2019 has been an exciting year for me. It’s the year my fantasy novels were published, the year my autoimmune disorder got upgraded to catastrophic, the year I met two of my literary heroes, and the year I read almost 70 gryphon novels.

I don’t even know where to begin to look over it all. Maybe it’s best to start with the books themselves. Practically speaking, how did this year go?

The first words of Eyrie came in 2017, but the novel itself was published on March 31,st 2019. There was a lot of editing and feedback in there (special thanks to Dustin Porta, Tim Marquitz, Glenn Birmingham, and Roz Gibson for helping me get Eyrie from first draft to finished version). I had a hard time letting go of this book. I have a note that says “Eyrie ready to release” from August 2017. Instead, it went through several more iterations. Ultimately, I don’t know if taking two more years with it made a big difference, but I think new authors have trouble letting go of their books. Ultimately, I’m proud of it.

Like most authors, I wrote a few novels (and even edited them) that weren’t published before settling upon a more serious publication attempt with Eyrie. I did this for a specific reason—my health wasn’t great and it looked like they were going to be doing some fairly serious surgeries. My spouse has often complained that there aren’t enough stories about gryphons, especially not ones with gryphon protagonists, and part of how they deal with grief is through reading fantasy. I share a similar love for gryphons, and I felt like if I was only able to write one series before dying, I wanted something that would give my loved ones comfort.

No pressure, right? But I’d also read a lot of gryphon books growing up, and it always bothered me that there weren’t any epic nature fantasy books. And that gryphons were usually eagle and lion based. So I took everything I wanted but couldn’t find in the gryphon literary canon and went wild.

Thanks to the Gryphon Reading List, I had more preoders than I expected. I even had someone trying to get signed hardcovers months before release (Hi Saylor!). All of the fan mail and love made it a success. Of course, I’m the kind of reader who loves series, so I never planned on Eyrie being a standalone novel.

Ashen Weald released on June 19th, 2019. Eyrie had clocked in around 70,000 words, and as a fan of short epic fantasy, I expected my next book would be similar.

It was not.

Ashen Weald is over 120,000 words. It was an epic fantasy of the sort I loved reading as a teen—a Melanie Rawn’s Dragon Prince-style doorstopper. It had a lot of points of view and a lot of problems in the first draft. More than any other book, I felt sure this one would be the death of me. Between my creative writing degree, reading all those gryphon books, workshops, and everything else, nothing taught me so much about writing as Ashen Weald did.

I realize I make it sound like a problem child, but I love the book it became. I was worried sick that no one would pick it up, but readers were willing to give me a chance. I worried the added length and juggling so many points of views would be a problem, but instead those were the things that brought in more fan mail. And characters like Foultner who weren’t even in the first draft were fan favorites.

The cover of Starling featuring a petrel gryphon lost in the bog surrounded by infected starlings.

Starling released on August 6th. I was having health problems, so in retrospect, I would have spread out Ashen Weald and Starling’s releases so there wasn’t a gap in the autumn where the fourth book should have released. That said, I had a lot of big plans for Starling’s release, none of which I was healthy enough to do. (Look for some amazing giveaways and a Larry Dixon interview next year when I’m healthier.)

If Eyrie took two years of editing and Ashen Weald was getting reworked a hundred times in those same two years, Starling was the easiest book I’ve ever written. It didn’t hit 120,000 words, staying around a healthy 90k. While it has a good number of points of view, it feels like it’s specifically Tresh’s story. In fantasy, we call that heroic fiction versus epic fiction. Tresh is a wonderful character, and I loved getting to write her—though you’ve probably realized by now that every protagonist is my favorite character when I’m working on their book.

I worried that this book was too big a departure when some readers compared it to a horror movie with gryphons or when someone would comment that they loved 120k epic fantasy books. Ultimately, though, Starling was well-loved, and I’ve decided to stop worrying about little things like heroic vs epic and 70k vs 120k.

Unfortunately for me, what came next was a break from writing as I went through a litany of invasive medical tests. They drew so much blood that I had to spread it out over several days. Catastrophic APS had tried to kill me a few times, but now it was giving me fatigue and constant pain, which required testing out a lot of ineffective treatments to make my case to insurance about covering real care.

Thankfully, that gave me time to try out something a little different, something I may not have tried otherwise.

While it was hard to keep all 100k of Reevesbane in my head while in pain, it was a lot easier to take a set of good days and combine them to do short stories. Thus, Blue Eyes and Other Tales was born.

I’m no stranger to short stories. My first publications on my literary fiction pen name was a short story about a little old lady who just wanted to be happy and ended up as a serial killer. Writing fantasy short stories, though, was a different cup of tea. I was unsure of myself, but there were characters whose stories I wanted to tell, and nothing was going to stop me.

I also discovered a secret. There’s a saying that every reader has a ‘cookie’—a trope they love to a high degree. I suppose that’s probably books with gryphons in them for many of us. But as I ran my short stories through some friends and beta readers, I was excited to watch what happened as a short story turned out to be someone’s cookie.

A beak-cute lesbian gryphon love story with terror birds? That sentence more than tripled my mailing list size. (I decided to release the stories one at a time for free on my newsletter and Patreon to help tide readers over while I recovered.)

Thenca and Deracho together on a rescue mission? There were readers who just liked seeing them be a couple and do good in the world.

Connixation? Let me tell you, “one small gryphon versus the end of the world” was definitely several people’s cookie.

Blue-eyed Festival combined the cookies of Christmas stories, gryphons, and extended epilogues, showing Younce and Satra after the events of Starling. I won’t spoil it, but I’m already getting happy feedback.

