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Hi I'm Robert Stanek and I founded Go Indie and Read Indies to help and support independent authors. I've been an indie published author since 2001 and a professionally published author since 1995.
The writer’s life can be a great one. I don’t regret this writer’s life. Not in any way. But I am kind of tired of hearing about how poverty has chosen our profession and I am equally tired of hearing about writers who once made $45,000 in a week and now have a marketing book about it. Hence this post and its title: “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” And alternatively, “Muddling Through the Gold Rush.”
Recently a writer said in his blog that his indie bestseller made him nothing. The author said his book was on a particular bestseller list for about a week, expected it might make him a millionaire and was disappointed to find that he’d only (his word) earned about $15,000 that whole earnings period (which I assume covered a 3-month or 6-month period of time, based on the post). The disappointment in the post was quite the opposite of the “gold rush” euphoria of some others. But why the disappointment in the first place? Events like that one are fun times. String a few of those together and you just might have a career in this crazy business.
Some time back I read a blog post from a writer who had been a full-time writer with several modestly successful books yet only made about $35,000 a year as a professional writer for most of his career, but now that he’d gone indie he’d “hit it big” (his words) and was enjoying income of $75K a year or so. He’d been a “successful indie” about two years at the time. Based on the price of his books, it wasn’t hard to figure out this “success” was about 50,000 book sales a year in total. Good numbers, not necessarily big numbers. The truly BIG numbers come over the long term like when you continue to sell 50,000 books year after year for a decade or two.
Another indie expert I met along my travels was a writer who had a single period of success. She made $45,000 in a week during the holidays a few years ago and then rushed to publish a marketing book about her big success and to offer her indie marketing expertise. She’s had continuing sales but not like that one holiday success. I understand the “indie gold rush” euphoria that makes writers say and do things like this. Everyone in this crazy business of the writing life should.
My thought on experts in any field is that there are very few actual experts. Be careful with that word when positioning yourself. Be honest too when you talk about your success and actual experience.
My thought on success in the writing life is that: You are a success when you know you are a success. Success isn’t about other people. It’s about you. John Steinbeck once said that “The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true.”
Still, the truest success in this writing life really is something you can only look back on to know fully. The truest perspective comes with time. Time measured not in a handful of months or a couple of years but in many years, maybe even a decade or two.
Some of the biggest disappointments related to the writing life come from a misunderstanding of how the industry works. This business has feast and famine—boom and bust. What sells today might not sell tomorrow; what didn’t sell yesterday or today might sell tomorrow. You can be a failure today, a success tomorrow; a success yesterday, a failure today but a success tomorrow. Neither one sale nor one million sales make an expert—time and actual experience make an expert.
Don’t forget that in this “indie gold rush”–as with any gold rush—the ones who are going to strike it rich are more likely to be the ones on the periphery providing services than those of us who write the books. Mark Coker said something similar in a recent blog post. Now there's a guy who is an expert.
Thanks for reading,
My first book was published by Macmillan in 1995. That bestselling book—Electronic Publishing Unleashed—and it’s bestselling follow up—Web Publishing Unleashed—became the seminal books on their subjects and helped define electronic and web publishing in the digital age, so much so that I was dubbed “A Face Behind the Future” by The Olympian. In 1998, I launched a series of books with Microsoft called Pocket Consultants, that quickly dominated their market and “defined excellence in technical writing”—not my words but the words of peers in peer groups at the ACM and beyond through awards for excellence, outstanding writing and merit. By 2000, my books had sold millions of copies.
It was early 2000 that I decided to do something different. I decided to get my fiction works published independently using my middle name, Robert. Going indie at that time wasn’t something professional writers did. In fall 2001, Reagent Press and I tested the market by publishing my first fiction book as a serial ebook. The test was hugely successful and we released ‘Keeper Martin’s Tale’ as a single volume in February 2002, where it quickly became a Science Fiction & Fantasy bestseller at Amazon.
With the phenomenal sales, the book started getting reviews. First, two short supportive reviews from readers who liked the book, then a strange one-star review that said, among other things, “I’ve been had. This is nowhere near a 5 star book like all these reviews claim.” Another of my books, published shortly after my first, got a similar strange ranting one-star review—the second review ever for that book.
This continued. An anonymous one-star review soon asked “Is it just me, or what?” before trashing the book and me personally. A series of one-star reviews followed, one in mid April 2002 stating “For those who enjoy a great fantasy read, no one comes remotely close to George R. R. Martin's ‘A Song of Fire and Ice Series’. Stanek has the initial makings of a good storyteller, but he's still a long, long way off. Don't waste your time with this one...”
This was followed by an anonymous one-star review on April 19 2002 stating “There's no way it even begins to compare to the works of authors such as George R.R. Martin.”
Another one-star review, written in an identical style, with the title “What book are the rest of you reading?” soon followed in late April 2002. This review said, among many things, “After reading him for an hour, I had to go pick up Lord of the Rings just to confirm to myself that Tolkien's writing wasn't that bad. I don't see how Stanek can even be close to Robert Jordan or George RR Martin, its like comparing a high school english paper with War and Peace.”
The flow of one-star reviews from anonymous (and sometimes from someone using pseudonyms and newly created accounts that typically had only reviewed my book the day the account was created) continued throughout April and into May. The timeline here is important because in May 2002, the following appeared in David Langford’s Ansible: “Amazon Mystery. Authors of fantasies on sale at Amazon.com have noticed a rash of oddly similar customer reviews that rubbish their work and instead recommend, say, George R.R. Martin, Robert Jordan, and Robert Stanek. The number of Big Name commendations varies, but not the plug for self-published author Robert Stanek. Who could possibly be posting these reviews (many since removed by Amazon) under a variety of names? It is a mystery, but Ansible is reminded of how Lionel Fanthorpe's pseudonymous sf would often mention those great classic masters of the genre, Verne, Wells and Fanthorpe.”
Note how they twist what they’ve done into something I’ve supposedly done to them--this is a constant tactic. I assume this post was written by David Langford friend and blogger, Adam Whitehead, as Whitehead then took to his blog to rant about how I was supposedly writing fake five-star reviews of my own books using sock puppets. As Whitehead is and was the self-professed #1 fan of George RR Martin (and is even credited in one of George’s books), all the sock puppet one-star reviews mentioning George RR Martin were suddenly starting to make sense as they were all likely written by Whitehead and his friends.
If this nonsense had all ended there, this would be a much shorter article, but the nonsense didn’t end. Instead, a group of competitors, started trashing me everywhere they could think of online--from Terry Goodkind's forums to SffWorld and beyond. Soon after I was being trashed on several author bashing sites as well with fun names like cr*p authors and dog sh*t—sites set up by certain authors and their friends to bash authors they disliked and/or wanted to ruin for whatever reasons.
Crazy? Surreal? In a word, Y-E-S. But all this was just the beginning.
In 2005 my books were praised in three printed books: ‘The Complete Idiots Guide to Elves and Fairies’ (June 2005), ‘Ancient Art of Faery Magick’ (Sep 2005) and ‘Popular Series Fiction for Middle School and Teen Readers: A Reading and Selection Guide (Children's and Young Adult Literature Reference)’ (Jan 2005). Also in 2005, my Ruin Mist books debuted in audio and ‘The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches’ became an instant bestseller, catapulting straight to #1 in Fiction at Audible and soon #1 on the entire site and not long after one of the Top 100 grossing titles in Audible’s history. It was my moment in the sun and I should have been in heaven. Meanwhile, I discovered these hateful people were organizing others to trash my books and me personally across the Internet—and they did so with ruthless abandon while someone or some few began sending me daily threats.
In February 2007 ‘The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches’ was praised and reviewed by the leading magazine for YA librarians and later was on a number of reading group’s lists. This seems to have caused this group to set their teeth in again. Around this time a new group got involved as well, including authors Patrick Rothfuss and David Louis Edelman. Rothfuss and Edelman trashed me on their blogs in 2007, trying to enlist their fans in trashing me and their fans did begin trashing me in a big way. Blogger Patrick St. Dennis of Pat’s Fantasy List, Rothfuss’ #1 fan and friend, set to trashing me in his blog as well. Others joined in and quite a few who were directly associated with fantasy publisher Tor.
Edelman stoked the flames through comments he and others added to his pages while later blogging about a picture I took with Brian Jacques. The claim being I supposedly photoshopped myself into a picture of Brian Jacques to make it look like I was at a book signing with him (and many variations of such to get people angry). The picture (of myself, my entire family and Brian Jacques at Brian’s book signing in my hometown, posted with Brian’s permission) was taken without my permission from a tribute page featuring Brian’s Redwall books and distributed around various blogs and sites while people trashed me.
When my military memoir ‘Stormjammers: The Extraordinary Story of Electronic Warfare in the Gulf War’ was published, these same few started spreading lies about my military service. They told people I hadn’t earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, that I hadn’t been in combat. One of these went as far as telling people I hadn't even been in the military because he flew EC's and no one had ever heard of me. Considering, I’m a distinguished combat veteran, having received many accommodations for my wartime service, that was the deepest of insults. I couldn’t tell you why people believed such nonsense when I had written a memoir about my time in service, but they did—and if the daily threats I had been receiving weren’t bad enough, the new threats I got became even worse.
Apparently, they hadn’t done enough damage by 2009, because that’s when they came back at me in a big way again with Rothfuss publicly trashing me on his Facebook page and blog again. Some few also set up websites to praise themselves and their friends while trashing me (or simply to trash me). This is when sites like No hoper, best fantasy books and conjugal felicity were created.
