Well, that was fast:

Now that’s a good-lookin’ book. That is a book you can make out with. I’m especially fond of the rocket-ship in the M-Brane logo. And like people say, there’s something special about holding a physical book that’s got your writing inside. But wait.. what about the back?

The poor image quality is my fault. If you can’t read it, it says “A snippet from Ed’s story is being used to sell this book, bitches.” Now that’s a good feeling.

Last night I sold “On the Reproductive Habits of Elves” to Sorcerous Signals, a fantasy magazine. The story will appear in May.

Sorcerous Signals is a smaller magazine, but I like their contributor-payment model. There’s a token upfront payment. Nothing special. But at the end of each story, there’s a PayPal donate button, and if enough donations are received to recoup the expenses of the magazine (just about every magazine but a few of the pros is run out of the editors’ pockets), 75% of the extra contributions are divvied up among the writers (and, I think, the artist).

Is it likely I’ll end up seeing more money from this? Probably not. The ratio of readers : readers who donate can’t be very high anywhere, and I expect the vast bulk of donations would run in the $1-5 range. But I think it’s a really, really smart thing to try. If a story ends up getting a lot of attention, there’s at least the opportunity for the magazine and the writer to be compensated. This is the sort of thing more markets should be trying. Ads and subscription fees have their place, but if you want to attract writers, you have to find a way to pay them. As a writer, I sent this story to Sorcerous Signals because they’re trying to make that happen. I’ll probably walk away from this with no more than enough to buy a meal. But the fact they’re taking a shot, that’s what won me over.

There’s almost no resistance to this particular concept, either–like a story? Well, you don’t have to try to hunt down the author’s email and contact them about sending them a check, which would feel kind of weird if you stop to think about it. Just click on this button and type in a dollar amount. Thank you very much, kind sir or lady-sir.

“On the Reproductive Habits of Elves,” by the way, was spurred by an idea I had while watching The Lord of the Rings: why can elves live so long but have so few children? What biological arrangement would lead to that outcome? A while later, I thought of a way to explore that conundrum dramatically, sat down at the keyboard, and voila. Find out the answer in a couple months.

Yesterday I got some terribly exciting news: AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review accepted one of my stories.

Right, the same new magazine that pays professional rates. Getting published in prozines is, for people in my position, the ongoing quest: they pay a lot. Because they pay a lot, they get a lot of great stories. Because they get a lot of great stories, they get a lot of readers. And, once they’ve been around for a year, placing a story with them makes you eligible for the Science Fiction Writers of America. As an Associate member, yeah. But who doesn’t want to associate? Nobody, that’s who.

Oh, and it makes for a pretty great credit, too.

AE just started up a couple months ago, but they’ve already run some pretty great stories. I’m flattered to join them. They’re the level of market I’ve focused the last year trying to crack.

By strange coincidence, not two hours after I got the great news, I got the bad news too: Reflection’s Edge has shut down for the indeterminate future. Maybe forever. Apparently they posted notice last Halloween. I’ve been so busy dragging this house into the 21st century I only learned this now.

RE was the first place to publish me. In all, they published three of my stories. Editor Sharon Dodge always took an active editorial presence and I learned a lot working with her. For writers, they had an incredibly fast turnaround time (usually 0-3 days!) and, if you could snag the $50 bonus for their favorite story of the issue, paid respectably. For readers, they published just about everything under the sun–bigger genres like SF, fantasy, and horror right alongside erotica, westerns, whatever. There weren’t a lot of magazines like it.

For me, there are none. Because they published me first. They proved to me people would pay for my fiction. It’s hard to say where I’d be without them or where I’ll be five or ten years from now, but the reason I just made a pro sale is I kept writing and I kept submitting. I’m pretty certain I’d have kept writing whether or not I made that first sale to RE. But in terms of the confidence and experience it takes to keep sending your work out when all anyone ever says is “No,” that sale made a huge difference to me.

I had hoped, one day when I was famous, to send Sharon another story.

I forget if I just write “[number]” or “#[number]” in these posts. Probably a sign I should blog more.

Fact remains, a few hours ago, one year ago, I sold another story to M-Brane SF (pardon HTML errors, I’m drunk on margarita shooters, an idea compliments of Farscape). It’s my first sale in a few months and is thus pretty cool. And, if you’re into the whole “dividing time into years thing,” it was my last sale of 2010, which was a moderately productive year.

I’ve got some resolutions in mind, but lack the sobreital capacity to declare them. More, perhaps, tomorrow; or, more likely, January 2, the day I plan to be able to continue functioning.

