No, no…this isn’t a post about my favorite fetish. Besides which, I find wool is far too rough and itchy to hold against my bare skin.
But what this post is about is a super-cool science fiction short story I read on the train home last night, called WOOL. When Hugh Howey responded to my post about my 2011 earnings and cited his current take, of course my mercenary instincts kicked in and I checked out some of his stuff. I’ve only read WOOL so far, but my God, did this story knock my socks off.
If the rest of his works are of equal caliber, then this guy deserves every penny he gets. (And yeah, he gets a lot…the bastard.) I haven’t been this enamored of a science fiction story since my pal Derek Paterson showed me Adjustments in the early part of this century. (I’ve given up on badgering him to turn the story into a full-on novel, which is our collective loss.)
So if my recommendations mean anything to you, check out WOOL. I am pretty damn sure you’ll dig it, and for the price, you can’t really go wrong.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to writing the steamy McDaniels/Gartrell/Regina Safire shower scene.
As the zombie horde closes in on SPARTA during one cold desert night, a certain promoted senior noncommissioned officer does his final check of the troops manning the perimeter…and a certain condiment becomes a point of discussion.
“Man, check that shit out,” the Doofus said as he stood up and looked over the sandbagged revetment he manned with Roche and Shen. He had his night vision goggles pushed up on their helmet mount since there were so many floodlights everywhere. Roche did the same, and he looked toward the north. The city of Odessa was on fire, and it left a glowing orange smear that seemed to stretch across the entire horizon.
“Never seen anything quite like that before,” Shen said from behind him. “Not even when I was in L.A. once during the wildfire season.”
“That shit’s definitely messed up. I mean, even if it’s just Odessa, it’s still an American city that’s burning to the ground.” the Doof shook his head sadly. “Never thought I’d see that kind of shit here at home.”
“I hear you, Doof,” Roche said. “I don’t think any of us ever did.”
Shen raised his SCAR to his shoulder and peered through its night vision scope. He slowly panned the rifle from left to right, then stopped suddenly. “Target, about four hundred meters out…single zed, coming in from the desert—” A muffled crack sounded from the observation tower to their left, and Shen grunted in disdain. “Scratch that. There was a target coming at us.”
Roche grinned. “Don’t sound so down and out, man. A few million more where that one came from.”
“Rangers, you guys doing all right?”
Roche turned and found Command Sergeant Major Gartrell standing beside their position. He held his AA-12 in a ready position, and like the rest of the Rangers manning the wall, his NVGs were pushed up on their mount, ready for use when required. Roche knew Gartrell was a hard-assed SOB, one real hard-charger who would ride a troop hard just to make a point. But he’d also fought the stenches in New York City, which was no party at all, and he’d even been left behind the lines by himself for a few days. Any guy that could get through that and walk out alive was someone Roche thought he should pay attention to.
“We’re good here, Sarmajor. Just waiting for the hammer to come down.”
“It will, don’t worry about that.” Gartrell looked at Roche directly for a moment. “Roche, is it? I thought you were one of those Darth Vader types.” The reference was to the SOICS gear that some of the Rangers used to give them additional mobility and greater firepower during raids. While still new to even the special operations community, the high-tech exoskeletons were already well-regarded as powerful tools that turned individual soldiers into significant force multipliers across the battlefield. But the Army changed slowly, and any new technological advance was always met by some flat-headed Neanderthals who pooh-poohed its utility. So SOICS-equipped Rangers were called Darth Vaders, and the intimation was they were more robot than human.
“We’ll only deploy that outside the wall,” Roche said. He pointed past the sandbags toward the tiers of deep trenches, berms, HESCO barriers and concertina wire. Gartrell looked in the direction he indicated, and Roche pointed out the SOICS troops manning the decontamination/hazmat areas that had been set up inside the wire. Back when they were still allowing civilians inside, that is.
“Up here, SOICS isn’t of much use since we don’t have to cover a lot of terrain to fight,” Roche explained. “We’re just moving along the CONEX containers. But if the stenches can make it through the wires and trenches, we’ll man up and deploy it against them down there, to keep them back from the berm.”
Gartrell nodded and looked toward the inferno on the horizon. He regarded it for a long moment. “When did that start? Looks like the entire town’s going up.”
“About forty minutes or so,” said Shen. Gartrell nodded to him, and when the sergeant major looked back at the blaze, Shen started making faces behind his back. Roche kept his face blank, even though it was kind of funny. Very juvenile, but funny too, kind of like a man putting his head inside an alligator’s open mouth and daring it to bite him.
