This has been an exciting year for me in the brave new world of self-publishing. While I’ve had a handful of short stories dipping a toe in the waters for a couple of years now, in 2011 I jumped in with both feet—and a slew of stories, and a couple of books as well.
It is, as I’ve remarked elsewhere, a slow way to get rich. But one of its pleasures is the lightning-fast nature of feedback. Publish yourself and you don’t have to wait months for a royalty statement to give you a clue how you’re doing. Up-to-the-minute sales figures are a mouse click away—and, if your OCD is in good repair, you can check them every fifteen minutes.
As of today, I’ve got 26 self-published works available for Nook and Kindle. (Many but not all of them are on sale as well at Smashwords and the Apple store.) The most recent is Generally Speaking; this compilation of my philatelic columns for Linn’s Stamp News went live just over a week ago. Two novellas, Keller in Dallas and Speaking of Greed, have been steady sellers for a couple of years.
Here’s a look at their relative performance in the month of December:
1. THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC. All the Matthew Scudder stories in a single volume, including two new ones appearing here for the first time ever. An original indie eBook—available also as a self-published trade paperback.
2. THE BURGLAR WHO SMELLED SMOKE. A Bernie Rhodenbarr locked-room story, originally published in the short-lived and much-missed Mary Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine.
3. THE BURGLAR WHO DROPPED IN ON ELVIS. Another Bernie Rhodenbarr story, and oddly enough another locked-room is involved—the off-limits second floor at Graceland. First appeared in Playboy.
4. CATCH AND RELEASE. A savage story about a fisherman who likes to catch ’em and let ’em go. Its only appearance has been in Stories, the cross-genre anthology edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio. I guess people like this story and tell their friends; sales keep increasing from month to month. (And the cover came out really nice. That probably doesn’t hurt.)
5. KELLER IN DALLAS. A novella, continuing the saga after Keller settles down in New Orleans at the end of Hit and Run. In November I completed a fifth Keller novel, HIT ME, and Keller in Dallas is the first episode in the new book (coming in February 2013). The novella first appeared in American Stamp Dealer & Collector and was reprinted in Ellery Queen.
6. LIKE A THIEF IN THE NIGHT. A Bernie Rhodenbarr story, but told from the point of view of a woman who crosses paths with him in a Manhattan office building after hours. Commissioned by Savvy, but they folded before it could appear. Then it did or didn’t appear in Cosmopolitan—online sources disagree. (If it had “Burglar” instead of “Thief” in the title, it’d be vying with Catch And Release for the #4 spot.)
7. A CHANCE TO GET EVEN. A friendly poker game turns nasty. First published in Ellery Queen.
8. A BAD NIGHT FOR BURGLARS. Also first published in EQMM, but back in the mid-1970s. It was the first story they bought from me, and is clearly a precursor to the Bernie Rhodenbarr series.
9. WHO KNOWS WHERE IT GOES. A story that grew out of the economic collapse of 2008, and the consequences of unemployment. The title’s from the Junior Burke song. First publication was in EQMM.
10. SPEAKING OF LUST. Four archetypal old men play cards and each recounts a tale from his own experience. A very old-fashioned type of narrative, though there’s nothing out-of-date about the stories they tell. This had its sole appearance as the title novella of a hardcover anthology.
11. DOLLY’S TRASH AND TREASURES. Inspired by the TV shows about hoarders, this all-dialogue story was written for Maxim Jakubowski’s UK audio anthology, The Sounds of Crime, and later appeared in Ellery Queen.
12. A VISION IN WHITE. A tennis story. First appeared in EQMM.
13. AS DARK AS CHRISTMAS GETS. A Chip Harrison story, written for Otto Penzler’s Christmas series. A very slow seller in past months, but a hot ticket in December. I suppose it’ll return to hibernation now. Or maybe not—my friend Jaye Manus had an interesting reaction to the story, and blogged about it.
