Some people have asked me what I meant by a statement in my postmortem – about WHY I needed Truthwitch to break out (because if it didn’t, my career was over). I’m not sure how in-depth I’ve been in my newsletter, so here’s an answer for you:
Basically, my first series tanked. I mean…tanked. We’re talking, Truthwitch sold more copies in its first two weeks than the entire SS&D series COMBINED.
Bad sales hurt an author – you’re way better off as an untested debut than an author with shitty sales. So I was at a crossroads in my career, where the plan was to change my name. That way, I could be a “debut” again. (Sadly, this happens a LOT in the industry. Which is why please do not pirate our books!)
But then Tor decided to take a chance on me. Because they’re a small (and amazing) house, they have more room to take on projects that they’re passionate about (instead of just commercially successful). HOWEVER, if Truthwitch didn’t sell well…. Then yeah. That was it. “Susan Dennard” would be dead, and I’d have to reinvent/start over my career.
There’s no shame in that. I was totally willing to reinvent! The problem was that I had this great audience for my writing advice – thousands upon thousands of people who were coming back for my blog and newsletter. Yet none of them were buying my books. Which is fine – I don’t give free writing help to sell copies. I do it because I love doing it.
BUT…if I reinvented myself, I would lose what little crossover I had between writing-advice-fans and book-readers – not to mention the handful of amazing fans who did like the SS&D trilogy (I will never ever forget my wonderful Misfits!).
So…I needed + desperately wanted Truthwitch to sell well. I wanted Tor to be happy. I wanted to keep my name. That led to me going “all in” on self-promo.
Full disclosure: I allocated $15,000 of my advance to promote Truthwitch. (Which, in case you’re wondering, was most of the advance.) I ended up going over that amount…by a lot. Costs ranged from travel to important events (this was really where the bulk got eaten up!) to running/maintaining my street team (swag, postage, hiring an assistant to help me keep it going) to learning how to + making my own book trailer.***
And like…I honestly don’t even know what kind of TIME I spent promoting. It was a lot more than I thought it would be. Literally most of 2015.
But…it paid off, right? At least in terms of “success.” I’m a New York Times Bestseller now!!
That said, I haven’t earned back the money I spent yet (“bestseller” doesn’t automatically mean “rich”), and I will never get back the time I spent. Plus, the nightmare that was 2016 as I tried to rush-create Windwitch…
It begs the question: were the costs worth the rewards? I don’t know. I think so since, hopefully, the rewards will continue to pay forward for a long time – and my career is definitely growing!
Best of all, though, I CAN KEEP MY NAME. Susan Dennard. C’est moi pour toujours. ❤️
I want to add two more things – because this post has opened up a lot of conversations I wasn’t expecting to have (but welcome!!).
First: I cannot emphasize enough just how important LUCK is in this equation. On top of the time, money, publisher-partnership, and salty desperation that I poured into Truthwitch, I ALSO GOT LUCKY. I had the Right Book at the Right Moment with the Right Cover in the Right Genre coming out in the Right Month.
A publisher can pour all the money in the world into a book, but nothing will make readers buy it. There is no predicting trends.
So a lot of the success of Truthwitch (which is still pretty small, relatively speaking. I’m not a Big Author by any means!!) boils down to that intangible, finicky sprite known as Lady Luck.
Second: This is just ROUND ONE of “reinvention.” I have no illusions or expectations that my success will remain. The Witchlands series has already exceeded my wildest hopes, but no author stays “on top” forever. It’s a constant up and down, and frankly, we’re all just really lucky to even be able to share our words in the first place.
Sure, I’d love to be successful forever, but it’s not my primary dream – and definitely not my expectation. Realism is key to longevity in this industry, and more than that: gratitude.
So on that note: thanks for reading, thanks for sharing, and thanks for being the reason I keep writing.
***Note: I need to also mention that, once it was clear my own self-promotion was starting to pick up momentum, Tor really stepped in and helped me. This was not a solo journey, and it NEVER is. I had/have an amazing team, and we’ve forged a real partnership while getting the Witchlands into readers’ hands.
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