I wanted to talk about cascades, and not of the kind that happened to me today. I am one of the original junk-men who can’t resist turning other people’s throw-outs into something I couldn’t afford but do want. Trust me, twenty books on, I’ve made some half-steps and a few quarter steps… but not completely backward yet, but money is still tight. So I got the offer some sheets of MDF (chip-board – board made of compressed glue and wood chips and dark enchantments) I trundled along with the brown truck, thinking “workshop shelves.”

I wasn’t expecting six 12 by 4 foot boards and a couple of 4 by 6 foot melamine clad boards…

These did not fit in the truck bed.

But no worries… I have a roof-rack. It was fun getting them up there. You know, ‘fun’ in the hernia sense with two of us. I was offered two ratchet straps… and made sure the sheets could not come off backwards, or sideways.

It’s this ‘forward’ thing I should have thought more about. I was planning going that way… just not quite… THAT way.

The guy who had kindly given me the boards has a long, steep driveway, with a curve.

Yep, brake… slide top board. Lose vision… brake hard. Cascade.

No lives were lost, no major damage was done, besides to my trousers. And I had to reload them alone, which was… interesting. The tying down that followed was more suitable for docking the Queen Mary II.

We tend to think things move in an orderly, linear progression. The boards did, but not in an orderly fashion, or even an entirely linear one. And rather a lot of them rather faster than I was expecting or desired right then.

You’d think from experience I at least would know it works very differently. My life is a series of five steps forward, four-and-half back, two right, one left, one up and one down… And a lot of wondering how the hell it took so much effort to get to just about the same place, but on a slightly different course.

Writing hasn’t been a whole hell of a lot different from the above. Like most would-be writers, back when I started down a very different course, that ended quite close to this one, but not that much further along it… I thought: What you have to do is write as good a book as you possibly can (and this is correct, IMO).

And that is it, Dave. You do that and then write the next.

If it is good enough, publishers will buy it. Readers will read it, and if better than average, you will gain more readers. A neat, orderly progression…

Um. Not so as I’d noticed!

Firstly, while ‘good enough’ may have made some decisions – or at least eliminated a few books that really weren’t well enough prepared or had poor first paragraphs (let alone pages) tens of millions of great books died unborn. There’s enough track record of books which have gone on to be great successes and perennial favorites getting rejected to set that beyond doubt. There is also a long, long list of failures picked by traditional publishers. Some of these of course relate not to it being a ‘bad book no-one (or few) would want to read’ – yes there are those, aplenty. Some are rotten covers, terrible distribution, feeble marketing, useless blurbs, and petty infighting – typical of latter has been the desire to make books a political/social battleground, by the modern left, and so to attack and damage people not on their writing but on political and social issues. The “racefail” abuse being a good example. Your book, trad pub, is as likely to be picked up because you have a huge twitter following, or your appeal to that small and very insular subset of New York Liberal arts graduates who run NY publishing as because of being ‘good’.

None of these relate to good enough to please customers who actually read the book. I’ve had relatively little trouble with those people. It’s the gatekeepers, the gatekeepers little ‘friends’ (honestly publishing suffers from the same issue as so many other things – the people who cluster around traditional publishing – like ticks around a horse’s butt – are those with no lives outside their little agendas. That’s why they have time for these shenanigans. Take a look – any author deeply caught up in writing politics and pushing social agendas… doesn’t produce much, and though it may get awards you probably wouldn’t want to read it.) It is the prior to getting the customers into the book part ALWAYS takes this from linear and logical to some kind of Mazurka with a drunken Cossack.

Don’t kid yourself, even though Indy has been good news, it is not good news without this muck. Yes, you will still end up leaping around to avoid getting trampled, trying to move forward without disaster, enjoying the joys of vodka-for-breath and the lash of mustachios fit to grace a Shetland pony’s hind end in that mad Mazurka. Oh and the ticks from traditional publishing will be doing their best to destroy you. You aren’t their host, and while they’ve been slowly killing their host, getting rid of customers by narrowing the offering to match their prejudices, they don’t like not being in control, or even involved. Don’t underestimate their nastiness, or overestimate their relevance. Their following probably doesn’t want to read anything which is not ‘approved’ – but are a relatively narrow piece of the demographic anyway, and, in my opinion, a shrinking and less influential and popular one, day by day.

But you still have to get people to try your book. To read those first few pages… and that is still very hard. There’s stiff competition for those eyeballs. Honestly, there’s not a bit of use in just putting it up there and hoping that somehow, readers will find you.

You have to tell them your book is there. Now, outside of you having a lot of money to get this professionally done – for most indy authors that means social media. I’m about as good at socializing even on the internet as Godzilla is at wristwatch repair — BUT it’s this… or nothing. Really the other channels – reviews, locust, sf magazines, bookstores… are closed to you. Forget that, they will rarely, if ever focus on joe-the-unknown-quiet-guy-who-wrote-a-great-book-and-told-no-one.

This gives some figures on successful channels. Now, as a statistician I want to add a caveats here: the author appears to have made no effort to correct for volume or (by their own comment) the audience type. These are general figures. Interesting but not necessarily relevant or specific to your audience and your book. For example, I find the twitter/ facebook sales conversion relatively accurate (I tried advertising sales on one, not the other, and vice versa. But it is possible to have (if you have the right personality and appeal to 140 character people) a VAST twitter following (quite a lot of whom are trying to sell to you, or are bots) and I think having an engaged Facebook following is harder. Blogging, even harder – but the sales conversion is higher. After all, they are entertained by you, and enjoy reading you.