14. IN FOR A PENNY. Written for a BBC Radio series with a Noir theme, it subsequently appeared in Ellery Queen; I tucked it into Manhattan Noir 2 as well.
15. THREE IN THE SIDE POCKET. A nasty story that got entirely ignored in the eWorld; then I guess people liked it and word got around, and sales picked up. The title and cover notwithstanding, it has nothing to do with pocket billiards.
16. GENERALLY SPEAKING. My second indie book, subtitled “A Philatelic Patchwork.” It’s a collection of my first 25 monthly columns for Linn’s Stamp News, and it’s obviously aimed at stamp collectors, but I’ve heard from non-collectors who say it makes interesting reading. (I’d recommend sampling it; you can download a chapter or two free, and see if it’s something you want more of.)
17. SPEAKING OF GREED. A companion novella to #10, Speaking of Lust, which out-sold it last month by four to one. Now what does that tell us about you all?
18. YOU DON’T EVEN FEEL IT. A boxing story, written for an Otto Penzler anthology.
19. WELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD. A story about an ardent golfer who limits his play to the driving range—or tries to.
20. SCENARIOS. S J Rozan and Jonathan Santlofer co-edited The Dark End of the Street, an anthology mixing “crime” and “literary” authors. I suppose this story has its feet (iambic, no doubt) in both camps. And it’s as close as I care to come to post-modern.
23. LIKE A BONE IN THE THROAT. Otto Penzler, who published it in Murder for Revenge and then chose it for his collection of the best noir stories of the century, called this the nastiest story he ever read. (Then why isn’t it selling better? Hmmm.)
24 (tied). SWEET LITTLE HANDS and TERRIBLE TOMMY TERHUNE. The first, written for one of the Hot Blood anthologies, is about a married couple with a hobby. The second is a tennis story, written at a time when I knew precious little about the game, and I’m afraid it shows.
26. HOW FAR. I suspect this one-act stage play will always be at the bottom of the list, because not that many of y’all are eager to read ePlays. It’s a very close adaptation of my short story, “How Far It Could Go,” and I myself am uncommonly fond of it in either form. I ePubbed it not in the expectation of selling many copies, but with the thought that someone might like it enough to stage it. Two characters, one simple set, a natural vehicle for theater-group production. . .ah well. I’m still waiting, people.
I find the list interesting, albeit that I have more of a stake in it than anyone else would. It’ll be interesting, too, to see how January compares with December. I intend to publish an updated list a month from now (if I remember) though probably without the annotation.
The list reflects relative sales for Kindle on amazon.com. That’s where the greater portion of my eSales come, and their report is easiest to reference. As far as I can tell, sales on other platforms run to pretty much the same pattern.
By the same token, the links in the above list are to Amazon. But I certainly don’t want to neglect all you Nookies, so here’s an unannotated list with Nook links:
THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC
THE BURGLAR WHO SMELLED SMOKE
THE BURGLAR WHO DROPPED IN ON ELVIS
CATCH AND RELEASE
KELLER IN DALLAS
LIKE A THIEF IN THE NIGHT
A CHANCE TO GET EVEN
A BAD NIGHT FOR BURGLARS
WHO KNOWS WHERE IT GOES
SPEAKING OF LUST
DOLLY’S TRASH AND TREASURES
A VISION IN WHITE
AS DARK AS CHRISTMAS GETS
IN FOR A PENNY
THREE IN THE SIDE POCKET
SPEAKING OF GREED
YOU DON’T EVEN FEEL IT
WELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD
HEADACHES AND BAD DREAMS
LIKE A BONE IN THE THROAT
SWEET LITTLE HANDS
TERRIBLE TOMMY TERHUNE
If I haven’t wished any of y’all a Happy New Year, I’ll do that now. 2011 was not the easiest year on record for the human race, but I found it a joy in many ways, not least of all because it was the year I found myself embracing blogging and social media and indie publishing. And I’m very happy with the whole deal. Writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, is at root a way of talking to people, so why wouldn’t I enjoy it?