So My First Book Was Published A Year Ago Today. Here’s What’s Happened.

A year ago today, I fulfilled my lifelong dream: I got a fucking novel published.  Which few people get to do!  I mean, I hang around with authors, which makes “Selling a book to a major publisher” seem as easy as brushing your teeth, but it took me twenty years to get good enough.

And considering today is Flex’s First Book Birthday – publication date March 3rd, 2015 – I’m going to talk about the things I didn’t expect would happen when I published a book.

I didn’t expect people would fall in love with my book.  
Which is weird to say, but… I’m a blogger first, and always have been.  When people have loved my writing, it’s always been in the context of “Here’s something adorable Ferrett did,” and the affection came at me.

With Flex and The Flux (and the impending conclusion to the series Fix), the affection went towards Paul, and Valentine, and Aliyah.  New readers were only tangentially aware of me, the author – they just wanted to see Valentine spin some more violent ‘mancy and watch Paul be his nebbishy, hyper-responsible self.

It’s a very strange feeling to be responsible for characters people love.  And “responsible” is the key term: as I am finishing up the third book in the series, there’s a certain stress of ensuring that I do what’s right by these characters, because people love ’em deeply now.   I mean, they’re my characters and I’m not writing the series to make you all happy – for better or for worse, the ‘Mancer series has to thumb my button first.  But I want to get it right so even if people aren’t happy with how Paul, Aliyah, and Valentine ultimately end up, they go, “Yeah, that’s fitting.”

I didn’t expect it would do this well.  
A year out and Flex is still selling fairly steadily, especially since Amazon and B&N keep competing to mark it down.  (I mean, as of today it’s still randomly on sale for $2.99 on Kindle.)  It got listed on a fair number of best-of-2015 lists (including B&N’s Top 25) and was nominated for the Compton Crook Best Debut Novel.

Most books come out, splash, and fade – and Flex seems to still be churning along, in part thanks to people who won’t stop recommending the fucking thing.  So thank you for that.  I really expected nobody would care at this point, and yet this morning I tune in to see Black Gate Magazine recommending the series.  Still? I think, and smile.

And for all this hubbub, it’s still small potatoes.  
Once I get precise figures from my publisher, I’m going to do a post where I tell you exactly how many copies Flex has sold.  I suspect many of you outside of publishing will be surprised to how small that number is.  It’s not nothing, but it takes comparatively few sales to be a mid-level success.

And “a mid-level success” is what I am.  Flex was never a blockbuster movie; it was a B-lister movie that did well on a low budget.  I’m proud of that, but it’s not like publishers are pounding on my door for my next book.  Once I finish Fix I’ll be out of contract, and I hope I can finish my next novel (the sequel to Sauerkraut Station) in time that I’ll sell something quickly, but I might be in for a dry spell.

That’s the way this industry works. I wish I wrote quicker.  It’d help.

The book tour was amazing, but…
I called my spring book tour “my book vacation” because I was spending money to go see fans.

It was the best vacation I’ve ever had.

Having a hundred people show up at a signing was thrilling and weird and happy-making, and some of those people had even read the book and still wanted me to sign it.   And it was a lot of money out-of-pocket to go see everyone on both coasts, but it also made the book highly visible at indie bookstores, so I don’t know whether it was worth it financially or not.

As a vacation, though?  Reading to you, saying hello, going out for drinks?  My only regret is that there just wasn’t enough time to talk to all of you one-on-one.  I tried.  I tried so hard.  But if you have an online following, and if you can do a book tour, then I think you should, because it was so amazing.

(Plus, I will forever thank Delilah Dawson and Wes Chu for telling me that it was okay to go completely nuts on your first book, thus allowing me to get a special cake and themed fingernails and a big party because shit, you don’t know if this book is going to sell or not, why not round up all your buddies and celebrate before the news comes in?)

…The runup before your first novel is fucking stressful, yo.  
When you’re writing or selling your novel, you can always fix things.  But there was a period of about six weeks when I’d signed off on the final edits and all I could do was wait to see if people liked it.

