On Tuesday, July 30th, it will be two years to the day that I uploaded the first Wool story. It didn’t feel like a momentous occasion at the time. In fact, I’d forgotten the exact date. It took Amazon to remind me. Looking back, it almost feels impossible that Wool went up a mere two years ago. So much has happened since then.
The first two months of that time, very little happened. Or maybe the signs were there, and I just wasn’t cognizant of them. August and September probably saw a hundred sales between them, which should have raised an eyebrow. I just remember October being the aberrational month. I spent all of October writing Molly Fyde and the Darkness Deep, and I put a lot of pressure on myself to finish before NaNoWriMo began. At the same time, I was watching reviews pile up for Wool. A dozen or so over a week. It took months to get a dozen reviews on other books. All of them were glowing. By the end of October, I knew something was up.
I stayed up until midnight on October 31st of 2011. I remember posting on Facebook that I was close to 1,000 sales for the month. ONE THOUSAND! It would never happen again, I was certain. Sitting on 980-something with a handful of returns, I begged for a few more sales. It had nothing to do with gaining readers at that point, just an irrational love of round numbers. Before midnight, I took a screen capture of my KDP dashboard with the 1,018 sales, which got me over a thousand even with the returns factored in. I went to sleep exhausted, confident that I’d just witnessed the apex of my career, and dreaming of the sequels I would write the next morning in lieu of the NaNo novel I had planned.
1,018 sales at 99 cents apiece amounted to $356.30. Imagine having the best month of your artistic career, and it comes to what you make in a week shelving books for $10 an hour. No part of me considered putting in my notice at work. None. No part of me thought I’d ever pay my bills with my writing. None. All I could think about was that I had over a thousand readers, and many of them were writing reviews and emails begging for the next entry. On November 1st, my NaNoWriMo.org page updated, I started writing and outlining the rest of the series.
As part of NaNo, I volunteered at my public library to sit and write with the youth NaNo’ers. It was my second year doing this, and I got as much out of it as they did. In 2011, NaNo went a little weird for me. I was writing three individual pieces, and I had the first one — Wool 2 — in rough draft by the end of the first week. I write better in the morning and revise better at night, so I took to writing Wool 3 before work and during my lunch break. At night, I revised Wool 2. By the end of November, Wool 2 was edited and complete, and Wool 3 only needed a pass for typos. Wool 4 was in complete draft and ready for editing. I’d written 60,000 words and completed another NaNo. But what was crazy was that I had also published in the month of November.
Most NaNoWriMo books are ready for consumption the following year, if then. During the month of November, I watched the sales for Wool rocket along. Remember that month in October that I would never again approach? I sold 3,000 copies of Wool in November. The demand for more was growing. In the middle of all of this, I went to Colorado to spend Thanksgiving with my father. Amber came along, and a good friend of mine joined us. This friend is the author among us. He has two books with Harper Collins, and is a freaking genius. He knew that I wrote and self-published, and thought it was cute. I told him about the sudden rise in sales in October and the little books I was writing. There was more of him pinching my cheek and telling me how cute I am. I begged him to read the work, and he informed me that friends shouldn’t do that. I saw his point.
Back in Boone, NC, I went to the NaNo Wrap Party at the library. A late night of pizza and writing to get to the 50,000 word goal, it was also a launch party for Wool 2. How surreal. While moving among these young writers and listening to their dreams, we were able to refresh my KDP page and watch thousands of people gobble down a book that just went live that morning. A book I’d started just four weeks earlier. A NaNoWriMo book shot up to the top of the science fiction bestseller list, and it was still the month of November. I doubt that had happened before or that it’ll happen again. It was just crazy timing all-around.
December came, and my record month of November saw another tripling. 10,000 copies of Wool. Thousands of copies of Wool 2. And Wool 3 went live on December 4th. It took most of the month to make Wool 4 ready, as it was the size of a novella on its own. It hit right before Christmas. At this time, I still didn’t dream of writing for a living. I saw that I would earn a few thousand dollars from my writing, money that I never dreamed of, but that was it. On Christmas morning, I was sitting on the exact couch I’m sitting on now here at my mother’s place in West Jefferson, and I opened up a blank document and typed “Wool 5”. The end was near.
