Several Curiosity Quills Press authors encouraged me to write about why I’m writing Starbreaker. The shortest, most honest answer I’ve got is, “It’s complicated.”
The Hard Sell
I’m going to give you the devil’s honest truth up front. My first Starbreaker novel, Without Bloodshed, is a hard sell. I was aware of this from the start, but got a taste of how hard a sell it would be back in July when I did a signing at the Barnes & Noble in Altoona, PA.
Krystal was there to sell her Darkness Falls trilogy, a dark YA fantasy similar to Alice in Wonderland about a young woman who enters a world without sunlight and turns out to be a prophesied savior. She also sold Shattered Secrets, another YA about a young woman who believes she’s ordinary, and learns the hard way that she’s anything but. She even had teaser copies of Charming to display, which is Grimm’s Cinderella meets Saw.
Ryan Hill was there to sell The Book of Bart, which is a comic YA novel best described as 21 Jump Street meets Dogma — mainly because we couldn’t count on prospective readers being familiar with Good Omens by Terry Prachett and Neil Gaiman. You might find you like the story better than the cover.
Elsie Elmore was there to sell Broken Forest and The Undead: Playing For Keeps. The latter concerns a young woman who thought surviving high school was tough until she discovers that not only can she raise the dead, but she’s also gotten the Reaper’s attention.
J. P. Sloan had local appeal going for him. His latest urban fantasy, The Curse Merchant, is set in Baltimore and concerns a magician who must win back his ex’s soul from a soul-monger before it hits the open market.
Michael Shean was selling his Wonderland Cycle books, along with the gaiden Bone Wires. He traded heavily on associations with Philip K. Dick, Blade Runner, and (to a lesser extent) William Gibson’s cyberpunk classic Neuromancer.
Me? The closest I had to a short pitch was Androids ignorant of their nature fight demons from outer space. If you’re reading that and going, “WTF?” or “LOLWUT?”, then you have something in common with the vast majority of those at #EpicBookFest who heard that pitch and either walked away or let me and Catherine (my wife) explain in greater detail before deciding they didn’t want to buy a copy.
Krystal Wade sold most of her stock, leaving with only two copies of Wilde’s Fire. I think Ryan Hill and Elsie Elmore sold out, but I’m not quite sure about Ryan. I don’t know if J. P. Sloan sold out, but Michael Shean didn’t.
Neither did I. Out of a stock of twenty-four copies, I sold six for $13 (tax included) on Saturday, and three for $10 (tax included) on Sunday. I also gave away four copies: one to Krystal Wade for her help and advice (and because she was tickled by the phrase “angry wizard sex”) and one to a homeless Vietnam War veteran named C.B. who served in the USAF.
I also gave one to Kaliq Hunter Simms at the Park School of Baltimore after she was kind enough to get my contact details and Krystal Wade’s on Sunday. The Park School had a table next to ours in the same tent, and promoted books by former students such as I Love You, Beth Cooper and Your Face in Mine.
I even signed one and stuck it in one of the Village Learning Place’s little free libraries near Pratt St. while Catherine and I looked for somewhere to eat after closing our tent on Sunday.
So, why couldn’t I sell more copies? Did I pick the wrong primary genre? Was I wrong to target an adult audience rather than aiming younger? Am I still too obscure? Or is the story just too damn complicated to compare to a couple of popular movies so I can hook potential readers?
I suspect all of these factors contributed to my results this weekend, but let’s get something straight. I would have loved to have sold all twenty-four copies of Without Bloodshed, but nine isn’t terrible — especially when the Curiosity Quills tent had to compete with a secondhand bookstore in the tent next to ours.
Yes, science fiction is a hard sell these days. I might have sold more by aiming at the YA or NA (New Adult) demographic — but Silent Clarion is coming along nicely. I only published Without Bloodshed last year, and I’m not exactly well-known. I’m not even Internet famous, and I don’t have the figure for it.
Finally, Without Bloodshed is an outrageously complicated novel. It’s got a murder mystery. It’s got conspiracies. It’s got an effort to depose and arrest a dictator without killing him or his flunkies. It’s got a psychological journey as Morgan Stormrider realizes that who he thought he was doesn’t work any longer, and starts the process of figuring out who he really is all over again. It’s got a huge cast, with multiple viewpoints. It’s got a love story between Morgan Stormrider and Naomi Bradleigh, and another romantic subplot between Isaac Magnin and Tamara Gellion (which results in angry wizard sex).
It’s a gonzo sci-fi epic, and it’s only going to get worse in The Blackened Phoenix. I’m not joking. It’s as if 2001: A Space Odyssey joined The Hunger Games and Guardians of the Galaxy for a pub crawl and picked up The Avengers, The Devil’s Advocate, Unbreakable, and the Brosnan/Russo remake of The Thomas Crown Affair along the way. Imagine further that this motley crew of movies got mugged by Heavy Metal, Scott Pilgrim vs The World, and Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Now imagine all of this as a rock opera similar to Queensryche’s Operation: Mindcrime (1988).
How the bloody blithering fuck do you explain that to potential readers? I’m lucky to have sold as many copies as I did, and you’d better believe I’m grateful.