Blunt Honesty

When I published Ancient Ruins, I was hoping to sell 15-20 copies in the first month it was out. Every person I’d seen talk about self-publishing said that that was considered a very good start, and that many people didn’t sell any copies for over a month unless they had a following online. I had almost nothing. What I had was moldering text that I hadn’t published a word of, and virtually no expectations for Ancient Ruins.

I’m an insecure person. I often think my writing is…pretty bad, to be honest. But the main reason I chose not to use a pen name, and the same reason I was willing to put out Ancient Ruins when I did was because in all truth I expected it to fall into the ocean of books on Amazon and not make so much as a ripple. Nobody expected anything of me, and it was oddly freeing in some ways. Even so, by the end of January I was ecstatic, because I’d sold 74 copies, and about the equivalent of 60 copies had been read on Kindle Unlimited (I have to assume numbers, because it gives me a count of pages read, not telling me how many people give up halfway). But even if it was doing better than I anticipated, I didn’t expect much, because I expected a good number of the sales were from family and friends.

February 8th, everything changed. Ancient Ruins hit the front page of Lesbian Romance, and I was taken aback when I went from 10 sales in a day (I remember cheering when I hit that) to 28. And it kept climbing. As the numbers kept rising, my trepidation began to grow. For me, it’s the fear of being a one-hit wonder. The fear that I’ll utterly flub Spells of Old and Halls of Power. I try to keep it out of my mind, but it’s there, haunting me. It’s why I was so desperate to get Ancient Ruins edited when I had the chance.

To give an idea of how overwhelming the numbers became, I had over 1,500 direct sales in February alone (not going into the number of pages read…over 1,000 copies there, I know). Over 100 times what I hoped to sell on the lower or upper end if you include the pages read. In some ways this is terrifying. That an audiobook producer contacted me was startling in the extreme, and I spent most of a day running around trying to figure out what the heck I was going to do. Finally I went from terrified to simply numb, though. I can’t look at reviews anymore because I don’t dare lose motivation mid-way. People are expecting Spells of Old, and I’ll be damned if I’m not going to give it to them!

I thrive on the comments people have made, but quite frankly, that people come to check what I have to say terrifies me in turn. But who am I to argue about it?

Now, then, in much less…weird news, I was going through my text files last night and found a short story that I’d finished and utterly forgotten about. It’s 5,000 words (about 7-8 pages in Word, single-spaced) and is supremely unusual in that it has one of the few male main characters I’ve ever written in it. The story feels like it was written shortly after reading Confessions of a D-List Supervillain, as some aspects of it feel in a similar style.

Since I actually have something done, in an almost-publishable state, I’ve been debating what to do a little. A Date Gone Awry, the story in question, is a little silly, with a supervillain signing up for a matchmaking service due to the difficulty in finding people to date. It’s also set in a superhuman universe I built for a different story I’ve written, Born A Queen, and which I’ve discussed sharing with some of my friends who’re dabbling in writing.

Right now I’m planning to write a mini-anthology of sorts once I finish Spells of Old, for a change of pace for the most part. I’m going to write a few short stories set in the same universe, and package them together before publishing. This should be relatively quick turnaround, but I can’t guarantee it, when it happens. I may also rope in my friends who I’ve been encouraging to write, but no promises there.

Oh, and Born A Queen, while complete, needs a complete rewrite of several chapters. It’s about 2/3rds the length of Ancient Ruins, and is intended to be the first book of a trilogy of its own. The problem is its content. I need to remove the erotica, because it was never intended to go to print or be published. Fortunately it’s a very small part of the story…but still in there. Now, before my face goes purple from embarrassment, that’s all on the subject.

Sincerely, Ben

17 thoughts on “Blunt Honesty

  1. Being successful on amazon seems to me to be such a gamble. I’ve read tons of stuff on Kindle Unlimited, some so rarely read they don’t even have any sales rank, and half the time I have no idea why X is successful and Y isn’t. I can only imagine how that feels from the other side, where you’re basically sitting there having all that work put into something and then have no idea whether it’s worth anything or not.

    Tentatively, I’d claim that a good cover is at least half the job. Maybe more. Shallow as it sounds, but what can you do? Writing in some sub-genre where it’s if not easy at least doable to get into the top100 and therefor into amazon’s recommendations also seems to help a lot. Once you get that going it’s easier to keep going. And of course it’s good if the plot/setting is something that’s currently “in”, like that litRPG stuff, or an urban fantasy romance or something.

    Oh, and somewhere in there you might also want to write a half decent book. Although cynical-me would like to comment that that’s more optional than the other points on the list … ;)


  2. It’s definitely a gamble. As I’ve said, I am on a writer’s site, and a lot of people there subsist on romance or erotica, since those sell the best for fairly short titles (50k words, less than half the length of Ancient Ruins seems about normal for them). And they don’t necessarily make a lot from just one book. Many of these people make it by having a huge number of books, kind of like Christopher Nuttall. Sure, each individual title may only sell a couple of copies a day, but when you have 50 titles that turns into serious money. That’s what shocked me so much. Part of my courage to put it up was the confidence I wouldn’t get anywhere.

    The cover for Ancient Ruins has done well for me, but I’ve also seem criticisms of it as well. I personally feel that the impressionistic style is better for this series, but for my others? I’ll probably have to go with a different artist. My dream is to get covers done my Michelle Hoefener, but that would be…expensive. But yeah, people do judge books by their covers.

    As a final aside, yeah, writing a halfway decent book does seem to be optional. I still regret downloading the preview of Missy the Werecat when it somehow popped up on my recommended titles. Oh, how my eyes did bleed…


  3. I’m pretty sure there’s some planetary alignment mystical stuff involved in having a book do well on Amazon. Lord knows it’s the only way I can imagine some top-selling books achieved such. Clearly you inadvertantly managed the same, happily.