The truth was that my journey had barely begun. Wool 5 came out in January, and a reader asked if I would combine the books into one to make downloading them easier. I created the Wool Omnibus and threw a yellow fallout shelter symbol on the cover that looked horrible to me and would later become a collectible. I didn’t think many people would buy this edition. Why not start with the 99 cent book and see if you wanted to go further? And then I watched as the five individual books slid down the rankings and the Omnibus rose up above them.
For a couple of months, maybe three or four, the five Wool books were obnoxious on Amazon. They sat at the top of the Science Fiction > Anthology chart, taking up the top five spots. This is where I hung out, taking screen captures. Meanwhile, the same titles crept up the general Science Fiction chart. Soon, they were in spots 2-6. They eventually took over the top spot as well. But it was the Omnibus that was about to do something remarkable. It began climbing the overall Amazon bestseller charts.
Twice, the book flirted with the top 100. It cracked it once for e-books, but not among all books. I took a shot of it at #101 before it began to slide back and settle around #120. By this time, I had put in my two week notice at work. I’d begun receiving calls from agents and people in Hollywood. BBC America wanted the rights for a TV show. I declined representation from two agents before Kristin Nelson talked sense into me. The Wool Omnibus cracked the top 100, and I probably did a dance. Not sure if I recorded it. Every milestone was a sign that it was all going to end at any moment now. Tomorrow. Next week. Just enjoy every hour while it’s here. I can always get another day job, I told myself. I was writing First Shift and tracking sales with a mix of glee and the grimace of a man who expects imminent collision. But things kept going up and up.
Boing Boing was one of the first major media mentions. There had been a few bloggers and dozens of reviewers, but this was big enough to pin the needle. Wool Omnibus shot into the top 50 on all of Amazon. I sold more books in a day than I had in that month of October the year before, and this was at $4.99 (I would later raise the price a dollar due to complaints from readers that my books were too cheap!)
The next splash came that summer from Gizmodo. I had recently signed a deal with Random House UK, and they’d put together a brilliant trailer for the book. The editor in chief at Giz was a huge fan of Wool, and he used the trailer as an excuse to pimp the book. The Omnibus went into the top 10 on all of Amazon and cracked the New York Times bestseller chart. There were more media mentions. A dozen foreign deals. The low 6-figure offers from US publishers back in March were now in the mid-to-high 6-figures.
I released I, Zombie and Second Shift in the second half of the year. I wrote Third Shift for NaNoWriMo in November. At this time, I had landed an impossible deal with Simon & Schuster that not only allowed me to retain the digital rights and all worldwide rights, it was a print-only deal that would revert even those rights after a set period of time. It was everything we’d ever dreamed of. All it took was walking away from a few 7-figure deals, which was both easier than you’d imagine and as hard as you’d expect. (Yeah, a powerful mix of emotions).
The year anniversary of Wool came with a ton going on. Amber and I moved to Florida. She took a new job much closer to her parents. We were wrestling with a new house and a new home; I was traveling as much as I had while captaining yachts; and every day was another foreign deal or something major to negotiate with Kristin. Somehow, I was still writing every day. Including Wool 5 — which at 50,000+ words is as long as Catcher in the Rye, Frankenstein, or To Kill a Mockingbird — I wrote five full novels in 2012. I also wrote two short stories, both of which were picked up by publications that require editorial review. We sold a house, bought another one, moved 12 hours away, and spent holidays with family. In July, I made Wool permanently free to celebrate this first anniversary. A year later, and I just a few hours ago sent the files for Dust to both my e-book formatter and Createspace. The series is done. It’s been a wild two years.
What next? I wish I could say I was taking a break, but I’m not. I’ll be gone more than I’ll be home between now and Christmas. Six countries to visit for book releases, five domestic trips for various functions, a Molly Fyde book to finish and publish, another NaNoWriMo to contemplate, and a new series to crack open. After this year, though, I’m going to take it easy. Slow down. Relax a bit. Hey, it’s right at a year since the last time I said that!