Feb 24 2014

Upcoming Anthology: “Fae”

Remember that short story I was telling you guys about, the one that kept getting the “good” (i.e. personalized and encouraging) rejections? It found a home, and will be included in the upcoming anthology Fae from World Weaver Press. I’ll post more when I have a release date—right now all I know is that it’s coming out in the summer.

World Weaver Press is a small publishing house so the payment is pretty nominal (a crisp ten-dollar bill and a copy of the book when it comes out). On the other hand, their contract is really humane: they ask only for non-exclusive publishing rights, which means that I can (for instance) use the story if I decide to self-publish a book of short fiction. They also have a built-in clause about rights reverting to the author after the anthology goes out of print. I think that’s super ethical but unfortunately it’s far from standard in the industry: I’ve heard lots of horror stories about writers being unable to get their rights back after big publishing houses consigned their books to the dustbin.

So there’s pros and cons to working with small presses. But I have to say, all my dealings with World Weaver Press have been great. The editor sent me her slate of proposed edits to the story, all but one of which were obviously good changes that made the prose flow better. In the one instance where I disagreed with a proposed change, I explained why but told her that I would let her judgment carry the day: she decided to let the original phrasing stand. So it’s been a really good experience so far, and I’m looking forward to reading the other stories in the book.

Jul 16 2013

Sales Comparable to J.K. Rowling

According to The New York Times:

By the end of last week, The Cuckoo’s Calling, by the debut mystery novelist Robert Galbraith, was as good as dead. Bookstores with unsold copies on hand were contemplating shipping them back to the publisher. Reviews, while generally positive, had tapered off. According to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks about 85 percent of print sales, only about 500 copies had sold in the United States since the book went on sale in April.

Then J. K. Rowling, easily one of the most bankable authors on the planet, admitted over the weekend to The Sunday Times of London that she—and not a male military veteran, as initial information from the publisher claimed—was the real author.

Well, that certainly makes me feel better about the two hundred-some copies that The Millennial Sword has sold so far. Not bad for an unknown author, I guess.

May 16 2013

The Weird Thrill of a “Good” Rejection

I wrote a new short story just before Sol was born, and I tried submitting it to Tor.com, which is aiming high—they’re currently the best-paying fantasy market that I know of. Today I got a rejection note, but it was a nice rejection note: “Thanks so much for submitting to Tor.com, and for your patience while we evaluated your story. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that ‘The Fairy
Midwife’ isn’t quite right for us. It’s always hard to reject a good story, and this is fun and inventive. I think it hasn’t lived up to its potential—there are tools here for a deeper emotional impact than I felt—and so I wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere. Please send us more of your stories in the future!”

This is indubitably a “good” rejection. Good rejections are when you get personalized feedback (as opposed to the generic “does not meet our needs at this time”) and the editors express a desire to see more of your work. I think I went through like a dozen rejections before I made my first short fiction sale (to Dragon magazine back in 1994), and they got progressively nicer and nicer until I finally sent something they actually bought. First it was just the printed slip; then it was the printed slip with a handwritten note on it; then it was an actual letter from an actual editor with detailed and specific feedback; and finally it was an offer letter with contracts to sign. So there’s definitely a hierarchy of rejections. And a good one can kind of make my day.

I don’t actually have anything else to send to Tor.com right now—before this story, I hadn’t written any short fiction for a long time—but I’ll send “The Fairy Midwife” somewhere else. It’s fun and inventive, after all!

Apr 1 2013

Free Short Story

So I went slinking back to Amazon with my tail between my legs. Six weeks after leaving the KDP Select program my Amazon sales have not recovered, and I only sold a couple books through Barnes & Noble and Apple. Suspicious as I am of Amazon’s monopolistic market position, I’ve been forced to conclude that for me right now they’re the only meaningful game in town. And I need the extra exposure that the Select program offers.

Anyway, as an extra bit of promotion, I packaged up a previously-published short story as an e-file (sneaking in an ad for my novel at the back) and stuck it up on Amazon. It’ll be free for the next few days and 99 cents thereafter.

So if you want a free short story, go on and grab it!

Feb 13 2013

Bookselling Update and Giveaway

I missed this somehow when it first went up! My friend Megan (this is you, isn’t it, Megan?) did a very nice write-up of The Millennial Sword for her review blog:

This is, to a certain extent, one of Those Books, and reads like a debut indie novel in a popular subgenre. If you like that sort of thing—that is, if you enjoy an author riffing on a theme because she’s enjoying herself—then you are likely to enjoy yourself. Particularly since Phillips knows how to incorporate her research without resorting to the sort of extended infodumps that can temporarily transform fantasy novels into pages from the D&D Monster Manual.

That part made me smile because I tend to describe the book to people as “the sort of thing you might like if you like that sort of thing.”

Book-selling updates: the e-book version of The Millennial Sword is now available in all formats, for all devices. I’ve made a dedicated page here listing all the buying options. One discovery I made is that many independent bookstores have partnered with Kobo to sell books through their websites—and Kobo, it turns out, is something of a dream to work with, providing by far the nicest direct-publishing platform of any of the sites I worked with. I will seriously consider buying a Kobo-compatible device as my next e-reader simply in order to be able to support my local bookstore (the wonderful Laurel Book Store) when buying e-books.

Somewhat distressingly, though, after I finally succeeded in withdrawing the book from Amazon’s “Select” program, sales there have flatlined. Part of the draw of the Select program is that Amazon gives those titles more visibility in search results, and the effect, I can now say, is quite significant. It remains to be seen whether Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Apple’s iBooks store, and the other e-book channels will be able to compensate. I want to support a diverse bookselling ecosystem, so in the interests of fairness I’m running the same promotion for Kobo that I did for Amazon: the book will be free there till Monday. Barnes and Noble and Apple don’t allow you to give away books, or I’d make it free there too, but I’ve also generated a coupon code for Smashwords that will allow folks to download The Millennial Sword for free in any e-book format: that code is CM23R, and is applied at checkout. It will work through Monday, so feel free to share it around!