The Aether Age anthology is a shared world, part sci-fi, part alternate history. In the mists of prehistory, aliens have bequeathed us the printing press! Rome, Western Europe, and the United States will never exist. Instead, through their advanced learning and scientific progress, aided by a mysterious atmosphere that allows easy travel to the Moon, Mars, and elsewhere, the ancient nations of Greece, Egypt, China, and the Olmecs rule not just the past, but our future.

And I’ve got not one, but two stories in it. It is, as you may have picked up, a highly ambitious project, and I’m very curious to receive my copy and find out what everyone else has been up to in our little world.

The anthology’s available on Amazon here. More info on the Aether Age in general can be found on their site.

Got a new story, “Death Among the Grasseaters,” up at Big Pulp (hopefully permanent link here).

Unless I’m mistaken, and unless you want to split hairs about the nature of my other work, which I’d object to except for the fact that means you’re familiar with my entire ouvre, this is my first published horror story–though, as usual, it’s got some sci-fi action. Mild spoilers: I thought of this when I was standing on my porch brainstorming and thought to myself, “What if we were invaded by alien deer? No, wait, that’s moronic. Or wait again…brilliant?

Or possibly in between. It’s a somewhat unusual take on this type of story, though, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that contributed to its acceptance at Big Pulp. That reinforced my notion that, when it comes to short stories, no matter how questionable the idea, you should just write it and see what happens. At worst, you waste a couple weeks on something that just doesn’t work. At best, you make a sale.

A Dante and Blays story, “In the Veins of Arawn,” to Aoife’s Kiss. Should be out in the June 2011 issue.

This one’s kinda neat because it’s a print magazine. A true indie that’s been running for over 8 years now. The number of current print sci-fi/fantasy scenes that have been running for that long can’t number more than maybe 20? Excluding NYU’s literary magazine, this will mark the second time I’ve been in print (along with the upcoming Aether Age: Helios anthology). Well, other than the 80-odd movie reviews.

Also, this means I’ve got upcoming stories in the three main formats: online, hard copy, and podcast. It might be a while before that’s true again.

Available at Thaumatrope, the sci-fi/fantasy/horror Twitter-zine. The limitations of the format (140 characters, max) are pretty obvious, but people write some damn funny and interesting things for it nevertheless. And at this length, each word is crucial, loaded with meaning–just think if I’d changed the last word of my story to “wrong”!

Incidentally, this is, technically, the first time I’ve been paid pro rates for fiction (5 cents/word), but it doesn’t meet SFWA’s requirements for membership, as they have a $50 minimum payment. Still pretty cool, though.

Why isn’t this book selling? First, let’s rule out a few variables.

1) The writing blows goats.

As mentioned, I’ve already sold most of these stories somewhere. You know how hard it is to sell a single story, anywhere? Even to a market that pays the princely sum of $10? It’s pretty fucking hard! Even those markets reject 90-99% of the stories they see. They get a lot of material and only buy the stuff they really like. That doesn’t mean what they buy is the awesomest thing since dinosaurs fighting with shotguns, but it does imply a baseline quality. Either the writing or the story or both were enough to hook an editor who reads scores of stories a month. I’m not gonna get all “Kneel before Zod” here, but I’d put the writing in When We Were Mutants & Other Stories up against the average self-pubbed Kindle title no worries.

2) The packaging (title, description, cover art, etc.) is the blowful part.

The price is $1.99. That’s right in line with this market. Still, I’m dropping it to $0.99 to see if that changes anything.

Whatever else you might think of the book, you gotta admit that’s a sweet title.

I’ve written several hundred movie reviews in the last three years. I know how to write a hook. The description may not sell ice to a wampa, but it’s fine.

The cover art’s more subjective–it’s definitely not your run-of-the-mill “photograph of a hot chick with some huge sans serif text pasted over it”–but I happen to think it’s pretty damn cool. It’s eye-catching. It’s nontraditional, and maybe that’s turning people off, but I feel like it’s a great representation of the work.

3) I’m not a very talented whore.

I haven’t done a ton of self-promotion. This is true. But the places I’ve promoted it have been the right places. Result: nothing. I should send it out to some review blogs and see what happens there. I’m getting the impression recommendations from trusted sources are a big factor in selling unknown works. That, uh, may not be news to anyone.

Here’s some variables that might make a difference.

1) It’s a short story collection.

