book sales, self-publishing, Writers Co-op


Who makes money self-publishing? Probably, E.L. James’ 50 Shades of Grey sold the most copies. LJ Ross’ series about Detective Chief Inspector Ryan has a total of around 4.5 million copies. Rachel Abbott has sold over four million copies. Every one of her 11 crime novels hit six figure sales in its first year.

What genres dominate? Half of the e-book bestsellers in the romance, science fiction, and fantasy genres on Amazon are self-published!

Famous authors who self-published? E.L. James, of course. Margaret Atwood self-published her poems. Beatrix Potter first self-published 250 copies of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. And, of course, successful authors from Mark Twain to Stephen King cut out the middle man.

Do many authors make money self-publishing? According to Amazon’s 2019 review of its Kindle sales, thousands of self-published authors earn over $50,000, while more than a thousand hit six-figure salaries from their book sales.
‘course, In 2020, there were over 44.2 thousand writers and authors working in the United States,
Best estimates suggest the “average” self-published, digital-only book sells about 250 copies in its lifetime. By comparison, the average traditionally published book sells 3,000 copies, but only about 250-300 of those sales happen in the first year.

So should we self-publish? Obviously, we don’t need a publisher to publish a book. To earn their cut, a publisher must promote your book or they ain’t worth feeling good about. And once you’re famous, you just don’t need them. Feel free to treat publishers the way they treat authors: make me money or go away.

DISCLAIMER: Just my opinion here, but obsessing about money misses the point that life’s memories are made from other stuff. For example: Unlike money, an author’s book is never spent.

Research, Uncategorized

Writing What You Don’t Know

  • by Peter Thomson

A standard bit of writing advice is to ‘write what you know’. Good advice, but how many of us have confronted vampires or run electricity through patchwork corpses? We create new worlds from bits and pieces of the ones we know – including the ones we know from other imaginings, fishing in the cultural deeps until we draw up the strange and new. How deep can we go?

I am not religious. I do not believe in an afterlife and have no truck with divinities of any persuasion. The closest I come to the supernatural are the feelings anyone of ordinary sensitivity has to places of great beauty or sanctity. Yet when Faithful Service and her sister Loyal Service stepped into my mind, demanding I tell their story, religion was everywhere. These were people and a society where faith was central. Theirs is a fantasy world, so I had considerable latitude. I could make up some analogue of an earthly faith (I studied medieval history; basic theology is part of the package). I could stud the story with prayers and priests. I could have a god or gods step in and out.

The story did not want these things. It wanted people who gave serious consideration to what their faith asked of them, and explored how they resolved their differences. It was about the interior of faith, not the trappings. I have religious friends and acquaintances, and one approved my remark that religion must look very different from the inside than the outside. Here I am on the outside, wanting to write about the inside. As it came out, my characters actions spoke for them, each according to their understanding.

One more thing – it’s a world where the supernatural is everywhere evident, to the point of being commonplace. People don’t believe in the gods in the same way that people here don’t believe in chairs. They are just there. So what do the sisters believe in? What is right, and where does it come from? It’s a question at least as old as Socrates – Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious? Or is it pious because it is loved by the gods? (the dialogue with Euthyphro). In The Forked Path the answer is that right is a journey, one undertaken in trust that the dilemma will be resolved in the end. So the story became one of twin journeys, to a reunion and beyond.

Looking back, I think I drew on a melange of medieval mystics and devotional poetry, scraps of theology and philosophy, and both the dogmatic insistence and serenely tolerant certainty I’ve met among the devout. My readers think it works.


On and on they went, slow but never stopping. Villa walls and market gardens went by, the sun rose higher, the puddles steamed away, the earth grew harder. Faithful Service was long unused to going barefoot, and her feet grew more tender as she walked. The old couple went more and more slowly, Right Conduct’s right hand clutching at his side, Proper Support true to her name as she held his left. In one village a boy threw a handful of mud at them, then ran away at the escort’s frown. Travellers made the sign against evil, and a presbyter ostentatiously prayed that wrong-doing might fall from them. All this deepened Faithful Service’s misery, yet on she walked. She had been given nothing to eat that morning and by midday hunger added to her woes. They were permitted to drink at the roadside fountains, where water bubbled clear and cold into stone basins by grace of the Highest’s grant of craft.

Right Conduct and Proper Support kept gamely on, limping and staggering. Right Conduct had cut his foot on a stone and left blood on the ground at each step. By later afternoon Proper Support could hold him up no longer; he sagged against her, they made a few more paces and then both collapsed to the ground.

