So, Borders collapsed in September of 2011. Before then, my sales was something like 10-40 a week. Not spectacular, but not the end of your career, as long as it’s better than the first novel and shows some growth, which it seemed to do considering my first publisher, back in 2008, was dead within three or four months. This also was not counting the eBooks of which we moved quite a very many, indeed. This was all before the release of WHEN WE WERE EXECUTIONERS, and before Borders collapsed.
Borders’ collapse did have a huge impact on me, personally. It really might have been the end of my career as a writer of fantasy under the nomduhploom J. M. McDermott. It had this effect on my career because my most prominent title was with someone in too deep with Borders books. I had a feeling at the time, honestly, that it was going to be bad for me, and a lot of others midlisters might be going down with the ship with publishers who were going to get a lot of discounted copies and returns. People around me at ArmadilloCon in 2011 might remember me, then, thinking about the end of careers a lot. I was reaching out into the indie world, experimenting and getting ready, at the time, for whatever came next. Books don’t last long on shelves, under the best of circumstances, so there’s only a short window of time to make an impression before the world moves on. The world moved on, and surprisingly, so did Night Shade from Diamond distribution right when I had another book coming out that was scheduled to get lost in the transition.
I have never even seen evidence that WHEN WE WERE EXECUTIONERS was in a book catalog, at all. I have never seen evidence that librarians knew it existed. I have only seen evidence that 2 reviewers got a copy that didn’t come from me, directly. I have never seen one on a physical shelf, not even at an indie bookstore.
I pulled up bookscan numbers on the 2nd Dogsland Book, when they crossed over distribution from Diamond to PGW and left me swinging with minimal support, a metric ton of promises, and nothing in the end:
Per Bookscan, that’s 131 copies moved, total, of WHEN WE WERE EXECUTIONERS, for all time.
That’s what the end of careers look like, folks.
Night Shade can’t take all the credit, and it’s too easy to blame a long-suffering scapegoat with the current news all over town. I wrote the damn things, right? Ultimately, the blame and the consequences lie with the author. They have to.
But, I guess my measuring stick on these issues is going to be self-publishing. If I have stronger self-publishing numbers on a harder-to-sell short story collection than a publisher does on a critically-acclaimed series, then that publisher is not helping me much. If the numbers are so low as to be astonishing that they claim to be a real publisher with distribution and stuff, well… You expect to lose people moving forward in a series, but the cliff here was suspiciously steep. It could be it’s poorly written – always a risk – but I argue that John Clute and Jesse Bullington don’t praise books in their reviews at Strange Horizons unless they’re at least interesting. It’s very hard for me to feel like the book quality is to blame. I suspect they weren’t marketed correctly, and got sent to a lot of paranormal and urban fantasy reviewers who either got surprised and liked it, or didn’t even finish it.
Honestly, people, I’ve moved more copies of the eBook of WOMEN AND MONSTERS with a micropress and a staff of 1 1/2 than Night Shade did, at all, total, of the 2nd Dogsland Book.
If you would like to continue reading books written by someone named J. M. McDermott, to make the whole lot of books easier to find in the future, perhaps even written in the fantasy genre, might I suggest that now would be a great time to pick up a copy of WHEN WE WERE EXECUTIONERS and share it with a friend? Pick up half a dozen and make a library donation or five. Hoard some under wraps somewhere, if you’re so inclined, because I still haven’t made up my mind about the current news. I don’t think the Dogsland books will be long for the shelves, even if I cross over to Skyhorse, at these numbers. If I don’t cross over, they’ll have an even shorter lifespan.
Frankly, after this it will be some time before anyone picks up a new fantasy novel by me, even if I change my name, outside of the indie writing world, who are often disinterested in putting books on the shelf at Barnes & Noble.
Fortunately, the indie world – and I mean real, independent publishers here, not whatever they’re calling self-publishing these days – is the one area where I’m seeing huge growth in the weeks and months to come. Honestly, I made a list of my top publishers to work with, on current and future projects, and Big 5 imprints weren’t on that list. Distribution and marketing are getting very flat, these days, and people with talent and small, agile teams, absolutely can compete on a big scale, and find “real publishing” numbers.
Still, I do urge you to snag a few copies of WHEN WE WERE EXECUTIONERS while you can. No matter which way the news happens, this is a book not long for the shelves. At 131 copies, total, what businessman in his right mind invests any company resources into it? What bookshelf will stock it for browsers? Heck, honestly, if it were with my micropress, I’d be very cautious about putting any weight behind something selling that poorly.
Do you want this book to be the second-to-last fantasy novel by J. M. McDermott? I’ll keep writing, but if I change my pen’s name, as I likely will have to, now, it will get harder to find my stuff without really paying attention.
It’s 3:14 AM, and I can’t sleep. I keep reading and feeling tired, then I can’t sleep again and come back out here to read. It’s 3:15 AM, now.
Soon, it might even get to dawn.
I’m sitting here, reading, and waiting and I don’t know what happens next.