“So Shen, you wear the Darth Vader outfit too?” Gartrell asked.
“That’s right, Sergeant Major.” When Gartrell didn’t turn back to him, Shen made another face, flipping his tongue in and out of his mouth as if he was licking an ice cream cone at full speed. Roche shook his head slightly, and the Doofus hid his grin behind his hand.
“Then I’ll tell you what.” Gartrell turned back to Shen and looked at him flatly. “If you don’t stop making faces when my back is turned, I won’t kick your robot balls so hard they’ll need to give you a full series of WD-40 transfusions to bring you back from the brink of death. What do you say to that, Ranger?”
“Uh, I say that’s a great trade, Sarmajor,” Shen said, surprised that Gartrell had known about his antics all along.
“Hey Sarmajor, check this out,” the Doofus said. He apparently thought Shen needed some saving, so he rolled up the sleeve of his uniform and showed his tattoo to Gartrell. “Whadya think of this? Pretty awesome, huh?”
Gartrell looked at the tattoo for a long moment. “‘Soy sauce?’ You got a tat that says soy sauce, son?”
The Doofus looked like he was about to jump off the side of the tall container they stood on. “What? Sarmajor, you know Chinese? This says ‘killing dragon,’ man!”
Gartrell looked at him evenly. “I know several key words and phrases in several different languages, soldier. That tat says ‘soy sauce.’ Which means you’re either very odd, very stupid, or very gullible and got punked in a pretty major way.”
“Oh fuck.” The Doof looked at his tattoo with wide eyes. “Are you fucking kidding me, Sarmajor? Tell me you’re fucking kidding me, man!”
Gartrell looked at him with a hard, almost reptilian gaze. “Do I look like I’m having a ha-ha moment, Ranger?”
“Oh fuck,” the Doofus repeated.
“Snap out of it, son. Look at it this way—at least the zeds will know who to turn to when they want to season their next meal.”
“Gee, thanks a whole hell of a lot.”
Gartrell patted the Doofus on the shoulder. “Remember, son. I’m here for you whenever you need me.”
In the home stretch, so this might be the last look into what’s happening with The Rising Horde. Do look for an extract from White Tiger over the next few days, just for a change of pace!
For one day and one day only, the original version of City of the Damned will be available for free on Amazon. For those of you who like military adventure and wonder how a black government unit might fare against a more intelligent adversary–in this case, vampires–then this one might be just what you’re looking for. No sparkly vampires who only want to romance high school girls, this book is for bona-fide adults, and it has more than a few R-rated scenes in it.
Just a little snippet to further advertise Joe Konrath’s continued self-pub success:
Now THAT’S something to brag about!
Damn, I’d better start looking at color swatches for my new Gulfstream 650!
All right, back to reality.
The real deal is, 15k in my first year is pretty outstanding. I know other writers with greater skill when it comes to avoiding split infinitives and the like who can spin a better, tighter story in their sleep or while going through the morning ablutions…and they haven’t broken the $1,000 barrier yet. A lot of those works have great covers, fantastic descriptions, awesome characters, and storylines that practically crackle with energy…but buyers generally ignore them. So with that in mind, I’m not going to bitch a lot about what I wound up with.
But what if I’d published traditionally? Gone the distance with the whole agent/author route? Others are better with numbers than I am, but I’ll let the irrepressible Kristine Kathyrn Rusch speak for me in this regard:
Let’s look at this in two parts. First, money.
Somewhere in the 1920s, writers convinced publishers to give them advances on their royalty income so that the writers had enough cash to write the next book. Let’s not discuss how profligate many of those writers were with their cash—how F. Scott Fitzgerald blew through a small fortune in those years or how Ernest Hemingway always ended up short of cash. Let’s just assume that advances actually help writers write a book. Because that’s what an advance is for: to fund the writer while he is spending all of his time writing. Not part-time while teaching. Full-time.
So, you folks can live on $1666.67 a year? Seriously?
No wait! It’s not $1666.67. I forgot to remove the agent’s forever 15%. You guys are apparently so good at money management, you can live on $1416.67 per year.
Because that’s how a $5000 advance, divided into three payments minus agent, pays out. $1416.67 over three years.