Did I plan to write a linked short story collection this year? No. Would I have rather released Reevesbane? Definitely yes. But watching readers’ eyes light up as they see a story that’s their cookie was rewarding. I might do this again sometime if my health gets me down. And my hope for this year was to give readers four books, and a short story collection made that happen.

How did the series do?

There’s a saying that readers won’t try out a new author unless they have out at least three books, usually five. After Starling released, while I was mostly dead and recovering and not doing any promotions, sales started to crawl up. Where before, a reader might try out Eyrie, now I was usually seeing sales on all three books at the same time. It’s an exciting feeling to watch sales start slow and creep up and up and up. For the second half of the year, every month has had more sales than the previous one.

It’s not “quit the day job money” (author’s note: health insurance is important for me to have right now), but it’s a great start that fills me with hope. It’s also had some rather unusual quirks. Let’s talk about the things I expected as a new fantasy author and what they were really like. (Author’s note: literary fiction doesn’t come with fan mail or gryphons or making money, but I like selling short stories to literary magazines. My heart is fantasy, but I do have that other pen name, so I’m specifying new *fantasy* author here.)

Myth: “Most of the money from fiction comes from ebook sales on Amazon.” That’s a big statement and precisely what I was expecting to happen. There are four editions of each book: a Kindle-exclusive ebook edition, a paperback edition, a dust jacket hardcover, and a case laminate hardcover large print edition. The ebook being exclusive to Kindle allows it to be in the Kindle Unlimited program, sort of Netflix for books except I get paid around half a cent per page read with certain restrictions. So I released Eyrie fully expecting there to be limited paper sales and everything to have come through Amazon.

That’s not what happened.

I’m still figuring things out for taxes, but Amazon was maybe 20-25% of my income. Really, it was the hardcovers (especially the large print) where the bulk of my royalties came from. I suspect this is because readers are done with dust jackets and love having the cover printed directly on the book. I’ve noticed that there’s a selection of readers (including myself) who love having paper copies of books with beautiful mythical creatures on them, especially gryphons and dragons. I received a LOT of fan mail that showed off gryphon shelves, which I always reply to with a picture of my own gryphon shelf.

Next up, since I released a Telegram sticker pack and I was getting a lot of fan mail from furries and gryphon megafans (gryfans?), I was expecting those to be where most of the sales were coming from. That wasn’t the case.

Actually, they make up a much smaller percentage. They’re just very supportive of authors and artists and love reaching out to let them know. So thank you to all of the furries and gryphon megafans =] I’ve loved your emails!

So who is buying my books? There are a few groups. Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar fans make up a lot of paperback sales, and also a bit of ebook sales. There’s a group of YA creature fantasy fans who read Jess Owen’s Summer King Chronicles or Warriors, Wings of Fire, Guardian Herd, FoxCraft, or similar books who also enjoy mine. There’s a selection of nature and low fantasy fans like those who enjoyed Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons. There’s fantasy/scifi war fans. There’s a large number of readers who love fancy mythical creatures on covers (especially hardcover sales here). There’s fans who like fantasy that isn’t comedy but has fun comedic elements.

It makes sense. Those are all elements in the books. While I’d love to have found out that there are thousands of gryphon ultra fans, it’s a little reassuring that if I write non-gryphons in the future, I should still be okay.

Phew, this is running long, and I’m running out of energy. In addition to fans, fame, money, and working towards my dream of publishing a hundred novels, I also met a lot of other authors. Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon (The Black/White/Silver Gryphon) invited me out to their home for a week. Roz Gibson (Griffin Ranger) helped me along my path. Jess Owen (Song of the Summer King) was there to talk gryphons. I was able to help out both John Bailey (Dire) and Alexander Bizzell (The Gryphon Generation). My favorite person, Glenn Birmingham, put his hat into the dragon author ring while also supporting gryphon authors like me. I had fun with a lot of my peers.

What does 2020 hold?

I wasn’t able to get Reevesbane out this year, but it’s in edits and it’ll be here next year. My goal for 2020 is to release books 4, 5, and 6 for the Gryphon Insurrection, wrapping up the main story arc. I also plan to release a standalone fisherfolk novel with Rorin and Tresh. Like Blue Eyes, its ebook will start as a free newsletter/Patreon exclusive and get listed for sale everywhere much later on. Brenda Lyons is painting the cover for this one and the excitement is high.

Assuming I get coverage to treat my catastrophic APS and have more energy next year, I’d like to take things a step further and start on a dragon series. I’ll talk more about that when I get there, but I have some ideas for high fantasy that I’d like to write. If all goes well, I’ll get at least one dragon book out next year when gryphons wraps up.

Lastly, my editors and the authors I idolized as a kid want me to take one of my books to the Big 5 Publishers. I like being small because it gives me power over the cover, editing, and content of my books. But I have a novel I’ve been wanting to rewrite that my editors keep telling me sounds like it’d be a perfect fit for the biggest publishing houses, so I may try to work time in to write and edit it so it can make the rounds. If it gets rejected, no big deal—I’ll release it like I did with the gryphon books later on sometime. If it gets picked up, it’ll probably be years before it’s released, but I’d love to see what it’s like to work with the big publishing companies. I’m nothing if not a student of the publishing industry.

Well, this certainly ended up feeling like a “Dear Diary” entry. If you read this far, welcome to the end! You should go take a nap. That’s what I’m going to do. And then I’m going to go through the latest round of edits on Reevesbane!


PS: In total, I published 329,682 words of fiction this year!