Rambling about Sales and Reviews

In light of King Maker having been released overseas, there are two questions I’m being asked more often these days:  1) how’s the book doing (saleswise)? 2) what have the reviews been like?

Don’t get me wrong, most times when folks ask me “how’s the book doing?” it’s been out of a sense of them pulling for my success.  (In a weird way, it’s like when pastors are asked “how big is your congregation?”  Rather than me finding it akin to asking them to whip theirs out so we can measure it, it’s more of a way to start a conversation.  And, wow, it’s early in my blog post to go for such a digression.)  Same thing with reviews; thing is, in both cases, my answer is the same:  “don’t know, don’t want to know.”

And now a more strict parsing of that answer can begin.

In the case of my sales figures, I’m not interested in the numbers just yet.  Yet is the key word.   I figure the accounting of things will be months in the accruing of data.  My sales figures only matter to me in two instances.  The first is when it’s time to calculate if I’ve earned out my royalties and can take another step towards being able to live off my writing income (contrary to popular belief, once you sign a book deal, you aren’t automatically risk.  Of course, I may or may not be writing this blog post from my bed of money, but my wife won’t let me have a webcam, so you’ll never know.  Granted, she’s more concerned about how much time I spend walking about in my underwear and she fears teh interwebz just aren’t ready for that. SKIN TO WIND!!! And now the count begins for just how many random digressions I can do in one blog post.).  Plus, I’m especially interested in how the book does in England, where it was released first, vs how it does in America, where it will be released in 2010.  That’s going to take a while to get that kind of information and I’m pretty patient when it comes to that sort of stuff.  Usually too patient.  (NOT TO BE READ THAT I DON’T CARE, O GREAT AND LOOMING PUBLISHERS WHO READ MY BLOG!).

That being said, the real reason I don’t want to know:  I don’t want to be one of those authors who obsess over my numbers.  I remember how bad I was when I found statcounter programs/sites to measure my blog.  Oh man, how many hours did I while away watching the ebb and flow of the numbers.  (Don’t think I didn’t think of taping bacon to my kids, taking pictures, and making a blog post about it.  Eat that, Scalzi!)

At this point I’m wondering when Apex will pull the plug on my random ranting.  Still here?  I’ll continue.

There is something similar in play with reviews.  On the one hand, I often say that I don’t really care what most folks think.  As with most things, there’s truth and something less than truthful in that statement.  While all critics aren’t created equal, writers are needy little creatures in constant need of validation.  Buying plenty of copies of my work is speaking my love language (even if I won’t know how much you love me that way for a while.  Delayed love is sometimes the best love.  And OMG, can I quit with these parenthetical digressions?!?).  Lavish praise is nice.  It also has the benefit of being painless.

Thing is, I enjoy when people engage with my work.  I like to see what they took from my work over how well the work went over.  I’ll give you two examples (if I were a smart Apex blogger, I’d probably use a review for my Apex novella, Orgy of Souls, though a link to some of those reviews may have to suffice.  I guess I should at some point work in my other Apex project, Dark Faith, and its reviews.  People liked my story for Apex Magazine, Pimp My Airship, btw, but none of these suit the point I want to make.  And at this point, I officially need a parenthetical asides support group):

-of the reviews of my novella, Devil’s Marionette (Shroud Books), the review that really stood out to me was Michele Lee’s.  “Yet despite this immersive, and painfully open experience of being each character as hundreds of years of hatred and racism crushes down on them, the reader is left with the same feeling as someone who witnesses something beautiful or terribly in a quiet woods. It’s almost as if this pain is clear and known, but we are not supposed to speak of it, or even admit that we know it’s there.”  Okay, admittedly, this is exactly the effect I was going for in the novella.  So when I see my work have the desired effect, I’m filled with a joy so great, I have to run out and get a pedicure.  But even if Michele had loathed the book, I loved that she wrestled with it.

-ditto some of the King Maker reviews.  There are two I REALLY enjoyed and one was from a review who didn’t like the book.  The first praises the book (and has my favorite line “It would be wrong of me to say “I liked this book” in the same way it would be wrong to say “I like drugs / gang warfare” due to the very nature of the subject matter but in my mind a book like this isn’t there to be “liked”, it’s there to be consumed, appreciated, inwardly digested and above all to make you think, to open your perceptions.”).  The second … not so much a fan, but it is the best “bad” review I’ve ever read.