Jan 5 2013

Amazon’s “Automatic Renewal” of KDP Select Terms Is a Deceptive Practice

Warning: this post is very much “insider baseball” for e-published authors, probably only of interest to those who are marketing books with Amazon or who like to keep tabs on various predatory corporate tactics.

So Amazon has this program, “KDP Select,” which is designed to increase the number of e-books that are Amazon-exclusive. The KDP Select program offers authors some increased visibility and promotional tools on Amazon’s site. In return, authors agree not to sell their e-books through any other retailer for a period of three months. This is in contrast to “vanilla” publishing with Amazon, which doesn’t require exclusivity but also doesn’t allow for things like free promotional giveaways. So far, so good—there’s a lot of chatter on the author boards about whether the Select program is worth it or not, and about the effects of the exclusivity agreement on the larger e-book marketplace, but plenty of authors have found the program at least worth a nibble. I decided to launch my book through KDP Select, which is why I delayed publishing in other formats for three months.

Unfortunately, I’ve just discovered that Amazon considers the three-month Select term to automatically renew, unless you find a hidden checkbox in their user interface (it is literally hidden; you have to find and click a special link to make it appear) and “deselect” the auto-renewal “convenience feature.”

Now, I’m pretty sure this kind of practice is not legally enforceable. My state, California, was in 2006 party to a settlement against Time Inc. that alleged automatic subscription renewals to be a deceptive business practice. In that settlement, “Time Inc. agreed to refund $4.3 million to more than 108,000 eligible consumers who made payments for magazine subscriptions that were automatically renewed between 1998 and May of 2004.” Other suits have been brought, generally successfully, against companies that engage in automatic renewals of products or services.

The problem is that Amazon dominates the e-book marketplace and few self-published authors are going to want to risk having Amazon drop their titles altogether, as it threatens to do if the Select exclusivity clause is violated.

I’m personally weighing how I want to proceed. I’ve sent a few polite-but-clear emails to Amazon’s KDP Select customer support, expressing my displeasure with the auto-renew policy. I’m also going to be linking to this post on various author boards. I’m hoping that with enough outcry from their authors, Amazon will voluntarily drop the deceptive “automatic renewal” policy. However, while I’m lobbying for the change, I may have to delay publishing to Smashwords for another three months.

And speaking for myself, I’m offended enough by the auto-renew trickery that I’ll never enroll another title in KDP Select.

Update: After a couple of go-rounds with customer support, they cancelled the “re-enrollment.” Hooray!

Jan 4 2013

Price Change Announcement

I am targeting a January 15th release date for making the e-book version of The Millennial Sword available through Apple’s iBookstore, Kobo, and other outlets. (I’ll be publishing to Smashwords, which supports basically all the non-Amazon retailers.) At that time, I’m planning to raise the price of the e-book to $3.99. My friend Megan, who has a publishing background, advised me to look into a higher price point, and after doing some research I discovered there’s something of a consensus among indie authors that slightly higher prices can actually boost sales. I’ve also noticed that on my book’s Amazon page, in the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” section, the majority of other titles that readers of The Millennial Sword are picking up are priced at $3.99 or $4.99. So, just a heads-up: there will be a slight price bump soon.

Amazon remains the 800 pound gorilla of the e-publishing market, and their royalty structure rewards e-books priced at $2.99 or higher, so $2.99 is in many ways the floor for self-published book prices. (You do see 99 cent titles, but Amazon only pays out 35 percent royalties for these books, as opposed to 70 percent royalties at the $2.99 price—making it very difficult for a 99 cent title to ever make significant earnings.) And it’s nice for authors to be able to reserve the $2.99 pricing for shorter works like novellas.

Amazon sales so far for The Millennial Sword: in the first three months I’ve sold 93 copies across both print and digital formats (mostly digital). When I started this project I decided that fewer than 500 sales in the first year I’d consider disappointing, while more than a thousand I’d consider a big success. I expect sales to end up somewhere in between. I’m not really worried about slow sales at the start, though, because the book is just starting to see some promotion on the review blogs—and the more reviews it picks up on Amazon and Goodreads, the more visibility it will have. Right now I think the book is doing pretty much exactly what I expected it to do, and the real test will be whether or not the sales figures start to gradually rise over the next few months.

Oct 7 2012


  • Davy is potty-training himself. Just…out of nowhere, he started asking to sit on the potty. The first few times nothing happened, but we praised him for it anyway. Lately he’s been actually using the potty for its intended purpose, about once a day. I’m delighted but also baffled. Can it really be this easy?
  • The Millennial Sword is now at #45,107 in the Kindle bestseller list, which is…not very high, except that yesterday morning it was at #162,077. So that actually represents something of a meteoric rise!
  • I feel like there ought to be a third item to put here, but I can’t think of one.

Oct 6 2012

People Like Free Stuff

Final promo stats: 1314 free copies of my book given away over the past four days. I briefly cracked the top ten in Amazon’s list of most popular free e-books in the Contemporary Fantasy category, peaking (I believe) at #9:


It’s even possible that I climbed a spot or two after I went to bed—there seemed to be a surge of last-minute interest in the book, which I think is an excellent sign, as it suggests that people were sharing the link with their friends. On the list of all free e-books The Millennial Sword was at #373. Now it’s switched over to the paid e-books ranking, starting out near the very bottom: #162,077 with a bullet, baby. Woooo!