Monday, December 23, 2013

$200 Million-Dollar Man in 2014: What It’s Like to be Wildly Successful as an Author (Or Alternatively Is a Top 1% Author a 1 Percenter After 20 Years in This Crazy Business?)

Selling over $100,000,000 in books is something few authors achieve. Selling over $200,000,000 in books is something even fewer authors achieve—and it’s something I will be writing about during 2014 as the new year marks my 20th year in the crazy business of publishing. People have asked me if all the success changed my life and I’d like to think that it has in many ways. But it’s been a long, long road and a road that never started with me trying to get published.

In fact, I wrote novels for years before I ever tried to get published. For me, writing was never about getting published. It was always about doing what I loved. And doing what I love full-time for 20 years has given me great perspective on writing, on success, and on life.

I got my start as a professional writer in the early ‘90s. My first book, published in 1995, was a major bestseller, and so was the sequel, published in 1996. It was wondrous times to see my works in bookstores and in enormous stacks that were sometimes chest-high. These were of course 1,000-page tomes, so a chest-high stack was easily achieved and yet tremendous to see all the same.

By 2005, my books had sold millions and millions of copies and had earned well over $100,000,000 in retail sales, putting me easily in a class of the top 1% of authors in the world. The fact that I have remained there in the top 1% of authors in the world for a decade is no small feat. Yet there I am, and I cannot but wonder at the marvelous road I’ve traveled. (For more background, read: How I Made This Crazy Thing Called Writing a 20-year Career...).

I’ve been around the world, lived around the world. I’ve made fortunes, lost fortunes, and given away fortunes. Along the way millions of people have bought and read my works and millions more have checked my works out of libraries.

The path traveled hasn’t been all roses, cavalcades, and unicorns. The publishing business can be an ugly business; the world can be an ugly place. And yet, I’ve never lost belief in my words or my ability to instruct, to entertain, to tell a story. I love the craft. I’ve not only written in literary genres from action/adventure, mystery and suspense to science fiction and fantasy, in subject areas from computer technology to military memoir, and in children's picture books for toddlers, preschoolers and early elementary school readers—but I’ve been successful in all.

Now that’s the stuff of Willy Wonka’s wondrously wonderful dreams. The books, the ideas, they live large in my thoughts and in my pages. And yet there are still many places I’d like to travel to with my words. Irrespective of whether I get to travel those roads, it will have been a wondrous journey and one I will be writing much about in 2014. I may even answer the question as to whether a Top 1% author is a 1 percenter after 20 years in this crazy business.

Thanks for reading! My new book “Two Million Books a Trickle at a Time. Selling More Books, Finding Success & Making Writing a Career. Inspiration, Essays & How To” tells part of the story of my journey and gets its title courtesy of my indie author endeavors. I do, of course, write as William Stanek and Robert Stanek

Monday, November 11, 2013

Holiday Shopping, Dragons, Independents, Oh My!

I write as William Stanek and Robert Stanek. My story may help you understand writers and independents a little better. As a technology journalist, I've written for PC Magazine, Dr. Dobbs, TechNet Magazine and a variety of other leading magazines. As a technology writer, I've written for Simon & Schuster, Random House, Macmillan, Pearson, Microsoft, O'Reilly and other publishers. My many technical articles and technical books have helped millions of readers learn essential job skills and stay competitive. That's important, especially in these troubling economic times.

While working on the William Stanek books, I also worked on my Robert Stanek books, including the Ruin Mist books, the Magic Lands books, and the Bugville Critters books. The Ruin Mist books have been fairly popular. In the spring of 2002, Keeper Martin's Tale and Elf Queen's Quest became instant bestsellers, spending a combined 26 weeks on the Sci-Fi/Fantasy Top 50 list. The name "Ruin Mist" is the common language translation of an elvish word, which means "the lost ages" which is what is all about. The stories of Ruin Mist are set in a fictional past of our world.

