The SPFBO Bump(?): Contests and Book Sales

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A little over a week ago, the final results of the SPFBO (Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off) competition came in. In case you didn’t know, The Way into Chaos was a finalist, but in the end I landed squarely in the middle. Sixth place, in fact.

Sixth isn’t so terrible, although the structure of the contest means that my book was certainly not the sixth best of all 300. (If you already know know how SPFBO works, skip the next paragraph.)

SPFBO is pretty straight forward: They have ten blogger-reviewers and 300 self-published fantasy novels to split between them. Each reviewer picks one finalist from their allotment of 30. Then each reviewer rates each finalist, and the books are ranked according to the average of their reviews.

When TWiC was made a finalist back in November, there were a number of people who thought another book deserved the spot. Readers’ tastes are idiosyncratic–mine certainly is–so the idea of a “best” book doesn’t really fit.

Anyway, SPFBO was founded by bestselling author Mark Lawrence. Here’s what he had to say about it:

From:

Mission statement:
The SPFBO exists to shine a light on self-published fantasy. It exists to find excellent books that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. It exists to help readers select, from the enormous range of options, books that have a better chance of entertaining them than a random choice, thereby increasing reader faith in finding a quality self-published read.

If you read the rest of that page, you can see Mark is up front about the idea of a “best” book. The most we can hope for is an intersubjective consensus, of sorts.

My question is this: Did readers “find” my book when it was named as a finalist? By which I mean: Did I get a bump in sales from SPFBO?

To simplify things, I’m only going to look at Kindle sales. I do list the books on B&N and Kobo and the rest, and there is an overpriced POD edition (which is redundant, but that’s how it works) that I plan to cancel soon, but all together they make up about one-tenth the sales on Kindle, and the trends match, so I’m going to simplify things by only talking about the Kindle store.

Let’s look first at the historical trends. Keep in mind that these are only sales of The Way into Chaos. The other books in the series are not included.

The Way into Chaos Kindle sales

Sales for The Way into Chaos under Kindle’s “Historical” tab

(Stupid Preview, putting a box around that one piece of text for no reason I can see.)

By way of explanation: The Way into Chaos was the first book of a trilogy, and I released book 2 and book 3 approximately 30 days apart, which I’d been told was a good strategy for ebook sales. Besides, all the books were finished because I had Kickstarter backers to please, so why wait? “Key/Egg” refers to A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark, the pacifist urban fantasy that I delivered as a stretch goal.

You can’t see the bar graph for the month that the SPFBO finalists were announced because I sold fewer than two dozen copies that month. There was a very slight uptick in sales for Nov and Dec 2017, but the numbers were small enough that they could have been statistical noise.

That’s not what I’d call a bump.

What about the announcement of the winning book, which included cover art for all the finalists and their rankings?

The Way into Chaos sales covering winner announcement

The Way into Chaos sales covering winner announcement

That didn’t do it, either. I think you can see why I’m only posting numbers for book one in the series. I’d hoped that a bump in sales for the start of the trilogy would have carried over to books two and three, but there was no bump, and therefore no carry.

I imagine that Rob J. Hayes, who won the top spot with Where Loyalties Lie, saw a noticeable sales bump. I’d be curious to see what effect the contest had for him. Readers (including me) respond much more strongly to enthusiastic reviews than they do to mediocre ones.

And TWiC received a number of middling reviews: one reviewer doesn’t like books with fighting and politics. Another did the “No, really!” snark thing, but no one snarks on a book they genuinely enjoy. And all that goes back to what I wrote at the top, which is that the bloggers’ responses were very personal, just like in any contest.

Also of interest is this take, from an author who did not make the finals but feels he got tremendous value from it. For him, the real benefit came from the community that has sprung up around the contest.

Which is great for him, but that community is on Facebook, and I walked away from FB years ago for all the reasons that people do. I still have a (friendless) account because some readers want to follow me there and I need an account to maintain a page, but I rarely look at it. Joining a Facebook community wouldn’t make sense for me.

Besides, my life already has too much social media in it. What I need to be doing is cutting back, not adding more.

I post this not to complain or criticize. The book has already sold quite well, and hitting 7858 units sold in the first six months–only counting the Kindle–is pretty good. In fact, it’s better than some books released by traditional publishers. For comparison, in its first six months, The Twisted Path only sold 1,957 copies. That’s not terrible, but it was also a long-awaited sequel to my most popular series. So TWiC has done pretty well.

