Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Book That Killed My Career

Back in the paper stone ages, I had a nice start to my writing career. My first paperback The Red Church got a second printing and was picked up by the Mystery Guild Book Club as an alternate selection and sold a lot of hardcovers. My next book, The Harvest, sold even faster out of the gate, but it wasn't as good (I'd written it before The Red Church). At the time, bookstores were getting five to 10 copies of each book. I could go into a store and see a block of Scott Nicholson on the shelves.

And then The Manor happened. I didn't realize it at the time, but the old "order to the net" effect had hit me. If a store ordered five copies and sold three, they'd only order three the next time, and you'd sell two. With The Manor, I was only getting two copies on the shelves. Hard to find. It didn't help that the publisher's chosen title was bland, the cover said nothing, and that I was engaging in self-inflicted personal drama at the time. But the end result was that my traditional publishing career ended right there. The tragic part was that I'd just signed a three-book contract on the strength of the first two books, so I was stuck with a publisher that didn't have much stake in me anymore.

I can still remember the chill that went through me when I got my royalty statement. Sales had declined by nearly two-thirds. And I could not do much about it, because the stores would be making future orders based on The Manor's (lack of) performance. Meaning I would have an uphill fight to sell even that many copies on subsequent books. However, things did get a little better and They Hunger, the last book of the contract, was on the upswing (it's still in print, actually, for reasons I can't understand at all).

Despite my agent's best efforts and support, the numbers were a difficult obstacle to overcome, since New York works on perception--New York thought it already knew what I was, a low-performing mid-list writer. I can't really blame the industry. I guess they have to use some criteria, because so many books are of equal quality and they spend more energy weeding out books than they do selling them.

But, damn it, it was my book! I took my shot but a couple of months under a stacked system of disposable products wasn't worth sitting there with an out-of-print book for six years.I was so fortunate to be able to revive it, revise it, give it a new proof, cover, and title, and completely re-invent it. I am not saying I am a better publisher than my publisher, although I have a goal of selling more copies in a month than the publisher sold in seven years. I am saying I care a billion times more about the book than the publisher ever could--they have other books, other writers, other business pressures. I only have one me.

I revised it, got great editing and proof help from Neal Hock at Hock's Editing Services and a great cover from Neil Jackson, support from a bunch of great book blogs, and published it in every major ebook market. It's out there for all the world to love or hate or ignore.

I only have one career. I only have one book named Creative Spirit. Hell, the title pretty much sums up the theme of the book. You can't keep it down. This sucker is crawling out of the grave. It may not change the world, or prove that anyone did anything wrong back in 2004, but it is back! The manor is dead but creative spirit lives forever.

Welcome home, kid.


View or sample Creative Spirit at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Kobo, Smashwords,, or Goodreads.


Neal Hock said...

I can vouch that the new version of this book is much better than the original, as I've read both versions. I'll be honest, the original was my least favorite of your books. However, when I read this new version, I was immensely more interested and thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope that it enjoys the success that it didn't see the first time around.


Mark Terry said...

Otherwise known as the 3-Book Death Spiral, a lot of us were hurt by it and you describe it perfectly. Another killer can just be the overly optimistic publisher/bookseller/publicist. I'm convinced I was hurt by this, too. Basically, someone sets up some book signings for you. Someone, perhaps the bookstore, perhaps the publisher, either way, doesn't matter... gets really optimistic and orders about 80 books. You show up for the signing and soldier on, only you sell... hell, a couple. 2 or 3 or 5. Or 8. Maybe 10. And what does the bookseller do?

Well, they're not damned likely to ask you back, that's for sure. And they try to sell some of the books. But they return most of them. And next time they order your books, if they do, well, it ain't 80.

When you think about it objectively (if that's possible) an awful lot of things can (and usually do) go wrong in a publishing career.

author Scott Nicholson said...

thanks, Neal, your proofreading certainly helped make it a lot crisper! But it's also possible YOU have changed in the meantime and your maturity, wisdom, and experience has allowed you to now grasp the high literary aspirations of the narrative.

