Somehow, it’s already been four weeks since the release of A Dead Man’s Favor. Wild, right? It feels like it was just yesterday, but according to the calendar, November is on its way, and according to the department stores, Christmas is already here.
As I like to do sometimes, I wanted to share a retrospective on the release. Sales reports, reviews, positives, negatives… basically how everything went and what I can do better in the future.
Fair warning: this post will be numbers heavy, so if that’s not your thing, skip to the tl;dr near the end!
A Release Retrospective
A few weeks ago, a friend1 asked me how the release was going, and I responded by rattling off numbers that meant something to me but probably nobody else. I’m going to do that again2, but I’m also going to provide comparisons with previous releases, to hopefully put those numbers into context.
Four weeks after its release, A Dead Man’s Favor (ADMF) has 192 ratings on (US) Amazon, with an aggregate rating of 4.8 stars out of 5. We’ve had a few unhappy reviews3, but for the majority of you, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. This was the rare release that I wasn’t worried about. Part of that is because I feel so comfortable with the cast, part of it is that I didn’t see anything super controversial about the plot, but mostly, I just was confident it was a good book and that people who liked the series would like this one too. So far, that’s mostly borne out.
ADMF peaked at #1,222 in the overall Amazon book sales rankings (out of literally tens of millions of books), and four weeks later, we’re still hanging out in the top 10k-15k, which means people continue to find, buy, and read the book at a good pace. This year, The Many Travails of John Smith series has gone from the black sheep of my bibliography to the main breadwinner, and that’s been really cool to see. As an author forever struggling with impostor syndrome, it’s reassuring to think that any success I’ve experienced wasn’t just luck or tied to a single series, character, or viewpoint happening to catch on with readers, but that there’s instead an actual audience for my writing in general.
Reviews have been really solid as well:
“This latest telling of the John Smith saga is perhaps the best yet, but maybe only because it’s the latest I’ve read. Love how the story and characters are developing. Highly recommended reading!!”
“Chris Tullbane has done it again with this book. “
“I think this was my favorite book of collection so far. Main character is maturing more and other characters are growing as well. “
“This is one of my top favorite series. The author does what so many other authors find difficult to do – keep a series interesting and exciting. John Smith continues to grow as a person as he meets new challenges. Most of our favorite characters are back.”
“This is a fine urban fantasy adventure novel. It is well written and edited. I especially like Lucia. I anxiously await the sequel.“4
To everyone who has left a review or rating: thank you! To everyone who has told their friends about that weird series with an asparagus demigod and a city-sized fungus who likes philosophy: thank you! To everyone who has simply taken a chance on my books… you guessed it: thank you!
Fewer words and more numbers, Tullbane!
Fair enough. I did say there’d be numbers. And comparisons.
Despite ADMF launching in the last week of September5, October is shaping up to be my best sales month since the 2022 release of The Italian Screwjob. We’re on pace for a million+ page-reads this month for only the third time ever, and while overall orders are down in October vs. September (preorders did a lot to inflate the launch numbers), a number of first-time readers are finding their way to Investigation, Mediation, Vindication (IMV) and then slowly progressing through the series. That’s awesome and really shows the value of a series with a long tail… every release is an opportunity to find new readers for the whole series.
(In fact, IMV hit 1,000+ ratings on Amazon for the first time this past week6, and we’re seeing new ratings/reviews coming in for the other books too.)
So, how did this release compare to past releases at the 4-week mark?
Well, nothing can touch 2021’s One Tin Soldier, which had almost 800 pre-orders and hit at the height of The Murder of Crows‘ popularity. But here’s a comparison to my prior release, The Queen of Smiles (QoS), as well as the previous release in the John Smith series, The Italian Screwjob (TIS):
Orders: TIS: 410 | QoS: 190 | ADMF: 550
Page-Reads: TIS: 607,852 | QoS: 187,920 | ADMF: 566,615
A few things immediately pop out:
First, The Queen of Smiles had a very quiet launch. Sadly, this trend has continued for that book over the past year. I suspect I won’t see a pop until I release the sequel7.
Second, while A Dead Man’s Favor sold more copies than The Italian Screwjob, it was beaten in terms of initial page-reads. The reason for this is simple… TIS is roughly 14% longer than ADMF, which makes for a LOT more estimated pages on Kindle Unlimited. If you instead calculate units borrowed on KU8, it becomes clear that ADMF has actually had more borrows than TIS… I just get less money per read because of the shorter length.
Third, when it comes to orders (digital and print), my book launches are very frontloaded. I’ve mentioned in the past that Kindle Unlimited represents roughly 74% of my lifetime royalties, and that remains true, with print barely even being 1%, and ebooks/audiobooks being the remainder. Pre-orders are a significant portion of those received orders, especially in the first month.
Digging a little bit deeper into the comparisons between ADMF and QoS makes the latter’s plight that much more dire. After four weeks of release, A Dead Man’s Favor is looking to pass or has already passed several lifetime values for The Queen of Smiles:
Total pages read9: The Queen of Smiles (569,832), A Dead Man’s Favor (576,057)
Total orders: QoS (408) | ADMF (553)
Total ratings: QoS (230 Amazon, 144 Goodreads) | ADMF (192 Amazon, 128 Goodreads)
The ‘glass half full’ reading of this is that ADMF has had a really good launch.
The ‘glass broken in shards on the floor and I just stepped on one’ reading is that, again, QoS has severely underperformed.
