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Maybe making the model

Right, so, model status. When a book first gets released, the bookbuyer for a company like B&N or Waterstones will place an initial order, and then each store will get a certain number of copies. For B&N the number of copies a store gets is based on how well they sell that particular kind of book. So a place like Oak Brook, which does a lot of sf/f traffic, will get three while the store in Bloomingdale will only get two.
 
Those books then sell or sit. If a particular title sells through and the store does good business in that genre, the store manager might choose to order more copies. That decision is left entirely up to the manager. After three months the book’s status is considered and stores that haven’t been moving copies might send them back to the vendor. Sometimes the book has sold through before that point, but the manager hasn’t reordered for whatever reason.
 
The cumulative effect is that the book starts dropping off shelves. Some places are selling out and not reordering. Some are sending their copies back as remainders. In time, the book simply isn’t on shelves. Sales plummet.
 
This was happening to The Pagan Night. In most cities it was no longer on any shelves. In some, where it was selling well, it was maybe on a third of the shelves in the area. But nationally, our sales were in the single digits per week, compared to a high of nearly 200.
 
Then a couple weeks ago, stores began to restock. Nearly all B&Ns nationwide have at least one copy on their shelves. We didn’t know if this was a buyer directed reorder, or if it had been put into the reorder model. But a store from me restocked, sold out, and then restocked again. So it looks like we’ve made the model.
Ah, but what is a model? B&N will create an inventory model for certain titles, indicating how many should be in stock at their various stores. This is how you can walk in and buy some titles that came out seven or eight years ago, but the book you’re looking for that came out seven or eight months ago is no where to be found. It didn’t make the model. If a title is modeled at two copies, when one of them sells the computer will automatically order another. If it’s only a single copy (as appears to be the case with The Pagan Night) the reorder after sale still happens, but there will be a period of time when it’s not on the shelf while the new copy is being shipped from the warehouse.
All in all, this is good news. I think these models get revisited every 3-6 months, but I’m honestly not sure. This is the first of my titles to make the model, and even if it only lasts for three months that will be considerably longer than either of the Veridon books were on shelves. The Pagan Night might very well still be on shelves when The Iron Hound (book two in the series) comes out next year. And wouldn’t that be spectacular?

In shadows dwell, and shadows make for heaven, and for hell

The following is a repost from my old blog. I thought it would be interesting to see something I was thinking about while writing The Pagan Night, and how the fundamental theme of the book remains unchanged, even though the characters, plot, focus… well, even though almost everything else is different from the draft I had when I wrote this post. Enjoy!

 

June 24, 2011

 

I have one of those colds where you turn your head and something slips inside your skull, some deep, tectonic plate of mucus, and then your whole head squeaks for about twenty seconds while the phlegmy geology of your sinus caverns readjusts itself.

It’s unpleasant.

On the plus side, I was on an actual vacation last week. Like, I left my house and bought souvenirs and everything. I still remember when I was in France and we visited a winery, and the tour guide handed me a wine label and said “Souvenir!” and the verb (souvenir = to remember) and the noun (a bit of kitsch that only has value as it relates to my memories of this time) connected for me. Language is weird.

I was thinking about the current project last night. We’re out of nyquil so I was drinking a glass of wine before bed, and I was thinking about what I was trying to get at with the religion. In the book the dominant religion worships the sun and the moon as dual deities. I’m using a lot of the mesoamerican idea of duality for this religion. See, the Aztecs treated their gods as both good and bad things. I guess it’s more accurate to say that what you and I would think of as a good deity would frequently have evil aspects. For example, Quetzalcoatl. He seems to be the one most Westerners know. The feathered serpent, his name means. I’m just speculating, but I think the name comes from rainbows. See, QC at his most basic level is the god of the wind. There are a lot of connotations to that; The wind brings rain, and it blows seeds from one place to another, so he was a god of fertility. But the wind is also the storm, especially as manifest in the hurricane. So one aspect of QC, the hurricane, was the god of destruction. He brings life, but he also tears your home down and floods your fields. Duality.