Ruin Mist has three distinct realms of existence: Over-Earth, Under-Earth, and Middle-Earth. Over-Earth is the home of dragons, titans, and eagle lords, the great peoples of the past. Under-Earth is an otherworldly realm that has blood-red skies, and no sun or moon. Middle-Earth is the home of elves of the reaches and the men of the kingdoms. The history of Ruin Mist is divided into four ages: The First Age - The Age of Titans; The Second Age - The Age of Men, Elves, and Dwarves; The Third Age - The Age of Men and Elves; and The Fourth Age - The Age of Men.

The popularity of the Ruin Mist books built up through the release of the subsequent Ruin Mist books. Readers enjoyed the magical realms, the grand adventures, and the combination of classic fantasy elements with a fresh, highly imaginative approach. In the spring of 2005, the Ruin Mist books were first published in audio and became instant audio bestsellers, spending more than 52 weeks on's bestseller lists. The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches eventually became one of the Top 100 all-time fiction bestsellers on and was so popular, it was featured on the home page throughout July and August 2005.

In 2005, the Ruin Mist books also were featured in several printed books, including The Ancient Art of Faery Magick, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Elves and Fairies, and Popular Series Fiction for Middle School and Teen Readers (Children's and Young Adult Literature Reference). In 2007, the books were featured and highly recommended by VOYA, the top library journal for youth librarians.

"[A] complex tale...sure to attract fans of graphic novels and classic Tolkien alike....Stanek will likely draw a cult following....This cliffhanger guarantees fans, and those fans will be ready to wield their swords against the Dark Lord in Stanek's next installment." (VOYA)
I've also written an account of my experiences in the Persian Gulf War. That book, Stormjammers, was featured in the Journal of Electronic Defense and highly recommended. 
"Hard to put down....It is impossible not to share the relief and pride of the individual crew members when the attack missions they protect exit Iraq safely....Another side of the book lets the reader ride along when Stanek's EC-130H has two engines quit in the war zone." (The Journal of Electronic Defense)

The Bugville Critters have always had a special place in my life. For 15 years, I was satisfied with only the gleeful cheers, laughs and giggles of my children who delighted to hear my tales of Bugville and a little bug called Buster. My children urged me for years to get the books published so other children could read the stories too. Since I started that long journey in 2004, the Bugville Critters books have been featured by Parenting Magazine, written about by the Wall Street Journal, and welcomed by teachers around the U.S. These stories are about life and our world. I wrote the stories to instruct and entertain.

Because the books are independently published, you won't always find them in print in the Big Box stores. Big Box stores don't understand independent books or independent authors (and sadly, you can say the same about most independent bookstores). Sure, Big Box stores may stock "The Elf on the Shelf" at Christmas time, they may stock a few local indies from time to time, but they normally don't otherwise. Fortunately, there are many places you can find my books and the books of other independents, especially online. Further, you have only to ask at the Big Box stores to order my books or any other book that's independently published and they will order the books.

Thank you for reading! When you're out shopping this year, I hope you'll support independents, along with the big boys, too. You can learn more about me at or at

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Some people are the dog. Others, the tail on the dog. Or alternatively why I’m celebrating my 1000th+ title in active worldwide distribution.

Celebrating my 1000th title in active distribution isn’t about numbers. It’s more about helping others understand today’s publishing reality. The reality of today’s working-class writers. In publishing today, a writer who sells a million copies of 1 or a few books is a superstar while a writer who sells millions of copies of many books over many years may not even be considered by some to be successful. That’s because the publishing industry is designed to recognize racing rabbits—those thoroughbred superstars who knock the covers off the ball and sell, sell, sell copies of a single book or a few books by the boatload. The publishing industry isn’t designed for the working-class writer—those tortoises who barely get in a few steps toward first base while the superstars are sliding in to home.

But this tortoise has news. You can be a tortoise and reach home plate too. It takes much longer, requires much more dedication, but it can be done.

