How Many Books?

Since the publication of Steam Highwayman: Smog and Ambuscade, on 31st December 2017, I have sold 644 books. In some ways, that’s not a large number. From other angles, it’s still really quite a small number. Approximately two-thirds of these are copies of Smog and Ambuscade, another third Highways and Holloways and I’ve sold a total of just sixteen copies of Write Your Own Adventure: Choice-Based Fiction in Schools.

But there’s something unique about selling books in the age of print-on-demand. Take SH1 (Smog and Ambuscade)‘s sales during 2018. I sent backers 197 copies as rewards for my first Kickstarter campaign in 2017: I know the names of every one of these readers. Then I sold another 68 copies through face-to-face sales at events or meetings: these customers, too, are known to me. 68 more were sold online, and these I know less about – only the country in which they were sold by the distributor, Ingram – the UK, US or Australia. They could have been ordered by bookshops at retailer’s discount and still be standing on the shelves (unlikely), ordered through Amazon (although Amazon’s reports for SH1 only account for around 40% of this number) or ordered through other online bookshops or dealers. Then another 70 copies were pledged for during the SH2 campaign in Autumn 2018 – again, to named, interested readers.

Volume is small, and so is my profit. Booksales have made me around £350 in total to date, as the larger amounts pledged for Kickstarter campaigns are absorbed by the costs of working with an illustrator and publishing the book. My intention is to create what publishers call a long-tail product – a book that does not go out of fashion and continues to sell steadily for years. In fact, I do hope that online and face-to-face sales of Steam Highwayman will increase. At 1000 copies a month, I would need no other income……..

But instead of volume, what I have is connection. I have good estimates of how many of my backers pledged primarily to support me and how many have actually begun to read the books. I have received good, personal responses from interested gamebook readers and writers, steampunks and readers that directly improve my ongoing project. The numbers are still very small, but behind most of those numbers is a name and behind many of those names is a face. Very few authors or publishers can boast that they know their readership as I do.

I would love to see my books going further afield and I’d love to earn more from them, but a good proportion of the current situation is a result of my own choices about how to play this game of authorship. I could have hunted for a publisher for SH1 – and I’d certainly still be looking. I could have looked for an agent – and I don’t know where I would have begun. I could have started with ‘normal’ book – a novel – and I still wouldn’t have completed writing and perfecting it. What Steam Highwayman has done for me is to allow me to become an author in miniature. Now all I have to wait for is for reality to catch up!

If you’re writing, don’t give up. Persistence works. Find an outlet that allows you to succeed, not to mimic other writers of the past or the present. You won’t be Pratchett, or Rowling, or Dickens, but each one of those had to persist and to play the long game…

Where is the Steam Highwayman?

Well, the Steam Highwayman’s back at home beside the Thames in the industrial East End of London, actually, but this Saturday I visited the Long Shop Museum at Leiston for the Suffolk Steampunk Spectacular – and had a great time with two interactive readings, a nerve-wracking tea duel, sales of Smog and Ambuscade and some down time exploring this fascinating museum!

Leiston has never been on my map, but I know that I’ll certainly be returning – for the museum and more besides.  The Long Shop is a fascinating early factory – a preserved and partly-restored portion of the once-massive Garret works, which dominated the small county town.  In the 1780s, agricultural machinery was built here – in the 1800s, traction engines and ironwork.  In WWI, this was the ‘factory nearest Germany’, as well as the root of a hospital founded by the Garret family, a significant number of recruits for the war effort and much more beside.  The museum is a showcase of the rural foundation of the industrial revolution and also reveals how innovative traditions rooted in local communities have influenced the very underpinnings of our modern world.  Families from Leiston, whose expertise in engineering built the beautiful steam traction engines on show, contributed to the construction of Sizewell nuclear power station, just a few miles away on the coast.

Our trip to Leiston was through the torrential rain of the summer storm that broke the hottest month for years.  It felt very exciting – and inspiring – to be exploring more of historic England on the road at the mercy of the weather – and prompted me to think and reconsider exactly how weather-dependent travel in the age of steam would have been.  Perhaps this will play into some future iterations of Steam Highwayman?  An interesting discussion with a Steampunk at the stall about cattle drovers – their coats, roads and traditions – might play into this.

We set up inside the teashop and laid out our stall, including, for the first time, large digital prints of Ben’s illustrations for Smog and Ambuscade.  I think these look really smart and, sold in cardboard tubes, they slipped into my shopping bags really nicely.

The day was hosted by Dean Allen Jones of Nothing Up Our Sleeves magic – and he did a fantastic job of involving newcomers, hyping my reading and keeping the day running to (Steampunk) time.

Two traction engines were in steam – including a unique Suffolk Punch, built here on site – and a unique little tank engine, called the Sirapite, that had once been part of the MacAlpine collection.  Morris-dancing from an as-yet-unidentified group took place and there were a few other stall-holders too – including one offering interesting steampunk soft toys!

I participated in a really hand-shakingly nervous tea duel with a mysterious lady in lilac, but some dastardly play prevented the Steam Highwayman from demonstrating the inevitability of the revolution of the proletariat.  Still, this was my favourite duel yet and my wife Cheryl’s first experience of watching it.

If you haven’t ever made your way to the Leiston Long Shop but you’re interested in the rural roots of the industrial revolution, this place is a must.  The long shop itself – a galleried workshop – has a fascinating architectural structure with a hybrid wooden and iron frame.  Exhibits of machinery on the ground and tools and displays on the galleries are well-labelled and engaging – and there’s even some hands-on stuff too.

While there I also continued to promote the Steam Highwayman: Highways and Holloways Kickstarter and found myself at least one new backer from the participants.  As I write, we’re at 83% and only looking for another 25 or so backers to fund the project fully.  It’ll be great to be sending out copies with a touch of Leiston in them – either in the illustration or in the edited adventures.  In the afternoon I read from Volume II for the first time and was gratified to find the audience just as engaged – and just as keen to rob and steal in the name of adventure.

Where is the Steam Highwayman headed next?  Well, subscribe to my blog here or follow me on Facebook as I organise the next events over the summer season.  I can confidently say that I’ll be attending the Essextraordinaire at Maldon Museum of Power in September but aIso hope to be out reading and publicising before then.  If you’ve an event and you think a Steampunk Highwayman with interactive readings and book signings could add to it, let me know and I’ll descend like the night – sudden and unstoppable!

If you’ve enjoyed seeing some of the photos here, I’m sharing an album of photos from the day on Facebook too.

Trickling Stream

Steam Highwayman I has now been live on Amazon for around 3 months and I’m very pleased to find that it is continually being discovered by new readers from around the world.  My intention with distributing through Amazon was that potential readers would experience the minimum of clicks between hearing a recommendation and being able to order the book: it’s something like a minimum of 3 clicks if you’re already signed in and a regular customer.

But on top of that, Amazon is also a great place for me to make my own brand.  I’m very happy to see the excellent company in which my book finds itself – ie Messrs Thomson, Morris, Gresty and Green.  I’ve seen my book on shelves alongside these writers – now I’m seeing it on sale alongside them.

Because of Amazon’s special recipe, I won’t be paid for any of the sales for some time yet, but once the first few pounds a month begin trickling in, I am convinced that this will be a stream of interest and income that will last a very long time.

In other news, I’ve been editing and formatting SH2 this week: yesterday I corrected all the dice-rolls and today I logged and fixed all the codewords.  A few more stages like this and I’ll be able to send it to proofing.  Ben has some more work to do on a provisional cover and then I’ll be able to start the buildup to Kickstarter 2: SH2.