!]

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So many things that were true even three years ago are not true now. So we're all having to recalculate. Things like anthologies. They're so plentiful now that they are almost invisible. Even the charity ones. Every week there seems to be a new antho from a new publisher for a new cause. It's impossible not to grow jaded with it.

      Delete
    2. Hi Christie,
      thank you so much for the kind words. I'm so happy you enjoyed the stories. The Doctor Feelgood anthology has received very good reviews so far. Hopefully if you take a chance on it you will enjoy it. I'm leery myself of anthologies so I understand! lol

      Delete
  12. Hi Josh and S.C. I purchased Hard Ass and Hard Ass Christmas recently following a post by Josh about it. I did read the Goodreads reviews first and saw the comments about 'too much sex'. But in my opinion the sex content was well balanced and didn't seem contrived or unnecessary. I'm looking forward to reading more from this author. On another note - I only recently found out how much Amazon takes from the 'pot' and will make a point of purchasing from the publisher in future whenever possible, especially since I have just learnt how to convert pdf files more easily onto my Kindle. However, I have pre-ordered Stranger On The Shore from Amazon because it is not available for pre-order from Carina and I want to make sure I don't miss the release date as it's a few weeks away. Maybe a word in the publisher's ear about pre-release orders? Some publishers actually (quietly) make pre-orders available before publication date which is another incentive to order from the publisher rather than Amazon, in my humble opinion!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Araminta!
      I'm glad you thought the sex was balanced. I've since learned that one person will say too much sex, and then another will say not enough, or just right. Then someone will say too long or too short. You will go crazy trying to please EVERYONE! But I think if you get the same criticism over and over it is something to look at.
      I thank you for taking the time to comment. :)

      Delete
    2. I completely agree with you about the pre-ordering. I always get frustrated when a publisher doesn't offer that option. BUT what I would say upon reflection, is Carina is very practical. I think they reached the conclusion that the bulk of sales would be going through the retailers, and it was just practical to let the retailers handle it.

      It's startling to see how that publisher versus third party seller has changed in just the few years I've been publishing. I remember when those initial publisher sales were the big piece of my royalties. That isn't even a decade ago! More like four years.

      Delete
  13. Very interesting and brave too :) I think these numbers are very impressive for a newbie! Not only about sales and earnings but also on the works in progress and coming releases.

    I think most starting businesses take longer to break even, let alone generate income. Congratulations!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I forgot something. When I looked at the Goodreads rating details it said 91% of people liked it. :D

      Delete
    2. Thank you, Sylvia. I agree that for only six months since being published I should be happy with my progress. But you know us humans, aren't we annoying? LOL

      You are right, if 91% like it, why would I lose any sleep over it? I'm so much better at handling negativity than I was. I think it just surprised me that a little romance novella could actually generate hatred. That had never occurred to me. :)

      Delete
    3. THANK YOU FOR POINTING THAT OUT, Sylvia. I bet it will somehow mean more coming from you. :-)

      Delete
  14. Then there are those readers who enjoy your work, get distracted, and have to be reminded to look for your newer work. So, today I bought, read, and enjoyed "Hard-Ass Christmas." No seasons to my reading habits. Best wishes to you, S.C.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Karen, awww. Thank you so much! Ha, ha. Exactly I just read what I want. We are rebels, Karen! :)

      Delete
    2. This is the truth, Karen. It's true for all of us. Promotion, marketing, just a simple reminder that you're there! matters.

      There is just so much going on every single minute that I have to be reminded of new releases from authors I love.

      Delete
  15. Kudos to you, S.C, to you and Josh all to the writers who put a little piece of themselves out there to be judged. Thank you. It's not easy. Not emotionally. Not physically. Not financially. You are the risk takers. I look forward to reading Guarding My Heart.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's such a crazy business. Any of the arts, really. It's so personal and so intense. And then it goes out into the marketplace as though we're selling muffins or Bombay bowlers. :-D

      WHAT?! YOU DON'T LIKE OUR NEW BOMBAY BOWLER???!!!

      :-D

      To be successful requires a mix of vulnerable artist and survivalist. And whether the work is really good or not is almost incidental.