So in the book you have this church that worships two gods, each of which has positive and negative aspects. The sun is life, growth, beginning, exuberance, fertility and joyful abandon. It’s also fire, drought, sickness (as expressed by fever), fury, madness and war. The moon is death, sacrifice, winnowing, darkness, hidden things (both good and bad), secrets and mystery, as well as the logic and intelligence to puzzle out those secrets and that mystery. The moon is ending. And since all things end, meditating on the nature and value of your own ending. It is peace. But it is also the harshness of winter, the sadness of autumn, and the terror of darkness.

Anyway. I guess in my small way I’m trying to get people to think about evil. Good and evil, but mostly evil. When people ask where I get my ideas I usually shuffle something off about accumulating images in my head and trying to puzzle out what those images mean, and how they might relate. But often my books start as a meditation on something, and it’s usually something related to religion. So, in this case, I can tell you that this book started off as a meditation on the nature of evil.

The important thing is that, if and when you read this book, I don’t think that will smack you in the face. In fact, if you hadn’t read this post, I’m not sure it would have occurred to you at all. Because if you read a book that is obviously about the nature of evil, it’s because you are actively seeking out and looking for books about that subject. And while that’s noble of you, I think it might be a little much to ask of the general population. And I don’t worry so much about people who are actively thinking those kinds of thoughts. The people who need to think about these things are usually people who have to be tricked into reading about them. And tricked is the wrong word. I seek to entertain. And in my entertainments, if I can subtly introduce the idea that a black and white worldview is perhaps a bit juvenile, and that you the reader might be better off thinking more broadly than that, then that’s great. And if you can read the book and start thinking in those directions without realizing that the book is pushing you in those ways, that’s even greater.

The Currency of Dreams

There’s a pretty common joke that goes through the creative community every few months. The basic idea is that a developer offers to pay an artist in Exposure Dollars, and the artist goes off and spends those Exposure Dollars on hot cars and penthouse apartments and diamond earrings. The point being that you can’t spend exposure. There is *some* value to exposure, since the biggest danger to most artists isn’t piracy or writer’s block or the cost of materials. It’s obscurity. But developers tend to overvalue their exposure, and really only artists get asked to do their job for free on a regular basis. It’s kind of nuts.

There’s a similar problem in publishing: the currency of dreams. That is to say, aspiring writers (and a lot of readers) put a lot of value on publication itself that subsequently undervalues the financial benefits of publication. Let me broadly lay out how this works.

First off, publishing is a business. Duh. Just like any other business, there is supply, there is demand, and there is some service that sits between those two that can be monetized. Diamonds are worthless rocks until they’re dug out of the ground, cut by someone who has dedicated their life to the craft, and then sold to consumers. Also, they remain worthless cut rocks until someone on the consumer end agrees to pay some amount of money for them. It’s a fairly simple model.

Publishing is no different. Writers, editors, printers, marketers, distributors and booksellers all have a hand in moving the product from the mine to the consumer, and all of them get paid something for their tasks. Most of those costs (the editor’s salary, the printer’s run, the paper costs) are fixed. The writer’s cost is not. We get royalties, and advances against those royalties. In some ways we’re the ones who have the most to gain from a book doing well, but we’re also the ones who lose the most when a book fails. That’s both good and bad, but for the purposes of this post it’s just a fact.

Now, demand for books fluctuates. There are only so many readers out there, and they only buy so many books in a given month. There are spikes, but that’s usually attributable to one-off events like the next Harry Potter book or celebrity tell-all, but for those of us in the middle, demand averages out to a constant (honestly pitiful) medium.

Let’s be clear about this. Demand is wavering. People are reading fewer books, not more. Borders has failed (for a variety of reasons) and B&N is struggling. Yes, indies are doing better than they were, but every day I get a newsletter that covers the world of publishing, and every week another bookstore closes, or goes up for sale, or launches a GoFundMe campaign because they can’t pay their bills. And sometimes a new store opens, often by someone with no bookselling experience who is “fulfilling a lifelong dream”. Dreams don’t pay the rent.

There’s also something to be said about what Amazon is doing to this process. They’re kind of the Walmart of the bookselling world, dictating prices and opening revenue streams, all while pocketing a cut. Maybe I’ll write a fuller post about that later. For now, just know that they’ve disrupted an already unstable system, and the key beneficiary is Amazon itself.

On the other hand, supply is nearly limitless. There are considerably more aspiring writers with a basic grasp of storytelling, grammar and plotting then there are publishing spots in a given year. The people responsible for moving a writer from aspiring to published (that is to say, the publishers) are flooded with applicants for the job. And a lot of those applicants place an enormous amount of value on making that transition, so much that they are willing to overlook the other aspects of the deal.