“By the Highest’s grace, we will not hold this as a falter if you rise within five breaths,” one of the escort told them in a firm tone. Proper Support lifted her head to look him in the face, then clearly made up her mind.

‘My trust has been in the Highest all my life, and I will trust Him still. My husband can go no further, and I will not leave him. If the Highest will not lend us His strength, then we must accept the fate He gives us. I will go no further on my own feet.” She put her arm around her husband’s shoulders and sat firm.

“You have faltered before the Highest. As the Highest decreed, you are not of us. By the Highest’s mercy, you leave the land with your life.” The senior member of the escort intoned the ritual words. Then one was sent to fetch a cart, while another stayed to watch Right Conduct and Proper Support. The other two motioned Faithful Service to go on. She was tempted to join Proper Support on the ground, for her legs ached, her feet were sore and her stomach a gnawing pit of hollowness. Yet she did not; she was young and strong enough to go further, and had not Graceful Deeds always insisted that she do her utmost, told her that there was always one more effort in her? She would honour his memory by going on as far as she was able. Faithful Service set herself in motion, putting one foot in front  of the other in a steady plod.

(The Forked Path is out through Amazon and also – a commercial sale! – Rambunctious Books)

How do you, as authors, feel when the work takes you into areas of ignorance?


Creative Writing Advice?

Googling the title returned about 420,000,000 results in 0.57 seconds. I don’t have the time in this life to read it all, but what I did read was boring. “Advice for creative writing” strikes me as an oxymoron. “Advice” and “creative” are opposites. “Advice” suggests tried and true while “creative” means untested, new. Fresh.

The Google results clearly claim I’m wrong about this. But to paraphrase Anatole France, “If 420 million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.” And despite my skepticism, I enjoy thinking about insights from respected writers. Such as these two from Kurt Vonnegut.

“Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.”

“Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”

Both quotes help me to focus but creativity is the use of the imagination to form something new. Strictly speaking, no one can give you that. So, my advice to new creative writers is, “Think for yourself.”

But what do you think? What would your best, or favorite, advice be to a new creative writer?


A Golden Age for the Writing Life

Is social media necessary, to be a writer these days? I’m referring to all the sites on the Internet where people in the writing life communicate with one another. “Necessary” is too strong a word, of course, but I see social media as a place where writers and illustrators and editors and publishers flourish.

I started on Penguin’s Book Country website for new writers because there I found others enjoying the struggle. We happily traded ideas and criticisms. The latter of which grew into a long list for my first novel, and without which I would have learned very little in the writing of it.

The Writers Co-op itself originated on Book Country and is a “social” and “media” support for members. From here, people have floated ideas for new books, aired the progress of their current projects, put out anthologies and publicized the release of their latest works.

Obviously, all these things were accomplished before the Internet but, I submit, never by so many. Thanks to social media, we are living in a Golden Age for the Writing Life.



According to Publishers Weekly, the pandemic changed book-buying patterns. One obvious change: The travel book subcategory had a severe decline last year, with units plunging 40.3% compared to 2019.

Overall, sales were up in 2020. BookScan said the 8.2% gain was the largest annual increase since 2010. When schools shut, parents’ demand for hard copy juvenile nonfiction titles jumped 23.1% Big Preschool Work sold nearly 790,000 copies, while Crystal Radke’s My First Learn-to-Write Workbook sold more than 703,000 copies.

In YA nonfiction, anti-racism books helped drive gains. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You by Jason Reynolds was #1 on the category list, selling more than 317,000 copies, while This Book Is Anti-racist by Tiffany Jewell sold more than 76,000 copies.

Adult fiction sales rose 6% over 2019. The hottest subcategory was graphic novels, where sales rose 29%. (The action/adventure subcategory had the toughest year, with units down 14.9%.)

Political books -not the spin or puff pieces- but books tied to social justice topics, helped lift sales in adult nonfiction 4.8% over 2019.

Our industry is alive and well despite the troubled times.



Stories from the Golden Era of 2021

This is a time when people are separated only by thin monitors, information is but a Google away, and anybody can publish anything for immediate world wide distribution. 2021 is a golden era for writers. There are many possibilities -right now- to write the best your heart and mind can produce.

Pandemic-Flavoured Fiction (of course)
Ordinary people around the world are caught in an extraordinary disaster that threatens their health, their livelyhood, and those they love.