Or maybe not.

author Scott Nicholson said...

Mark, the deck is stacked against everyone except the bestsellers. Sure, there are breakout sleepers but are so rare as to be extremely notable. A book's fate is pretty much determined by the time the agent and editor sign off on the first phone call.

I showed up at a signing where a guy had 100 books of mine (50 plus 50 that got misrouted)! The store put me as #4 on the regional bestseller slot in a futile attempt to move them. I think I sold two.

Mark Terry said...

I'm always interested to hear of authors whose bookstore signings suck, because I think all of mine have. The best ones I've had sold maybe 8 or 10, but 2 or 3 (or 1 or 0 in one case) was far more common. I know authors who had good ones, but I suspect the disasters are far more common for most writers.

author Scott Nicholson said...

Well, it's a personality thing--some people can sell. I just sit there and try not to look embarrassed for all of us. The best ones I did was when I was moving and speaking. At one private school I sold about 120 (thank you, rich kids). But usually 10 was a great day, two to five was typical, and the goose egg was not unheard of.

If you ever have time for a chuckle:

Claudia Lefeve said...

Scott - It's funny you should mention private schools...I made my dad take a few copies of my book to work (private school) to promote for me...the way I see it, those kids have kindles, nooks, and iPads!

It's just like the old days when parent's peddle their kids fundraising projects at work!

author Scott Nicholson said...

Claudia, if you can't sell to relatives (or force them to pimp for you), who can you get to help?

Gerard de Marigny said...

Interesting Scott. I don't go back far enough in book publishing to share an experience but I do in selling records as part of a heavy metal band, back in the day. The system was frighteningly similar ... I'll never forget, we released our first album on our own label and used six super-regional distributors to get our LP into the stores. We ended up getting paid for about 47,000 copies but five years after the album was released (which was three years after the band broke up) the distributors called us, asking us if we wanted the cache of unsold albums back or if they should destroy them. I'll never forget ... a semi truck pulling up and dropping four PALLETS of albums at our door! haha ... We got the last laugh eventually selling all of them on eBay as "collector editions." hehe ... Final note: a record company just signed me to a deal and is now re-releasing that album as part of a five-CD boxed set ... I just heard from the record company president and he told me pre-sales are fantastic! Can you believe ... 30 years after the original release! I pray my novels have that lasting quality! c",) I hope _CREATIVE SPIRIT_ sells a bunch brutha!

author Scott Nicholson said...

Gerard, I'd cross promo the music with the books--tap new audiences!

Mikki said...

Scott, I find your story encouraging. Thank you! I'm 1/3 of a writing trio of cousins and our first in a vampire series will publish as an ebook by the end of Dec. It's all been a learning experience for us. It's a lot of fun too! We were lucky to find a great editor Suzanne Fox of Vero Beach Florida. I'm not looking for a plug just wanted to thank you. M

author Scott Nicholson said...

Mikki, it's great that you are following your dream! Enjoy the journey.

Gerard de Marigny said...

I'm on it brutha ... there's coupons in each boxed set with a discounts offered.

I'm working with a multi-media group now developing multi-media experiences that we intend on delivering via eReaders ... we think that's coming. Imagining the day when a person can download a package that includes my novels, music, and videos. Also working on developing a "Kindle Power Hour" ... TV-like show that will appear on everyone's eReaders ... picture a 30 or 60 minute show that would feature the kewlest Kindle authors - like Scott Nicholson, Joe Konrath, Barry Eisler, etc., in either a "sitting down with" or "talk-show" like setting.

So many ideas ... the more books I sell, the closer I get to bringing them to bear ... sound the horns! c",)

author Scott Nicholson said...

Kindle Power Hour would work better if you had real celebs...just sayin'

Hunter Shea said...

Proof that the concept was there all along, because it just wouldn't die.

author Scott Nicholson said...

LOL Hunter--we all live forever in the digital age!