One-year anniversary of Stellarnet Rebel

Carina Press published my first novel, Stellarnet Rebel, one year ago today, and changed my life. FWIW I will forever be a professional sci-fi author. But the achievement is bittersweet.

My writing skills improved more than I ever thought possible between the start of Stellarnet Rebel and completing the sequel, Stellarnet Prince. With many thanks to my editor, Alison Dasho. I look forward to writing ever more and better stories.

I’ve had a crash course in the publishing/e-publishing industry, queries, submissions, summaries, elevator pitches, conventions, panels, the science fiction and romance genres, marketing, blogging, social media, and book reviewing. And I still don’t feel as if I understand a damn thing.

With my Aldiko and Kindle phone apps, I spend more time reading. I’ve enjoyed the stories of fellow Carina Press authors Robert Appleton, Ella Drake, Nicole Luiken, Christine Bell, Jax Garren and Julia Knight, because they are often edgy, funny and sexy in all the ways I enjoy.

Being an author and knowing how much I appreciate hearing from happy readers, I am more likely to reach out and contact authors whose work I’ve enjoyed.

I’ve made many new friends of readers, sci-fi fans, publishers, artists and fellow authors, who I’ve met online or attending conventions and other events.

I’ve learned how easy it is for mistakes to slip by the eyes of three editors and a dozen rounds of revisions. But I also have higher expectations when it comes to dialogue, character development, world building (now that I even know that’s a thing) and action sequences. I notice other elements I never noticed before — editing, pacing, tropes, cliches. This affects, for better or worse, my enjoyment of books, movies and TV.

When I like a book, I am eager to share my favorites on social media. There are so many books being published but so few promotional dollars being spent by publishers. Word of mouth, reviews and Internet buzz are essential to an author’s success. And I understand that a “bad” book isn’t necessarily terrible for everyone, just wrong for my tastes, so I’m a much kinder person when I do write reviews.

What’s been disappointing to me is that, despite being a finalist in the EPIC ebook awards, selected for my publishers Best of 2012 Staff Picks, an average 4.12 star rating (out of 5) on Goodreads, several 5-star reviews on Amazon, and the many events I attended in 2012 to promote the series, sales of Stellarnet Rebel have been dismal.

I appreciate well-intentioned friends who ask, “When is the movie coming out?” But those types of questions, along with inquiries about the book’s sales, are just lemon juice on my wounds.

Why hasn’t Stellarnet Rebel sold well? It would be easy to say “because it sucks” — and there’s no denying that it is a debut novel, and science fiction, not The Grapes of Wrath. Except for that EPIC award thing, all of the positive reviews, or the fact that Audible picked it up and the audio book narrator loved it. My publisher and editor loved it enough to offer me a contract and a series. It can’t be that bad.

There could be many other reasons. Debut authors typically don’t sell well. Which is why we’re told that the best way to promote our books is to write another one. It’s all about backlist and ongoing releases.

I’ve also discovered that science fiction with romantic elements, especially when written by women about women (and not young adults), doesn’t sell so well.

It could be that my publisher, being an imprint of Harlequin, is not reaching a sci-fi reading audience, and most romance readers aren’t interested in post-cyberpunk science fiction action adventure with video games, socio-political commentary and unconventional relationships. I’ve had some male readers tell me that they were initially turned off by the Harlequin association, but eventually read it anyway (and were glad they did).

Perhaps there’s no interest in alien love stories. Perhaps I should have written about vampires, werewolves, zombies and S&M steampunk airship pirates, but with a more vanilla romantic couple — instead of an exhibitionist threesome with an alien version of Ben Franklin and a sapphire-skinned emo outcast who have no qualms about making a news blogger sandwich.

The fact that the Stellarnet books are ebooks and audio books only, not print, is probably also against it, despite the overall increase in digital sales and decrease in paperback sales. Based on my experiences, science fiction readers, oddly, resist new technology. It makes little sense to me that people who love futuristic stories and dressing up like sci-fi characters would not be using smartphones and tablets with wild abandon. But the “I like to turn pages and smell a book” force is strong with that audience.

I do very much appreciate those readers and reviewers who told me how much they enjoyed the Stellarnet books. They keep me going. The third Stellarnet book needs to be finished. And I have more stories I would like to tell. But I won’t be attending as many conventions nor devoting as many hours to writing, in 2013. For the sake of my health and sanity, and in fairness to my family.

Let’s be real. I know, from my experience as a jewelry designer, that it takes years to build a following and a reputation. But at this point, I just can’t devote myself full-time to something that is going to pay me 20-cents an hour.

When I think of all the evenings I spent in isolation, writing, revising or “building my social media platform” rather than being with my children, watching a movie with my husband, playing a favorite video game, going out with friends… Or when I think about how I set aside my volunteer work and my fairly successful jewelry design business, so I could write instead… When I think about the hours in therapy and the Xanax pills so I could figure out how to deal with going from being a very private person to being in the public eye, with my heart and soul bared on the page for all to read and judge, or sitting in front of a room full of people, speaking on a panel as if I know anything they need to hear…

All of the work and sacrifice, and only a small number of people are reading Stellarnet Rebel. I can’t help feeling crushed. It’s hard not to be bitter about a public that would rather rally around a pedophile vampire or some BDSM fanfic.