    I know for me, when I’m trawling through recommendations and such, an interesting cover or title might catch my eye, but the blurb has to intrigue me enough that I’ll grab a sample. And if the sample actually gets me engaged enough to want more, I buy the book (obviously). For my money, the blurb is the most important part. If the blurb can’t pique my interest, it doesn’t really matter how great it might be cause I’m never gonna see it (I wonder how many great books I’ve missed because of that? :V)


  4. Haha, I totally get what you said about Missy the Werecat. I eventually finished the series (several month long breaks) because I liked some of the ideas, and the op main, but I was so happy when the series was done. It read like a preteen book, but then had multiple pages of erotica.

    Your books had good grammar, and the flaws that were there did not cause the reader to lose their submersion. I would say you did very well. Waiting not very patiently for the next book :)


  5. Totally agreed. I am astonished I got anywhere!

    And I think my blurb is…tolerable. I’m somewhat dissatisfied with it, but it got results so who am I to argue?


  6. I’d claim it’s perfectly fine. Advertises exactly what the book is about/what might appeal to readers without spoiling anything much.

    One of the big mysteries I came across during digging around Amazon’s ebooks were blurbs that spoiled _everything_ (for example the “Forever, and Until Eternity” series). I really don’t get what the authors are thinking there. I don’t want a blurb that makes me feel as if reading the book is unnecessary. What’s the point?

    Then there’s blurbs with spelling errors. I get that something might be overlooked in a novel, but in a blurb? That kind of makes me expect that the novel is even worse, and while I think I’m fairly tolerant by now about that sort of thing, there’s a limit to everything.

    I’m also not a huge fan of blurbs that quote reviews and praise and such. I get the idea, but usually it just makes me suspicious.

    Big problem I think for the reader is that it’s so darn hard to find anything. Not too long I thought I’d just go through all lesbian-fiction books, starting at page 1. It let me go to page 100 (relatively quickly done when skipping over all the porn) and then just cut off the results. That’s the releases for about the last two years. I have no idea whatsoever how I’m even supposed to find anything older, unless of course I know the author or name of the novel (probably can be done somehow, but I didn’t spot anything). I really hope that at some point they make their database a bit more accessible. Right now it’s not all that well suited for books, and everything that doesn’t immediately get popular just gets buried.


  7. Perhaps so, but I sometimes wonder if stating it was a _lesbian_ romance in the blurb would have been better. That was something I overlooked, and if someone browses via kindle they can’t see the category the book is in. It’s a bit frustrating.

    I can agree about the whole blurb thing, but I don’t have a huge viewpoint one way or another. If Ancient Ruins had somehow gotten into the top 100 of the paid Kindle store, I might’ve mentioned it…but it only hit about #400 if I recall right. I’m never going to put reviews or samples in the blurb, that just annoys me.

    But the issue of finding books when they aren’t in the top 100 books is something most of the authors I know worry about. Once you drop off that, unless you’ve had a lot of people buy it so it shows in ‘also bought’ lists, or have a fair number of reviews (50 seems to be the magic number), it’s like your sales fall off a cliff after 30 days. Mine are steadily declining, but I honestly don’t mind. When I release Spells of Old, it’ll probably cause a fair surge of sales for Ancient Ruins, and if it does it, that’s just fate.

    Incidentally got the first 15 minutes of the audiobook last night, and going to listen to it to give my feedback.


  8. I’ve enjoyed Ancient ruins a lot, and to be honest, erotica is fairly common in a lot of books that sell surprisingly well on Amazon.


  9. Very true, but the warped things I like are not what I’d like to be known for, to be perfectly honest. I think I can make a perfectly good book of it without the sections that I’d be revising.


  10. I recall Ancient Ruins hitting the top of one of the category lists though. I think it was Lesbian Fiction. So that… probably helped some?

    I’m unsure how much leaving out the lesbian part in the blurb may have hurt things, for those who are on the store through their kindle or something else that doesn’t show categories and therefore didn’t see that part. I guess it may have had some effect, but it’s really hard to say since, at least for me, the vast majority of books I take a look at tend to be either in my recommendations, or in that ‘also bought’ section.


  11. Yeah, I have no idea on that. But Ancient Ruins hit #1 in Lesbian Romance and Lesbian Fantasy, and held it for about a week and a half total, which I think did help.

    And I’m like you, I tend to look in the ‘also bought’, but sometimes when I’m not seeing something I want, I browse by category.


  12. I agree with some of you, appealing cover + decent amount of pages and a synopsis which doesn’t give away the whole story usually does it for me. The thing which makes me read ancient dreams is how beautiful and enigmatic the cover was, it made me buy the book right away and give it a chance.
    Missy the werecat… I enjoyed it I won’t lie… But I knew how unrealistic it was. The heroine didn’t have any real challenge in the end and the author had to resort to erotica to keep the readers interested lol. Bad move.
    Anyway, I still am glad to have read the series because I know which pitfalls to avoid in my writing.


  13. I couldn’t get through the first page of Missy. The writing style grated on me so badly I simply…couldn’t. But if you enjoyed it, so much the better! I’ve long since realized that what each person likes in a book is different.


  14. Erotica is not a death knoll E.William Brown has lite ertica in all of his books but the one featuring aa 12 year old and it flows well and dos not iterupt the story. Ben having some light hanky panky is not a deel breaker and can often build the story just don’t over do it.


  15. In the story in question, it isn’t light erotica. It’s very heavy, and bad, and it is not something I’d be happy sharing with the vast majority of people. Just to give context.


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