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The Bestseller That Never Was

Darlington WoodsBack in early 2010 I was getting ready to release my third novel, Darlington Woods. I’d released The Hunted in 2008 and it enjoyed some moderate success, enough to land me another contract. Then in 2009 I released Scream and that did even better, almost doubling the sales of The Hunted.

So in preparation for Darlington Woods I planned for a big release that would net big results. I truly felt it was my best writing to date, both in style and storytelling. The plot was engaging and fast-paced, the characters were interesting and unique, the theme was right from the heart and I knew it would touch many lives. It was the first full-length novel I wrote after battling colon cancer and so much of myself, my journey, my emotional roller coaster was poured into every page of the story.

To launch the book, I’d scheduled a handful of book signings in Pennsylvania and Maryland and a fairly comprehensive online book tour I called the “Light the Darkness Tour”. Emotionally I knew, just knew, that this one was going to be big, this was going to be my break-out novel, the one to “put me on the map.” I spent a lot of time in prayer, dedicating the book to the Lord for him to do whatever he wished with it.  Then, just a month before the big release Publisher’s Weekly reviewed the book. Here’s an excerpt:

No shortage of vampire books stock bookstore shelves today, but few combine Christian themes with ghoulish vampire villains like this headlong rush of psycho-spiritual suspense . . .  Never indulging in long boring tangents or fussy character descriptions, Dellosso’s pacing is perfect and passionate. Even though the choice of setting and parts of the plot mirror the popular novel The Shack, readers familiar with that book will find this new combo of Christian vampire fare a quick and breathless read and will scream for more.

Now, remember, this was when the Twilight saga was at its prime. Vampires were the in thing. And the fact that Publisher’s Weekly not only called it a vampire novel but also compared it to The Shack . . . well, I was sure that would seal the deal. And why wouldn’t it?

The big day came and to make a very long story very short . . . the book flopped. Sales were mediocre but worse than both Scream and The Hunted. I couldn’t understand it. I’d prepared more for this release than either of the other two. The book had gotten more exposure than I even planned for. Publisher’s Weekly had given it a glowing review. And both vampires and The Shack were still very hot. What went wrong?

You know, three years later I’m still asking myself that question. I still think Darlington Woods is my best book. It’s my favorite of all my titles. I look back on that release and the subsequent trip and can’t understand it. I think part of it is the environment of the Christian fiction industry. One, supernatural suspense as a genre was on the downslide in the Christian market (and still hasn’t recovered) and horror was never a hit. And two, maybe vampires were hot in the secular market (and still are) but in the Christian market there was (and is) little interest.

Funny thing is, never once in the book are the creatures referred to as vampires. They’re called darklings and though they act like vampires I didn’t even think of that while writing it. But it seems that Publisher’s Weekly comparison turned out to be at least one stake in the book’s heart.

The other truth I need to face is that it just wasn’t God’s time. I don’t know why and may never know but I have to accept it. So much of this business of writing is skill and talent and marketing ability, but so much more is reliance on God and faith in him to do what he knows is best. It’s a walk of trust every day.

And isn’t that so much like the rest of life?

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My Take On . . . Book Sales Numbers

English: An anxious person

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every September and March I develop an unusual twitch. It’s called stress. Anxiety. It’s called royalty statement time.

Every six months I get a royalty statement and on that statement are the sales numbers for each of my books. Both for the period and total.

Mostly, I hate those statements.

Two of the most-asked questions I get as a writer are: Where do you get your ideas? and What are your sales like?

Mostly, I hate those questions.

Writers get into writing because we love to write (duh!), because we love the creativity of it and we love sharing our stories with others. But there’s this other side to writing that whether we want to acknowledge it or not, doesn’t go away. Numbers.

Writing is an art but it’s also a business and while craft and style and creativity rule in our minds, sales numbers rule in the minds of a lot of other people. That’s a reality. Publishers look at sales numbers and more times than not those numbers drive how much money goes into marketing the book, how many resources get alloted to it, and whether or not they offer another contract. It’s a tough business, but it is just that . . . a business.

Every author wants to see his or her book putting up big numbers. In some weird way it seems like confirmation that yes, he is talented, people do enjoy his books, and the publisher did indeed make a good decision to publish his work. In a lot of ways big sales numbers = success.

The questions then arise about what qualifies as “big” numbers, how many books sold do publishers look for, what’s the measure of success? And the answers will vary from publisher to publisher. There’s really no standard.

As an author I care about the numbers. I do because I want to keep writing. But I try my hardest to fight the tendency to put the worth of my writing and even myself on the amount of books sold. There are just too man factors involved in why a book sells well or not.

As an author I want to focus on crafting the best story I can with the most worthwhile message. I want to impact lives, get people thinking, entertain, and yes, sometimes, scare the poo out of a reader.

Most of the time I think I’m somewhat successful at that. But I must admit, when the royalty statement comes I usually get all tense, go somewhere private, and open the letter. Then I walk around the rest of the evening muttering to myself about how I’m wasting my time, how it isn’t worth all the effort involved, how I’d be better off using my time getting a real part-time job. It takes me at least a few days to talk myself off that cliff and get back to writing.

And then six months later we do it all again.

But it’s worth it. Not because of the meager financial reward, but because of the readers I know are being impacted. It’s worth it for everything that isn’t financial, that doesn’t depend on numbers. It’s worth it because of the people. And really, isn’t that the way everything in life should be?

Okay, couple things I have to point out that you’ll want to check out:

FRANTIC  is still just $1.99. If you haven’t gotten it, get it today.

Ian Acheson, friend and author of Angelguard, has posted an interview we did today and he’s giving away books too. Check it out and enter to win!

Mike Dellosso’s Writing World Daily Newspaper

Daily newspaper Norrköpings Tidningar in 1918

Image via Wikipedia

So I decided to try something new here. The other day I came across this site paper.li where you can publish your own online daily newspaper and get to play the role of publisher. You choose sections for the paper, keywords for articles, and filters, and the site searches the web for appropriate articles and plugs in fresh content daily. It’s pretty neat. I can even browse the web and “capture” articles I’d like to put in a future edition of the paper.

Check out my daily newspaper, Mike Dellosso’s Writing World, for all things related to writing, publishing, fiction, and marketing. Take a moment to scan the headlines. I’ve already found several very helpful articles for my own writing. If you like it, subscribe to it to receive a daily notification email that it’s ready to be viewed.

I’m still figuring it out and toying with it. There’s a lot  you can do to really hone in on what topic you wish to spotlight and a lot of it I still don’t understand. I’ve been trying to run through it every morning and edit the content because occassionally a bummer article will slip in. So if you see something that looks like it doesn’t belong, I aplogize.

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