How Not To Do It: Why I’m Not Much of a Publisher


Friday was the release date of my newest novel, The Iron Gate. It was my return to the Twenty Palaces series, the books that landed me a publisher and a fanbase, and it’s the first new novel in that series since 2011.

And I have really borked the release.

Did you preorder a copy of the book? Did that preorder never show up?

That was my fault.

Let me back up.

After I ran a Kickstarter campaign in 2013 for The Great Way, I told myself I was never going to run a crowdfunding campaign again.

I’m not what you would call an organized person. I can never keep a calendar or a journal. Even a to-do list can be a challenge. So, when I published that epic fantasy trilogy, I made a bunch of mistakes, missed important deadlines and paperwork, and generally made life harder for the people I was working with. And myself, too.

I told myself I wasn’t going to do that again.

Then 2019 came along and up popped an opportunity to do things differently. I thought This new Kickstarter will be different. It’ll be simple in the extreme. No pledge levels. No stretch goals. I’ll put together some ebooks and email them around.

I thought that would be so simple that even I couldn’t screw it up.

Cut to this week and my attempt to get The Iron Gate on sale. I was dealing with one ebook vendor that would not upload my book, would not tell me that it had not worked, would not tell me why it wouldn’t work, would not tell me what I had to change to fix the problem. I’m usually pretty good with Googling up answers to my problems, but this took way longer than it should have to fix.

I also discovered several ebook vendors had more than one copy of the book, even though I’d only uploaded it once. I had problems with the cover art that had never cropped up before, and I wasn’t sure if standards at the printer had changed or if this time I’d done something different.

All these problems got handled, thanks to some totally normal and non-frantic wtf google what should I do? activity, but it was still frustrating as hell and wasted a bunch of my time.

I also found myself locked out of my Kindle Direct account the day before the book launched because Amazon decided to impose two-factor authentication. They wanted to send a special code to a landline I don’t even have any more. Was there an alternate to the special code to a non-existent number? Sure. All I had to do was upload a picture of my ID and wait 1-2 business days for someone there to look at it.

That was not how I wanted to discover I had yet another online account that I should have updated with my correct contact information when I moved more than 15 months ago. And yeah, two-factor authentication is great. But they need to let me set it up, not drop it on me.

But what about those preorders?

Here’s the deal. I fucked that up. There’s no other way to say it. I arranged for the books to be available for preorder. I asked people to preorder them, because the publication date was Sept 30, and vendors usually wait sixty days to pay the author, and I was hoping to get a decent chunk of sales revenue to arrive in the same tax year as my expenses.

But I fucked up. I was trying to do something else (at this point I can’t even remember what it was), I was not being careful and I was all click click click until I realized I had inadvertently cancelled more than 150 preorders from the Amazon listing.

Did you preorder from Amazon? Did that order never arrive? Well, it’s never going to, because of my error. You won’t be charged for it, but you won’t get it, either. If you still want the book from Amazon, please buy it from this working link.

Here’s another fun fact: after I stupidly cancelled those preorders, I got on the help chat with Amazon and spent more than two hours trying to get straight answers out of two different people. What I really wanted to know was whether the book I’d uploaded, and had set to publish at midnight that night, would still come out as scheduled even though I’d cancelled the preorders.

In other words, did I need to upload a new copy of the book?

After all that time, I couldn’t get a direct answer. Eventually, I was promised a call back which never came. The midnight publication time came and went without an actual publication, and I did in fact have to upload the book again to a new listing so people could buy it. Which meant the book was published late on that site and that the people who had preordered had to buy the book elsewhere.

I think I’d be better at publishing if I did it more often. The last thing I released was One Man, which was three years ago. There’s no way I’m going to remember all the little everythings I need to do to get this done. I mean, maybe if I journaled the process, I’d… oh shit. Nevermind.

Sometimes I think my chaotic, jump-around brain is helpful for my writing. Sure, it makes me slower than most, but a lot of my readers tell me my work feels different/ unusual/ original, and that’s great. To me, the stories feel like they’re playing out the only way they could, but other people are surprised and that pleases and startles and confounds me a little.

But if I had a more organized thought process, wouldn’t I be able to publish these books better? And write cleaner first drafts? And plot everything out in advance? And make a menu for the week when I’m getting my grocery list together? And go to the gym, wear shorts that can’t be described with the word “cargo”, and grow a full head of hair? The answers are unclear.

I guess what I’m saying is, if you enjoy my books, thank you for your support. As for my publishing process, I apologize for putting hurdles in your way to getting these books. I hate that I make these mistakes, find them both embarrassing and dispiriting, and am incredibly grateful to anyone who perseveres and buys a copy anyway. You guys are the best.