That damn near killed me.  And it seems to be the hidden little secret in books – that dead period between “book goes in” and “reviews come out” is devastating, because it’s like being tied to the tracks while the train bears down upon you.  Maybe it’s a good train; it was for me.  Maybe it’s a bad train.  Maybe it’s a train that doesn’t even arrive, you sell no copies, the train forgot about you, and you have to untie yourself and wander away heartbroken.

Those six weeks, I popped Ativan like they were Tic-Tacs.  I survived.  And I also thank Dan Wells for telling me explicitly that things get better – after enough books, the panic dims where you don’t even check your Amazon Sales Ranks any more – but those were panicky days of “MY BOOK DROPPED TEN THOUSAND RANKS WHAT DOES THAT MEEEAN”

The promotion is never enough.  
Some days I feel like all I’m doing is going BUY MAH BOOK BUY MAH BOOK.

Then I get emails asking, “I loved Flex! Did you ever write a sequel?”  And the answer was YES I BLED BLOOD TO WRITE IT IT WAS OUT LAST OCTOBER WHY DID YOU NOT GET IT.  The answer is YES I AM BLEEDING BLOOD TO FINISH OFF BOOK THREE IN THE SERIES IT’S DUE IN SEPTEMBER HOW COULD YOU NOT KNOW I NEVER STOP WRITING ABOUT THE THIRD BOOK.

And yet they don’t.

Social media feels weird in that you assume you’re always in the spotlight.  But people only read your blog once every couple of weeks.  That status update scrolls off Twitter.  Facebook’s algorithm goes, “Nah, people don’t need to know about your book.”

So you write and you write and you write and people don’t hear.

And I mean, obviously, all I write isn’t book promotion – that’d be boring – but even with the copious amounts, I still get good fucking friends who are like, “Oh, when did you sell the third book in the series?”

I wound up in a talk with Mishell Baker, who has her fantastic book Borderline out this week – and she was like, “Well, I have 950 friends on Twitter, if I post once, they’ll all know, and they all know all about me.”

As someone who posted for months about my impending book tour, at least ten different announcements blaring out every destination stop, I can tell you that literally the day I left every town I had a good friend of mine email me saying, “Oh, I didn’t know you were coming!”

If you wonder why some authors go off the deep end and make their blog entirely about self-promotion, well, now you know why.   I feel like I mention MAH BOOK too often.  The sad truth is,  I’m probably not doing it enough.

There’s a certain peace I feel.
Periodically, I hold “Ask Me Anythings” on my blog.  And for years, people asked, “What’s the #1 thing you’d do if you had a wish?”

I always answered, “Publish a book.” To the point where other people started answering that question in the comments for me, because they knew the answer would be “Publish a book.”

Seriously.  I tried for twenty-plus years to get a book sold to a major publisher.  Seven books I wrote, and all of them failed.  Gini will tell you how I cried sometimes, how I broke down, how many times I curled up in a ball and realized I’d never pull this off.

Finally, I gave up all hope and wrote this self-indulgent book about donuts and videogames, and it sold.  And you know what?

I’m happy now.

About three years ago, I had a major heart attack requiring a triple-bypass.  And when that happens, every twinge you get in your chest makes you wonder whether today’s your last day.  And a weird thing’s happened:

Before Flex got published I thought oh no not yet

After Flex, now I think, it’s okay.  It’s okay.

And I don’t want to die.  But I’ve done what I set out to do.  If by some sucktacular means it’s over now, well, I found the love of my life and I got my book published and it’s good now.

I’m not saying it’s that way for everyone. And I’m not saying I’m still not seething with ambition.  But I got my bare minimum.  This is what I said I was gonna do, and I did it, and everything else after this is pure bonus round, and I am content with that.

Thanks for buyin’ Flex, and The Flux, and the still-being-written Fix, for everyone who did it.

I’ll tell you more what it’s like about this next year.

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