My First Drop-in Bookstore Signing!

Today’s my birthday, and I decided that if I couldn’t get the local bookstores in my area to stock my book, I was going to go to a place that did and see it on the shelves for myself!

So the family jumped into the car and drove the 65 miles to Dublin, CA, where the Barnes & Noble had a couple of copies left. They enthusiastically welcomed my embarrassed inquiry as to whether they’d like me to sign them, and one copy was immediately snatched up, allowing me to personalize it for the customer.

Now we’re in San Francisco, staying in a nicer room than we normally could afford (thank you, Hotwire). Tomorrow morning we plan to drive to Napa for breakfast, then return to Sacramento for a family event, where I’ll meet an aunt we’ve only known existed for a year or so (the 40s and 50s were weird, folks).

Overall, a good birthday. Even if I do have to admit I’m getting closer to 50.

Debut Diary, Part 8: Two Months Post-Release

Here we are, two months past the release of The Widening Gyre. How does it feel?

Weird, man. It feels weird.

I’ll elaborate on that, but first, some answers to FAQs:

How are sales doing?

I don’t know. I really don’t. I get sales reports quarterly, but because the book released two weeks before the end of the quarter, I’ll have to wait until the next one in August before I get any sort of solid answer to that. Having said that, I’ll admit I’ve done some calculations. I figure I’ve sold at least 200 copies since release. Amazon’s NPD BookScan link tells me I’ve sold 64 copies. I know from other writers that Bookscan can be inaccurate as hell, but given that I’m not sure how many actual brick & mortar stores have TWG on the shelves, I’m not sure how far off Bookscan is–it could be pretty accurate.

That said, Bookscan doesn’t account for all sales. WorldCat, a website that searches for books in libraries around the world, tells me I’m in 97 libraries in the US, the Netherlands, Australia, and New Zealand so far. Back when it only listed about 60 libraries, I actually spent an hour going to every library website WordCat linked to and counting the number of copies the library had. At that time, there were 104 verified copies on library shelves, with 25 of them checked out at that moment. I haven’t gone back and checked again, and probably won’t–it was a moment of weakness.

How are the reviews?

They’re not bad. In fact, they’re pretty great, and even the most critical reviews had some good things to say.

Publishers Weekly gave me a decent review, with some negatives, but they called my book a “flawed but promising” debut. Booklist gave me a starred review, and said “Johnston, with skillful plotting and impeccable world building, takes the tale of Tajen and his crew searching for home and shapes it into an unforgettable journey.” Others have said some equally good things.

The book is holding at about 3.94 on Goodreads, and 4/5 stars on Amazon.

How are you?

Well, and here is where we get to “weird.”

It’s very cool that my little book is all over the world, and people I’ve never met are reading it. I’m glad the reviews so far are mostly positive.

I’m also paralyzed with fear and exhaustion, and it’s affecting the writing of book 2. I’m working on it, and I’m still hopeful I can kick into high gear when school let’s out, but for now it’s hit-or-miss. Some days I get 1000+ words, other days I can barely get 300 out. I second-guess myself a lot more this time around.

I feel like I have four jobs: Teacher, dad, writer, and promoter. The day job and being a dad take precedence, but writing used to be ONE job, and now it’s two. It’s doable, but I’m such a beginner that I don’t know what I’m doing.

All in all, I’m very grateful that I’m here. But as many writers say, getting here isn’t an end; it’s just a beginning. In RPG terms, I’ve “leveled up,” and I have a whole new set of skills and “powers,” but I also have more and bigger issues to deal with.

The One Where Michael Worries About a Deadline…

Lately I’ve been a bit panicky, because despite having a contract and a synopsis, I’ve been really stalled on book 2. But somehow I seem to have broken through my brain’s resistance, and now we’re getting off the ground in a big way.

I’m still a little bit nervous, because I’m just now reaching 20%, and the MS is due in July. And I’d really like to get it at least polished once before turning it in. But considering a week ago I was at 13%, I guess I should take the win, right?

In any case, I seem to be making good on my wordcount goals, and I’m getting to a point where it isn’t too hard to keep moving. So hopefully, I’ll be proud to turn in my MS in July, and not secretly terrified of my editor.

Authors For Families Kicks Off April Auctions!

