Staring Into The Eyes Of The Sun: Looking Back At The Last Ten Years

This coming Saturday marks a momentous occasion. An occasion that, if you read the title of this post, likely doesn't come as any surprise. That's right, I'm talking about the ten year anniversary of publishing what would be my first Science Fantasy novel, The Eyes of The Sun. 

I've had thoughts as to how I'd planned to mark this moment for a while now. At one point, I'd hoped to do a series of ten years later shorts, but given that the events of the series took place from 2009-2010, I wasn't keen on writing pandemic era tales. Especially given that if my vampires, with their natural immunity to damn near everything, and my research facility that had the brightest minds in medical science had actually existed, we'd never have had a pandemic, so what would I have had to write about?

I then considered releasing the series in audiobook format. I got pretty excited about that, but the time and energy required were not something that I've had this year, so if that happens, it will be in the future, and after I take a long hard look at what is is that  I wrote ten years ago (more on that subject in a future post). 

So instead, I'm doing what I always do: having a sale, of course. Starting Wednesday the 9th and going through Saturday the 12th of November (AKA the actual 10th anniversary), ALL THREE BOOKS in the trilogy, THE PREQUEL NOVELLA, and THE COLLECTED TRILOGY will all be free. At this point, if I get ten downloads, it will be something, but here's hoping for ten thousand. (which is to say, if you'd be so kind as to spread the word, I'd appreciate it)

But I can't only put my aged and outdated scifi vampire series on sale and pretend like that's enough of a celebration. Well, actually, I can, but I was thinking I could exert some effort and do something else. So if you're in the mood for something a little more long form than my usual posts, read on, to see how it all began, from my perspective...

It all started in 2005, but if you've been here for ten years, you know that. I started what was a quite different story about a girl with vampire killing blood and set it in the then new to me magical land of New Orleans. As you might recall, 2005 wasn't exactly a good year for New Orleans, and so out of respect, I shelved it. 

In 2006 I tried to turn it into a fantasy book set on a different world. We don't talk about that.

Then in 2010 I got an Android phone and loaded up the Kindle app. I read all the classics because they were free. Then one day, I realized that there was a whole world of contemporary free books and I probably read about 100 of them that summer. After reading some amazing titles and some not so amazing titles, I learned that most were published directly by the authors through Amazon's KDP platform. I thought to myself, "Hey! I could do this!"

I then spent the majority of 2011 talking about how I was totally going to dust off my old story and get it published. But in all honesty, 2011 was a pretty rad year and I was having a lot of fun being a band wife, exercising with a group of amazing coworkers, getting anniversary tattoos with my band husband, and enjoying life in a way that didn't leave a lot of room to write. But eventually, I got back to work.

It was actually pretty early in 2012 when I finally had a draft that looked nothing like my original story. Believe me when I say that looking nothing like my original story is a very, very, VERY good thing. At this point, I announced to friends and family that I had something good and that I was exploring my options for publishing. 

I know, I just said I saw KDP and that's what kicked my butt into gear, but truth be told, self-publishing still had a bad rep back then and I had a pressing need to prove that I was good enough to be published. Ah youth. I did, however, read through all million or so pages of Amazon's KDP terms and conditions and legal notices, so on that front, I probably had an edge over most other people publishing at the time. Still, my goal from the beginning of my journey was to be published by Baen, so I went looking through their submission guidelines. That's when I saw they estimated 12-18 months before getting a response to your submission. I was pushing 40, I didn't have that kind of time. Again I say, ah youth.

So Amazon it was, except, I was still a bit nervous. So I asked if anyone wanted to read over my manuscript and give me some feedback before I did anything. Several people said yes and off my little book went to about 10 friends and family members, and I sat back, waiting for feedback.

I waited

And waited

And waited some more.

After a whole summer, only two people would give me feedback and it would be from family who, while genuine in their enjoyment of my story, weren't really forthcoming with any critical feedback. Finally I said "eff it," did a final proofread, created a cover, and uploaded my book to Amazon. 