Science that goes, “Oops!”
Think everyday life descending into technological mayhem. 2021 is seeing tremendous advances in artificial intelligence, Mars exploration and genetically engineered “cures.” What can possibly go wrong?

Start with detailed world building and add in any manner of creatures with human foilbles, their romances and power games -who doesn’t enjoy escaping into the world of a good fantasy these days?

We love riddles and who-done-its bring out the best collaboration between the writer, the characters, and the readers. A good crime story is a masterpiece to pass on.

For horrifically great ideas, read the news.

Diversity Stories
Stories by writers who live on the same planet but in different worlds are a refreshing reality-check.

We who live in the Covid benefit from laughter. We who recognize madness find buffoonery cathartic. This is the time for new writers inspired by the insightful humor of Douglas Adams, Erma Bombeck, Mark Twain, Wanda Sykes, Woody Allen, Dorothy Parker, Garrison Keillor -hell, pick one and get busy writing. We need you.

This is no year to waste whining about anything. This is the year to write your best.


Writing and Research

by Michael DiMatteo

It’s easy to fall in love, really it is. Just find something that steals you’re heart, something your passionate about, and the rest takes care of itself. Simple, really. The part that’s hard is finding that something that steals your heart. As a writer (I’m still not sure I’m comfortable with that moniker as Hemingway, Dickens, Flaubert were writers – I’m more of a scribbler of thoughts and a wayward story teller), there are slightly less than a million ways one can go in search of something that truly pilfers your thoughts so thoroughly there is no recovery.

Most of the time I sit and pound away on my keyboard writing random thoughts, political meanderings that sometimes get published in Realclearpolitics (no, not a shameless plug, maybe), or begin stories that eventually peter out as a Chinese gong fades after the initial blow. They languish in my “bits and pieces” folder, frozen in time as Han Solo maybe to be revived at a later date, but more than likely not. They didn’t plunder my being and like a sometime lover, I got tired of them and simply left.

Then, on some Saturday morning, I sat down with my 6AM coffee to write as is my usual routine. For some inexplicable reason I told myself I was going to write a historical fiction novel – just like that – and then, again for some inexplicable reason, it poured out of me as an African cataract bounding over the cliffs in the southern Nile. I sat for two hours and wrote as though she, Apollonia Savucci, was speaking to me from a grave. I say “a grave” because she was an apparition from my mind. I have no knowledge if anyone by that name exists or existed, but whoever she was, she was speaking to me. I wrote down what she said, how she described losing her love to the plague in 14th century Italy and how she’d never recovered, her soul so damaged she had to flee the only home she’d ever known.

She began telling me about her distant family, where they came from and what they’d endured, and like an obedient servant, I wrote it all down. I found that I’d not been aware of some of the circumstances she was relating to me so I had to do some research. The more I researched the more besotted I became with her and her story, a story emanating from someplace deep in my subconscious. So, I researched location, weather during certain times of the year, food eaten, how people lived and what their homes were actually like. I discovered an entire world of the past this history teacher of over thirty years didn’t know existed. I became an archaeologist of time, brushing off an ancient world in a given space and age that once again became alive if only in my mind and on my computer screen.

I dug further and disinterred other families of power and influence during the period. I unveiled intertwined religions, and found that the tentacles of Italy stretched far further with greater influence than I’d ever thought. I found knights long dead coming back to life, and fictional characters interacting with them in ways I’d not imagined. I found people in love betrayed, and exposed heroism, all traits that existed then and now but with new life breathed into them by my fingers and keyboard.

I dug further. What did olive trees smell like? I found pictures of these places, now ruins but put back together by my imagination and by contacting professors who specialize in the time period. I reached out to a former student now a professor of Islamic history at UCLA who was more than happy to lend his expertise. He also gave me names of others who helped as well. I “cold emailed” a professor at Northwestern University who responded filling in a blank I had. I emailed others who didn’t bother to return my query – but no matter. I was, and am, undaunted. I was being eaten alive by this beast I’d unleashed and was loving every minute of it.

Volume one is completed. Revision has begun, beta readers have also been given copies. So far, the reviews are solid and the suggestions great. I’ve begun implementing some of them during the revision process and while I want it to be perfect, I know it will never be. There will always be something I can add, some other flavor to sprinkle in order to tantalize the readers’ tastebuds, but at some point, I’ll have to release the work to the greater world – or the five people that may choose to read it willingly. That’s ok – it’s the process not the result for me.

