Talion Challenge Update #2: The New Math

If you’ve been reading this blog at all in the last few months, you know I’ve been talking about how digital publishing is really taking off. I mean, if NASA had rockets this good, we’d have colonies on Mars and I’d be spending summers on my asteroid a bit further out. The American Association of Publishers has indicated that in the first quarter of 2011, according to reports from 16 of their members, ebook sales are up 159%. At the same time, Amazon has reported that ebooks are outselling all their other books, hardbacks and paperbacks, combined.

I’ve certainly been watching that explosion. In November, on the Kindle alone, I was averaging 2.5 novels sold per day. By April that number had grown to 13.5 per day. So far in the month of May we’re averaging 18.14 per day. These increases are nothing shy of staggering. These numbers literally change everything having to do with the Talion: Revenant 10,000 copy challenge.

When I decided to issue the challenge, my brain was still stuck halfway between traditional publishing and the new world of publishing. In my defense, a year ago, when I started the challenge, ebook sales were growing, but not at a robust and sustained rate. A year ago I’d check sales figures and would be happy to see a book selling here or there. Now I monitor daily sales, look at the impact of blogging and other things on them, and work to optimize what I’m doing here. And the effort is paying off—though I am well aware that a bull market can make everyone look like a genius; and that the expanding ebook market does the same for those of us selling ebooks.

The reasons I pegged the challenge at 10,000 units were these. That was roughly 20-25% of the paperback sales of the book. Because of the way authors are paid for ebooks, we make between 65 and 95% of the sale price. (The higher number is if you buy directly from my website, the lower is if you go through a retailer like Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Apple’s iBookstore.) I was figuring an average of $3.50 per book, which I would bank, and when I had $35,000 in the bank, I could take the time to write the book.

There were a couple of errors in my thinking. The first was that I’d let myself be seduced by traditional publishing. I came to believe that I needed nine months to a year to write Talion: Nemesis. Somehow I’d forgotten that Talion: Revenant, even back in 1986, when I wrote it, got done in a couple of months. To be open and honest with you, writing had ceased to be fun. Sure, there were short stories that I did that I enjoyed, and they turned out very well. And At the Queen’s Command was a lot of fun to do, but I lost sight of that because of a number of factors that don’t need mentioning here.

And then, earlier this year, as I was going back through work and trying to figure out what I’d be doing with ebooks, I got reminded that when the work was fun, I could actually work very quickly. Moreover, and largely due to the really wonderful things you’ve all had to say about At the Queen’s Command and especially In Hero Years… I’m Dead; I’ve snapped out of the funk that was not allowing me to remember how much fun I was having. The Conan novelization, despite a bone-crushing deadline, was a blast. And Of Limited Loyalty has been cruising right along. I’m back doing things the way I did them fifteen years ago, writing stories I enjoy, with characters who fascinate me. And when I’m not writing, I’m scribbling away madly on a whole mess of new work and worlds I can’t wait to share with you.

So, at roughly the same time when I remember that I could work fast, and discovered that I was actually excited about what I was doing; I got reminded of a second aspect of business that I’d been ignoring. Authors get large advances so we’ll have money to write books. Why? Because publishers dole out royalties only twice a year; and writers never know what they’re going to get. In fact, it’s accepted wisdom within the field that you only count on getting paid your advance; and that any penny you see after that is really a bonus.

What that means, in short, is that authors have zero cash flow under the traditional publishing system. Tradpub dumps a certain amount of money on us to do a project, and we have to hope that this money lasts until our next project pays us. That’s fine when you’re doing two books a year at $30K a clip. Fact is, I’ve watched my per-novel advance drop by 66% since its high in 2005. Imagine being asked to do the same work at your job, but for a third of what you used to be paid. (Funk, anyone? :) )

But now, with ebooks sales the way they are, authors do have cash flow. As I noted in my last post, ebook sales, if they stay at the May levels, will pay for my mortgage and health insurance—the latter being the equivalent of leasing a pair of Mercedes. Having this cash flow, and realizing that writing Talion: Nemesis isn’t going to take me a year, has caused a major shift in my thinking about the whole project.

So, here’s the deal. In the last year Talion:Revenant has sold 1,573 copies in ebook form. That’s roughly 1/7th of the way to the target of 10,000. But the target of 10,000 is sincerely too high. So, henceforth and heretofore the Challenge will be the Talion: Revenant 10,000/2 copy challenge. If we hit 5,000 sales, things will be good to go. 5,000 copies is very realistic, and I have this gaping hole in my schedule come January. If we can hit 5,000 copies by then, this time next year you’ll have Talion: Nemesis.

You can participate by buying novel from my webstore (in a format suitable for the Nook, iPad, iPhone, late generation iPod Touches, Sony Readers and most everything else), through a click here; and if you’d like to buy the book through Amazon for your Kindle, you can click here.

