The Blog of a Historical Romance Author


A note on historical romance sales in print

January 18th, 2014

Jeannie Lin writes really awesome historical romances. These historical romances  are also set in China. I want to commend her publisher for publishing those books. I’m so glad someone recognized her brilliance, and decided to publish something awesome even if it was out of the standard mold. Jeannie has announced that there will not be a print version of The Jade Temptress because print sales weren’t very good. I’ve seen lots of explanations and finger-pointing–but oddly enough, almost none of it is directed at the most obvious culprits.

So let me list the usual reason why print sales are low. It’s not because there’s not enough buzz about a book; a book can get great online buzz and have extremely meager print sales. (More on that below.) It’s not necessarily because people don’t want to read the book–especially for newish authors, most people don’t know that the book exists.

No. The usual reason that print sales are low is that there are very few print copies of a book in a bookstore. If a major chain takes one copy per store and shoves it on the back shelf, guess what? Sales are 99.99% likely to be terrible, and it doesn’t matter how good the book is. Once that happens, there is almost nothing an author can do to recover. Even if, against all odds, you sell a good portion of your meager print run, no store is going to be impressed by your luke-warm streak of selling 200 copies more than anticipated. They’re going to see a book that sold 700 copies total, and since they’re shrinking shelf space again, by the time your next book comes out, they’ve decided they don’t have room for books that sell under 1,000 copies in their chain. Your print career was finished before your book even hit the shelves.

That’s the reality for most authors who get squeezed out of print, and there are a a lot of historical romance authors who are getting squeezed out of print right now–not just Jeannie. The major bookbuyers are just not giving a lot of new historical romance authors shelf-space.

So I see a lot of blame going on for how this author lost print distribution, but nobody’s mentioned the fact that historical romance shelf-space, in general, is falling precipitously. There are other amazing authors who are having the exact same thing happen to them as we speak.

Now, do I know that this happened with Jeannie? No. As of the writing of this post I have not talked to her about the situation. And that’s because of what I’m going to say next–I didn’t want to talk to her because I wanted to write this next part and say, very clearly, “She had nothing to do with this part at all.” Because she didn’t.

I am not (currently) an author of historical romances set in China. But I wrote books for HQN–historical romances that were set in England, books about a marquess and about a man who was going to inherit a dukedom. Books that had amazing buzz and fantastic reviews in all the trade journals.

I know there’s a narrative out there that suggests I was hugely successful for Harlequin before I walked away to self-publish. The Code of Being Nice about your publisher means that you don’t bitch about stuff in public. You put a good face on things and smile and say, “I’m so happy with how things are going!” I’m about to break that code, a little bit, but I’m going to try to do it nicely.

Every year I was with Harlequin, I felt sick about what was happening to my career. Everything Jeannie described in her post about her print sales happened to me. I felt sick to my stomach, and all I could do was keep swinging as hard as I could and hope that something connected. When I wrote Unveiled, I had a handful of people email me saying that this was my break-out book, the book that was going to put me on the map. I had amazing online buzz.

So what did that look like in print?

The following screenshots are from the royalty periods through June of 2013, but the amounts in the first column are cumulative for all sales.

Unveiled was released in February of 2011. Some people still say it’s the best book I’ve ever written. It was nominated for a RITA, had amazing reviews and a great following.

Here’s a partial snapshot of my royalty statement showing my English language retail print sales. The left-most column is the one we care about. The first line is the number of units that were shipped to stores; the second line, the number of units that were stripped and reported as returned. There are no reserves at this late point in the game, so that leaves that final line, which is the net units sold.

Yep. You read that right. Those are return rates of about 60%, with 9,768 copies sold in print–and this was in a world where Borders existed. (And yes, my royalty statements really do come in that small a type).

Here’s Unclaimed:

You’re seeing that right, too. That’s a 67% return rate, a commensurately smaller print run, and less than 6,000 copies sold.

I give Harlequin all the credit in the world for good intentions. They did a lot of things to build me as an author, and really wanted to do so. But good intentions don’t matter. I could draw a straight line through my print sales with every book, and they were going to hit zero sometime in 2012.

So before we talk about why Jeannie’s next book isn’t getting a print run–please try and keep this in mind. Harlequin sold less than 6,000 US retail print copies of Unclaimed in 2011, after I had hit the New York Times list with Unlocked. 

