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  • Writer's pictureAl Hess

When the Party's Over

Updated: Mar 7, 2023

Yes, I stole this title from a Talk Talk song. It's been a week since World Running Down launched, and I have a lot of thoughts about the whole experience that I'm going to try to distill into coherent, bite-size pieces. If this post is still too long, the TL;DR is that it was wonderful over all; I love my publisher and all my fans; marginalized authors still have an unfairly uphill battle; and the internet is a wild, wild place.

On my clueless lead title status:

My publicist and marketing assistant did a lot of work ahead of time to ensure I'd have the best launch possible. Quite a few months out, my publicist sent my book to Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and other big review sites. I ended up featured in places like Buzzfeed, Book Riot, Den of Geek, Grimdark Magazine, and Library Journal's spring catalog.

They made double-sided character postcards using my artwork, bookplates, and footed the bill for the enamel pins I designed. They hosted giveaways for the book on both Goodreads and The Story Graph, and they set me up with an amazing month-long online book tour.

Character postcards of ten different World Running Down characters displayed on a black table.

Listing all these things out like this, it seems obvious to me now, but I didn't realize that I was a lead title until a couple days before my launch. If you don't know, many publishers have "lead titles" and "midlist." The lead titles are their headliners that they put the most advertising into, while midlist fills in the spaces between. This is my first traditional rodeo, as it were, and I simply had nothing to compare my experience to. My little book was achieving so much and I had no idea!

On reviews:

I knew that negative reviews would start rolling in eventually, and I swear I tried not to look. People said my prose read like a first draft. They said my villains were cartoonish, the plot was boring and predictable, and my parallel themes of body dysphoria between Valentine and Osric were far too heavy-handed. Those comments hurt, but okay. Once my book is out in the world, it's up for critique and reviewers are entitled to their opinions, even when they straight up call me an idiot in their review. I shouldn't have looked, and I don't have a right to complain about that.

But what I wasn't prepared for was reviewers repeatedly misgendered me and Valentine by using they/them pronouns instead of he/him, and one went so far as to say that Valentine was "a trans woman who wants to be a man," which doesn't even make sense.

I was aware before this that marginalized authors are held up to a much higher standard and more harshly scrutinized than their non-marginalized counterparts. But what hurt the most was getting this feedback from some fellow queer and trans people. They said my book had absolutely nothing new or profound to say about transness. For whatever reason, they expected it to be the epitome of revolutionary trans commentary, a book memorized and recited around the hobo campfire at the end of Fahrenheit 451. Of course, I hope that my book does touch people in that way, and I've received many messages from teary readers who say they've never felt so seen in a book before. But why does my book about apocalypse road trips, gay romance, giant eyeballs, and trans joy have to be the most revolutionary thing ever written or else it sucks?

On my clueless audiobook status:

Okay, I did know that I would probably have an audiobook. It was in my contract. (It comes out in May!) But what I didn't know was that the money the audio company paid my publisher would go toward paying off my advance. So with any luck I'll be earning out by first quarter and can start getting royalties off the book sales.

I very much wanted a trans masculine narrator for Valentine, but in the event that wasn't possible, I requested a queer cis man instead. They surprised me by giving me both! I got to choose casting for two narrators, and they gave me a list of trans voice actors for Valentine and queer cis men for Osric. Getting to listen to all their samples and choose who fit the best was a lot of fun. Listing out every hard-to-pronounce word in the book along with links and recordings of pronunciation... not so much. 😅

I can't wait to hear the final audiobook.

On Amazon UK's gross miscategorization:

Each Amazon platform has slightly different categories for their books depending on the country, and if you scroll to the bottom of the listing page for any book, it will tell you the top three subcategories for that book. I learned a lot about this when self-publishing, because getting into relevant niche-but-still-visible categories is the best way to reach number one. The categories and their respective ranking on the listing page update each hour based on the sales of your own book and others in the same categories.

These are my categories in Amazon's US store (on launch day I reached #11 in LGBTQ+ Science Fiction!):

World Running Down's US Amazon categories: #161 in LGBTQ+ Science Fiction (Books); #5,039 in Science Fiction Romance (Books); #6,042 in Post-Apocalyptic Science Fiction (Books)

And these are my categories in the UK store:

World Running Down's UK Amazon categories: 94 in Erotic Transgender Fiction; 4,162 in Science Fiction Romance (Books); 4,574 in Dystopian

At first, I thought it was kind of funny that my book had been miscategorized into Erotica. There is only one sex scene, and it's mostly the characters being sweet and awkward and Osric asks for an instructional diagram because he doesn't know what to do. But then I clicked on the Erotic Transgender Fiction category to see what other books were there and quickly lost all my amusement. Not only were all of the books placed in that category not erotica, they weren't even romances. They simply had a trans character, and that was enough for Amazon to put them in that category. Because, y'know, trans people are a fetish simply for existing.

To my further disgust, ALL the queer erotica categories (gay, lesbian, bi, in addition to trans) were filled with books that weren't erotic and weren't even romances. But hey, if you go to the default (cis and straight) erotica categories, those books are correct.

I've talked to my editor about getting my book removed from the Erotica category, not necessarily because I think it's going to affect my sales, but because it's the point of the thing.

On everyone I know (and a lot of people I don't) buying my book:

My publishing experience with World Running Down has demonstrated very acutely how much more exposure and distribution power there is in traditional publishing versus self-publishing. I'm seeing my book pop up all over the place on Instagram, blogs, and popular websites. My friends and (gulp) family members send me pictures of them with my book. Bookstores reach out to ask me to drop by for a signing. A reviewer made a cocktail called the Static Gat. 😍

This was all I wanted and more from this experience. My reason for getting an agent and a book deal was to have that extra power to get my book into the hands of readers who need it. I can't express how good it feels to see people talk about how much my book of trans joy is needed. How important it is. How much they love my characters. It's made all the hard parts worth it, and I would do it again immediately. If I'm lucky, that's going to happen... except for the immediately part because this is trad publishing and you need the lifespan of a vampire in order to see anything come to fruition.

On someone wanting me to sign off all my emails as "Al (as in Alaric, not Artificial Intelligence)":

Instead of ending on that heartwarming note, I leave you with an anecdote of how unhinged the internet (particularly Twitter) is. And no, I didn't obscure the person's name because he's being an asshole for no reason and doesn't deserve anonymity.

A Twitter screenshot. Angry Robot says: Preorder WORLD RUNNING DOWN by Al Hess from Mysterious Galaxy Books and you'll receive a signed bookplate and one of six different limited edition art prints illustrated by Al!
A Twitter screenshot. Larry Pfeffer says: You were doing so well, until you mentioned AI-generated artwork. There are so many talented artists hungry for work, I hope you'll reconsider you approach to illustrating your publications!! Angry Robot says: The author's name is AL, as in A-L. He is the one who created the artwork, not ai.
A Twitter screenshot. Larry Pfeffer says: Really?? Usually, the word 'generated' is not used for what human artists do; perhaps try the word 'created.' I thought that you folks would have editors and everything? Al Hess says: It doesn't say "generated." It says "illustrated." My name is Al (as in Alaric.) I am human and I drew the illustrations and painted the cover of the book.
A Twitter screenshot. Larry Pfeffer says: Thank you for the clarification. I suggest you clarify in future posts, so readers don't assume your first name is an acronym. Al Hess says: I'll worry about my own name and you can worry about yours, Larry.


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