Please, understand two things:

First, if you’ve bought the book in paper or electronic format, don’t feel you need to buy again. I’d actually prefer you didn’t. Just recommend it to friends and colleagues, or mention it in blogs and on lists where you see folks recommending books. There are more than enough fantasy readers out there who read ebooks and just don’t know about Talion: Revenant to finish off the challenge.

Second, this new age of writing is all about you being able to vote directly, with your recommendations and dollars, to let writers know what it is you want to see us write. In the past, your choices were limited to what editors and book-buyers thought were hot. If you didn’t want sparkly vampires, you were going to get them anyway, even if it meant your preferred reading material was squeezed out. Your desires no longer get filtered through a byzantine web of number crunchers figuring out how much of what they have to sell so they can afford offices in Manhattan.

You literally become patrons of the arts, the same as the folks who paid Shakespeare and Michelangelo. I’ll write fun stories for you—in worlds you know, and new ones. (Still mulling over whether or not “Fluffy, priest-king of Felantis” stories will go over well. I’d have to start him as a novitiate-prince first, I think.) This will be a time of experimentation, but now readers and writers have a ton more freedom to play and enjoy. This means you’ll be getting better stories, and authors will have the flexibility to appeal to larger audiences. With those larger audiences, and a lack of Manhattan overhead, we can keep prices reasonable and everyone benefits.

Again, thank you all for the great support you’ve showed me both down through the years of tradpub, and now in this new age of vertically integrated publishing. Thank you for giving me the ability to do what I want to do: make a living giving you escape and entertainment. As we go forward, in this new age of publishing, I think we’ll both be well served.

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117 Responses to “Talion Challenge Update #2: The New Math”

  1. Err.. you have said you might write pussy sword and sorcery – but not what this one is actually about? :)

    An unfortunately common problem…

  2. Hi Mike

    I don’t know if there is any way to do that but it would be great if you could get Amazon to publish your translated work as well. The kindle is avaiable here in germany for some time now but unfortunatly your books are only avaiable in english.

  3. SQUEE!! Time to pimp again…

  4. Katrina Steiner as the Red Corsair ;-)

  5. It is an exciting time to be a reader! More options in what is available and authors that are listening to us as they ponder what to write next. Personally I’m excited about the new Talion book and echo Orins call for the story of the Red Corsair, it’s has been tantalizing BattleTech fans for ages.

    PS. Do you use DRM on any of your self published ebooks?

  6. This challenge makes me hopeful and sad all at once. Hopeful of course because it has promise: I’ve been waiting a good quarter of my life for a Talion sequel, but sad because when I look at the numbers, the progress isn’t as great as it might be.

    Talion: Revenant is, in publication terms, a very old book. The Internet tells me it was published in 1997, which is so long ago that my clear memories of it make me old. It’s ancient history, and it’s simply true that sales of an older work will always be lower than sales of a newer work. They reach a kind of market saturation, after which copies sell only at a trickle.

    And to be honest, the numbers don’t really look that good, for all Mike’s talk of better living through advanced rocketry. At the present rate, I might see a Talion sequel a few years down the line. Or I might not.

    Mike, it’s pretty clear you want to write this thing as much as I want to read it. The market’s expanding. A new work will bring more sales than an existing one, especially a very old one, and will bring new attention to the existing, very old one.

    If your estimates last year were too high, how much too high are they now? Before, you projected it would take a year. Today, you admit it might take only a quarter. Sales are growing at a low-but-exponential rate. And T:R sales at this late date reflect potential T:N sales in much the way asphalt reflects headlights.

    Bottom line:
    You will enjoy writing this book.
    This book will sell far more electronic copies per unit time than Talion: Revenant will.
    Just put it on your schedule already!

  7. I don’t use DRM on the books I self-publish.

  8. Stefan, That’s a question of ownership of the translations. If the publisher has paid for them, I don’t know if they own them, the translator owns them, or I own them. It’s worth looking into, however.

  9. I have read many of your Battletech Books, and decided to pick up Revenant after a few recommendations from various websites. I read it during a vacation in Mexico, and I wasn’t able to put it down. I’m hopeful I can see the sequel come to fruition, and I’ll definitely tell all my friends (also Fantasy Buffs) about it. Thanks for the great read!

    Also, I am wondering if there was a way to fit paperback sales into your figures as well. I know many of my friends will at least look at the book based on my recommendation, but most of them do not own a Kindle or other e-reader, and would probably pick it up in paperback. Would any profit from those sales count towards the total you would need to start writing?

  10. Paperback sales aren’t in the mix at the moment because I’m not planning a paperback edition—I don’t have the distribution to do it, and by the time the book is finished, Heaven alone knows if there will be any print bookstores. The while idea of selling 5000 ebooks is so I know there are 5000 people out there interested enough in the sequel to buy it. Given the investment of time which doing the book will require, and the amount of time it will take to hit 5K sales, the economics work out well at that number.

