Along with the release of the sales numbers of my self-published novel has come a flood of requests that I turn to Kickstarter to fund The Twisted Path (that’s the working title of the next Twenty Palaces book). Currently, I have no plans to do that, and I’m writing this post because I want to explain my reasoning to you guys and I want to have a post I can link to when people broach the subject. Because they do broach the subject. A lot.
I want to be a best-selling author.
What’s more, I want to do it on my own terms; I want to write the books I think are cool, and I want a hundred thousand readers to snap them off the shelves the first week they come out. I want to write thrillers with good characters and magic, along with A Few Things I Want To Say. I mean, not to jump up and proclaim that I want to be Stephen King, but I want to be Stephen King. It’s not about making a whole bunch of money, it’s about having my books in the hands of lots of readers from all over the world.
That doesn’t mean I’m going to copy Stephen King, or Nora Roberts or George R.R. Martin or Gillian Flynn. I wouldn’t even try. I intend to write books my own way because honestly believe the things I think are cool will be cool to bunches and bunches of readers.
Or maybe not. We’ll see. That’s what I’m shooting for, anyway.
How does this tie in to Twenty Palaces, a series that you, the person reading this post, quite possibly read and enjoyed? Well, 20P has dedicated fans, but not very many. As mentioned in the Twenty Palaces sales post, I sold over 3700 copies of my book, self-published. Couldn’t I sell at least that many if I self-published The Twisted Path? Or maybe even more if I turned to…
Well, sure. Maybe. Maybe I could write two 20P books a year (or three in two years), and quite possibly the readers I have right now would be willing to pony up the cash I’d need for an editor, cover artist, copy editor, and the disreputable author himself (not to mention covering Uncle Sam’s and Kickstarter’s cuts). A Thousand True Fans, right?
Here’s the truth: I could do that. I could live on that money. I’d probably have to depend on 2.5K mostly-true-occasionally-false fans, but I’m still living on the advance money Random House started paying me in 2008, okay? I live cheap. I have no car, no cell phone, no new clothes, no new glasses…
Oh, wait, that part sucks. Anyway, I’m cheap as hell, I don’t need much money, and I could make that work, right?
Yes. Yes, I could. But you know what? That would be another year of not making my goal. That would be another year of working on a series that didn’t get me where I want to be. Every Twenty Palaces book I’ve written has sold fewer than the one before; do I want to keep going after fewer and fewer readers every year?
Several people have suggested that I could get new readers with a Kickstarter campaign, but I don’t consider that realistic. Take a look at these guys: their campaign has been fantastically successful. At the time I write this, they’re over 11,000% of their goal. However, they have fewer than 8,500 backers.
That’s huge for a Kickstarter but Circle of Enemies sold more copies than that and it’s considered a failure. When I look at fiction projects run by novelists, especially ones who are more successful than I am, the number of backers is usually in the low-three figures.
So no, a Kickstarter campaign won’t bring in new readers. It would sure please the readers I already have, though, and you know what? I want that. Wanting to be read by hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world includes the people who already know and like my work. I’m grateful for everyone willing to buy a copy of my books or to recommend Ray Lilly to their friends.
But to stay with Twenty Palaces when I know the reading public at large–not just the ones who enjoy my work, but the wide audience–has rejected it would be to never move beyond my starting point. It would mean standing in this small safe place. I would be giving up the chance to grow and try something new.
If I were a different writer–someone who could put out 20,000 finished words a week–I’d write Ray Lilly books alongside whatever new things I came up with. I can’t do that. I’m not prolific. It has to be one thing at a time with me.
I just can’t get past the opportunity cost. Twenty Palaces novels are challenging: each one took me a year or more to write, and you know what? I’m not young. Look up at that third paragraph; did I say I wanted to be the next EL James or JK Rowling? Nope, it was “Stephen King.”
Because I’m old. Life is short, and I need to spend my years wisely.
So here’s my plan: I have already written a book in The Auntie Mame Files which needs to be revised. I’ve also written about 200K of The Great Way, which is the series name for my epic fantasy. Everything I’ve written so far has been aimed at publication through New York. Yeah, I know it’s possible (maybe not likely, but possible) to make more money by publishing books myself, but more money isn’t enough. I want more readers, too.
If I Kickstart or self-publish a new novel, it will be one of those books.
I won’t be returning to the Twenty Palaces setting until I’m honest-to-god successful. It’s only when I have, say, 100,000 eager readers buying my books that I’ll reintroduce 20P to see if the series can find new life.
So that’s it: the final word. I could self-publish or Kickstart The Twisted Path, but it’s not going to happen until after I succeed with something else. If you liked the Twenty Palaces books, I hope you’ll like the next thing I write. If not, that’s cool, too.
But please don’t argue with me about continuing the series, or try to explain to me what Kickstarter is, or insist that yes, in fact, truly, it would be the right move for me to write The Twisted Path next. The series is dead. It was starved of sales and died. I won’t be trying to revive it anytime soon.
Sorry if you’re disappointed by that–believe me when I say it hurts me even more–but that’s how it’s gotta be.
Added: As if he used his powers as SFWA president to read this unfinished blog post, John Scalzi put up a terrific post about writing for a living. It’s not just an art, it’s a job, too, and we all have to make realistic choices.
Plus, I’m convinced the dude has installed spyware on my computer or used a time machine to read this post in the future and then come back and pre-empt it. Hmf.
I recommend reading his thoughts on the matter, plus the comments from other pros in the comments. As an addendum: keep in mind that, looking at the numbers in this post, where he’s talking about the sales figures of Redshirts, John Scalzi, as successful as he is, has not yet reached the threshold I set myself for returning to 20P. Just sayin’