I know that this post could potentially annoy people at Harlequin, and I hope it doesn’t. They tried to tell me my books were at fault, but…I think I’ve demonstrated that they were wrong about that. People do want to read my books. Lots of people. My print sales did not reflect that. I hope that Harlequin takes this criticism for what it is–not my attempt to say that they suck and I hate them, but that they need to recognize that they have a problem selling historical romance in print. They’re not good at it, and I hope they figure it out before they run more print careers into the ground.

Jeannie’s books mean a lot to me. It almost physically hurts to hear people saying, “This is proof that Chinese-set historicals don’t sell.” When I wrote my English-set historicals and had craptastic print sales, I had the benefit of other authors’ experience to prove that English-set historicals can sell in print. Nobody pinned the hopes of the entire subsubgenre on my shoulders. Using Jeannie’s books as a stand in for an entire sub-genre is really, really unfair to both her and the class of Chinese-set historicals. It’s disturbing to take a book that features non-white people in a non-European setting, to have it perform precisely the same way as books that are written about white people in a European setting, and to then say that this is proof that books about non-white people do not succeed.

Before we say that readers won’t read Chinese-set historicals, we should give Chinese-set historicals a chance. And that chance has to be bigger than one author, writing in a subgenre where the bookbuyers are already wary, publishing with a house that has a less than sterling-record with historical romance.

If you’re reading this, go buy Jeannie Lin’s The Lotus Palace. She is one of the most brilliant new historical authors to come on the scene in recent years–and at some point, I really believe that bat is going to connect for her and her books are going to start flying out of the park.

Edit: I just wanted to add one thing. I refer to “Harlequin” as a monolithic entity, but it’s really one that is made up of people. Not all people in it are alike, and sometimes, when making broad statements, that paints with too broad a brush. I always felt like my editor loved my books and worked with me to make them the best books possible; for what it’s worth, the pushback came from higher up.

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Know what your rights are worth

August 19th, 2013

Note: Here there be mathematics.

There’s a calculation I’ve been breaking out dozens of times in the last month or so–in innumerable conversations at RWA, in e-mails back and forth with several people asking me for advice. I mentioned it in my talk to the Golden Network, and mentioned it again at the PRO retreat at RWA’s national conference. Usually the question that has been asked of me looks like this: “I got an offer from my publisher for $3,500 for my next book,” someone says. “Should I take it or self-publish?” (Note: I’ve seen similar numbers from five different people in the last month, so if you think I’m talking about you, I’m not–I picked the advance that was the aggregate offered.)

I never answer that question. I can’t know what your circumstances are or what you should or shouldn’t take, or what you value and what you need or where you are in your career.

What I can do is tell people how to think about money earned over time in a semi-rational fashion.

First, we need to talk about time, and specifically, how long a time. When people say that ebooks are forever, that may be true in the strictest sense of the word. But your ownership rights in your ebook will terminate seventy years after your death, and that will undoubtedly restrict your commercial ability to exploit things. Second, the implication is often that if you sign a traditional publishing contract, you tie up your rights forever. But you don’t. All U.S. authors have the statutory right to terminate a grant of rights 35 years after publication under 17 U.S.C. 203. 35 years is a long time, but it’s not forever. (In fact, in my calculation, it’s about 50% of forever.)

Furthermore, even if you had the right to your ebooks forever, money earned today is worth more than money earned next year. That’s because you could take the money you earned today, put it in the bank, and have more money waiting for you next year. What that means is that if someone offered to give you $50 a month every month forever, with no stopping, they aren’t offering you an infinite amount of money. You can actually put a finite dollar value on how much that costs. (For math nerds, it’s because the calculation of how much that is worth is a series of form x^n, where x <1, and so the series converges.) (How could you get something that paid you $50 a month every month forever? You put an amount of money in the bank, one that pays $600 a year in interest, and look–you’ve got money forever!)

So if you are going to think about the value of the rights you are giving up, you should (1) be thinking about their value for 35 years, not for infinite years and (2) be taking into account the time-value of money.

Luckily, economists have been doing this kind of calculation for years. It’s called a net present value calculation.

Here are the things you need to do to figure out the net present value of your rights.

1. You need to have some idea of how much money is worth to you over time.

There are a lot of things that people advise using here, and I’m not going to get into that much. I will just point out that if you owe the mafia money, and they’re going to collect on it in November, and you need $20,000 or you’ll lose a finger… Don’t think too hard. Money today is worth a lot to you. Money earned post-November is not worth nearly as much. Likewise if you are on the verge of losing your house or if your brother needs bail money.