Has it really been worth having this dream come true? As Duin said, “There are two great tragedies in life, Belloc. One is not getting what you want.”

The other is getting it. Happy anniversary, Stellarnet Rebel.

~ J.L. Hilton

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9 Responses to One-year anniversary of Stellarnet Rebel

  1. Alison says:

    Wonderful post, Jen. Thank you for sharing your experiences and feelings so openly.

    And know that you have at least one dedicated fan who will wait for as long as it takes to read the next Stellarnet book. Your health and happiness, and that of your family, come first.


  2. I’m sorry your sales have been so poor. 🙁 I think you may have some good theories here–it’s a risk, trying to sell stuff that slants more towards SF/F on a site whose primary audience in fact coming out of romance. And like you I’m often baffled as to why more geeks of my acquaintance have not in fact embraced ebooks. Part of it I think is a LOT of the geeks I know being cranky about DRM issues, but I’ve also seen a lot of people just outright say that they prefer print.

    In the grand scheme of things what sales numbers I’ve had for my prior work have been pretty dismal, too–so I’ve definitely had to adjust my expectations as to what I want out of my writing, long-term. I’ve seen a lot of my author friends who have made it into print also talking about their sales numbers being dismal. One guy I know had to start writing under a new name even though he was still writing in the same universe. And a few people have had ongoing series collapse out from under them.

    So yeah, it’s wise to take a step back and reconsider the writing/everything else balance in your life. I hope you find a balance that works for you.

    And FWIW–I’m going to buy Stellarnet Prince next time I hit the Carina site.

  3. J.L. Hilton says:

    It’s been a heckuva roller-coaster. Thanks for riding it with me!

  4. Sorry you’re feeling discouraged. Something that’s helped me deal with poor sales is by focusing on what Jeffe Kennedy calls the Long Game: building friends and a readership and a career.

    If it helps, I’m looking forward to Stellarnet book three.

    Good luck balancing your writing and jewelry careers.

  5. J.L. Hilton says:

    Thank you for your kind, reassuring comment. 🙂 I have been through this as a jewelry designer and artist. It took many years to build up a website, a skill set, and a reputation. I’ve mentored other jewelry makers through the process, and I’ve seen their frustrations when their jewelry doesn’t sell, or an art show is poorly attended. Still, I made probably five times as much money (net profit, not gross income) in my first year as a professional jewelry artist — and was paid twice as much for my work which appeared in the book Steampunk Style Jewelry — as I’ve made in this past year since Stellarnet Rebel came out. And spent a lot less time doing it.

    There are other benefits to this experience, other than money, of course, which is something I talked about in the OP. And those are the reasons why I’m not going to abandon writing. I do love to write, always have. Making stories and making jewelry are some of my earliest memories from around the ages of 3 or 4.

    I can understand the DRM issues, which is why I was happy to sign on with Carina Press, because it does offer its books DRM-free from its website (as I think you know, but I’m just mentioning for the sake of other readers). So, that should make it popular with the techy geeks — but I think techy geeks go there and think “ewww, Twilight rip-offs and chick books.” That’s a whole other issue.

  6. J.L. Hilton says:

    Thank you, Nicole. Also, thank you for being one of those authors I mentioned, whose stories I discovered and loved, and who is now one of my Author Buddies.

    I just need to win the lottery so I can spend all day writing AND making jewelry. lol

  7. Even though I write erotic romance, I’ve had these same thoughts! I’ve had friends over the years who have quit writing simply because there’s no money in it. One went from writing historical romance to making jewelry, and she’s doing much better financially with the jewelry. She wrote incredible stories. Another who wrote wonderful single title romantic suspense quit after her third book. This was back in the nineties before e-books.
    And you’re right. It’s difficult putting yourself out there when you’re a private person (as many writers tend to be). Wish I had some answers. I swing from one extreme of “I’m quitting, it’s not worth the time and grief” to the other of “I’m writing three books this year.”

  8. J.L. Hilton says:

    I had a financial adviser recommend that I write instead of making jewelry, because “you can only sell a piece of jewelry once, but you can sell the story forever.” Which makes sense, on the surface, but there are so many other factors involved. One piece of jewelry can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 10 hours to make. But you can sell it for $100 or more, and you only need to find one buyer. They can see every single aspect of that jewelry before buying. But you can spend 10 MONTHS writing a novel, and you have to find over 100 people (depending on your royalties) who are willing to invest 5 or more hours of their lives based on just a cover and a blurb, in order to make the same $100. Then add in the fact that if someone doesn’t like your jewelry, they simply walk away. If someone doesn’t like your book, they critique you in front of the whole world.

  9. Diane Dooley says:

    As Duin said, “There are two great tragedies in life, Belloc. One is not getting what you want.”

    Ah, that Duin. He’s a wise one.

    I just finished Stellarnet Prince and loved it. I wish I had some magical words of wisdom for you, but, alas, I don’t.

    Hoping you find the balance that you need and, selfishly, hoping that I don’t have to wait too long for the next in the series. Heh. I might be just 0.00001% of the population, but I know a damned good writer when I read one.