The reason I post all of this is to put as much information into the world as possible. Nihil veritas erubescit.

Anyway, SPFBO 2018 is already running and full up on submissions. But while it’s too late to enter, it’s a good time to follow along, find some great new books to read, and maybe join a new community. If you’re on Facebook, that is.

[Update] Author Rob J Hayes, who claimed the top spot in SPFBO 2017, had this to say on reddit:

It’s hard to say exactly what effect SPFBO has had on sales of Where Loyalties Lie because it was only released a couple of weeks before the blog off started last year. Since then its sales have been steady most months with large bumps both when it was announced as a finalist, and an even larger bump just recently when it won.

So there is a bump! Maybe I didn’t get one because a) I didn’t place high enough or b) I wasn’t part of the Facebook community or c) both.

Also, lol at “willing to put in the work”

Young Men in Groups

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I noticed this a couple of weeks ago and I tried to put off a response until my interest in it fell away. It hasn’t. Therefore:

It started with this tweet from Chuck Wendig:

If you click on that and read the whole thread, skip the rest of this paragraph. But basically, there are a bunch of right wing Star Wars fans who have decided the movie series has to be one of the many fronts in the culture war, and they imagine they have the power to tank a movie’s box office through shitposting.

And then there’s the guys who think that targeted harassment against the women who star in these movies–harassment that causes them to shut down their social media–is some kind of victory for men. Especially if the women are not white women.

It reminds me of something I read a very long time ago and never forgot. It was so long ago that I’ve forgotten the source, but it stuck with me: it’s that the most dangerous people you are likely to meet on the street are young men traveling in groups.

As a writer of thriller/action/violence and such, I’ve spent a fair amount of time searching for good books on the subject. They’re surprisingly rare. (I can recommend (with affiliate links) two good ones, if you’re interested. One. Two.) But you can usually find a worthwhile nugget or two in any book.

The reason young men in groups are especially dangerous, according to this long-forgotten author, is that to the men in the group, the victim almost doesn’t matter. The victim is beside the point. The real reason the men in the group want to do violence is to impress the other members. They want to prove themselves. To push things a little farther.

In the book, the technique the author proposed to head off the confrontation was to look one member of the group in the eye–not the one directly in front of you, but one standing back a little–and say something like “You know this is wrong.” Basically, to shame them into breaking the cycle of competition so they would move on.

It seems to me that part (not all, but part) of what’s going on in these RW hate campaigns is a similar dynamic. It was certainly the case with GooberGate, where young men were competing to be the most outrageous shit head, and for all the notoriety that went with it. The victim didn’t matter to them except as a trophy to show off to their friends. What mattered was attention from others in your group.

And when you’re online, a victim can’t look someone in the eye and shame them. That has to happen in real life, because that online connection will never be as strong as the connection to their group.

For example, check out this article about an incel who left the online incel community. Is it body dimorphism for him to believe he’s too ugly to ever get a girlfriend? He looks like a perfectly normal guy, but maybe he doesn’t feel like one. He says he didn’t approve of violent talk in those incel communities, but he thought they were dark humor.

I’m glad to say that Mr. Former Incel had a chance to meet people in real life who looked him in the eye and made him realize he already knew it was wrong. Instead of chiding other incels who fantasized about violence, he walked away.

There will always be a certain percentage of any particular group of abusers who are psychopaths or sadists. They hurt people because they like it and they can’t be shamed into changing. But the people around them, who see that viciousness as a kind of strength, emulate them so they can feel strong, too. Those followers can be cut away, but it’s not easy. And I have no idea how it can be done in online spaces.

“I don’t want to be what they made me.” A Review of Jessica Jones S2

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When I finished watching the second season of Jessica Jones (the first time through) I tweeted this:

Now that I’ve seen it all the way through three times does my opinion still hold up?

Yep!

Spoilers! Continue reading

Randomness for 2/21

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1) Longest-standing video game record declared ‘impossible,’ thrown out after 35 years (update)

2) “She wrote it but…” Revisiting Joanna Russ 35 Years Later.

3) All 288 reported concussions of the 2017 NFL season in one video clip.

4) Single Mothers Are Not The Problem.

5) Why We Love Tyrants, according to psychoanalysts

6) What’s the longest train route in the world? Video.

7) Criminals impersonate authors on Amazon to launder their money.

