Understanding Why my Book Crashed and Burned

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Richard Falken, Sep 14, 2016.

  1. Richard Falken

    Richard Falken The Best Epic Literature Ever Written.

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    The Flaming Wrath of Árelor, a book on which I have been working since 2008, 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 commertial 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 writting 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 that the probabilities of doing better than with the first book, 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 writting 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 learnt 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 was 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 prefessionalized 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. 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 turnd 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 publicaition 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. 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 and 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. Which leads us to the question: Why is it doing so badly?

    I have zeroed on the following probable causes:

    1. The cover illustration is bad. Honesly, 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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 wornt 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 organitation and I have dogs and horses that apreciate my presence more than the ununderstanding 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.
     
  2. Firiath

    Firiath Halfling barbarian

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    Sorry to hear that your book was so unsuccessful. I can imagine you put a hell of a lot of work into it, especially considering that you also translated it.
    I don't know much about publishing books, but I wondered: Did you send your manuscript to different publishing houses, to see whether they would publish it (and have it checked by an editor, who would work with you to improve the story, beforehand) - before you were discovered by Route 11, I mean?
     
  3. Richard Falken

    Richard Falken The Best Epic Literature Ever Written.

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    Yes, some publishers got the book before Route 11, including many Spanish publishers. However, the chances of having the manuscript read at all by a publisher are about 5% these days. Most manuscripts go straight to the bin unread.
     
  4. Richard P Titus

    Richard P Titus New Member

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    Your publishing ordeal was a great challenge and you weathered it. That alone is a great accomplishment. From the perspective of others, you had great success in your endeavor but maybe not in the way you hoped you would. We've all had experiences where we felt we fell short of our goals but that doesn't indicate failure. Rather, we were rewarded for our efforts in ways other than how we imagined. Sometimes you don't get what you want, you get what you need. (Apologies for weary aphorisms but sometimes words don't suffice.) All the best.
     
    • Agree Agree x 1
  5. MattII

    MattII Member

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    Well it's up on Amazon as a kindle option, so even though it's not going to be reprinted it might find some modest success there. Also, I've only read a part of the sample text, it seems fairly solid, a little forced here and there, but that's common enough even with those who speak English as a first language, never mind as a second one, so I'd say that you're doing pretty well.

    Also, it's probably too late now, but IMO removing 'Flaming' from the title would make it sound less tedious.
     
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2016
  6. Richard Falken

    Richard Falken The Best Epic Literature Ever Written.

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    Actually, no book sells itself unless you are pushing it forward. People have the idea that selling a book is just a matter of having it in the sale stands and spending some money on marketing at the beggining. That is just false.

    For the book to be found by people, you need to be promoting it continuously. That costs time and money and frustration. The second you stop doing that, the book falls into the shadows. You need to keep working in order to let the book be known.

    And since promotion efforts are effectively terminated, guess what is happening with these...
     
  7. Novanta

    Novanta New Member

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    Hi Richard, I am a newbie member here, hope you don't mind me chipping in. Sorry to hear that things have not gone well with sales of your book. I am just starting out, I'm taking my writing seriously at last and devoting lots of time to it. I also spend considerable time researching all the other aspects that go along with the writing; the challenge of getting your work in front of an audience. You are dead right, promotion/marketing is a hugely important thing, no matter how good your book is. There are so many fine stories out there, so unless we learn how to play the modern game of online promotion our efforts can easily be overlooked.

    I would say that the English translation has to be absolutely spot on, because any poor grammar etc. will dissuade readers right away. Also, is some of the power of your writing lost in translation? It must be very hard to convey the subtleties of your style and phrase structure.

    Also, I personally agree with your point that the book cover is bad. It is simply not professional enough. I'd be happy to design a new cover for you, at no cost. I'd like to help out!

    So, assuming that your novel is an engaging and well written story...
    - Get really hot on the online promotion, using social media to its full potential (at least try to, it is not easy I admit)
    - Focus on your Spanish edition, unless you can get a superb translation
    - Have a new cover and blurb
    - Reduce the ebook price to $1.99 - possibly

    Feel free to ignore all the above, just my thoughts and I am no expert.:)
     
  8. Richard Falken

    Richard Falken The Best Epic Literature Ever Written.

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    No text survives translation. No text. The Flaming Wrath of Árelor got a translation process that lasted about a year, with lots of reviewers (including professional ones), so it fared very well given the circumstances. The goal was to create a professional grade product and I think we got it.

    I think most of your suggestions have been addressed in the original post, but since you have taken the time to make them, I will go over them and expand my views where appropiate.

    Poor Duncan, you are going to break his heart.

    I don't have much of a say about what cover the book is shipped with, since the publisher is the one who makes those decisions. The original plan was to switch the cover and blurb by the ninth month of this year.