  11. All I know is I think I just peed my pants. Okay, not really but I have wanted this book for just about ever. Mike, you are by far one of my favorite authors, definitely top 3, every time I go to any book store I look for your name and trace what books I don’t have already. But I have bought Talion on my Kindle and will gladly spread the news hoping that the 5,000 mark will be hit by January, if I could clone myself 4,999 times you would have already had your sales, thanks Mike!

  12. I must comment that Talion:Revenant is one of my favourite books by you. It is something that I have in paperback, as well as copies bought on my Kindle, and Nook. I like many others have been waiting for a sequel to this for a long time now. I am heartened to see that the numbers have been revised so that the threshold for you writing the next installment is lower. I hope to see Talion:Nemesis soon and others to follow. The potential to develop the characters and story line is great.
    Thanks for a good read and I enjoy many of your other books.

  13. I am super excited about the prospect of a Talion sequel, to be honest, I don’t care that this book is X number of years old. There are numerous books out there that are underrated, hidden gems. This book is one of only a handful that I continuously recommend because I enjoyed it so much. It was so well written and unique in the cookie cutter world of fantasy. I hope that whatever the sales numbers are, you get excited about continuing this story, and share it with your Talion fans :) ~Ashley

  14. Hi Mike,
    Any updates on Talion: Nemesis would be much appreciated as i can’t find any update on how the challenge went.

  15. Hi Mike -
    I just finished reading Talion: Revenant on my eInk reader (BeBook 2010), and like the others, I couldn’t put it down. Has anybody mentioned how that skull looks as the page tun flashes negative? It’s AWESOME!
    Now I’m waiting for my Nemesis – so to speak…

  16. I just finish reading Revenant on my kindle and now I read that unless you hit 5k sells you’ll not write Nemesis.
    I am sad, this is just stupid.

  17. Andres,

    You might find it stupid, but I have to eat.

  18. I just finished reading Talion: Revenant and as the others have said, it was a fun and addicting read. I can’t wait for the next one and I am glad you did this challenge because it prompted me to read a great story. As a reader, I am never disappointed in your work and hopefully we get to enjoy Nemesis!

  19. Mike,

    Have you considered pumping out a first chapter or 2 of T:N? I think a teaser of the sequel would be a great motivator for lots of your dedicated readers like myself to really push their friends to pick up T:R.

    I also must say again, I love your work. I search every month for release dates of any new books you are working on. I’m glad YOU found joy in your work again, because a lot of other people enjoy reading it. Can’t wait for whatever is next.

  20. Eric Donaldson 14. Aug, 2011 at 7:08 am

    I just discovered your blog by following up on Talion. I own all of your original world printed fiction, Shadowrun, old Battletech, … well pretty much all but Star Wars. I recently bought your ebooks In Hero Years.., Tricknomancy, and now repurchased Talion and Once a Hero as ebooks, which gave me an idea…..

    My favorite book is Talion: Revenant and I was hoping for a new way to support book two. Could you earmark special “Support Nemesis!” editions of all the ebooks in your own store so that the purchase price will go to support its creation? I really want Nemesis, but can’t bear buying multiple copies of Revenant I can’t use. I also think this would convince many to “upgrade” their print collection of your entire back catalog to ebook, mitigating the pain of the repurchase price by helping their dreamed for sequel get published.

    I don’t see how this could hurt your earnings and believe it would be a powerful enticement to loyal readers. This would draw customers away from Amazon, giving you a higher profit margin as well. Hopefully it would also convince you to bring ALL your back catalog to your site (A Hero Born, I’m looking at you!).

    To support Nemesis I would also bid in an auction for the right to decide a character/place/unique item name from your possible choices, a higher priced personal creation of same, sentence on the personal acknowledgement/dedication page, a character with my name in one of the new modern era ebook series, etc. Or offer the choices as a fixed price item in your own store so you don’t have to deal with auctions (the excitement of auctions seem to generate more interest and higher prices though).

    I believe you have done similar for Battletech, why not make this a regular source of income for ebooks you own all the rights to? If the readers disapprove they won’t bid and you can drop the idea with no loss.

    Thank you for your time!

  21. @Eric: All of those ideas bear consideration. Thanks for offering them.

  22. I’d like to add my voice in support of Eric’s ideas as well. Pity there’s no way to +1 comments on here.

  23. I agree with Eric as well. If purchasing the rest of your books known in print format would count towards Nemesis I would in a heartbeat. I’ve been considering purchasing the digital format for awhile anyways of the other books, but just haven’t justified the expense yet since I own them all in print. Awesome ideas Eric.

  24. I lost my original copy of Revenant almost six years ago and spent the entire time trying to find it. I love this story and can’t wait for the next one. I was just curious how far along is the challenge?

  25. We’re just about halfway there.

  26. Well, I got myself a Kindle today, and the first thing I got was Talion. I have read the book, AGES ago, and loved it. I put it right behind LOTR for my favorites list. I am hoping that you get enough sales to make it worth while. I am going to probably get some of your other books for Kindle too, so count that towards a Talion 2. And 3, and 4… Cheers, and thanks for the enjoyment your books bring me. :) Don


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