If you’re carrying credit card debt at 17% interest rate, money today is worth a lot more to you than it is to someone who has no debt at all.

For the calculations that follow at the end, I’m going to use 2% as the rate. This is actually high when you compare it to today’s discount rate, but interest rates are historically low, and we’re doing the calculation over 35 years, so. Economists might quibble with this choice, but frankly, this is the smallest of the sources of error in my calculation and so I’m not going to weep about it.

Just be aware that what I say may not apply to your situation, and you might need to jigger the calculations accordingly.

2. Figure out what you’re being offered.

This is just going to be the starting point, but it’s a good starting point.

Let’s take the example I started with (not an actual example, by the way)–someone who is offered $3500 for a book. What would it take for the net present value of your self-published earnings to come out to $3,500? Using 2% as the discount rate, a contract that offers you $3,500 is the equivalent of earning $139 a year for 35 years–that is, making $11.58 a month. That’s what $3,500 a book means.

Now let’s up the ante. What if you were offered $500,000 for a book? That’s a huge advance. A self-published book that has the same net present value is one that makes $19,750 a year, $1645 a month…which means selling about 633 copies at $3.99 a month every month. Put another way, a book at $3.99 that falls somewhere between Amazon rank 5,000 and 10,000 for 35 years is worth $500,000 today.

For reasons that I’ll get into below, and that some of you are screaming about now, this is a really, really rough estimate of actual earnings. But it’s a decent rough guideline. Take the advance. What kind of steady sales would you need to equal that advance over time?

This tells you, by the way, that a $3,500 advance is an absolutely pitiful investment by a publisher. They will earn back what they put in without even batting an eyelash.

3. Compensating for unknowns and earning over time.

Of course, this calculation isn’t phenomenal. For one, it’s a rare book that earns the same in Year 35 as it did in Year 1. We don’t have a clue what the self-published tail looks like in Year 35, because we’re really only in Year 3 or 4 of the self-publishing era, and that’s been coupled with the growth of digital publishing, too. Whether your books are still performing well in Year 35 will probably depend on whether you are still writing new books in Year 35 (35 is a long writing career), and what you’re doing to promote and push your books in Year 35.

We have literally no data, and while we can make stuff up, be aware that this is all we can do: Make stuff up and hope our assumptions are reasonable.

Second, you have to take into account that you can earn out your advance on your traditionally published books, too. And, in fact, if you’re offered $3,500 for a book, you will earn out your advance over the course of your publishing career unless your book was incompetently produced and priced. (In which case, I hope your contract allows you to get your rights back earlier.) So you need to add the money you make upon earn out into your calculation. How long will it take you to earn out? How much will you earn per year after that? This poses precisely the same problems that I just mentioned.

Luckily, since you’re comparing the value of two income streams performing under similar conditions, as long as you make similar assumptions about each one, you won’t be prejudicing one over the other. So let’s do something more complicated. Imagine that for the person who is offered $3500 for a book, she’s paid 50% on signing and 50% on delivery. Imagine that she’ll have a print run of 8,000 copies (based on a number of authors I’ve talked to, this is about right–if you’re getting more books printed than 8,000, and your advance is $3500, you’re being seriously low-balled on the advance figure), and she’ll sell 6,000 of those in the first year at 8% of the cover price of $7.99, giving her $3835.20 in print earnings.

Imagine that she’s going to sell 2,000 digital copies of her book a year, every year, for five years, at which point it tails off and she sells only 500 digital copies of her book a year for the remainder of the life of the contract. Imagine that the cover price is $7.99, the publisher is making 70% of the cover price, and she’s getting 25% of that.

In year 1, the author makes the advance of $3500. In year 2, when she gets her first royalty payment (assuming the book is published relatively close to turn in and there isn’t a huge reserve per year–in actuality, this might hit in year 3 or 4, but we’re going for simplicity), she gets $335.20 (the excess over her advance from print earnings) + $2,796.50 for her portion of the digital earnings.

In years 3-5, she gets $2,796.50 per year.

In years 6-35, she gets $699.12.

If this is the case, the net present value of that contract offered to her by the publisher is $28,827. Not bad.

So what’s the alternative? Let’s suppose that she self-publishes the book at $3.99. That she sells 2,000 copies of the book a year for the first five years (the lower price point combatting whatever marketing *cough* the publisher may or may not do for the book), and 500 copies a year for the next 30 years of comparison. And let’s further suppose that she must spend $2,000 to get her book on the market.

