Hey writers! Got a short post for you today. Yesterday, after I wrapped up Being a Better Writer and started on some chores I had to take care of, I finally put on a video that had been sitting in my watch-later queue for quite some time and was immediately struck by the lessons in the video that apply to writing.
Specifically, this video explains why Axtara has been such a success, flying so far so quickly. As some of you might have gathered, sales numbers have been on my mind lately, as I’m pushing to reach that “10,000 total sales in ten years” number after finding out how close I was about a month ago.
Anyway, before I pontificate too much further, I’m going to link embed this video and encourage any of you writers who are looking at or wondering about your own sales numbers to take a look. This talk was given at the 2017 Game Developers Conference, or GDC, and so while it’s talking about lessons one can take towards game development from Ikea, it actually applies incredibly well toward writing and selling books. Give it a watch below the break.
Interesting, isn’t it? To me, watching this was an epiphany on why I’ve seen such strong sales with Axtara: It’s an incredibly niche product with almost no competition that delivers very well what it sets out to do.
Now, I’m not saying that my other books aren’t well-written, nor that they don’t accomplish what they set out to do with aplomb. Colony is very well-received, still sells well, and sees a solid positive response (along with the occasional batch of hate, which as the video points out isn’t a bad thing). However, Colony is also competing an incredibly flooded market. Sci-Fi adventure stories, stories of alien worlds, etc, aren’t exactly uncommon. Though Colony clearly does these things very well, which is why it has reviewed so solidly and sold so many copies, it’s still fighting for attention in a genre with tens of thousands of competing titles delivering similar experiences, some of which have advertising budgets worth more than most authors make in a year.
Colony does what it does very well, and it does deliver some twists on the formula … but at the same time those twists are literal twists, and not the kind of thing you can use to market the book to make it stand out, though it will for most readers, because you’d spoil the very mechanics that help Colony stand out from its contemporaries (and it should be noted that this is an issue with writing stories that set up tropes in order to subvert them; you can’t state that’s what you’re doing without spoiling the effect, and that’s why last year Colony picked up a “review” from someone who skimmed the first half the novel and then stated it felt well-written but full of tropes, blissfully ignoring the dozens of reviews around it that noted it subverting those same tropes).
But Axtara is, to borrow the nomenclature of the video above, an “Ikea” of a book, and that’s obvious from the blurb on the back to the opening pages. Very few books have the perspective of a dragon as a main character, fewer still do it well (pardon my shudder as I recall one “dragon” book I read which saw the “dragon protagonist” turned into a human in the first chapter and then saw them gleefully exclaim through the rest of the book ‘wow I’m so glad I’m a human now, being a dragon sucked!’). Even fewer still attempt this kind of book with a female protagonist, and a YA. Oh, and then there’s the story itself, which is far afield of the traditional “dragon bad kidnap princess” fare most fantasy novels concerning dragons offer. In Axtara we have our protagonist befriending a princess while opening up a bank and taking delight in balancing ledgers … not exactly something anyone else has attempted.
In fact, the most common “comparison” brought up against Axtara is people stating that it sounds like The Dragon’s Banker … which is nothing like Axtara (for starters, the protagonist is human, not a dragon).
At the same time, keeping in line with the video above, there were things that Axtara didn’t do as a choice. There’s very little mystery to who the “antagonist” is, for example, at least from the reader’s perspective. And there was never intended to be otherwise. The point of the story is Axtara’s journey and adventure in opening her bank, and that’s what it delivers.
Point being, I think there’s a serious value in watching the above video and looking at applying it directly to your writing. What will your book do well that will catch the attention of an audience looking for exactly that? What about the other bits of the video? What are you willing to cut in order to appeal to that specific audience? What are you willing to deliver that no one else is?
Again, the video is directed at those making game, but games are another medium of entertainment and education, like books. I think it’s worth watching just to get your mind looking at what you’ve written out and what you’ve achieved, or perhaps what you’re planning to write.
So give it a look. In the meantime, I’m going to get back to editing another book that’s definitely an “Ikea.” Starforge drops this holiday season!