You can creep, very slowly, higher on this (this is my story). But to succeed in substantive climbs you need the cascade effect. To move your success outside your circle. It is very hard to force or predict. A blogger with a bigger pool, a mention by the right person at the right time, something as simple as a picture gets shared… all of these work. These are hard to plan, but the more you try the more likely they are. Then of course, there is paid advertising, or soliciting spread. That works too – but your cover and content must work for you.

As a final step… well, reviews. There is a clear threshold for reviews on Amazon getting your book promoted. And that takes readers posting reviews. If you like our books: help us. It costs you nothing, but could make a world of difference to the writer’s confidence and success.

And here is my commendation for a cascade-book. The latest of Pam Uphoff’s Wine of the Gods stories is just out. Try the first. The first fix is cheap. (picture is a link)


  1. Dave, thank you! And yes, reviews, please!

    And Dave . . . Did you build half a house with your planks? That sounded like a major acquisition, however awkward the trip home.

    1. I triggered on ‘latest is just out’. Followed the link. Amazon told me I own 22 of the 24. So I asked just to see the unpurchased. Nothing. So, I went to show all. Turns out I already had 23 of 24.
      It was a bit of an effort, and Amazon should do better; however, for Pam’s latest, no effort is too extreme.

        1. They’re trying to get series together, but they’re running a month or so behind. They’ll add these two about the time the next two go up. Which should also be this summer.

    2. Grin. The getting it off and into storage process suggested I ought to build a coffin with it. A long thin flat coffin as I could have ended up that way!

  2. Cascades are defined as, that point where One Damn Thing After Another becomes Every Friking Thing At Once.

    1. fairly fast, and then faster when it happens – if it happens to book sales it’s a good thing. If it happens at sea… it’s bad. VERY bad.

  3. Thank you for the honest . Too many young writers think success is inevitable. Which comes with the territory. You have to believe on some level that your stuff is good enough to be read, which requires some minimum level of confidence (or hubris, or self-delusion). But the odds remain bad, indie or trad or hybrid. One might say failure is almost inevitable, and a lot of a writer’s efforts have to focus on not failing rather than succeeding.

    The trad writers that amuse me the most are the “activist” and/or “demographic check-box” darlings who have the spare time to write a twitter post every hour or so about the outrage of the day, but never seem to be able to shut up and get their next book written down (and then complain about how hard a writer’s life is in even more tweets). I’m a “demographic check-box” (Hispanic) myself, but I’ve never made an issue of it, preferring to let my readers judge my books on their merits.

    I’ve gotten zero traction from twitter, because just about 99.9% of my followers are other writers trying to peddle their wares. I’m getting some traction in the way of clicks from Facebook ads, after targeting the right demographics, but I don’t know how many of those link clicks translate into sales. Some blogs have helped (Sarah’s Friday promos have had a noticeable effect in my experience). My biggest social media sales generator remains my mailing list, and building one of those is a long, arduous process.

    I recently experience a cascade, and still have no clue how it happened. I did use a couple of promotional websites, released the new novel on sale for $0.99 for the first ten days, and spent about $60 in targeted Facebook ads, but the result sales exceeded my previous ones completely out of proportion to the marketing. I think the genre played a major role: mil-sf seems to be far more friendly to indies (who dominate the best-seller charts) than other genres, possibly because so few trad pubs can stomach pandering to such militaristic, male-dominated tastes.

    And reviews, yes, they make such a difference.

    1. :-/ The mailing list is on my ‘to-do list’ (you know – the one that keeps getting longer).

      Heh This: “The trad writers that amuse me the most are the “activist” and/or “demographic check-box” darlings who have the spare time to write a twitter post every hour or so about the outrage of the day, but never seem to be able to shut up and get their next book written down (and then complain about how hard a writer’s life is in even more tweets)”

      MilSF I have the impression is moving away from trad faster than most things.

      1. I can sympathize, re: the ever-growing list. As soon as I think I have a handle on things, new stuff pops up. 🙂
        Most publishers (Baen is, like in so many other things, an exception) seem to hate MilSF except for long-established best-sellers like Weber (even former stars like John Scalzi have moved away from the genre), unless it’s ‘military’ tales of angsty, gender-ambiguous soldiers who aren’t afraid to feel their feelzs and bemoan the crimes of the Patriarchy. Another case of virtue-signaling one’s way out of a market.

  4. Oh, Dave – thank you so much for sharing! Not the second part. Although I shall certainly take it to heart – and start kicking myself to get reviews done. I will grab Pam’s today, but I have one backlogged for each of the Hoyt clan, one for Misha, and at least one for Cedar. I am a horrible procrastinator.

    The first part. I managed to pull that one too, some years ago, with a load of plywood for replacing/extending the back porch. Not quite in the middle of a major Tucson intersection. Not quite in the middle of rush hour.

    I don’t feel so alone any more…

    Now, back to work on the blog post that turned out to be a demon in disguise.

  5. I wrote a review for Changling Island after I read it from the Baen monthly bundle. I’ve started writing reviews of books I read this year.

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