The first year, she makes $3200: $5,200 in income minus $2,000 in expenses. (I’m using $2.60 as the income for the book–Amazon gives 70% minus a delivery charge in most circumstances, 35% in others; B&N gives 65%. $2.60 is a little on the low side, but not a lot on the low side.)

Years 2-5 she makes $5,200. Years 6-35 she makes $1300.

The net present value of self publishing that book is $49,685.

Now, of course, there are an infinite number of corrections you can add to that. I’m not insisting that this is the way to do it. I’m only claiming that if you want to know what your rights are worth, you should think of the value over time for 35 years. Make your calculation as simple or as non-simple as you want.

4. Ask if it’s worth it.

I hear a lot of reasons why people go with traditional publishers. They don’t want to do the work. They want books on the shelves. They want the prestige. They think the publisher will do a better job in marketing. They want reviews in major print publications. I could go on and on. Some people want the advertisement that a big print run will give them. Some people think it’ll help them break out to the next level. Some people think that diversification is important in income, and so want to diversify. And so on.

None of these reasons are invalid, bad, illogical, or in any other way awful. In fact, all of them are important and worthwhile.

I do think, though, that you should have at least some sense of what that thing is costing you. If your calculation suggests that your publisher’s contract is worth $28,000, and you’ll make $49,000 if you self-publish, and you’re going with your publisher because you want to have books on the shelves, ask yourself if it is worth $21,000 to you to put 6,000 copies on the shelf.

If you think your publisher is going to do a better job marketing, ask yourself if that marketing is worth the difference in price. (And think about the value of the marketing as well as the cost for you to purchase it in both time and money. And be frank–don’t imagine you’ll get the kind of treatment a bestselling author gets if you’re not a mega-bestseller. If you’re getting an advance of $3,500, look at people from your publisher who are similarly situated, and ask what kind of marketing they’re really getting. How much is it worth? If you’re talking getting a book on NetGalley, you can do that for a very small amount–and that’s about all that some publishers are doing for their authors.)

There are absolutely some publishers who are putting value into their author’s books, and it’s definitely rational to accept less money in exchange for other things that have value to you. But you should have some sense of how much less money you’re accepting, because at some point, the thing you’re getting in exchange for that money just might not be worth it. And if you haven’t run net present value calculations before, you might be surprised at precisely how much it’s costing you.

If you want my spreadsheet that does these calculations on a year-by-year basis, you can download it here.

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RT giveaways!

May 6th, 2013

I dropped by the RT convention in Kansas City this last weekend to see some friends, get an award, and talk to people–and I had a great time! I hadn’t actually planned on going at all, and because I decided to show up so late, it was too late to get books in for the book signing. So, instead, I wandered around the signing and talked to people who I had missed in the halls. It was so much fun!

While I was there, I got some books signed from some newer historical romance authors to give away to readers of my blog.

Erin Knightley’s A Taste for Scandal: A baker heroine meets an Earl, and gives him a taste of something sweeter than he’s ever had before.

Juliana Gray’s A Lady Never Lies: An inventor set on perfecting a horseless carriage meets a lovely widow.

Jennifer McQuiston’s What Happens in Scotland: The hero and heroine wake up married, and have to figure out how they got there and where they’re going next.

Heather Snow’s Sweet Enemy: A chemist heroine discovers chemistry of her own with the Earl of Stratford, a war hero.

Samantha Grace’s Lady Vivian Defies a Duke: A hellion shows a duke how and where to find love.

Tracy Brogan’s Highland Surrender: A Highland beauty is commanded to marry her sworn enemy.

If you’d like to win one of these, please leave a note in the comments.

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Digital Strategy in Historical Romance

April 25th, 2013

If you think that a publisher’s main job is distribution, and that distribution is a button press on the internet, you’re wrong, and I hope to demonstrate that today with some vague (yet convincing!) handwaving.

I don’t intend this post to be one about the merits of self-publishing versus traditional publishing, but instead to be about the merits of having a digital strategy versus not having a digital strategy.

A little over a month ago, Publisher’s Weekly released a list of the bestselling ebooks of 2012. They used words like “jaw-dropping” to describe the numbers that are being racked up. I thought there was something jaw-dropping about that list, especially when you perused the historical romance offerings, and it wasn’t the numbers on the list.

