December is upon us. May your yule logs be nestled in sugarplum wreaths! My own yuletide is high right now, as I have recently unleashed a new book upon the world. Critical Failures IV: The Phantom Pinas is currently the #1 bestselling book on Amazon's Comedy list.
Do you know what that means? For the time being, I am the funniest motherfucker IN THE WORLD!
As you might imagine, I'm very excited about that. I've been in the #1 position before, but it's always been during a particularly successful promotion. This is the first time I've hit #1 simply by releasing a new book.
What's even more exciting, however, is how well my other books are currently doing. Let's zoom out on that screenshot a bit...
That's me owning half of the top 10 Comedy spot on Amazon. Guts and Volts is also a new release, and cheap, which accounts for it being so high on the list, but Critical Failures I, II, and III have all been out for a while, and have been lurking nearer the bottom half of the top 20 in recent months.
I've been doing pretty well in the Fantasy charts as well. This also marks the first time I've been listed among Amazon's Top 100 Fantasy Authors without the aid of a promotion. I peaked at #62.
Have I invited you here just to marvel at my narcissism? No... not just.
I'd like to share with you some more lessons I've learned on this bumpy road of self-publishing.
1. You don't need to be a rock star to make a living at this.
In my research for this post, I came across Kevin Kelly's article on 1,000 True Fans. It makes the point I was going for much more articulately than I can, so go read that. I'll wait.
One point I will add, specific to self-publishing books on Amazon, is that when you have enough True Fans, and release a new book, those True Fans will shoot your new release into the Stratosphere of your particular Amazon genre lists. This gets you noticed, and potentially gets you more True Fans.
The word "enough" is key here. I didn't see this kind of surge in rankings when I released CF2 or CF3, or any of my short stories. But it's been over a year since the release of CF3, and I've picked up a significant amount of likes on my Facebook page in that time. I've always read that the best promotion you can run is releasing a new book. It's taken some time, but I've finally found the truth in that. Write them books!
2. You don't need to be a particularly good writer.
The Da Vinci Code didn't become the huge mega-bestseller it did because of Dan Brown's amazing literary skills. But he carpet bombed that shit with riddles and puzzles and interesting (if not always accurate) little factoids.
Twilight is fucking atrocious. But it appealed to millions of dull young girls who wanted to feel special.
Frozen is an objectively terrible film, but it's got some catchy songs and some stunning animation, and kids are stupid.
What I'm saying is that while the quality of your writing is certainly important, it isn't everything. You need to be offering something special though, and to the right groups of people.
No one is ever going to suffer whiplash jerking their head back in awe of my literary genius. My books are never going to be studied by university students. I expect some students will fail their literature classes and drop out of college because they were reading my books instead of the shit they were supposed to be reading.
My advantages are that I write comedy, and that my target audience is gamers.
Writing comedy is an advantage because if you can make someone laugh, like really laugh, they'll be more forgiving of your sometimes substandard prose.
Writing for gamers is an advantage because gamers gather in groups and talk about gaming shit. And quite often, gamers will belong to more than one gaming group, and news spreads like disease. My books are a plague on the nerd world.
3. Your blogs can help you more than you know.
I've written about why it's important for writers to keep a blog before. But here's another thing I've just realized. If you blog often enough, about enough random shit, sooner or later you may find you strike a chord. And you never know which topic is going to do it. Of all the self-publishing blog posts I've written which I thought were helpful, my two most successful posts (measured in number of views) have been the one I wrote about douchebag expats in Korea, and last week's post about using profanity in your writing.
These weren't topics I expected people to go apeshit about. I don't even consider them two of my most well-written blog posts. But that only goes to show that I don't know dick about what people are going to react to, and so it behooves me to keep writing these blog posts every week.
Each new post nets me a couple of new likes on my Facebook page. I imagine some of those people also go on to buy my books. Those likes add up over time. And when it comes time to mobilize your True Fans in the event of a special promotion or new release... go back and read entry 1.
4. There's only so far your reach can spread until your work lands in some big hands.
"Big Hands" is a Korean expression similar to "movers and shakers". I already had most of this blog post written out yesterday, and this wasn't an entry I'd considered, but yesterday turned out to be an interesting day.
I woke up to a message in my inbox via the Caverns and Creatures website from Chris Prynoski, who runs the animation studio that makes Venture Bros. (He's a gamer. See Entry 2.) He was in Seoul on business, and had read Critical Failures on the plane ride over. At the end of the book, in the "About the Author" section, he discovered that I lived in Korea, and so he decided to write me.
He and his producer met me in Seoul and bought me beer. It was a good time.
Contrary to what you might expect of me, I did not, in fact, immediately start humping his leg and begging him to make a Critical Failures animated series. We talked about stuff. I asked them questions about the animation industry in general, and a bunch of questions about my own favorite cartoons, and they asked me about my books.
Ben, the producer, asked me about the challenges I faced as a self-published author reaching an audience. I told him some of the same stuff I've been talking about in the previous three entries, and the stuff I talked about in my "You Suck at Everything" post, and my "Spamming Your Shit on Twitter" post. One thing I neglected to mention was this:
When some big players in the animation industry write to tell you they're in Seoul on business and have a day off, you get your ass in the car and drive to Seoul.