Understanding why my Book Crashed and Burned

This entry was originally posted in my old website, after Route 11 cancelled the re-release of The Flaming Wrath of Árelor.

The Flaming Wrath of Árelor, a book on which I have been working since 2007, was expected to be re-released this month as part of our marketing strategy. As most of my English speaking fans already know, the novel has gotten zero impact in practical terms. A poor marketing plan and a clumsy product presentation were considered to be at fault.

I recently got an email from Route 11 in which the chief publisher declared that they are not going to relaunch the book, nor take further actions for promoting it, until I have another novel to sell. We have talked about releasing a new title and using The Flaming Wrath of Árelor as a free hook for sucking readers into the new publication. In short, the publisher thinks The Flaming Wrath of Árelor is not able to stand by itself and it is worth nothing from the commercial point of view, out of being a support item for a real product.

Truth to be told, this seems to be the end of the road. I might soon follow up with an article detailing the economics of being a writer. Suffices to say that writing a book in Spanish and then translating it to English, while ensuring a high enough quality for the readers, is a daunting, expensive and time consuming task. You don’t create a firm lightly, you don’t publish a quality book lightly. Hence, the mere notion that I am expected to go over that work once again, knowing the slim probabilities of doing better, feels absurd. Which of course implies there is going to be no second book in the short term and no revival for The Flaming Wrath of Árelor on the horizon.

I should carefully consider what has leaded me to this situation.

When I published the first edition of The Flaming Wrath of Árelor in Spain, under the Spanish title “La Espada Vengadora”, I did so on a tight budget. Ebook distribution platforms in Spain were pretty much non-existent for authors and small publishing houses, so I had a small amount of cheap paperbacks printed using a non-digital press. The presentation was very bad, the paper was cheap, the text was badly organized within the pages and there was no cover illustration. I made a deal with the owner of my favourite bookstore in the city in order to have the copies for sale in his shop. It took a long time, but I ended up selling the whole lot of books I had printed.

I got some nice feedback from the readers, and once I finished witting my second book, I decided to publish both the first and the second again. This time, however, I wanted to do it the right way. I spent my money in professional cover illustrations, quality thick paper and so on. I think the result was a better edition for both books than what many traditionally published books get. Ebook publishing platforms were on the rise at the time, so I also learned about ebook coding and carefully crafted copies for online distribution, and placed them in many popular platforms. I also started to show up in forums and social media in order to promote the books.

I shortly noticed that my marketing efforts were underperforming. People at the bookstore and in my social circles were less likely to buy the professional editions than the cheap version, despite the fact that the prices were roughly the same at the time. My forum threads were getting visitors, but those visits did not turn into visits to my website -much less visits to the sales platforms. I noticed that many other books in the same forums and social media were gathering lots of supporters and customers despite the fact they were doing nothing I was not doing myself. I am not going to give the boring details. Suffices to say that any random book in certain forum was generating more sales per unique visitor than me. Readers were arriving to my threads, having a look, deciding the book was uninteresting and moving on, just like that.

I bought the matter up in the forum I was more active in and I was suggested to replace the illustrations and backcover descriptions of the books. I had no resources to switch the illustrations at the time and changing the descriptions didn’t help. Six months later it was obvious that the professionalized publication of the two books was a failure.

I was sure that the problem was not due to a lack of quality in the books. People was just ignoring them without reading them. Spain was having very bad credit crisis back then. Unemployment rates were very bad, and still are. I thought that maybe the problem was due to the fact I was trying to sell a product in a country in which people had no money to buy non-essentials. I decided to move on into new markets.

I made the worst mistake I have ever done in my career as an author. I translated La Espada Vengadora to English.

I did the translation myself. I am not a native English speaker, so I wanted to gather a team for proofreading and editing the translated manuscript and ensure it was at least as good as the original Spanish version. I started to recruit volunteers among users I knew from some IRC networks I was active in. Coordinating such a team of volunteers turned out to be a hellish ordeal of epic proportions. People took up tasks that they never completed. Some volunteers took pieces of the book, promised to show up at a certain date with their suggestions and modifications and were never seen again. It took a whole year for me to get the manuscript ready after I had translated it.

Route 11 Publications had show interest in my efforts during the process, so it didn’t take long for me to close a publication deal with them. Route 11 reused my illustrations and backcover descriptions. The book was proofread and edited by them once again and published through multiple popular ebook stores on the Internet. I switched my official online presence to English and started promoting my works again on social media and forums.

The story just repeated itself once again. Web visitors did not turn into sales. Conversion ratios were close to zero. People was not interested in having the books delivered even for free during my freebie promotions, they didn’t show up during my book signing meetings. Readers were arriving to my threads and posts at websites, having a look, deciding the book must be bad and then moving on. Hence, the situation I am facing right now.

I strongly believe that The Flaming Wrath of Árelor is a good piece of literature and that its failure in the bookstores is not due to a lack of quality. It is safe to say that if the book was awfully written it would be obtaining the same results.It is not getting bad reviews or bad press, which are the causes that bring commercial doom to bad novels, because nobody has read it yet. Which leads us to the question: Why is it doing so badly?

I have zeroed on the following probable causes:

  • The cover illustration is bad. Honesty, I like it very much, but it seems that Duncan Long and I are the only people who do. Since the cover is the main means the author has to set the mood in the mind of the buyer, a bad illustration is a catastrophic disaster. Multiple readers I have talked about the matter with think this is one of the big issues.
  • The backcover description is bad. Almost the same idea as above. I think it is quite good but many people think it is very bad.
  • My online promotion skills are bad. It is not a secret that, despite being a microchip head, I dislike conventional websites and social media a lot. The people at Route 11 is always complaining because I am not very active in social media. I must confess that the lack of results online has demotivated me and slowed my content posting ratio drastically.
  • The fantasy market is saturated. Not a cause of failure by itself, but an aiding factor in the overall results. There are many writers and not readers for all of us.

The first three points could be solvable, but since my publisher has stepped aside from the plan of relaunching the book this month we won’t see 1 and 2 solved anytime soon. I could get my hands dirty again and fix number 3, but there is a point in the life of an author where you get tired and worn out of wasting time and money that would be better invested somewhere else, like growing potatoes in the backyard. I guess it it the time to move on. I have a job, I have a firm, I have a position at a political organization and I have dogs and horses that appreciate my presence more than the understanding Internet crowds.

What does the future hold?

Route 11 Publications and I will keep the books available for purchase, but I am stopping every online promotion effort I was carrying out on conventional social media. It is just not worth it. When the domain of my website expires I won’t bother to renew it.

I am going to continue working on my third book. However, an English version of said novel cannot be promised.

This entry has been posted to alt.fantasy, alt.support.loneliness and rec.arts.books