Win Free Books

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Anyone following my blog knows that The Way into Chaos is a finalist in the SPFBO, the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off. If you know what that is, you can skip the rest of this paragraph. If not, it’s a contest where 300 self-published fantasy novels are split among 10 review bloggers. Each picks one standout for the final round, then all ten reviewers read the finalists and rate them. The book with the highest score wins the blog off.

Well, the finalists have been chosen, and for a limited time, you can enter to win all ten. Just drop a comment, with some sort of contact info, here.

Hey, free books! And if you’ve meant to try some indie novels, this is your chance.

Podcast Review of The Way into Chaos, and an interview with the author

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… Who happens to be me.

The podcast is right here. Podbean. iTunes.

I listened to part of it last night. At one point, I brought my son into the room, played about fifteen seconds’ worth, and said: “Is this how I sound in real life?”

Him: “Yeah, Dad. That’s you.”

Me: “It’s a miracle your mother ever gave me the time of day.”

Him: “Yeah, Dad.”

So, check it out. I talk about the successes and failures of Twenty Palaces, the various seeds that became The Great Way, and a number of other things.

Apparently, I talk earnestly about my work, and am honest and open. Which is how people should be, I think, if they’re going to put a microphone in front of their faces and recording the things they say. Otherwise, what’s the point of making speech noises?

SPFBO, The Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off

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Have you guys heard of this?

Author Mark Lawrence, in an attempt to help self-publishing authors publicize their work, created a Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off. The system is simple: He recruited ten reviewers with blogs, solicited 300 fantasy novels from self-published authors, and distributed them. Each reviewer picks one out of their 30 to move to the finals. Then the reviewers choose a winner.

The Way into Chaos is one of those finalists.

The winner gets an award, but most importantly, a publicity boost, which is a big hurdle for self-published work. Last year’s winner also landed a publishing deal with Orbit.

So, if you’ve been thinking you’d love to try some indie fantasy but don’t know where to start, snag one of these finalists (right after you read mine).

Speaking of snagging one of mine, did you know that I’m trying to revive my Twenty Palaces series with a new novella that picks up where Circle of Enemies left off? Grab a copy today.

Where Things Stand with The Twisted Path after One Whole Day

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Let’s see:

The Twisted Path has its permanent reference post up on my blog. I also added the cover art to the front page in the Twenty Palaces section. (That felt good.)

I posted a download link for Patreon supporters, and sent messages to patrons who quit the service after their quickly reverted rate changes.

At nine-thirty-ish last night, I started sending out the newsletter announcing the book was available. As I type this at about three o’clock the next afternoon, it’s going to be another eight and a half hours before they finish sending. (To prevent throttling by my ISP, they go out at a rate of only 50/hr) So far, only four unsubscribes, which is pretty good considering it’s been a year and a half since the last one.

The first Goodreads and Amazon reviews have appeared. I’ve sent a copy to someone who may post a review on a high-traffic site (fingers crossed). I’ve sent a copy to Booklife, who gave The Way into Chaos a starred review and will maybe consider reviewing this one.

For the moment, the Amazon sales rank is below 1800, which is a very nice place to be.

In the reference post mentioned above, I reminded folks about the Twenty Palaces novelette “The Homemade Mask”, which was part of my short fiction collection. I thought I hit the 20P connection pretty hard back in 2014 when it came out, but in today’s sudden surge of new sales, about 10% have been the collection. The frontlist drives the backlist, I guess.

I also realized that I’ve spelled “The Homemade Mask” many different ways, including “The Hand Made Mask” at least once. Oops.

iBooks keeps kicking back the files I upload, giving me impenetrable error codes that are deciphered by Apple support through an exchange of emails. Not exactly timely.

B&N have finally posted the book for sale, but as of two seconds ago, without the cover. If I look at all the books written by people with my name, the cover art is there. If I click and go to the dedicated page, it’s “Image not available.” And email has been sent on that issue, too.

Did I mention that Nook has the most infuriating ebook uploading system? Worse even than iBooks. Centered text isn’t centered, and if you go into their manuscript editing section and manually set the text to be centered, it still isn’t centered. Have internal art? Set the size to very small and watch nothing happen. The world needs more skilled coders because the ones we have are making my blood pressure shoot through the roof.

Smashwords remains hilariously demanding for the amount of sales it provides. I’m not reading a fucking style guide for a couple of dozen sales. The epub is fine. Just accept it.

