Tuesday, September 3, 2013

My Dungeons and Dragons Guide to Book Sales

Let it Ride channels Elmore Leonard at the height of his powers, with dialogue Quentin Tarantino would kill for.” – Ken Bruen

That’s a great quote, isn’t it? Those names in one sentence. Imagne how thrilled I was to see that on the back of my book. I’m still thrilled every time I look at it (which may be more often than is healthy). That book was published by a big-time NY publisher.

You can buy a hardcover of that book for one cent online. There was no paperback. That book flopped, sold almost no copies and was quickly remaindered (the Canadian version is called, Swap, and it also flopped and sold almost no copies).

Well, all my books sell pretty much no copies so I’m not all that surprised, but with quotes like that I was hoping for maybe one tenth of those guys’ sales. One one-hundredth would have been good. Oh, let’s be honest, one one-thousandth would have been fantastic.

But all you can do is roll the dice and hope.

This is what I’ve learned in my now ten years in the publishing business. (I hadn’t realized till I started writing this post that it’s been ten years since my first novel, Below the Line, was published. Time really does fly when you’re having fun...)

Of course, there are things you can do is try to reduce odds and I’ve been thinking about that in Dungeons and Dragons terms lately. Because of the dice. And how there are dice with lots of different number of sides.

One of my sons has been playing a lot of D&D lately and as he tells me about his adventures he says things like, “I rolled the d20.” The one with twenty sides.

So, I figured to get a bestseller you have to roll the dice and get a one. Sometimes I feel like I’m rolling a d6000 and trying to get a one.

But like D&D you can fill out your character sheet and that will change your odds.

You can write a really good book.
You can find the right agent, get the right publisher for the book. (or do a fantastic job self-publishing the book)
You can get terrific blurbs and good reviews.
And then roll the dice.
If all those things come together maybe instead of the d64 (which apparently really exists) you can roll the d32 or even d20.
With each book you write you get better and maybe you get to use a die with fewer sides. Until you’re Stephen King or JK Rowling and you just have a card with a one on it and you play that.
Oh, and watch out for the dragons.


Steve Weddle said...

Great stuff. Lemme nerd it up a bit for ya.

If you're attacking, rolling a d20, then a 20 is a "Critical Hit." That's what you want. Instead of wounding the orc for damage, you collapse his skull. Huzzah!

You can increase your chances by using a Blurb of Importance, which gives you a +2 bonus.

John McFetridge said...

Thanks for the nerding up. I asked my son for more information but, of course, I was lost almost as soon as he started talking.

Dana King said...

This is a point all writers should embrace; kudos for making it in a new and refreshing way.

We all spend too much time worrying--and sometimes obsessing--over things that are out of our control. We have complete control over the writing of the book, a little control over marketing, and none over sales. Distribute worries appropriately.