    Social media is just a digital version of the word of mouth marketing model. The problem is that word of mouth is not a marketing strategy, it is something that happens as a result of having a successful marketing strategy.

    For social media or word of mouth to have any impact, you must first gather a fanbase using some other technique. You are not gathering that fanbase just because you exist on some social media site.

    I gave up on the original for a reason, as explained in the original post.

    It is so bad that I am bartering the printed stock in exchange for discounts on professional services. I have researched the prices that recycling companies are paying for used paper because I was considering selling the remaining stock for recycling in order to cut loses. The book stores where the paperbacks are sold have not sold a single copy for years.

    The publisher has already declared that such a thing is not going to happen.

    Multiple issues here.

    The first is that the price is set by the publisher under agreements with different distribution platforms.

    The second is that bellow $4, prices don't make much of a difference for most English speakers. There is not a big psychological difference between buying a product worth $2 and buying one worth $3, because both are dirty cheap already. A difference of a dollar is a problem in the Spanish speaking market because many South Americans suffer the difference very badly - just as many Asians suffer the difference in price between CDs and DVDs to the point that they might still use video CDs instead of DVDs.

    The third is that 8 years of ongoing development, suffering, sweat and work are not worth $2 per copy - which would mean $0.40 net revenue per copy after taxes (!) You would need to sell thousands of copies at that rate so your income per work hour is in the same order of magnitude of Spanish minimum wage. There is a difference between working with tight prices and treating your literature as a worthless thing, which is what many people setting low prices is doing. You are declaring that your work is worth virtually nothing. At that point you might as well turn the publication into a non-profit operation and give the book away, and declare that you are sharing your work with the world in the name of the Common Good.

    Besides, I have already updated my CVs and made them reflect that Richard Falken stopped being a thing on September 14th 2016, and it is not a decission I regret. Writing feels great, but publishing is stressful and unrewarding and I would not want anybody to work as hard and make sacrifices as authors do for absolutely no recognition.
     
  9. Novanta

    Novanta New Member

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    Thanks for your response Richard!

    Ah, I didn't mean to offend the person that worked on your cover. It actually only has a couple of things wrong with it, it's just the 'cleanness' and pose of the character and the overall brightness of the image. I'd have gone for a darker look with perhaps a grunge effect. But it's academic now.

    Sorry also that I hadn't been more clear, I was applying my suggestions to a Spanish ebook version, not the print version. Glad that you are happy with your decision, and you can of course continue to enjoy writing if you wish and time allows. I'm sure there will always be a number of fans there to read your work.
     
  10. Richard Falken

    Richard Falken The Best Epic Literature Ever Written.

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    It might be a matter of coincidence, but I got to redact a weekly article on a digital journal soon after I sent the book industry to hell. It is not what I had in mind for my career, but it is better than taking a stone thrown into your eye.
     
  11. Julie

    Julie Well-Known Member

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    Hi Richard,
    I'm sorry to hear your story! You must be immensely frustrated now. I hope you won't give up. You've gotten so far! I think most people get stuck before you do, in the process of writing a book or finding a publisher. So at least, you've managed that.

    I'll give you my comments as a reader and occasional buyer of books

    1. The cover illustration.
    I'm sorry for Duncan, but I do not like the cover either. But I guess it's a matter of taste. I easily find covers too 'cheesy'. I guess a more minimalist cover would be a safer option. Maybe it's also a matter of culture. Like, when I see the cover of some Bollywood movies, god, these are so cheesy they all make me cringe.

    2. The backcover description.
    I do not think there's a problem here. Sounds exciting. Personally, it's a bit of a turnoff there are no women characters mentioned on the backcover, but I guess, it's just 'cause I'm a woman and I'm looking for a character I can relate to..

    3. Online promotion skills. I feel like your publisher is really not helping out at all. Shouldn't they do part of the promotion? Or do like market research with regards to your cover, for example? Maybe consider going to another publisher for your third book? Have you ever considered crowdfunding? This is an example of a crowdfunding platform for writers: The crowdfunding platform that matches authors with publishers
    But as you're going to write in Spanish, you should use a Spanish one.. Not sure how big the crowdfunding scene is over there.

    4. The fantasy market.
    I think lots of people out there are looking for similar stuff like ASOIAF. I know I am :D






    For me,
     
  12. Richard Falken

    Richard Falken The Best Epic Literature Ever Written.

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    Hello, Julie. Thanks for showing up.

    I felt very frustrated *while* I was carrying out the translation, because I was doing a lot of hard work, but most of my team was very unresponsible, nobody gave a damn for the project and many friends who I thought would be eager to help left me in the dust. People who were assigned tasks never completed them, screwing the schedules for everybody else. I could spend virtually all my spare time trying to get results and accomplishing nothing certain months.