Starting this month, I’ve joined Authors For Families, a collective of authors (and other publishing professionals) offering various items and services at auction to support organizations that seek to reunite immigrant children with their families and fight against inhumane immigration policies.

We support:

• CASA in Maryland, D.C., Virginia, and Pennsylvania. They litigate, advocate, and help with representation of minors needing legal services.

• Women’s Refugee Commission advocates for the rights and protection of women, children, and youth fleeing violence and persecution.

• Kids in Need of Defense works to ensure that kids do not appear in immigration court without representation, and to lobby for policies that advocate for children’s legal interests. 

• The Florence Project is an Arizona project offering free legal services to men, women, and unaccompanied children in immigration custody.

• RAICES is the largest immigration nonprofit in Texas offering free and low-cost legal services to immigrant children and families.

My offerings:

A signed, personalized hardcover book.

This isn’t anything super special; it’s just a book, autographed with a personal message to whomever the winning bidder chooses. I can either write exactly what the bidder wants, or just come up with my own message; your choice.

Name a character in The Blood-Dimmed Tide

The Blood-Dimmed Tide is a more violent, bloody book, as the Remembrance War kicks into gear. The winning bidder gets to name a secondary character, AND they get to choose: Will the character die in a blaze of glory, or live to the end of the book?

Follow the links to take part in the Silent Auction.

Well, here we are: Release Day!

As of today, The Widening Gyre, my little space opera novel, is (theoretically) on store shelves!

If you can’t find it in hardcover or paperback at your local bookstore, you can either order it from them or you can order it from the links here on this site. Pick your retailer; we’ve got ’em all.

For you ebook fans, the book is available on Amazon, Kobo, and Apple Books.

Audiobook lovers can find it on Itunes, Audible/Amazon, and Google Play.

Over on Mary Robinette Kowal’s My Favorite Bits feature, I wrote about my favorite part of the book and why I liked writing it so much.

If you see the book in the wild, I’d love to see it! You can post pics on Twitter and @ me at @MREJohnston, or Instagram, where I’m @michaelr.johnston.

Good reading!

Debut Diary, Part 7: Launch Week Nerves

Here we are, 3 days and change from release. I’m mostly sanguine about it, at this point. The book is written and printed; the audiobook is recorded, the ebook is waiting for release–and of course, the only part of that I had anything to do with is the writing.

So I can sit back and relax now, right?

Well, no.

I’ve got an AMA scheduled on Reddit’s r/sciencefiction community on Monday the 11th, and there are several posts about the book going up for a little over a week–most of these I don’t have to write, but I do need to do more than sit back on my laurels. I need to be pushing the book, in as unobnoxious a way as I can, for at least a week, maybe more.

I’ve discovered that a lot of readers assume this kind of self-promotion is only the domain of self-published or Indie authors, the but the truth is, even writers published by Big 5 Publishers have to do a fair amount of this.

The truth is, though, that at this point, there is very little I can do. The book is edited, printed, and shipped. People will either buy it or they won’t. I obviously hope they do, but I’m also terrified about it.

My stuff. Out there. In people’s hands. The horror!

But also:

My stuff! Out there! In people’s hands! The joy!

I’ll keep updating as this whole thing continues.

Debut Diary, Part 6: ARCs

I am, even as I write this, looking at an Advance Reader Copy, or ARC, of my book.

The whole point of this Debut Diary series is to show debut writers not yet at this stage what it really feels like to publish your first book. So how does this moment feel?

Well, at risk of annoying my aunt, it feels fucking amazing.

I mean, how could it not? I am holding a book I wrote. It has my name on the front, and my picture on the back. And best of all, inside, there are actual words I wrote, in the order in which I wrote them.

I won’t lie–I’ve opened it randomly several times and read the pages. I’ve read the dedication and the acknowledgements, I’ve even read the bibliographic information in the front matter.

I’ve also addressed envelopes and put the ARCs in them. I’ve sent review queries (and gotten requests for the book from some of them). I’ve made lists of local bookstores to drop by and give a copy.

But right now? Right now I can’t stop looking at it.

50 days ’til release day! Order now wherever you like to buy books!