I pressed publish late in the evening on November 11th and went to bed. I woke up on November 12th to an email saying my book had been published with a link to my dashboard. I clicked the link and couldn't believe what I saw. I already had 12 sales. I hadn't even told anyone the book was live! I was so excited. That was more than a sale an hour and at that rate, I was headed for big things. 

Except a few hours later, I still showed that I'd only sold 12 books. Ah well, beginner's luck, I thought, and figured it was time to go make the official announcement over on Facebook and see if that got me anymore sales. Turns out, posting "Big announcement tomorrow" after months of talking about publishing a book isn't really the mysterious intrigue I thought it was. My mom and several friends had broken the news for me. After counting up the "I got a copy!" posts, I figured out where those first 12 sales came from. 

I will easily admit that it took a little of the wind out of my sails. So did discovering that I'd published a book with a number of typos, despite proofreading it at least 5 times. So did finding some folks discussing how bad my book cover looked.  

Original 2012 book cover for The Eyes of The Sun. A light blue glowing fleur de lis on a black background with the title and author name in light blue script
The original cover, made in Inkscape and Gimp. Thank you, Goodreads, for never killing off old covers no matter how much authors beg you to hide their shame. And for the record, I am still proud of it and I no longer talk to the people who trashed it.

I felt sick and worse, I felt like a failure. 

That was the first week. The next week I'd sell several more books that I could not trace back to people I knew. The week after that was my birthday and I decided to run a two day free promo. I gave away 386 copies. Three days later, I got my first review. It was five stars and not from anyone I knew (after reading the terms of publishing, I did the opposite of what most folks would do and told everyone I knew that they'd better not leave a review or else).  I'd end the year with 3 reviews, 42 books sold, and a pretty good headstart of the sequel. 

Fast forward one year and I've updated the cover to something that looks like the title screen of an old movie. In my defense, I now had the sequel and prequel and I didn't want to rely on my drawing skills to make the covers match.

2013 cover for The Eyes of The Sun features the Paris skyline with the Eiffel Tower in the center. The title is imposed over the top and the whole thing has a blue hue
We'll always have Paris, even if most of the book is set in New Orleans.

It's a Sunday, mid-morning, and I'm in a Starbucks, waiting for my order. I'm running a free book promo and I go to check my stats and see that 50 books have been given away. I pick up my drink, hit refresh, and suddenly there are 300 more books. An hour later it's 500, then 1000, then 1500, then 2000. Thus begins my new obsession with rank. By the end of the day, I'd given away over 2700 copies and my rank topped at #68 overall, number one in sci-fi, fantasy, and romance. To this day, I don't know exactly what happened, but it would be pretty cool if it were to happen again. 

Two years later, I'm a full time author, I've finished the series, written two additional standalone books, and have finished another series. I'm looking to release paperbacks and need a cover that is easy to translate to physical form. 

2015 version of The Eyes of The Sun cover. This one has a large fleur de lis cut in half to the right with the same picture of paris imposed inside it with the title to the left
The most professional, maybe, but let me tell you, that fleur de lis took forever to perfect.

Three years after that, I've completed my third series, written a story that would become a multi-author collaboration, and I've returned to work after 4 years as a working author. It would be a very long time before I would write anything again and the market isn't what it used to be. I decide to take a brief foray into expanded distribution and also cave in and go for a more commercially standardized cover.

2019 version of The Eyes of The Sun cover. This one is in gold hues and has a woman's face looking out. superimposed around her are swirling golden strands of DNA. The title is now in all caps block letters along the bottom third
If nothing else, it's pretty obvious my graphic skills have improved. 

And now, ten years from the day I've published, with thousands of sales and hundreds of thousands of pages read, I can say one thing for certain: I don't regret any of it. Not even the part where I put out a book with some typos. Not even putting out a book with a title that was NOT a typo that everyone thinks is a typo. It's still not a perfect book, but damn, I did this. And after ten years, I'm still proud of that fact.