Two years ago, I uploaded my first novel, Fatal Exchange, to Amazon, not knowing what to expect, or really, what the heck I was doing as far as marketing and promotions go. I had no specific goals in terms of sales, and only a vague sort of understanding about things like genre – I mean, passing niggling details like police procedural or action/adventure or suspense or psychological thriller seemed silly. I wrote thrillers. That’s what Fatal Exchange was. A thriller. So just deal with it, I thought.
That first month, I think I made a grand total of $17. Might have been $18. Those days are a little fuzzy. For good reason. Since I released that little tome, which still holds up remarkably well and for which I am unapologetic, I’ve written easily two million words. Or, for those keeping score at home (and hopefully not wagering, or God forbid, imbibing), 22 novels, the latest of which, Upon a Pale Horse, will release within the next three weeks or so.
Perhaps it’s fitting that my latest creation crosses this particular milestone in my literary career in the same way it started – with a stand-alone thriller that defies easy description. Fatal Exchange combined an international counterfeiting conspiracy, Wall Street malfeasance, an execution squad, and a serial killer, in two parallel story lines that dovetail in the end. It was a 2011 Reviewer’s Choice at The Kindle Book Review, and garnered great feedback and a dedicated readership – so much so that at last count, I think it’s sold somewhere in the order of fifteen thousand copies.
My forthcoming release, Upon a Pale Horse, is also a stand-alone thriller that defies easy description: a bio-thriller that is most easily described as The Firm meets Contagion, but with a deeply disturbing basis in ugly reality that’s sure to polarize readers and is easily the most controversial novel of my career. It’s one of the few novels I’ve ever had misgivings about publishing, because it is so troubling it’s sure to create a backlash, not the least of which will be from big pharma and the medical research power centers in government. It’s an unflinching novel that invites the reader to do their own research on a topic that’s so frightening and that has such profound implications that I’m nervous about it. Because there are some things that are just not questioned, and some data that one dares not examine too closely. It also doesn’t fit into any neat slot, although I call it a bio-thriller because its basis is in biological warfare and the associated well-documented experimentation. You’ll just have to read it to understand why it is a scary, scary read.
One author friend of mine, who I asked for a preliminary take on the first draft, advised me to put everything I had into marketing it, because it was a blockbuster that deserved to be read by every thinking person. Another counseled me not to publish it because it was too inflammatory and controversial. I changed the ending several times. I struggled with whether to stick it in a drawer. In the end, I think it’s a book that raises important and necessary questions that have been ignored for too long and deserve the cleansing antiseptic of sunshine. I can say with unqualified confidence that it’s not going to make me any friends in high places. It’s written as fiction, as are all my novels, but it doesn’t take a genius to read between the lines, and what lurks between them is as unpleasant to contemplate as anything I’ve come across.
But back to Fatal, and my two year and counting self-publishing journey. Along the way I’ve made mistakes, friends, enemies, rivals and converts. I’ve also alienated many, and bitten the hand that feeds me more often than I can count, been arrogant and opinionated on a variety of topics (some of which I actually know a little bit about), and generally entertained myself, as well as a few readers, while having the time of my life.
Hard to believe it’s been two years. It flew by. And took forever to unfold. Any authors who’ve checked their sales stats fifty times a day with either a sinking heart or a joyous one know whereof I speak. A roller-coaster the likes of which I’ve never before experienced.
To commemorate the two year anniversary of Fatal Exchange and the launch of my literary career, I’ve commissioned a new cover, see below.
Now to the question of the day: was it worth it? Was it worth devoting pretty much two solid years of my life to writing and selling books? Was my full-immersion approach wise or foolhardy?
I can’t speak for everyone, but yes, it was worth it. I feel like I’ve built something, and I look at my backlist with amazement. 22 novels – that’s what many renowned popular novelists write in a career. Whether my books are genius or the mindless babbling of a fool is up to readers to decide, and I count myself incredibly lucky to have been so graciously accepted by so many. I’ve never confused myself with David Foster Wallace (other than bandanas, but don’t get me started), and always thought of myself as an entertainer, dancing for my dinner like Quinton Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant, who would go to tap class in the morning and then teach the lesson that same evening to his pupils, posing as a master while in fact a charlatan. As an author, it’s easy to feel that way, as we’re each of us learning our craft until the day we shed our mortal coil, and exist at the pleasure of our readership. Which is as it should be. In the end, the reader is always right, at least in his own mind, even when he’s wrong. If we are to survive or flourish, we must place the interests of the reader above all else. The reader is, for authors, the ultimate authority, because without readers, we’re back to being lunatics jabbering our stories to a cold, uncaring moon. And that sucks. And doesn’t pay well. Which is the same as sucks, only worse.
To all of you, whether new to this journey or there from the beginning, I can only say thank you, with all my heart. Except of course for my critics and rivals, who can, as always, bite me. But everyone else, I’m truly grateful for the continued warm wishes and patronage and support you’ve offered up. I can only hope that the next 24 months of my little stories are as well received as my last.
(c) Russell Blake
You can read Russell Blake’s tips for selling books here: