Today I am writing a post that I’ve been DREADING. Yes, dreading all in capital letters. Why have I been dreading it? Well, because it’s a post talking about:
The Realities of Publishing.
I write fantasy books. Clearly, I like avoiding the real world as much as possible. But I am also a full-time writer, the kind that has no second income or fall-back employment. This means I can spend my professional life writing and researching stories and getting the word out to readers like yourself! This also means that passion only takes me so far.
I have three different series. This was a deliberate juggle on my part that has (mostly) paid off. I never wanted to be that writer who was only known for one thing. I never wanted to pigeonhole myself creatively or professionally. So despite what common wisdom would dictate, I paused in writing the Elemental series after Building From Ashes so I could write something COMPLETELY different with Shifting Dreams. And that book… flopped. It’s the only way I could describe it. The sales were pathetic compared to the Elemental books. Was it crushing? A little. I will openly admit that I put on a happy face at the time, but I was really disappointed.
I kept going, determined that I would not be that author who only wrote That One Thing That Everybody Knows. So then I had two series. Elemental and Cambio. A year or so later, I got the idea for the Irin Chronicles, and my series count went to three.
I’ve been very open about the fact that juggling three different fantasy series is difficult. They are three completely different worlds, all with their own internal rules and magic. A lot of planning goes into all three and yes, it’s difficult to switch headspace sometimes. But creatively, I also love it. Having the option to write in three different worlds allows me to pursue ideas and explore different parts of my imagination in wildly different ways.
But at the end of the day, this is my job. This is my livelihood. This is how I pay my mortgage and put clothes on my (ridiculously fast-growing) child. Because of that, I sometimes have to make tough decisions about my work. So today I’m going to talk about some realities of my own publishing life. Remember, I’m a writer AND a publisher. So I have to have the artsy passion creative side, but I also have to keep the lights on and the coffee flowing.
Reality #1: Not all my books are as popular as others.
Without a doubt, my most popular series is the Elemental series, whether it is Elemental Mysteries, Elemental World, or Elemental Legacy. Anything having to do with my vampires is something readers eat up. I love this! It’s amazing to me that you all have become so enthralled with this world. I love to write in it, and even though the Elemental World series will be ending with Lucien’s book, A Stone-Kissed Sea, the Elemental Legacy books with Ben and Tenzin will be launching next year.
The Irin Chronicles have brought me the best critical reviews of my career so far and have also proven to be (mostly) commercially successful, but the last book, The Staff and the Blade, was a bit of a wake-up call for me. The reviews were AMAZING. The sales? Not what I expected. I get it. It was a big book with a higher price tag, and it did okay. But just okay.
The Cambio Springs series is not as popular and has never really taken off like the others. Though it has a devoted following, month to month sales of the entire series do not equal what I sell with a single title in the Elemental Mysteries.
Reality #2: Words take the same time to write whether it’s a popular book or not.
A ninety-thousand word book is a ninety-thousand word book no matter what series I’m writing in. That varies somewhat depending on world-building, but generally speaking wordz is wordz. You see where I’m going with this? The investment of time is the same, even if the book doesn’t sell as well. Same with covers. Same with editing. They all cost roughly the same to PRODUCE, whether they make money in the end or not.
Let me explain.
It’s fairly common knowledge that once initial release sales fall off, the first book in a series is the one that sells the best. This makes sense, because lots of people are going to try the first book, realize it’s not for them, and move on. Totally normal and expected. This means that while series books have a built-in audience—which is great for sales!—they also have a declining one. New readers are less likely to dive into a series at book four. And if they’ve already read one book in a series and didn’t like it, they’re very unlikely to buy another.
You’re feeding your existing audience with series books, but you’re also limiting yourself in finding new readers. That’s just a reality. I like writing series books and it’s been successful for me, so I’ll continue writing them. But I have to be aware that when the only thing I write is ongoing series, I’m also limiting myself with finding new readers.
Reality #4: I cannot continue to invest time and money in a series that has never taken off.
All these realities are pointing to a decision that I don’t want to make, but these are realities of business, not just what I want personally or creatively.
For right now, the Cambio Springs series is on hold. NOT cancelled, but on hold. I will definitely be writing Sean’s book in the future, but I’m not sure when. To be completely frank, I need to spend some time writing in series that pay the bills better. After Sean’s book, that series will likely end. Because of the nature of that series (all stand-alone paranormal romances) there will be no dangling plot threads. So I’m not leaving readers hanging. But I can’t continue to invest time and money—while also limiting my exposure to new readers—to write a series that never really got off the ground commercially.
Reality #5: I don’t like saying goodbye.
I hate this! (And I’ll have you know, my mom is pretty unhappy with me, too. Cambio Springs was her favorite series. I mean, I think I’m still welcome for family dinners and holidays. Hopefully.) I really love that world. It’s a very personal world for me because it reflects a lot of what I love about small town life, quirky individuals, and family. I feel like I grew a lot as a writer during that series. Waking Hearts (Ollie and Allie’s book) has to be one of my personal all-time favorites. I LOVE IT.
And I know a lot of you do, too. I hate feeling like I’m letting you down. But I also know that most of you will understand the realities I’ve laid out above. Some of you may write me off, but I hope it’s not too many. (Yes, I am asking you to still love me, please.) Know that this will also free me up to explore new things creatively. I may end up turning Linx & Bogie into a full series. I may try to write more stand-alone novels. I may explore something entirely different! I don’t know.
But these are my realities. These are the decisions I have to make. And I feel really fortunate that I can be the one making these decisions because I’m self-published. Nothing is being forced on me, so I can’t blame a publisher. This is my decision as a writer and a business person and I will own it. I am so sorry if some of you are disappointed, and I will have to own that, too.
Thank you to my dedicated readers who are so supportive, who spread the word through reviews and social media and word-of-mouth. You have been amazing. Special love to my Cambio fans. Without you, this series would have never made it to three books! And Ollie and Allie might still be in limbo. And that would just be awful.
I’m going to get back to work now, and I feel so fortunate to be able to do this thing I love every day, even when I have to make hard decisions.
p style=”text-align: justify;”> Thanks for reading, Elizabeth