      Luckily, in SC's case, the work is good. :-)

      Delete
    2. Thank you, Karan! It was a hard beginning but I am stronger for it. I appreciate all the kind words so many of you have given. I can handle the slings and arrows now, although no one LIKES them! Lol. I hope you enjoy Guarding My Heart. :)

      Delete
  16. Wow, really admire your courage to lay yourself bare like this, SC, and having seven projects in such a short period of time, you being not a full time writer too! I can see how much you like writing.

    Just bought your Hard-Ass is Coming on All Romance. I was pleasantly surprised to find that AR has strengthened its bond with Kindle. It can know send the book directly to my device with some simple setting. Still not as convenient as Amazon, but books here are cheaper. Guess it's time I change my shopping habit.

    Thank you SC and Josh for this informative entry. Way to go, SC!

    Savanna

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oops, 'now', not 'know'.

      Savanna

      Delete
    2. LOL @ Josh.
      Savanna, thank you for the support! It was a stern Josh who talked me into it. I had the same run screaming for the door response anyone would! Don't think I didn't. But in the long run I believe the numbers will become more impressive and it would be nice to be a part of getting the information out there. :)

      Delete
  17. Hi, Josh and SC. Wow, this is giving me flashbacks. I have to say, SC, your first set of figures kicked arse by comparison with mine. :) Thanks for this brave insight into your launch.
    Harper

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aw. Angel. But you're another one who just blows me away with your fearlessness. And I think that fearlessness shows in the work.

      Delete
    2. Thank you, Harper. I love your work. It means a lot to hear you say that. I don't believe you, but I appreciate you trying to make me feel better! LOL.

      Delete
    3. Thanks, dear Josh. I think it's a "feel the fear and do it anyway", "waaaah I'm on the zipwire and it's too late to stop" kind of courage, but I'll take it. SC, honest. Truth. First time I worked out how to track my sales via Amazon, I had such big hopes of what I would see. And what I did see sent me crawling - literally - under the bed for the day. Mrs H had to lure me out with a little trail of Cadbury's chocolate buttons. It got better. I'm still not making a living out of it, but after about five years I'm 80 percent of the way there, and that seems like a miracle to me. I know people who do way better and people who never even get close to that, and you just can't compare yourself to either or you'll be driven nuts. Just keep doing what you do, and I can tell you from warmly remembered experience that having Josh as a guiding light will make the whole thing *soooo* much better. xxx

      Delete
    4. Thank you, Harper. The fun part about sharing my experience is so many authors are allowing me a glimpse into theirs. It is enlightening and comforting all at the same time.

      Delete
  18. This was fascinating blog to read. Thanks Josh and especially S. C for being brave and letting him prise those sales figures out of your hands. The number of copies sold sounds like a lot to me but as Harper comments above it's not good to make comparisons. Good luck with all the on-going projects SC and I look forward to reading the next instalment.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Caroline. Of course you can testify to how very different the writing world is on the inside versus the outer appearance. :-)

      Delete
    2. Thank you, Caroline! If I could figure out how not to compare myself to others, and then I bottled it and sold it I would make a mint! :) Thank you for the kind words and I appreciate you taking the time to read my journey. :)

      Delete
  19. After reading this excellent blog, all I can say is, those of you who have the imagination and discipline to write, plus the courage to put your work out there for all to read, enjoy, and, yes critique, are real heroes. Thank you.

    Thanks especially to Josh for providing this insight into the world in which he and all of you live.


    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Penelope! Josh is always concerned with helping other authors and trying to get more information out there. I am honored he picked me, and yes it is scary to put yourself out there, but if you don't publish your stories it's sort of like singing into a hair brush in front of a mirror. Lol. You need an audience. :)

      Delete
    2. Singing into the hairbrush. That's brilliant. :-)

      Delete
    3. Janis Joplin had nothing on me & my hairbrush! :-)

      Delete
  20. Thank you Josh & SC! This is a Great blog! And SC's new book GUARDING YOUR HEARTS is Excellent! I hope she never gets discouraged ... she is very talented! Thank you Josh for supporting young, new authors & keeping us informed about them. Love from Alaska Ann Alaskan on fb

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Alaska Ann! :) I appreciate the positive feedback. Book release weeks are stressful! :)

      Delete
  21. That's just amazing, SC. And how great it is that you have a critique group. I have no idea about that. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A writing group can be a big help.

      Delete
    2. Hi Iyana! Yes, crit groups are really valuable. You just can't see all the problems when you've been staring at your own writing for weeks and weeks! lol

      Delete