And because no one is paying any kind of interest on savings accounts, you can’t even bank that money and have it earn for you. Yeah, you might get more immediate sales on that book—it might go out to bookstores at 7,000 copies or 10,000 copies, and on those at $6.99 you will get 55 cents per copy. But half of those books will come back as returns, meaning you have yet to earn out your advance.
E-book sales might be a lot better, but you’ll only get 25% of net, which some publishers never even define. I’ve been doing the math on every single royalty statement I’ve received since this whole ebook thing ramped up, and no disrespect to those who say that 25% of net equals 17.5% or 14.2% or whatever figure they’ve come up with (in the teens), but on all of my royalty statements, the actual e-book royalty rate I have received is less than 10% of the retail price for that book. And from the so-called Big Six publisher that also routinely underreports e-book sales by factors of 100 or so, I only received 8%. (And according to that contract, I should’ve gotten 50% of retail. Ooops.)
Math doesn’t lie, y’all. Most of you traditionally published midlist writers—you’ll never earn your measly $5000 advance back, y’know, the one paid in installments over three years? The thing you licensed most of your rights for to get 5,000 or 10,000 or maybe, if you’re lucky, 20,000 copies of your book into stores in the first six months of publication.
What happens after six months? The paper editions go away. Out of print, out of sight, out of mind. The e-book will remain in print, but you try earning back an advance with inaccurate sales reporting, and some kind of math that turns 25% of net into 8% of retail. Good luck with that. If you get any royalties at all, they’re years down the road.
You’ve licensed almost everything you could on that book for an extra 5,000 or 10,000 sales in a six-month period that is rapidly disappearing in your rearview mirror.
And oh yeah, she’s Dean Wesley Smith‘s wife, so she’s probably got it all right.
So I guess the answer is, if I’d gone the traditional publishing route, I’d be sucking wind. But I didn’t, other than licensing the print rights for The Gathering Dead and Left With The Dead (which I won’t do again), so I guess this makes me a winner. Somewhere. Somehow.
Amazon US: $13,680.49
Amazon UK/EU: $752.37
Barnes & Noble: $436.29
Print Royalties: $58.28
So for the first year (of which I was only active for ten months), I guess it’s not a bad haul. And I’ve only accounted for money that was actually transferred to me in 2011–I did not pad with royalties from November or December 2011, as I haven’t received those yet, so in actuality, I’m accounting for eight months of sales.
I’ve had expenses, of course…cover art, editorial work, buying ISBNs, printer setup fees, miscellaneous software and hardware purchases,
the occasional hooker or two, all that good stuff. But I still end 2011 squarely in the black. One thing about the numbers–it’s pretty clear that Amazon is king, and that it absolutely blows everyone else out of the water. If this trend continues, I might have to seriously reconsider the whole KDP thing. If Barnes & Noble and Smashwords can’t generate more market penetration, then I might have to pull the plug on ’em so I can participate more fully in Amazon’s offerings.
Speaking of which, Left With The Dead just came off the freebie list at Amazon this morning, and it went through over 1,700 downloads (for which I receive nothing, hence the “free” download). I haven’t seen that number since the title first came out, and I did accumulate two more five star reviews. I can’t really tell if it had any impact on other sales or not, but if I look really, really hard, I might see about a 2% increase in The Gathering Dead sales and maybe a 1% bump in City of the Damned. Was it worth it? I’m not sure yet. Answer hazy, try again later.
Would love to hear about other authors’ performance over the course of 2011. Post your numbers in the comments, if you dare.
And with this, I leave you now to return to The Rising Horde…
I caught wind of this blog posting from the ineffable Dean Wesley Smith, and I found it to be howlingly funny…as well as spot-on in its overall analysis. I quote this one fiery bon mot and leave you to follow the link to discover the rest:
20. Stop Caring So Much About The Publishing Industry
Know the industry, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. The mortal man cannot change the weave and weft of cosmic forces; they are outside you. Examine the publishing industry too closely and it will ejaculate its demon ichor in your eye. And then you’ll have to go to the eye doctor and he’ll be all like, “You were staring too long at the publishing industry again, weren’t you?” And you’re like, “YES, fine,” and he’s like, “Well, I have drops for that, but they’ll cost you,” and you get out your checkbook and ask him how many zeroes you should fill in because you’re a writer and don’t have health care. *sob*
Read all about it over at terribleminds. And chuckle a bit here and there while doing so. Otherwise, you’re nothing more than a mirthless bastard, and little kids hate you.