I went through and I pulled out all the numbers for historical romance authors. I did that because that’s my genre. It’s not the hottest romance genre at the moment, so there aren’t a lot of authors racking up numbers in it, but it does sell steadily and respectably. Here’s handwaving, part I: I had to rely on my own name/title recognition to determine if a title was a historical romance, and I’m not perfect; and also, these numbers are self-reported by the publishers, so there may be errors or titles that were not included. Nonetheless, I did see representation on the list overall for all the romance houses (with the exception of Kensington), so my assumption going in is that this is a pretty decent list of NY-published books.

Here are the historical romances I pulled out, with digital sales numbers attached.

A Night Like This, Julia Quinn (Avon) 66,192
The Ugly Duchess, Eloisa James (Avon) 59,333
The Capture of the Earl of Glencrae, Stephanie Laurens (Avon) 55,093
The Duke is Mine, Eloisa James (Avon) 47,983
Sins of a Wicked Duke, Sophie Jordan (Avon) 46,687
A Week to be Wicked, Tessa Dare (Avon) 44,792
A Rogue by any Other Name, Sarah Maclean (Avon) 44,380
A Kiss at Midnight, Eloisa James (Avon) 42,624
Winning the Wallflower, Eloisa James (Avon Impulse) 40,954
Never Seduce a Scot, Maya Banks (Ballantine) ~38,600
Seduced by a Pirate, Eloisa James (Avon Impulse) 34,516
A Lady Never Surrenders, Sabrina Jeffries (Pocket) 34,290
The Seduction of Sebastian Trantor, Stephanie Laurens (Avon Impulse) 31,027
Never Love a Highlander, Maya Banks (Ballantine) ~30,200
The Lady Risks All, Stephanie Laurens (Avon) 29,100
Seduction of a Highlander, Maya Banks (Ballantine) ~28,400
The Fall of Rogue Gerrard, Stephanie Laurens (Avon Impulse) 26,466
How the Marquess was Won, Julie Anne Long (Avon) 25,980
The Duke and I, Julia Quinn (Avon) 25,640
Devil’s Bride, Stephanie Laurens (Avon) 25,229

I bolded the outliers so you could see the pattern.

Avon has always been a force to be reckoned with in historical romance, so maybe this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, but cripes, that’s just embarrassing. Pocket has one book on the list. Ballantine has three, but they’re all from the same author (and she’s a massive force to be reckoned with–her non-historical romances sold even better). And there are imprints that are simply not registering on the historical romance radar–St. Martins, Berkeley, HQN, Mira, Grand Central.

Has it always been like this? To find out, I performed Handwaving part II. Which is to say, I went through USA Today’s top 100 list (Why the top 100? Because I’m too lazy to do 150) from February 2010 to August 2010–that is, in the times when digital was selling in much smaller amounts–and made a list of all the historical romances that hit the list at that level. Again, this relies on my ability to recognize historical romances when I see them, so there’s the potential for human error.

Here’s that list (no particular order, since I don’t know what being #18 on the list in one week means in comparison with being #13 in another week):

The Truth About Lord Stoneville, Sabrina Jeffries, Pocket
The Elusive Bride, Stephanie Laurens, Avon
Taming the Highland Bride, Lynsay Sands, Avon
Ravishing in Red, Madeline Hunter, Jove
Nicole Jordan, To Tame a Dangerous Lord, Ballantine
Dark Angel & Lord Carew’s Bride, Mary Balogh, Dell
The Hellion and the Highlander, Lynsay Sands, Avon
Provocative in Pearls, Madeline Hunter, Jove
The Marriage Ring, Cathy Maxwell, Avon
An Impossible Attraction, Brenda Joyce, HQN
In Bed with the Duke, Christina Dodd, Signet
Monica McCarty, The Chief, Ballantine
Amanda Quick, The Perfect Poison, Jove
Victoria Alexander, Desires of a Perfect Lady, Avon
Sarah MacLean, Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake, Avon
The Secret Duke, Jo Beverly, Signet
Johanna Lindsey, Rogue of my Own, Pocket
Seducing an Angel, Mary Balogh, Dell
Rule’s Bride, Kat Martin, Mira
A Lady’s Guide to Improper Behavior, Suzanne Enoch, Avon
Never Less Than a Lady, Mary Jo Putney, Zebra
A Lady Never Tells Lies, Candace Camp, Pocket
Hannah Howell, Kentucky Bride, Zebra
A Secret Affair, Mary Balogh, Dell
Married by Morning, Lisa Kleypas, St. Martins
Ten Things I Love About You, Julia Quinn, Avon
A Gentleman Always Remembers, Candace Camp, Pocket Star
If He’s Wild, Hannah Howell, Zebra
Johanna Lindsey, That Perfect Someone, Gallery
Jane Feather, Rushed to the Alter, Pocket
Lisa Kleypas, Love in the Afternoon, St. Martins
Stephanie Laurens, The Brazen Bride, Avon
My Dangerous Duke, Gaelen Foley, Avon
Jude Deveraux, Days of Gold, Pocket Star
Eloisa James, A Kiss at Midnight, Avon
Loretta Chase, Last Night’s Scandal, Avon