    Getting no sales after taking the time to find a publisher and finish a quality novel is not half as bad. It struggles to be 10% as bad and still fails at that. At least when I went to fantasy conventions and sold nearly no books, I got to share my sorrows with any other author who was doing even worse.

    I suppose there is money in the world to compensate for such frustration, but if you make the numbers, you can be sure you are not going to get it publishing niche literature. Nor the recognition, nor any other of the regular goals authors usually set for themselves.

    As far as I am concerned, Falken is dead. Good riddance, he was a burden in my life.

    But I love cheese!

    Route11 did help a lot in getting the book ready, but I don't feel they did a whole lot for promoting it. In any case, I suspect the presentation of the book was so terrible that no amount of exposition ould have helped.

    Crowdfunding sounds ok until it is not ok. First of all, crowdfunding just means selling the promise of a product. If you can't sell the product, how are you going to sell the promise of it? In addition, a sucesful crowdfunding campaign requires a decent amount of money to get started in the first place, because you need a campaign just for getting the crowdfunding campaign known. Then crowdfunding is over-regulated here and there are limits and taxes and paperwork and minister Montoro shows up and sucks your blood dry.

    They recommended me to write urban fantasy in a Spanish forum, but I wanted to write MY fantasy, not the fantasy style of somebody else. Somebody else's fantasy may be damn great, but it is theirs, not mine.
     
  13. Julie

    Julie Well-Known Member

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    You did mention you got some fans, so that's something.



    when it comes to actual cheese, me too. Yum.



    Ah sounds bad. I interviewed writers here who used the European website Ulele (they call themselves 'European but I only see Belgian projects on it), and the way it worked was they raised 3000 euros and once raised, they printed their books, and then they sent the books to the people who funded them. So basically, it was just another way of selling the books. They did say it was expensive. I think they had to give a share of raised funds to the platform itself, so yeah... Were not really happy with it, I guess, but they did expand their readership that way.



    True, true.
     
  14. Richard Falken

    Richard Falken The Best Epic Literature Ever Written.

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    I had already thought a lot about crowdfunding myself, for other projects. I think that it is a more natural way of selling entertainment media if just because the traditional publishing model is going to take a hit from freeloaders.

    The model always was to make a profit from each copy sold, which worked fine until your customers could start copying and distributing the product massively. The war right now is on preventing people from doing the redistribution, but it is a lost cause. Many customers are actively avoiding or breaking DRM technologies and piracy sites are thriving no matter what.

    Billing in advance and then giving the product to the customers, which is what crowdfunding does, makes more sense in certain scenarios, but you have to deal with the fact that you have to compete with products that are already published and can be bought and enjoyed right now, instead of bought now and enjoyed in two years.

    Subscription services would seem like the best way to go. You pay a monthly fee and can have as many films or books or whatever as you want. The problem for the customer is that he is not buying the product, he is renting it.
     
  15. Julie

    Julie Well-Known Member

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    Hmmm yeah the piracy sites, it's out there, it's free, it's easy to download, chances you get fined are small...
    I still really prefer paper books. Can't read fiction on an e-reader or a computer. It's just not the same.
    I do dig audiobooks though, but only a small percentage of books are made into audiobooks.


    Yes, I think that's the future.
    Netflix is so immensely popular. I have it as well although I used to download films and series illegally. It's not a problem for me if I don't own the entertainment I'm consuming.
    Are there subscription services like that for books? As I'm still into paper I don't really know. I know there's an audiobook subscription service, Audible, and I'm thinking of signing up for that...

    I did an article on a writer's income (in Belgium) and only a very small percentage can do it full time. Like, only the top 10 famous ones. Often, a great deal of their income don't come from selling books, but from public appearances, readings, workshops, ... stuff like that.

    Lol I forgot to ask the one thing I wanted to ask you when posting my msg. Guess I got carried away. With regards to social media: are you on goodreads.com?
    It's useful.
    Anyway, if you're burying your author persona, it's not necessary anymore.
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2016
  16. Richard Falken

    Richard Falken The Best Epic Literature Ever Written.

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    I also prefer paper books, but people buying novels by unknown authors usually prefer to buy digital versions. They risk less money. If the book is bad they have just spent 5 dollar instead of 10.

    I like to have the things on phisical media I own. When Internet or the power grid goes down I can still run from backup batteries and play whatever I have stored on CDs and Hard Drives.

    I think Amazon had a plan for books but I don't know how well they are doing. Or if the plan is still active for that matter.

    I was, but I deleted the account some days ago. It was doing nothing for me. It seems that I only got English Speaker fans from IRC.