Konrath, and nearly all the self-pubbed authors I’ve seen, sell novels. Maybe people hate reading short stories. Maybe short stories threw sand in their faces as children. Maybe, for some reason, customers aren’t interested in buying them when there’s all these actual novels available just a click away. I could address that by listing a previous novel of mine and seeing how that does, but I’m kind of busy with this detailed dissection of a niche subject right now.

2) I’ve only got the one work available.

Konrath writes about success coming from “shelf space,” or having a number of different titles for readers to find, get engaged by, and scoop up the rest of your work. I think this is a really strong point, actually. Single-title self-pubbers may find it much more difficult than people with 3+ books online.

3) My fiction career doesn’t have much of a platform.

I suspect this might be the biggest fly in the ointment of selling your work to strangers. Thing is, if you’ve already got a decent chunk of readers, they’re not really strangers anymore. They’ll pick up your book on your recommendation. Suckers. These suckers, in turn, will recommend it to their friends and communities. Hooray! Sales!

I’ve actually got the opportunity to increase my platform here by a ways, which I intend to do just as soon as I’ve beaten The Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess again. Hyrule’s in danger, people.

Conclusions, Week One

Caveat: these are preliminary conclusions based on an initial week of data. That’s very little info, really. At this point, Shit Is Subject To Change.

I’m honestly not disappointed in these results. My expectations were low–people can’t shut up about ebooks these days, and I wanted to see for myself what it’s like to actually try to sell one.

However, it seems to me that ebooks do not, despite all buzz to the contrary, sell themselves. To achieve sales, you need either a preexisting readership or to do a lot of self-promotion. Again, this really isn’t news, but I mean you need that just to sell a copy. So far I could sell more books through bagpiping in the subway than by listing them on Kindle.

My initial suspicion is the amount of time you need to spend self-promoting is not going to be worth it. For authors seeking a career, that time is, in almost all cases, better spent writing, or at least pitching your writing to agents and editors. Because until you reach critical mass, you will have to keep pumping your own work All. The. Time. Self-promotion is a hydratic beast with an empty belly. It demands constant nourishment or it will eat you instead.

Well, possibly not, at least about the eating you part. Again, my opinions could change if the data does. But for now–and Konrath says this himself, to his credit, though possibly he should say it more often–the self-epubbing route is not a game-changer for those of us who aren’t already established. In fact, so far it resembles the bulk of my fiction career: a bushel of effort for a withered cherry of financial gain.

Well, maybe not. But you gotta have a catchy title to draw them in.

Joe Konrath, who writes novels under the name J.A. Konrath, is the leading light of self-publishing electronically. His ebooks are on pace to make him more than $100,000 this year. On Kindle alone. He’s done so well Amazon is publishing his next work. He blogs with great transparency about his sales and methods. Lest there be any confusion about what’s to follow, let the record state I think he’s a cool guy, and that it’s wildly awesome he’s been able to seize such a successful independent career.

I, like dozens, possibly thousands of others, was inspired to follow his lead. Last week, I uploaded a collection of my short stories to the Kindle store. I see it as a very low-risk, high-reward venture: I’ve already sold six of the eight stories here. The seventh was previously self-published as part of a charity event. The eight and titular story’s a strong one, but none of the major markets I submitted it to picked it up.

I probably could have sold that story to a smaller market, so my lost opportunity cost was $10-50. It took a few hours to format the text properly, and several hours more to cajole my sexy talented girlfriend into finishing the cover art. That’s it. I’m still seeking the normal route to publication for my sci-fi novel, The Roar of the Spheres.

You know how many copies of WWWM&OS I’ve sold so far to people I don’t know personally? Zero. None. As our friends south of the border would say, absolutamente nothing!!!

Yet I didn’t just post it and move on, like a fire-and-forget missile made out of words about wizards. I introduced When We Were Mutants & Other Stories on and did some light interaction. I introduced it in the proper section of the Amazon boards. I mentioned it here, and linked to it from the sidebar. Results: nothing.

Not quite the outcome I was expecting after reading up on Konrath’s blog.

Let’s be clear–I wasn’t expecting to be able to fund a wardrobe of gold top hats and sable-fur tighty-grayies off this, either. I would have been happy with $10 a month. Seriously. I hoped to repeat this with other collections down the road and build a small but steady income stream to supplement the other ways I make money, e.g. dancing on the sidewalk for nickels.

One week is not enough data to draw any strong conclusions over. It’s just another production of Small Sample Size Theatre. But so far, my experiment is showing me it’s not as easy as the self-epublishing all-stars make it out to be. I’ll plunge into analysis in my next post.

About Me

I am a Science Fiction and Fantasy author, based in LA. Read More.


My Book Genres