Avon was still doing well in 2010–they have 33% of the historical romances on the list–but two years ago, they weren’t ridiculously dominant. Now, like I said, this is handwaving. So ignore the 33% number–numbers here are vague notions, and highly error prone. Let’s just concentrate on the general trend.

Which is that Avon is kicking everyone’s ass today, and they weren’t two years ago.

So…what on earth is going on? Here are a few obvious things to consider.

The top authors on the list of digital bestsellers are Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Stephanie Laurens. All three of those authors have books on that list of bestselling digital titles of 2012 that were not published in 2012. Specifically, Julia Quinn has “The Duke and I,” which is the first book in her Bridgerton series. Eloisa James has “A Kiss at Midnight,” the first book in her Fairy Tales series on the list. And Stephanie Laurens has “Devil’s Bride” on the list, which is the start of her Cynster series. In other words, Avon is not just trying to push the author’s latest release–they’re pushing the author’s latest release by bringing in new readers with older books that are tried and true.

Both Eloisa James and Stephanie Laurens have multiple Avon Impulse titles on the list–novellas that came in at low price points and allowed readers to try a new author at a low price and a lower investment of time. I didn’t see low-priced novellas from other houses until near the end of 2012, and by that time, the 99 cent novella was so commonplace that it wasn’t selling in significantly greater numbers than other books.

Not insignificantly, Avon was one of the few major NY houses in 2012 that was publishing historical romance and experimenting with pricing strategy.

Finally, Avon developed a method for getting the word out about changes in pricing strategy–they didn’t just drop the price and expect people to notice.

All of this comes down to one thing: if you think that all publishers do in digital is press a button for distribution… Well, for some books, it certainly looks like you’re right. But a publisher that thinks about publishing as a strategy rather than a button, a publisher that uses an author’s entire output to move books will do much, much better. Dominantly better.

When the rewards are somewhat evenly distributed among publishers in 2010 and are sharply skewed come 2012, it’s not the individual authors that are at fault.

Publishers other than Avon: What the heck are you going to do about this? Because you just got schooled, and that’s embarrassing.

As a note: I suspect that some people at those publishing houses, if they saw this, would say, “We have a digital strategy, but we just choose not to employ it for all our authors–just for the super-duper awesomely important ones, the ones that are major events, and an author who just barely nicks the New York Times List is not on our register.” That may be true, but if it is…why would any of those authors bother with you for their next contract?

As a final note: I’m aware that there are a lot of books that are not on this list that sold over the requisite amount. We’ve got nothing from Montlake, and I’m darned certain that Montlake has a handful of historical romances that have easily oversold not only the 25K mark, but the 66K mark that represents the top of the charts. We’ve got nothing from self-publishers, and I know from personal experience that there are self-published books that would land on the charts. I’m not sure Kensington or Sourcebooks reported. So these numbers are limited. Nonetheless, it’s pretty clear to me that employing a digital strategy on behalf of your authors kicks the pants off of having no apparent digital strategy.

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For Golden Heart Finalists

April 8th, 2013

The Golden Network has asked me to give a talk on self-publishing to their members at RWA nationals. I’m trying to make that talk as informative and open (and as non-judgey) as possible. I want to compile some data about how Golden Heart finalists who have self-published have fared.

There are a few reasons to think that Golden Heart finalists might do differently than the average self-publisher. First, the contest is very competitive, and so people who final in the Golden Heart are usually at a high level of craft. Second, Golden Heart classes often form e-mail loops, where people are willing to talk business, and so they often have access to people with advice and knowledge.
I want to see if these two factors will have an impact on earnings.

