Welcome to the Inside View, a (*coughs* infrequently updated *coughs*) blog series where Riley S. Keene discusses the Heroes By Necessity books, and shares unique insights into their thought processes behind story, character, and worldbuilding decisions.
Today, we thought we'd explore some lessons we've learned from one year of being published, and explain a little on why we needed to update Ancients
So first, let's get some stats up in here.
RSK published Ancients on November 30, 2017 to Amazon in both ebook (in Kindle Unlimited) and paperback. Bargain followed on March 31, 2018, and Destiny on July 31, 2018. We also published the boxset of the first trilogy on November 30, 2018.
That means we published just shy of 260,000 words (not including the boxset) in our first year of publishing. And that's just Heroes by Necessity; that doesn't include the shorts and flash fiction we published over the last year.
However, that's not what was written. During that stretch of 12 months, Robert (the "Riley" behind Riley S. Keene) wrote over 350,000 words, 75% of which aren't yet published.
Over this time, we've learned a lot about not only the craft of writing, but the business of it.
Robert and Kristen (the "Keene" behind RSK) originally decided to publish Heroes by Necessity as a "tester" series - basically as a way to prove we could and should write. Kristen had spent years studying structure and character building, and Robert had spent years writing fanfiction and NaNo stories by the seat of his pants, so they totally thought they could just smash the two together and make it work.
It did, but it also didn't.
The first draft of Ancients was finished April of 2017. It went through five extensive months of editing (which was really just trial and lots of error) before it went to beta readers. Now, beta readers were nice. They knew this was our first book ever, and they gave some harsh critiques (which resulted in an entire chapter being cut) but they also gave us the confidence that we could do this.
The thing is, readers don't know this is your first book ever.
They only know that they paid money for a book, and it isn't the best book they've ever read.
The first few harsh reviews killed us. Especially since it wasn't related to common pitfalls of first-time self-published authors (spelling/grammar, meandering plot, etc.) but was instead related to the story we told.
It was too slow.
No one understood why the characters had come together.
There was torture.
We vowed to make it better. I mean, we had to, right? This was our starter - the book that was supposed to draw people deeper into the series and make them excited for the next book.
But we were also publishing a book every four months.
And not doing much else.
Eventually, Kristen came up with the genius idea of releasing the boxset as its own release, allowing us some breathing room to get done what needed to get done. Ancients would be remastered, the boxset would be a hit, and all would be right in the world, right?
The re-write of Ancients took three months.
It was the hardest, most brutal edit.
More reviews had come in, and each negative one dug deeper into the problems.
But there were also so many positive, and so Kristen was faced with the dilemma of not wanting to edit out the parts people liked to get rid of the parts they didn't.
It got done, and the re-released book has been well received.
There haven't been any new reviews, but there's a lot more people picking up Bargain these days, so that's something.
So, alright. Lots of rambling here. We promised lessons, and so here are the Too Long; Didn't Read (TLDR) highlights:
1) It's impossible to please everyone - so focus only on pleasing your core audience.
2) No matter how much you think you've got plenty of time to do something - you don't.
3) Publishing wide got us a Bookbub and has been pretty decent to us, but the only reason we did it was people weren't reading the book through KU. Do not recommend this to anyone who is actually getting KU page reads.
The big elephant in the room though is this: would we do it the same if we could go back and re-do things? And the answer, unsurprisingly if you know anything about us, is yes.
Publishing Ancients was scary. Not only was it an untested product in a world where everyone tests everything a billion times. But it was proof that we could stick with something for over a year.
When I went to publish Ancients last November, I (Keene) knew it wasn't right. And I wanted to hold off. But had we held off for my (now legitimate) concerns, there would have been something else. And something else.
Maybe we would have published it, eventually, but to be honest?
It would have gone in a folder on my desktop, never to be seen again.
And we wouldn't be here, one year later, planning on publishing almost double the amount of words we did this year.
So maybe the real lesson here is to just take the chance. Failure hurts, but failure to start hurts so much worse.