I know this because I was one of them. Only publication mattered to me. Once I was published, everything else in my life would be fine. That was the dream, that was the hope, that was the belief. Get published, and joy would follow.

Of course, once I was published I realized how hollow that was. The very mechanisms that drove me to that point were evolved to discard the majority of writers who get published. The thing that mattered wasn’t that first book, but the second, and the third, and the tenth. Staying on store shelves becomes extremely difficult when hundreds of new books come out each month. Bookstores don’t add shelf space. They discard books that have only been there for a few months.

So how does this work at all? How has publishing not simply collapsed in on itself? Simple. Publishers understand all of this. They have to, it’s their job, and they’re just as at risk of failure as all those booksellers. The basic structure of most houses is to put out as many books as is economically feasible, discover which ones readers truly love, and then double down on those authors. It’s incredibly difficult, perhaps impossible, to figure out what readers will want. That’s why there are all these stories about famous authors submitting their book anonymously to editors and receiving countless rejections, or books that couldn’t find a publisher for years finally breaking through and going on to sell a million copies. It’s also why you get success stories in the world of self-publishing.

For the authors whose books make it through the bedlam, catch the eye of a sufficient number of readers, achieve the escape velocity of word of mouth, it’s possible to make a living.

And for the legions of writers whose books appear and disappear without a splash? Well. Fortunately you can spend those dreams on food. Just like exposure.

Writing complicated books: The Curse

Last week I was playing a game with some folks at my local store, and when it was over I did the awkward thing that I always have to do when I meet someone new who seems to have similar interests and hobbies as me. I dug in my bag, pulled out a business card, and handed it over.

“Hey, thanks for the game. Just so you know, I’m a novelist, and think maybe you’d like my book. It’s the first in a new epic fantasy trilogy, so it’s a great place to get started with my work. You can get it at Barnes and Noble, or Amazon, or really wherever you like to buy books.”

The guy took the card, glanced at the cover, and said “Cool. What’s it about?”

What the fuck, guy. What. The. Fuck.

I do actually have a plan for this situation, a spiel I unravel and deploy as part of my standard operating procedure. Several of them, in fact, depending on the situation. Do they actually seem interested, or are they being polite? What’s the environment here? Will they be able to understand me clearly, or do I need to simplify? How drunk am I? How drunk are they?

In the business, this is called the elevator pitch. It’s your interview face, the tight-five stand up comedians create for limited performances. The first time I saw it in action was at a convention. I was standing with my editors in a party. The book (my debut) wasn’t out yet, and I knew nothing of publicity. Someone asked the three of us what it was about.

I launched into a clumsy and entirely accurate description of the book. That it was my take on the New Weird, but with a healthy dab of crime noir mixed with a meditation on the nature of religious belief and the intersection of faith and divinity. The guy stood there, a little dumbfounded, a little drunk, trying to figure out what I’d just said.

One of my editors shook his head, tapped the guy on the chest to get his attention, then leaned in and yelled just loudly enough to be heard over the crowd but not so loudly that it was rude:

“Steampunk! Thriller!”

And the guy nodded, took my name, and probably bought the book a couple months later.

I balked at this because I didn’t write a steampunk novel. I didn’t really write a thriller, either. But that was the pitch. That was my tight-five.

The pitch for The Pagan Night is a little longer, but whenever I throw it out there, I feel like I have to apologize and clarify and expand. Which is exactly what an elevator pitch is not supposed to be.

So when this guy asked “What’s it about?” I had something to say.

“It’s epically weird fantasy. Think Game of Thrones meets Princess Mononoke.”

If you’re familiar with the three tentpoles here, you know what a strange statement that is. Game of Thrones is a sweeping political drama with fantastic elements. It has great characters, and a *lot* of them, but it’s mostly a grand story on a big stage. Mononoke is more personal, more spiritual. It’s almost claustrophobic in its narrative.

The Pagan Night is both of these things, and really neither. On twitter, Sarah Avery said that the book was clearly a conversation between those two works, and I’m pretty happy with that.