If you answer these questions, I promise that I will not reveal your personal data or your sales to anyone. With the exception of question 7, any data I receive will be revealed only in the aggregate. (Please only answer question 7 if you’re willing to have that answer shared with a group.)

Indie Survey for Golden Heart finalists
Please return via e-mail to courtney@courtneymilan.com.
1. What year(s) were you a Golden Heart finalist?
2. What categor(y|ies) did you final in?
3. How many times have you finaled in the Golden Heart?

4. Are you traditionally published?

4a. – If so, how many books have you traditionally published?

5. Are you indie published?
5a.  – If so, how many books have you indie published?
6. For each indie published book:
6a. How many copies have you sold of that book?
6b. How much money have you made on that book?

7. Is there any advice you’d like to give to Golden Heart finalists who haven’t published a book yet?

For those of you who are on a loop with your fellow Golden Heart finalists: Please feel free to copy & paste this and forward it to your GH class (assuming that nobody has done so yet).
Thank you all so much for your time and patience. In addition to presenting this data to the Golden Network, I will also present it on my blog.

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After approximately four years…

March 31st, 2013

I have finally updated the look and feel of my blog to complement (although not match) the rest of my website.

(The “complementing, but not matching” part was a decision I made many years ago: that I wanted to clearly delineate between my website [which is wholly commercial in the sense that it's basically all about my books and writing] and my blog [which is sometimes about things that are not even remotely related to stuff that I am selling]. I haven’t revisited that decision since. When I first started the blog/website, I didn’t have Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr. Obviously that line has been blurred and then smashed and then reconstituted and mixed in with the mashed potatoes. I’m still contemplating what it means–for instance, I haven’t even linked to my Tumblr site from this website yet, for the simple reason that my Tumblr site is almost never about my books.)

(Suffice it to say, I use different social media platforms in vastly different ways.)

(I am not sure if this is good or bad.)

(But I do think that I could make a record for the most parenthetical comments in one blog post [or failing that, for the most nested parenthetical comments in a single post <how am I doing?>].)

I am also testing to see if the blog now properly updates Facebook/Twitter. It might not. Or maybe it will push this post twice. Let’s see what happens.

Edited to add: I’ve had a handful of people talking about some odd behavior here, and after checking rabidly and extensively on a variety of browsers and being utterly unable to duplicate the errors, I think I know what is causing the problem. I believe that some people have the old stylesheet still saved in cache, and so it’s causing some weird behaviors. Try reloading this page, or if that fails, clearing the cache from your browser and loading the page.

If that still doesn’t work, please let me know in comments.

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DABWAHA

March 30th, 2013

Thank you all for voting for The Duchess War and The Governess Affair. You guys seriously rocked it out, and while Tammara Webber’s Easy won the day, you definitely didn’t lose. I’m pretty happy to have done as well as I did against Easy, which was a pretty damned amazing book. (If you haven’t read it, consider it!)

I know that I had promised you a deleted scene from The Duchess War if we advanced–but I never said you couldn’t have it if we didn’t.

And so with that caveat–and with many, many thanks for all your help–here it is.

http://www.courtneymilan.com/tdw-deletedscene.php

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DABWAHA, redux

March 29th, 2013

So, The Duchess War went up against Tessa Dare’s A Lady by Midnight. The battle was hard-fought.

How hard fought was the battle? I will let the following screenshots speak for themselves.

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Sometimes The Duchess War was up. Sometimes A Lady by Midnight was up. Often, the two books were tied.

But at the end, alas….

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So there you are. We fought well, but we were bested at the last.

Luckily, The Governess Affair went up against Ruthie Knox’s Room at the Inn and managed to prevail.

This means, first of all, that I owe you all the first chapter from my first manuscript. I made one change to this manuscript–specifically, I did a find and replace on the hero’s name, because I’ve used that name on a book that I published (hey, I liked the name, and I borrowed characteristics from the hero for that other book) and I want to avoid confusion.

So here is Chapter One of Flight of Fancy. Read it and weep. Or something.

Secondly, this means that there still is an opportunity to vanquish Tessa (and many other fine writers!). But in order to do that, The Governess Affair must prevail against all comers.

I know that there were multiple people who were disappointed that they wouldn’t be able to read the lovely scene I promised detailing Minnie’s aunts giving her “the talk.” Many of them were, in fact, extremely disappointed, especially once I posted this tiny snippet (brings up a graphic: warning, not safe for work).

And so this scene is still available as a bribe. Defeat Tammara Webber’s Easy in tomorrow’s roundup, and it will be posted.