I think the truth likes somewhere in between: ADMF did very well and QoS did not. Both books are highly rated (4.8 on Amazon, 4.62-4.64 on Goodreads), but it is clear that the fifth book in a series whose popularity has slowly been growing holds more appeal to readers than the starter book for a spinoff series from an already completed trilogy. ‘Sequels sell’ is not just a catchy bit of alliteration.
Okay, that’s more than enough numbers
I did warn you. I find this stuff fascinating, even if nobody else does!
So, what can I do better for the future? Well, the obvious answer is and always will be ‘write an even better book and also do it faster.’ I’ve come a long way from where I started as an author, but I’ve still got so much room to grow and improve on that end. My original goal was to release three books this year, but we’re almost in November and I’ve only managed one. Clearly, I need to get that back on track.
I also need to revisit my promotions strategy. This week, there’s a price promotion going on for The Queen of Smiles, which is showing some positive returns, but I think I’ll be looking into BookBub’s New Releases for Less promotions for my next release… and I’ll continue to try to snag a Featured Deal for any of my multiple series starters. I’ve played around with Facebook ads to limited effect this year and continue to employ Amazon ads to slightly greater (and cheaper) effect, but marketing remains my personal hobgoblin10. More releases would go a long way to fixing everything, but I need to get better at marketing/promoting older series too. As my catalogue continues to grow, I need to be able to leverage it to greater effect.
As far as the pre-release process is concerned, the alpha and beta reading stages went very well and very smoothly, thanks to my sainted readers, but the walking disaster that was 2023 meant we hit a time crunch even after delaying the release date. I need to avoid that in the future, for my own mental health at the very least. I do still want long pre-order lead times, because those are guaranteed sales, but I’ll have to revisit how I do my scheduling to ensure that delays like this don’t happen again in the future.
And… I think that’s it?
tl;dr: Truthfully, I don’t have a lot to dwell on with this release. People are enjoying the book, I’m happy with it too, sales and page-reads have been great, new readers are finding (and liking!) the series… Honestly, I’m pretty damn pleased all around.
Which means it’s time to move on to the next book, with the goal of making it the best one yet. Because you’re only as good as your last book, and with 4+ million books being published each year, it’s all too easy to be forgotten! The grind never stops.
On that note, what’s next? Well, the schedule I released last year got me into a whole lot of trouble as I failed to meet any of the dates included, but I’m not a learning animal, so I’m going to do it again. Here’s what I have tentatively planned:
Christmas 2023 — One or two free short stories as my present to you, released on this site
Christmas 2023 — Merchandising, Part 2: Return of the Merch. I’ve got some new ideas on merchandise we can offer, and on how to improve my approach to insure that the artwork we commission meets our needs. I hope to spend some time working on this for an eventual 2024 launch.
Spring 2024 — Release the starter volume of my long-mentioned, never-seen LitRPG series. I’m writing it now and hope to have it drafted by February.
Late Summer 2024 — Release either The Queen of the Road, book two in The Storm Who Rides, or The Shadows We Cast, the starter volume of my untitled third post-Break series. I’m itching to write them both and won’t know which it will be until I sit down and words start coming out.
Fall/Winter 2024 — Godswar, book six of The Many Travails of John Smith. This is going to be a big one and I need the time to let the plot percolate before I get to writing it!
TBD 2024 — Miscellaneous post-Break novelettes. If writing 3 full-length novels doesn’t suck up every scrap of my available time next year, I plan to fill the remaining space by finally cranking out some of the novelettes I’ve been promising for literal years. Bite-size stories featuring everyone from Paladin and Vibe to Winter to Alan-Fucking-Jackson and even Ishmae.
And that’s my unofficially official schedule for the next year. New worlds, new characters, new stories, and the return of a few crowd favorites. It’s a lot, and this past year has shown how quickly things can go off the rails, but I’m excited by the challenge!
What I’m Reading…
Think Stranger Things meets sci-fi Stephen King. A girl with a reason to be afraid of her own shadow. A man running from his past. A woman building toward something apocalyptic. Three very different characters with very different storylines that, as the plot progresses, link up and reveal the ways in which they are intertwined.
Creepy, mysterious, psychologically trippy, and occasionally gory, this is not my usual read at all, but I found it fascinating and highly recommend it. Sam, who is also a full-time editor, writes with confidence. The pacing remains perfect throughout, and everything comes together beautifully in a story that is justly getting great reviews.
I can’t wait to read the next in the series.
Cynosura 99 is available on Kindle Unlimited, so the barrier to entry is basically non-existent. Check it out!
And that’s it from me this month. Happy Halloween, stay safe, eat well, and keep reading!
- And one of my sainted beta reviewers
- One reviewer thought it was too slow to start, one didn’t like the slice-of-life aspect, and one reader simply 1-starred the book on Amazon and Goodreads despite apparently never having read anything else in the series (or possibly even ADMF).
- I had to include this one because it’s the first review EVER that has had positive things to say about Lucia. With her being one of my favorite awful characters, I loved to see it!
- Where it notched almost 500 orders and 184,000 page-reads
- And also for the second time… shortly after reaching 1,000, a rating or review was deleted, dropping the number back to 999 before it eventually climbed past that marker again.
- And if numbers still remain low, then it may just end up being a dud of a trilogy. It happens sometimes!
- By dividing the total page-reads by the Kindle Estimated Page Numbers (KENP)
- Includes partial values from today
- And that of many other authors, frankly. We like to write. Selling is hard.
- Full disclosure… Sam is a friend, a fellow author, and a frequently hilarious beta reader. She also prefers waffles to pancakes, but I try not to hold that against her.