For all that it’s a book about feral gods and culture wars and sword fights, it’s also a very personal book for me. The story between Ian and Malcolm, son and father, is my story. Their conversations have their roots in things my father and I have discussed, and their conflicts belong just as much in my home as they do in Tenumbra.

So when someone asks what the book is about, I have answers. I have marketing strategies I deploy. But the real answer is that it’s about me and my complicated faith. And how are you supposed to sell that?

Emerging from the Tomb of Veridon

I’m excited to announce that, after languishing in electronic form for a few years, the Veridon books are once again available in paper and ink form! These are Print On Demand editions, created here in the US of A, with new artwork. Additionally, each title includes two Veridon short stories that have previously only been available in print in the original magazine (Interzone for three of them, Electric Velocipede for the fourth).

I’ve seen the proof copies, and am very happy with the print quality as well as the fit and finish of the books. This technology has really improved in the last few years. So if you’ve been waiting to pick up physical copies of Heart of Veridon or Dead of Veridon, rejoice!

Seriously, folks. Rejoice.

You can get Heart of Veridon here, and Dead of Veridon here. Enjoy!

Let’s go to the numbers

As an author, I have limited access to BookScan numbers for my titles. And while I’ve heard some horror stories about how inaccurate their numbers can be, I find them helpful for tracking trends and demographics. I’d like to talk a little bit about those trends for The Pagan Night.

First of all, we’re two months into the release. That’s enough time to smooth out initial demand and any localized campaigning that I might have done. Early on, the book was selling very heavily in the Chicago area. That’s evened out. The people who are buying the book now are folks who have heard good things from their friends, or who happen to see the book on the shelf and pick it up. My sparkling personality has little to nothing to do with this.

One of the coolest tools that BookScan gives me is a Sales by Geography feature that’s a literal map of the US with counts over a 4, 8, 24 and 52 week period. This is how I know that Chicago was doing so well early on, but has now pulled back. The current top five cities for The Pagan Night are Chicago, New York, Boston, Seattle and Los Angeles. In some ways I think that’s just a heat map of the population, with the noted exception of LA coming behind Boston and Seattle. There are also a lot of high population areas that don’t seem to care about my books at all, including much of the south and south west. There hasn’t been much movement in Ohio, Indiana or Michigan, but Minnesota is number six on the list, only a hair behind Los Angeles. Strange stuff.

More interesting still, if you only look at the last month of sales, there are surges in places like Atlanta, Sacramento and Dallas. Nearly all my sales in Texas have been in the last month. Salt Lake City suddenly appears on the map.

Of course, there are things worth noting. BookScan misses a lot of sales, especially among independents, and it apparently doesn’t track ebook sales at all. The fact that Portland barely registers on the list might have more to do with the strength of Powell’s bookstore than anything else. And maybe folks in Texas simply prefer their kindles. I have no idea.

I will say, one disappointment is the weakness in my home state, North Carolina. Maybe everyone’s just watching basketball.

Where do updates come from?

In this case, they come from the depths of my writing bunker as I struggle to make my next deadline. The sequel to T he Pagan Night is maybe half way done, and that’s only the first draft. I’m really a revision writer, so even after I finish these 160k words, there’s going to be a lot of work to get them presentable. The reaction to TPN has been so positive that I really want to get this book to you as soon as I can, which means I haven’t been updating here. And now I’m taking it a step further and withdrawing from social media for the next month or so.

Anyway. Thanks for your patience. And thanks also for all the feedback on The Pagan Night! It means a lot to me that so many people have read and enjoyed the book.

See you on the other side of the deadline!

Heading to Capricon

I’m going to be at Capricon in Wheeling, Illinois this weekend, saying smart things in public, expounding on the great mysteries of the universe, and possibly drinking at least one beer.

Here’s my schedule for the convention. Do come around, won’t you?