Voting will be open from midnight to noon, CST.

Remember, anything that has an IP address can vote–phones, iPads, computers at work, the library, every Starbucks.

 

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Winners, and DA BWAHA bribe post

March 26th, 2013

So, first of all, thank you all for voting both THE GOVERNESS AFFAIR and THE DUCHESS WAR into the Sweet Sixteen round of DA BWAHA. The other books out there are truly amazing, and it’s a huge honor to be chosen.

But in the next round, things are going to get real. THE DUCHESS WAR is up against Tessa Dare’s A LADY BY MIDNIGHT, and THE GOVERNESS AFFAIR is up against Ruthie Knox’s ROOM AT THE INN.

For those of you who haven’t surmised, Tessa Dare is a good friend of mine–a very good friend. So good that we room together every year at RWA Nationals. So good that she knows all my deepest, darkest secrets. (I know hers, too, but her deep, dark secrets are ridiculously adorable, and so I have no ammunition. None whatsoever.) Plus, A LADY BY MIDNIGHT is a ridiculously wonderful book.

Plus, Tessa is offering her fans bribes–she’s offering to write a scene where Colin teaches Thorne how to dance.

Well, two can play at that game. If THE DUCHESS WAR beats Tessa’s A LADY BY MIDNIGHT,  you will get a scene that I deleted from THE DUCHESS WAR–the scene where Minnie’s “maiden” *cough* aunts have “The Talk” with her just before her wedding. There was really no place for it in the book, and it got deleted before I even had what I called a first draft, but trust me, you want to read this scene.

Then there’s Ruthie Knox. I really, really like Ruthie’s books, and I really like Ruthie, too. Her books are amazing. She wrote the best scene involving hot sauce that I have ever read in any book. And ROOM AT THE INN is no slouch. It’s a reboot of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and the heroine is the girl who gave a kidney to the hero’s mother. (And there is a lot of great sex. Did I mention the sex?)

Ruthie Knox is offering up bribes, too–scenes from her first unpublished manuscript. I looked at this and said, “Hey, I have an unpublished manuscript! Maybe I can use some of this as a bribe, too.” So I whipped out my copy of my first book and started reading.

It was so bad. It was so bad I started laughing, but not the good laughing. The kind where I was cry-laughing because it hurt. That manuscript was ridiculously, painfully bad.

Do you want to read the first chapter from Flight of Fancy, my (thankfully) unpublished manuscript? No, no you do not. Nonetheless, that is what you’ll get if we beat Ruthie Knox’s ROOM AT THE INN.

And finally, as promised, I’m picking winners from my last post:

Jill Shultz and Katrina T: winners of A LADY AWAKENED.

SarahA-B and Rhonda: winners of A GENTLEMAN UNDONE.

 

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DA BWAHA Thanks & More!

March 23rd, 2013

So it’s March, and that means that it’s time for the craziest contest of all–DA BWAHA, the contest with the unpronounceable acronym, essentially a March Madness for romance novels (and others that are romance-novel-esque).

I have not one, but two books in DA BWAHA–The Duchess War in the historical category, which was voted in by popular acclaim (thanks!), and The Governess Affair in the novella category. So far things have been going well–in the first two rounds of the historical category, The Duchess War managed to prevail over Cecilia Grant’s first two amazing books, A Lady Awakened–which features some of the best bad sex to be found in a romance novel, and I say that in the most complimentary fashion you can imagine, and A Gentleman Undone, which features an extremely complicated, difficult (my favorite kind!) of heroine, one where another author might have thought of pulling her punches, but Cecilia Grant just shrugged and took her to her complicated, difficult, extreme. The result is extraordinary.

In any event, I’m really humbled to have been chosen over these books–but I think that maybe more people need to read them and discover how awesome they are. So in the spirit of giving away books, I’m going to be giving away 5 copies of each of these–two of each on this blog, and three of each on twitter.

To enter the giveaway on this blog, leave a comment with your name. If you have a preference for which book you want (maybe you read one but not  the other), say so, too. Do so by Sunday night at midnight, and I’ll pick winners Monday monrning.

For the twitter giveaway: You do have to follow me on twitter to win those, so just watch out at http://twitter.com/courtneymilan over the rest of this weekend.


Courtney Milan writes historical romance novels like the ones you see to the right. She still remembers bits and pieces from her old lives, where she was (variously) a scientist and a lawyer.

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