Amazon remains the center of book sales, and an odd duck. I uploaded the file from my own author page, but the book isn’t connected with my other works yet. I had to ask for that to be done separately, and it should take a few days. I’m also not sure how well the new book is connected to the rest of the series. I listed it as the fourth 20P in the information page as I was uploading it, but it doesn’t show. I also just noticed that the paper version of the prequel novel, Twenty Palaces, is listed as part of the series, but the Kindle edition is not.

Also, in the past I refused to give Amazon permission to sell my books in Mexico, India, Japan, and Brazil. Those are big markets, but unless you sell exclusively through Amazon, they won’t take a 30% sales commission. Instead, they take 65%. I’d rather not sell in those markets than be leaned on for a sixty-fucking-five percent commission, but the book wouldn’t publish unless I signed up for them. Which is annoying. Wish I could opt out.

In the middle of all this, I tucked my 27″ iMac into a canvas bag and took a bus out to the Apple store to get them to repair a dead ethernet plug. In the end, dude fixed it by rebooting and holding down a special combination of keys that reset the peripherals. Voila, the ethernet appeared in my network preferences again. Which meant I spent two hours, three-quarters of that on a bus, to do something I could have googled up at home. Go me.

Thank you to everyone posting reviews, talking about it on social media, dropping notes on reddit, and spreading the word in places I don’t even know about. Your enthusiasm is what makes this work.

Now to wrestle with iBooks again.

Bringing It Home: a followup to last post

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For the last few years, I’ve been putting more and more of my thoughts into Twitter threads, and it’s time to pull back from that. The people on Twitter are great, except for the ones who aren’t, but the company is a parade of fail. What’s more, it’s all so ephemeral. If I write about a Star Wars reboot on my blog, it’s always available to me when the subject comes up. If I put it Twitter, it falls into the memory hole before the day is out.

So, more posts in spaces I own.

This is probably a terrible decision, considering how little traffic I get. But I’ve been on Twitter for seven years. That’s a lot of bullshit to type out, and a lot of time to waste. It’s time I reclaimed time, if you know what I mean.

And as a followup to my last post, remember how I said I was working on a 20P novella? I just turned it over to my agent.

At the moment, I’m as free as a bird to watch creature features and daydream a new project. And I have a tall glass of celebratory bourbon beside me.

Happy Tuesday, you guys.

The Harry Potter Novels, by Robert Galbraith

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[First, because just this morning I met someone who didn’t know: “Robert Galbraith” is the pen name JK Rowling uses for her private investigator novels.]

Hey, check out this tweet from more than a month ago, which is part of a longer thread that’s worth looking at. And by “longer” I mean it’s a handful of tweets that you can read in under a minute.

The real issue here is: “Backstories: are they interesting or fun?”

If you like private eye novels (and like Rowling, I do) the answer is obviously yes. They’re full of secrets and tragic pasts, and the denouement is dependent on uncovering every relevant truth. It’s a narrative about discovering a hidden narrative.

I mentioned before that I binged all the Harry Potter movies for my birthday; yesterday, I finished the last book.

Fantasy novels have long delved into the past to address the narrative present. How often do the characters in Lord of the Rings talk about Isildur, who died approximately 3,000 years before the events of the novels? (That’s a rhetorical question, by the way) The Others are returning to Westeros after eight thousand years, blah blah blah. Both books touch on recent history, but it’s political history, not the stories of ordinary folks.

But the Harry Potter novels, like great detective novels, are about personal history, which is why so many of the characters are given space to explicate their past. Harry even takes time in the lull of a battle to delve into Snape’s memories. He hated Snape through seven books, but when the time came he had to stop and uncover the man’s secrets, he did. And of course, in the scene in King’s Cross, Dumbledore spills his own family tragedy for Harry’s edification.

I can understand why readers wouldn’t like it. Years ago, when Veronica Mars was getting all the buzz, a science fiction writer of some prestige decided to give it a try. She was horrified by the way Veronica dug into everyone’s lives. We even got to read a “Don’t kids these days…” rant about privacy.

But that misses the point. Rowling clearly has a love for personal history and personal tragedy. Yeah, the books changed as the series progressed, becoming more mature along with the readers, but the latter books’ digressions into characters’ secrets was already there in the stories of James, Sirius, Remus, and Peter in book three and the flashbacks to Hagrid’s expulsion and Myrtle’s death in book two.

Which is a rather long-winded way of saying that some of us out here love it and wish we could see more.

As a further note, having finished the books, I have to say that it’s ridiculous to think that Harry should have fallen in love with Hermione over Ginny. People, please.