I’ve fallen in love with this world that once was and is now being recreated in historical fiction style. I’ve fallen in love with the process of writing and research. My heart has been stolen, my thoughts dominated by my work. None of this is to the detriment of my job for I have students counting on me each day whom I will never let down, but increasingly, I am losing ground to my writing. Good thing I retire next year.


That Novel I Mean to Write

Some novels simmer until, I dunno, something happens to spark them into being or nothing ever does. My simmering novel is about life as a medic during the Vietnam War. I thought I wanted to write about serving on the Intensive Care Unit at USAF Hospital Clark in South East Asia for a year and nine days – a record, the previous holder had been sent home strapped down to a stretcher. Me, I got tired of blood dreams and walked into the hospital commander’s office one morning over the objections of his secretary and plopped into the chair next to his desk. Luckily, Colonel Hernquist had people skills. He looked up from his paperwork and asked, “What can I do for you son?”

I told him who I was, where I’d worked for how long and that I was not going back there.

“Where would you like to work?”

“OB. It’s full of life.”

“Report to OB in the morning.”

I thanked him and left. (A year later, I was rousted out of a tent early one morning in Kwangju, South Korea -the North Koreans had just stolen our spy ship, the Pueblo. Me and three others were stood in a line and up walked some general officers and the Secretary of the Air Force, Harold Brown. Harold pinned some kind of medal on me “for saving lives, etc. while at Clark.” So, that year and nine days had been time usefully spent.)

The stories never go away. Hence, the simmering novel. Not just about the grisly but very much about how we coped. I ran with two other medics and we coped -well, probably the ways young men and women have always coped with casualties of war. Here’s one true example:


“I was taking a guy to x-ray in a wheelchair. Shot-up, just off a medivac. We go by the gift shop and he says, ‘Stop! See that nurse? I want to eyeball-fuck her.’” He shrugged. “I stopped.”

“Who was she?” Captain Kelly asked with bright humor in her eyes.

“Jenkins, from O.B.”

“Oh. That didn’t take him long then.” She turned serious. “I understand. You see death, you want life.” She pushed her chair from the table and looked at the floor while she sucked in a breath. Then she stood. “Back to it.”

He took in the blonde walking away. Kelly was on the dialysis team and regularly watched young men die because their kidneys had been left on the battlefield. When she was on call at night, Captain Kelly was notified by waking the doctor on call that night. He shook his head. Would he ever meet another woman he could tell this story? She would have to be the woman that Captain Kelly was.


Last week, my lady picked up the ringing phone and looked at me. “Do you know a David Miller?” And suddenly I was back there, in Clark Hospital in 1967. David Miller was one of the two that I ran with. He’s suffering from Parkinson’s now but his memory is sharper than mine. His wife found me and with her help, we are going to write some of our stories.


Notable and Noted

The Writers Co-op and Sci-Fi Lampoon Magazine each began as an idea posted in a talented Internet group. As Curtis Bausse noted in the first Co-op blog, “Here We Are,” five of us ‘met’ on Book Country, a Penguin Books website where writers posted their work for peer review and critiques. That was April of 2016 and here we have posted blogs by writers every week since. Sci-Fi Lampoon Magazine began with a suggestion posted in the Sci-Fi Roundtable group on Facebook in 2019, and last week it took third place in an old, respected, literary poll as the best fiction magazine. Internet groups are the best thing to happen for networking since speech.

Not to McLuhanize this, but the learned gentleman long ago pointed out that electronic media not only speeds up communication but it also breaks populations down into smaller groups. Finding writers by their genre is easy in a world where Facebook has a group dedicated to collectors of garage door openers.

As a writer, what groups have you found to be helpful in your writing life?


R.O.I., Anyone?

It’s a business fact that if you have a product that is known to sell, you can find salespeople willing to sell it on commission. A new book by an unknown author has no such track record. Book marketers are not willing to work on commission when they have no reason to believe that their efforts will result in enough sales to be worth their time. That is why they want to be paid up front. Regardless of results.

Traditional publishers know this. They sell books first and then pay the author royalties based on book sales. Any advances given by the publisher are paid back by the author from royalties earned by the author. Publishers keep their eye on their R.O.I. -return on investment.

The Internet sparkles with schemes -er, sorry- ways for an author to sell their books. None of them, to my knowledge, work on commission. None of them work at all. Am I wrong? Has any author paid for book marketing and received a return on their investment? I’d love to know, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.