I do have an actual point and it involves why I’m done reading reviews of King Maker … at least for a while.  Books one and two, King’s Justice, are “in the can”, but I’m still writing (agonizing/procrastinating from/filled with writerly angst about) the final book in the trilogy, King’s War.  Reviews play in your head, good or bad.  You have to develop a thick skin for them, neither living nor dying by them.  And sometimes you may feel compelled to argue with the reviewer, especially if they “don’t get it.”  Whether or not one should argue with reviewers is a blog for another time (the short answer is “no” – and I’ve gotten a few of those “You don’t get it” responses from folks I’ve reviewed negatively).  It’s tough enough getting the story out without having to worry about pleasing everyone (especially if some of their issues are how I structure the story or its voice.  Well, that ship has sailed, so I will continue to annoy you in this trilogy).

Hmm … looks like I could have actually done this blog in about two lines: 1) I don’t want to obsess about sales just yet and 2) don’t let reviews play in your head.  But where would the fun be in that?

Pimping “Pimp My Airship”

You people don’t take me seriously when I tell you that my Twitter is basically just the gibberish that floats through my head during the sitcom written by drunken leprechauns that I call my life. Anyway, a few months back, I make this tweet: “I’m thinking about writing a Steampunk story with all black characters and calling it ‘Pimp My Airship’.”

I forget that editors actually read me. And that they might want to see the story.

Which means I actually had to write it.

It has finally found a home. The August issue of Apex Magazine features my story. You can go read it now. There are two possible scenarios as to how my story found a publication home …

(cue the harp flashback sound …)

I submitted the story to an anthology, but the editor decided that the story was so good that it demanded a bigger market. So that editor called Jason Sizemore and the thought of having a chance to publish me was what spurred him to pull Apex Magazine out of the mothballs to give my story the audience it deserved.

Or …

I found myself looking through the list of pro paying markets, saw that Apex had re-opened, debated whether I wanted to put myself through another round of being Sizemored (the official term for the editorial process he puts stories through when they aren’t quite up to his delicate standards), decided the pay was worth it, and took a leap.

I prefer to be the hero in my story, so I’m choosing to remember the first version. (Okay, the careful observer might note that I’m the hero in both). I probably would get a lot further in this business if I’d quit making fun of editors who publish me …

Anyway, go read the story. I’d love to hear what you think.*

I SUPPOSE I ought to mention who else is in this issue:
Kenny 149″ by Brad Becraft
Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast” by Eugie Foster
and even a bit of non-fiction: “Game Fiction: Why It Works (and Why It Doesn’t)” by Monica Valentinelli

Here are a full set of links to buy the new issue:
DriveThruSciFi (ePub) — DriveThruSciFi (PDF)
Amazon (Kindle)
Apex Book Store (Print)

REVIEWS:

The Internet Review of Science Fiction: Alternate history/steampunk. America is part of the Albion Empire and slavery has been abolished but “those of an African bloodline” have been relegated to the drug-pacified undercities, where Sleepy and Knowledge Allah are involved in a plan to liberate their imprisoned brothers, led by an inventive co-conspirator, Deaconess Blues.

Entertaining mix of steampunk and revolutionary rhetoric, evoking the bygone days of the Black Power salute. Recommended

The Fix:

“Pimp My Airship” by Maurice Broaddus is an alternate-reality steampunk piece with an African-American twist. Blacks and other minority groups live as nominally free citizens segregated into “undercities” in a Victorian-era America in which the Civil War never took place. Despite the government’s efforts to control the population through the widespread availability of narcotics, a movement for revolt is rising. And a daring but unlikely trio will provide its spark.

This piece feels a little pulpy for my taste. Despite the gaslights and dirigible, I’ve read or seen this story before many times. Its focus on non-white protagonists is laudable, but I was disappointed in the flatness of its characters: the “loser” protagonist who finds he has more inside than he knew, the self-sacrificing mentor, and the beautiful and brilliant token woman to round out the trio. This piece feels like it should have been longer, or part of a larger work. Perhaps if it were, the longer narrative could provide time for more nuanced character development and a deeper understanding of the social milieu in which the characters find themselves.

*Not really. I’ve already been paid and that’s the only critique that really matters to me.**

**I’d probably get more fans if I’d quit being so openly antagonistic to them …