Debut Diary, Part 5: Page Proofs

I received the book design document last week.  This is a PDF that shows the book as it will appear in print.  My job was to read it through, note any issues, and get them back to the editor.  These are also called “page proofs” sometimes.

I did find some errors, but they were mine–continuity errors the team and I missed the last time through.  I sent back corrections, they were made, and I got a new version of the design with the changes.  It’s as perfect as it can be, so now I gather it goes to printing for ARCs.

ARC stands for “Advanced Reader Copy,” and those get sent out to various reviewers, book bloggers, and I think some stores.  The purpose is to generate “blurbs” and reviews to generate buzz and, hopefully, preorders.  Because let’s face it, the preorders from my friends and family won’t be enough to make the book a success.

Reading the proofs was fraught for me.  On the one hand, it was awesome to see the book as it will appear in the final form.  On the other hand, I’ve read the book so often over the last couple of years that I have lost all objectivity.

This is normal, I’m told.  Which is good to know, and which is why I’m writing this series.  Hopefully, some writer someday will read all this, and know that they’re not alone.  We’ve all been there.

Here’s to you, newbie.

Debut Diary, Part 4: Edits

I’ve been going through the edits on The Widening Gyre, and there is one thing that is true of both teaching and writing: You never stop learning.

I’ve learned that I have a bad habit of creating clusters of sentences with the construction “Someone does something AS something else happens.”  As my editor said, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that construction, but if you cluster them up as I’ve done, it calls attention to it and yanks the reader out of the story.

I’ve also learned that despite my having gone through the MS several times, I had a few leftover remnants of earlier drafts that had to be dealt with:

  • Events mentioned when, in the current draft, they haven’t happened yet
  • Characters names that have long since been changed
  • Ship names that are wrong

I also have a habit of using the gerund verb form to write sentences where characters do several things in sequence.  This is a problem, because that form really makes it seem like they are doing all the actions at once, which is, most of the time, completely impossible.

I also had a lot of “echoes”–words that are fine once, but when they happen three or more times on a page, it will yank the reader out of the story.

And there was, to be honest, a frankly inordinate amount of “snorting” going on.  Most, if not all, occasions of snorting got changed to other things.

Aside from these problems, the editor and copy-editor called my attention to several places where things weren’t clear, where a word I’d used might lead to misunderstanding, where things could be tightened.  And I found a fair few places on my own that seemed to work okay, but could be fixed with a small change to the sentence structure or a different word.

Going forward, I have some tics I’ll know to watch out for, because I’d hate to force my editor to deal with so many of the same issues in the next MS.

All in all, my first experience going through a manuscript edit for publication was really nice.  We’ll see how the next iteration goes!

 

The Importance of Local Bookstores for Authors–and the Reading Public

Long ago, in the dark days of my early-to-mid-twenties, I was a bookseller at Books, Inc. in Sacramento.  It was an odd job; very “Empire Records”-like in the way the staff interacted.  I kind of miss it sometimes, even though I rarely worked more than 20 hours in a week and I had to eventually leave it for a better-paying job.

But what I loved was helping people find books they would love.  I eventually ended up in charge of the Science Fiction/Fantasy section, because people knew that I was the guy who knew the genre well.  So anyone looking for SFF was quickly pointed my way.

Even in these days of Amazon and other websites that let you buy books, physical bookstores are important.  For one thing, Amazon is good for getting the book you already know you want, but it’s utter crap for browsing.  It’s much easier to walk the shelves in a real store, perusing the titles and author names, looking for something to catch your eye.

In addition, bookstores pay attention to what sells, and they log requests.  If people make the time to come in and special order a book, there is a better-than-zero chance the store will order a second copy for the shelves.

If enough people request or order the book, the bookseller is more likely to read and then handsell the book to people who want something new, but don’t know exactly what. This is what I did all the time, and if the bookseller liked the book, they’re going to push it.  This is why my store sold completely out of Ian MacDonald’s Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone.  We had ten copies, and not one sold until I got intrigued by the cover, read it, and then hand sold it to nine other people who came in looking for good SF.

A book on the shelf has a greater chance of being picked up on an impulse buy than a picture online, thus widening the audience.

Finally, if you shop at a local, independent store, you’re adding money to the local economy and helping a local business stay open.

Support your local independent bookstore.