Richard Ellis Preston, Jr. is a science fiction writer who loves the zeitgeist of steampunk. Although he grew up in both the United Sates and Canada he prefers to think of himself as British. He attended the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, where he earned an Honors B.A. in English with a Minor in Anthropology. He has lived on Prince Edward Island, excavated a 400 year old Huron Indian skeleton and attended a sperm whale autopsy. Richard currently resides in California.
“I see the poem or the novel ending with an open door.” (Michael Ondaatje)
I am writing this post on Tuesday, July 9, 2013—exactly one week after the release of my steampunk novel, Romulus Buckle and the City of the Founders. How is it doing, exactly? I have no idea. I will be able to see my sales information on Amazon’s Author Central site but it has not updated since the end of June and apparently won’t refresh until Friday. I can see the book ranking move up and down on the website, but I have no way (and no prior experience) to interpret how that might represent actual sales. The book did premiere at #1 in the Kindle Store Literature & Fiction/Genre Fiction/Science Fiction/Steampunk category on the first evening, and has bounced around between #2 and #5 since then. Romulus Buckle was also selected to be included in the Amazon UK Top 100 Kindle promotion and it is doing well in the British docket (#5-#10 in Fiction/Science Fiction/Adventure) because of that. How it might rise or fall or screw to the sticking place is anyone’s guess, of course.
In my last meeting with my 47North management team I did ask what kind of sales might represent success or failure, but they prefer to take the long view (I understand that, although I am sure there are numbers that send up red flags—but I don’t need to know what those are, at least not yet). They want to book to do well over time and they dedicate their resources and efforts to that goal. Some books stumble out of the gate and then gain momentum. Some books start big and drop off precipitously. Every book has a different arc in terms of awareness and sales. I understand that intellectually of course—but the only way for me to avoid endless, worrisome author hand-wringing is to get writing, which is always my salvation from frets over situations I cannot control. The book will sell the way the book sells. I am a writer and I write. Of course, my future opportunities will be shaped by the success or failure of the Romulus Buckle books, but I have written them as well as I can write them, and that is all that I can do.
Of course, there is always the author’s Public Booklife and his contribution to his book’s promotion. These days, with the prevalence of social media and way it can empower the individual, the author is expected to pound the internet pavement and help keep the juice flowing around the book’s PR. I like engaging with people who are interested readers and I enjoy this aspect of the writing process, although I am already sensing that I have to balance my time between these things and actual writing once the initial publicity rush passes. Jeff VanderMeer’s Booklife is a great resource when seeking advice on balancing your public and private self and Jeff also lays out tremendous suggestions and strategies for the time you do spend doing your own PR, something which I am still trying to get a handle on. I am fortunate to be in the stable of 47North who can offer my novel to the big guys like TOR, but I want to hold up my end, even if the potatoes I can dig up are small. Small helps a lot, especially when you are getting yourself in front of avid readers with an appetite for the kind of book you have created. This is the endgame after all, isn’t it? To be read. Every writer wants to be read. Every writer wants to sell enough books to earn the chance to publish another book. My own efforts and opportunities provided by well-placed friends have chalked me up for as many guest blogs and interviews as I can handle in the weeks surrounding the book release; it was a big opportunity when Jeremy L. C. Jones gave me the green light to produce a series of blogs about my publishing experience here at Booklifenow.com.
I’d like to address the Booklife list of PR Opportunities and give myself an objective ranking on each so far, let’s say a scale of one to ten, understanding that I have barely gotten started on this whole PR thing.
1) Blurbs: (7/10) I have approached several more-established authors (both traditionally published and indies) who write in a similar genre as mine and they have been very receptive to my requests for a blurb (once they get a chance to read the book, and provided they honestly have anything nice to say about it, of course.)
2) Conferences and Conventions (7/10) I am not a big convention-type-of-guy but I did attend Stan Lee’s Comikaze last year. I am attending Comic-Con San Diego on a professional pass this month. I’ll be a regular attendee, though I might hand out my book to anyone who wants one outside the steampunk panels! I’ll also go to Comikaze again. These are big, easy conventions to attend because they are relatively close to me, but this winter and next year I plan to go to quite a few of the small and more specific steampunk events such as Nova Albion and the Gaslight Gathering. I’d like to rank my efforts at the end of 2014 and see how I am doing then.
3) Readings: (0/10) I did one reading at my book release party so far and that is it. I’d like to do more—I don’t have a problem speaking in front of small crowds—but I have not set anything up. The same goes with book signings. But I’d only organize a book signing or reading if I thought that somebody might show up! That said, I plan to start making the rounds of my local bookstores (Los Angeles has a lot, with the Last Bookstore looking like one of the funnest (yeah, funnest is not a real word – but I like it.) LA is of course large enough to support genre-specific brick-and-mortar stores (though quite a few have recently closed) and I’ll visit them once the book has had a bit of time to marinate in the outside world. Getting out there and making friends with bookstore owners and book people is not a high-return form of advertising in terms of numbers, but it is valuable—Jeff gives some great advice on this topic in Booklife, and reversed my thinking about its value.
4) Guest Blogging: (9/10) I’m gonna give myself a little pat on the back on this one. I’ve signed up for so many guest blogs, Q&A’s and interviews in the last two weeks that it has taken all of my writing time just to try to fulfill my commitments. That’s fine—that is what I wanted and it’s been both a blast and a true learning experience. Guest blogging pieces, especially if your angle compliments the subject matter some of the more topic-specific blogs, can really get your creative mojo running and even give you new insights into your own methods and material. I have written about the childhood influence of Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea on my steampunk, what kind of music I listened to while writing and led a pre-apocalyptic tour of the Los Angeles landmarks which appear in my first book. My wife (my manager and proofreader) notices considerable upticks in traffic on my own blog after these guest blogs appear.
5) Interviews: (7/10) Again, I have worked hard on this one, soliciting and accepting all interview offers since the book sold to 47North last year. This has a lot to do with #10 “Writing your backstory.” One of my favorite interviews is with Jeremy L.C. Jones in the July issue of Clarkesworldmagazine.com.
6) Reviews: 47North has been instrumental in getting my books to the bigger advance reviewers and I’ve had a few so far, ranging from raves (Booklist) to ‘mehs’ (Library Journal) to outright pans (Publishers Weekly) and I have been active in combing the internet looking for mentions of the book that might signal a blogger’s review, and I have found a few. 47North has a big A-list of reviewer submissions and I have been active in trying to get smaller, more steampunk specific bloggers to review the book. Hopefully there will be a good tide of unsolicited reviews (mostly positive, I hope) now that the book has been released. Exposure, anywhere and everywhere, is the goal.
7) Writing Your Backstory: (N/A) I have not been seeking to promote the personal backstory on my steampunk book because I don’t feel it is relevant to the project.
To wrap up and repeat, the anxiety associated with a first-time book launch, especially now that an author can witness his or her sales on Amazon, can be a time-consuming, eyes-peeled distraction, a constant re-climbing into the watchtower to see what the dust-obscured hordes outside the gates are up to. The best antidote to this anxiety is writing. I’m going back at it.
In this conclusion to my five post installments, I’d like to give a heartfelt thank you to Jeff VanderMeer, Jeremy L.C. Jones and everybody here at Booklifenow.com for providing me with the wonderful opportunity to do these guest blogs. I hope that I was able to provide a small peek into the life of my book and how Booklife has helped crystallize elements of the writing experience for me. It was an honor and I’ve enjoyed the experience immensely.
I’d also like to thank all of the readers of Booklifenow.com for their time and attention. I too, shall be reading here, and I hope to return to the guest post docket sometime in the future.