Here’s my latest trawl through the science fiction top 20 bestseller and bestselling author charts on amazon.com. The point of these posts is twofold. Firstly it’s an opportunity to celebrate what’s hot right now in science fiction in books (and beyond), and secondly it also gives me a few minutes to rest my brain from my day job of writing my own science fiction books. My last trawl through the charts was here, and a long-winded mission statement here. Data was captured on 24th October 2015, but I’ve been looking in on the charts most days since my last post.
Authors who caught my eye this time include Douglas E. Richards, S. Harrison, Joshua V. Scher, Rysa Walker, Tim C. Taylor and Joshua Dalzelle. Spontaneous celebrations erupted throughout the world this week as people called Joshua welcomed the news that two authors of that name are currently in the top20 SF book chart.
Let’s dive straight in with Joshua Dalzelle. There was a time back in January when the first two Human Legion books were at #1 and #2 in the Military SF bestseller chart. It’s not the kind of thing you forget in a hurry… nor is the book that knocked me off the top spot. The culprit was Warship, the first in Joshua’s Black Fleet series. If you enjoy Christopher Nuttall’s Ark Royal series, then you’ll love Black Fleet. It’s superficially similar but then goes on to do its own thing in its own way. Stirring action, desperate space battles against aliens, spies and political intrigue. That kind of thing. I was very pleased to keep the top slot warm for the talented Mr. Dalzelle.
Counterstrike, the third book in the series came out two weeks ago and has leaped up the charts to #7 in science fiction. It’s currently at #59 in the overall Amazon.com book charts, which means something in the order of 1,600 sales per day. Not bad! The first two Black Fleet books are also doing very well, reentering the charts. The result puts Dalzelle at #4 in the science fiction author charts (which combines all paperback, hardback, audiobook and eBook sales categorized as science fiction). I don’t think Mr. Dalzelle will be returning to his day job any time soon!
At #3 in the charts is Split Second by Douglas E. Richards. The author is a regular in the science fiction book charts and has been described as ‘the successor to Michael Crichton’. Split Second was released at the beginning of September, and if Andy Weir hadn’t been hogging the top of the charts, Split Second would have ranked in the last two chart rundowns at #2, #1 and again #1 this week (The Martian has multiple entries for multiple editions if you’re scratching your head over that last statistic). Douglas E. Richards pens techno-thrillers, and Split Second is a time travel novel. Looks very interesting.
This is hardly the author’s first sniff of bestselling success. A useful rule of thumb to distinguish the megaselling titles from the ones that get a Bookbub or Kindle Daily Deal push up to the top before tumbling straight back down is to look at the number of reviews on Amazon. If the figure is over a thousand, it’s a very successful book. Mr. Richard’s most renowned title is probably Wired, a NY Times bestseller with around 3,200 reviews on amazon.com. That’s a serious number. For comparison, my Marine Cadet, which was #4 in the science fiction charts for a while has sold 30,000 worldwide and has 219 reviews. The Martian has 21,000 reviews!
This count-the-reviews trick doesn’t always work. A book that wins a major award or is controversial will attract a vastly higher proportion of reviews when compared with sales. That’s all good as far as I’m concerned. Talking about books is noble pursuit. Especially in blog posts!
Let’s move on to the debut novelists we saw last time who signed to Amazon’s imprints and whom Amazon have pushed very heavily (such as on the Kindle Fire tablet where Amazon are frequently suggesting you would like to try authors based on whether they are part of an Amazon imprint or promotional program). Most of the new people we saw last time have dropped out of sight. An exception at #14 in SF books is Joshua V. Scher with Here & There on Amazon’s 47 North label. This is an experimental techno-thriller that is also part of Amazon’s Kindle First program, which looks designed to give books a big initial push into the sales charts. The subject matter is teleportation and the presentation of the story is non-standard. This inevitably is dividing opinion, and the result is an average rating that is modest at 3.2 That might look a little bad, but in a multi-book career, an author can take that and say that the poor reviews are from people who were never going to like that kind of book. Here & There has an even larger number of 5-star reviews and with its very large sales figures, these appreciative readers are the potential customers Mr. Scher will be trying to attract with his next book. And with the might of Amazon behind him, I’m sure he has a bright future.
The other Amazon-signee making himself at home in the bestseller lists at #4, is S. Harrison with Infinity Lost, a YA science fiction adventure out through Amazon’s Skyscape imprint. The bestseller charts I run through are the book charts (meaning paper + audio + eBook). Over in the Kindle-only charts, Infinity Lost is doing even better at an astonishing #26 in the overall Kindle Store.
Rysa Walker is at #10 with Time’s Divide, the third in the Chronos YA time travel novels. Like Infinity Lost, the Chronos books are published through Amazon’s YA Skyscape imprint. I’ve not tried them, but I hear good things about the series. Rysa Walker is a notable author this week because in the whole of the top-20 bestselling science fiction books, she is the only female author.
Looking back over previous weeks, the proportion of female authors in the top-20 is around 25%. Which sounds bad, but before I started tracking the charts in a spreadsheet, I was well aware that there is gender imbalance in the charts. But the imbalance skews both ways depending on which chart you look at. Take Time’s Divide. It’s science fiction, for sure, but although science fiction book sales have seen sharp rises these past few years, it remains a relative publishing backwater. Arguably a more natural home for Time’s Divide is the YA science fiction and fantasy charts. There the picture is very different and women rule. I counted only one living male author in the top 40.
Talking of male authors, the disreputable-sounding Tim C. Taylor has had a new book out since the last time I went through these charts. Human Empire hit a peak of #23 in the science fiction book charts, and #8 in space opera. It fell away but is rising again. In the bestselling science fiction authors, I’m currently #44, partly so high because the rest of the Human Legion backlist has picked up sharply. Amazon.com runs many genre charts. One which is competitive, but not as fierce as the most competitive (military sf), is the Galactic Empire Chart. Out of the 2,000 books in the category, three Human Legion books are in the top-20 and one just outside. I’m happy with that.
I’m going to go through my sales numbers in detail soon, but for now I’ll just say that even though you might think sales are disappointing because Human Empire didn’t quite manage to crack the military sf top-10 (it only reached #12), Human Legion books are still selling enough to earn a decent full-time living for a modern midlist author such as myself. And that is why I say this is a golden time for science fiction authors. Total unit sales of adult science fiction are sharply up over the past five years (I estimate by 50%) and a self-published or Amazon imprint-published author earns such an enormously larger margin on each sale than a traditionally-published author, that you can now earn a living off middling chart performance, so long as you can write more than one book a year. Writing hurried books that are no good won’t help, though. There is but one way to keep your readers coming back for more: by publishing books that your readers regard as high quality.
That’s it for this rundown. I did say I’d do a special report on Hugo Awards and the effect on bestseller performance, and some intriguing if rather disappointing Sad Puppy and Rabid Puppy consequences. Well, I guess that will be next time. Also, with the power granted me by the great god Pivot Table, I will start to show graphs!