What would SF Look Like in a Science Fiction World? – Friday, 02-12-2016 – 10:00 am to 11:30 am – River B
If starships and robots are part of your everyday life, what would your science fiction be about?
Tim Akers 
Gail Z Martin
Kristine Smith (M)

Religion in SF & F – Friday, 02-12-2016 – 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm – River B
From the Fosterites in Stranger in a Strange Land to the Necromongers of Chronicles of Riddick, religions in SF & F have shaped the stories where they appear. Which books and movies have done religion well?
Tim Akers
Melissa Huston
Jesi Pershing (M) 
Isabel Schechter 

Reading: Tim Akers – Friday, 02-12-2016 – 7:30 pm to 8:00 pm – Birch A
Tim Akers is the author of Heart of Veridon, Dead of Veridon, The Horns of Ruin and the upcoming epically weird fantasy, The Pagan Night.
Tim Akers 

Beginning, Middle, and End – Saturday, 02-13-2016 – 11:30 am to 1:00 pm – Willow
Does structure matter when telling a story? Should there be a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end? Is it really needed? Can the end come first, or in the middle?
Tim Akers 
Elizabeth Bear 
Richard Chwedyk (M)
Phyllis Eisenstein
Elizabeth Anne Hull 

Autographing: Eric Wilkerson, Elizabeth Bear, Tim Akers – Saturday, 02-13-2016 – 2:30 pm to 3:15 pm – Autograph Table

Tim Akers
Elizabeth Bear
Eric Wilkerson 

The Pagan Roundup

There are a bunch of exciting interviews and articles I did in preparation for the release of The Pagan Night. As those become available online, I thought I’d keep a running tally on this post. That way you can be sure to stay current on all the brilliant things I’ve said without having to scour Twitter for the announcements. Internet magics!

The Swag!

Enter to win a copy of The Pagan Night at Goodreads

The Latest!

 

Writing is a learning process. Here are the Five Things I Learned while writing The Pagan Night.

 

Things you might have missed!

Interviews:

I sound smart on this podcast interview with Cabbages and Kings!

The Qwillery asks me about writing

I have an interview with Sean Grigsby

More questions at Suvudu

An interview with me over at Hellnotes

Reviews:

SciFiNow says The Pagan Night “builds up beautifully, creating a riveting world.”

RPG Net calls The Pagan Night “Fast paced… an epic fantasy story with action, intrigue, and a good story.”

Rising Shadows says that it “Delivers enough twists and surprises to keep readers fascinated…contains action, grittiness, magic, intrigue and well created characters.”

Booklist gave The Pagan Night a starred review!

Publishers Weekly reviewed (and loved) the book

As did Farsight

And The Bookbag!

 

Articles:

At the Barnes & Noble SF/F blog I talk about using game structure to plot your novels.

I have an article at SFSignal about Tolkien and religion!

Our Imaginary Friends – Suvudu

Our Lord and Savior Viking Christ – Horror Cult Films UK

 

If you see anything that I’ve missed, please feel free to drop me a line or perhaps find me on Twitter! I’d love to hear what you think of the book!

Into the Awesomelands

badlands cast

 

So. Into the Badlands. If you didn’t watch it, let me start by commending it to you. I’m going to talk a little bit about it here, but I’ll tryto avoid spoilers. It’s a good show. Watch it.

Last night was the final episode of the season. I want to start by listing everything I liked about the show.

1) The aesthetic – high action kung fu set in a post apocalyptic Louisiana? Yes. Heavy steampunk influence? Yes. Weird mythology based on ancient Chinese legend. Oh, yes.

2) The characters – The show achieved one of those strange things that good stories need to achieve. The characters drove the story. Each character had their own motivations, and the story came from the interaction of those motivations. Nothing was imposed from the outside. The narrative flowed from natural character interaction. Good stuff.

3) The action – Good fight scenes, well choreographed, with very real and believable consequences. Most of the kung fu was entirely natural. There was some wire work, but the show is honest about some of the kung fu being supernatural, and they try to limit the wire work to the application of those supernatural powers. There are exceptions, but they don’t detract from the action.

3a) one negative – women fighting in high heels. Several of the characters are corset wearing ninja-ladies who strut around in super-sexah high heeled boots. But once the fighting starts, they’re shown in flats, because no one fights in high heels.

Let the ladies wear practical shoes, Hollywood. Ladies can be sexy as hell in practical shoes.

4) Diversity – There’s a great diversity of characters, across races and genders. Are there groups that are absent? Yes. But I was pleased with the seamless inclusion of powerful characters of many, many groups.

With all of that said, I have one complaint. This was sold to me as a mini-series. I was looking forward to some kind of resolution, even a lesser resolution that would have left open the possibility of a future series. But that’s not what this was. This was the first season of a show that hasn’t sold the rights to the second season yet. Hopefully it’ll get picked up, but don’t pretend it’s a closed story.