These few are also consummate experts at cross-linking diatribes from one to the other while twisting what they’ve done into something I’ve supposedly done to them. The worst of these strange jabs at blaming me for their own handiwork?
In 2009 around the time Rothfuss publicly trashed me on Facebook and his blog, this “crew” seems to have written several one-star reviews of ‘A Name of the Wind’ (Patrick Rothfuss’s first book) that they then tried to claim I had written. A likely goal of getting people to rally around Rothfuss while sending an even bigger mob to trash me. The only problem is, though the accounts they used on Amazon apparently had written no previous reviews, they seem to have forgotten they had been using the accounts for a long time to add “trash tags” to my books. This meant the accounts had posted numerous tags to my books like “Fraud fraud” “Fake fake fake” “King of the Sockpuppets” and on and on.
Apparently, after they realized their mistake, they immediately removed all the trash tags to hide the evidence. They then claimed that the tags that had been associated with the accounts were instead “praising” my books. Taking this nonsense a step further, they reported the reviews to Amazon, telling Amazon that Robert Stanek wrote the reviews to trash Patrick Rothfuss.
Can you imagine their surprise when they realized their second mistake? Because I can. I had already previously reported these accounts to Amazon, as someone using these accounts had been posting trash tags to my books for months.
But this one doesn’t end there because someone then used SFFWORLD credentials to get the following posted to io9: “Science fiction and fantasy authors, including Pat Rothfuss and David Louis Edelman, have started noticing a rash of one-star reviews of their books on Amazon.com, all at once, The reviews seem to come from newly created profiles, and often say the same thing in slightly different words over and over. And now, observers think they've fingered the culprit: frustrated fantasy author Robert Stanek. In the past, Stanek has had the habit of posting tons of "anonymous" one-star reviews of people's books which all said, "This guy is rubbish, if you want to read real fantasy, go read Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin and Robert Stanek!" The new batch of reviews don't mention Stanek by name, but do suggest that the authors should try serving in the armed forces to build character (a Stanek bugaboo.) And if you look at their profiles, the anonymous accounts have all tagged Stanek as a favorite author. All of this raises the question: How much damage can one anonymous maniac with an army of sock puppets really do to an established author on Amazon? [SFF World].”
Consummate hucksters? You betcha.
I'm Robert Stanek and I run Go Indie / Read Indies as a platform to help other writers. Throughout my life I’ve found myself in extraordinary circumstances. As a child, I loved watching episodes of the Six Million Dollar Man starring Lee Majors as the bionic man. I loved the spin-off show, The Bionic Woman starring Jaime Sommers, just as much. Both were stories of larger-than-life people in extraordinary circumstances. They were classic television shows, written in the style of the day, and like the classic novels of Verne and Wells and Stevenson they helped me transcend abject poverty, a tragedy-filled youth and the misery of my circumstances.
However difficult that journey from childhood was, it did prepare me for an extraordinary life. A life filled with not just fleeting moments of transcendence but a life filled with sustained stretches of transcendence where I was able to rise above circumstance time and again.
Where I find myself today is a long way from a childhood where “flour and water” pancakes were breakfast and a can of peas was dinner shared by many. A long way from that kid who graduated high school near the top of his class but had no way or means to go to college. A long way from that kid who joined the military to serve his country and make a better life but later found himself in multiple warzones. A long way from that kid who eventually put himself through college while working full time and starting a family but with no idea of what he really wanted to do in this life.
And yet, every turn that seemed wrong eventually became right as I was able to overcome circumstance and rise above--like a phoenix born from the ashes. So much so that now as I look back, it seems I look back upon another’s life, thinking that kid really couldn’t have lived through all that. But that kid did, and that kid is me--all grown up now.
That kid all grown up has had as many difficult turns as ever from encounters with crooked competitors to encounters with just plain crooks. To say that writing is a difficult business is a serious understatement. Any business where some very few make billions and millions is a difficult business. Exacting, harsh, risky--and dare I say at times even hazardous. That is the writing business. As a writer you put yourself out there for the world to see. Though others may try to twist and pervert the lens through which the world sees you, you can rise above--you can succeed. You have only to dare to dream.
And when you dare to dream, measure your success not by the words and thoughts of others but by standards of your own heart and mind. Believe in yourself. You are a success when you know in your heart and mind you are.
For me personally, though I’m in no way bashful about my commitment to the written word and will gladly let you know about the 150+ books I’ve written and the many millions who have read my books, while shouting from the rooftops about the same, success has never been about stacks of books written or millions of books sold. It’s always been about loving what I do and believing in what I do each and every day. That in itself is enough for me to know I am a success. It’s why I get up each and every morning eager to write. It’s why I’ve never had writer’s block. It’s why I’ve been so prolific over a lifetime of writing.