Although I don’t have any single book that has sold a million copies, I do have many books that have collectively sold millions and have collectively been checked out of libraries millions of times as well. In fact, earlier this year, I celebrated the publication of my 150th book. Well, at least the 150th book I counted amongst a much larger number of books of mine that have been published since 1995. For you see, the working-class writer doesn’t have the luxury of writing a book a year or a book every 2 or 3 years. A working-class writer must write 3, 4, 5, or 10 books a year to pay the mortgage, to put the kids through college, to feed the beast.

Many books written for many years help to give tremendous breadth and depth to any working-class writer’s body of work. All those books released in various editions, as audio books and ebooks, as sets and compilations, and as translations into many languages over many years create mountains of active titles in distribution. When those mountains of titles begin to wag the tail on the dog, it no longer matters whether you are the dog or the tail on the dog because at that point you are the whole enchilada. You are the dog, the tail, the dog wagging the tail, and the tail wagging the dog.

My numbers would in fact make most publisher’s drool. I’ve never had a book that failed to sell. My books earn back their advances. My books have long legs and typically have steady sales year after year after year. And by sales I mean all purchases, downloads, check outs, etc that result in a reader getting a book to read. But my books sell collectively in a relative trickle.

When you look at all the various editions, formats, sets, compilations, and translations of my books and track those as individual titles, you find that I’ve had many thousands of titles published over the years. There are in fact over 1,000 active William Robert Stanek titles available right now today (and not including an additional 400 or so of my titles in the English language that don’t even have my name on them as they are sold under brand names). Online bookstores, like Amazon or Barnes & Noble, carry over 600 of my English language titles and there are over 900 of my English language titles in library distribution. You can check these numbers yourself by counting all the William Stanek, William R. Stanek, William Robert Stanek, and Robert Stanek English-language titles.

None of these titles individually is a blockbuster, but all of these titles sell. They sell in that relative trickle I spoke of a moment ago. (For a complete list of my books, read: Books by William Robert Stanek.)

A trickle that turns individual snowflakes into snowballs coming done a mountainside and snowballs into an avalanche that brings the mountain down and levels the playing field with the superstars of publishing. My publishers don’t like it when I give exact numbers, but consider this: if you count only 1,000 of my active titles and say those titles sell only a miniscule 1 copy a day on average, that’s still 365,000 books sold a year.

Being the tail on the dog’s not looking so bad after all. Is it?

Thanks for reading! For more about my 20-year career as a writer, read "How I Made This Crazy Thing Called Writing a 20-year Career."

Robert Stanek

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Internet isn’t the new West but Patrick Rothfuss and some other competitors sure seem to think it is.

In the old West, the new gunfighter would call out the old gunfighter and one or the other would end in a pine box. In the new West of the Internet, a guy like Patrick Rothfuss does much the same except he uses friends and family to do the dirty deed. In 2007 when Patrick Rothfuss got up on his soapbox and ranted to stir up a mob, I had 100 published books to my credit, translations in over 20 countries and over 5 million books sold -- something Patrick Rothfuss likely knew when he came out swinging after his first book was published and publicly enlisted friends and family to do his dirty work.

And do his dirty work they did. My books were flooded with spiteful reviews. Hateful discussions were started in forums. Hateful posts were made on blogs. My fiction readers, who are mostly children, were harassed and intimidated. I received threatening emails, phone calls, letters. Who knew writing children’s fiction could be so fraught? I sure didn’t and I’d been a professionally published author since 1995.

Apparently, Patrick Rothfuss hadn’t done enough damage because he came out swinging again in 2009. Stirring to action, not only friends and family this time, but also his expanding fan base. Hateful discussions and blog posts became darker. Harassment of my readers turned to stalking. If the threats I had been received weren’t already bad enough, they became even worse.

Patrick Rothfuss’s motivation was likely the same as those who had gone before him: $$$$. Big franchises are big business, just ask Susan Collins, Rick Riordan, or J K Rowling.

But big franchises also are few and far between. There can only be so many big franchises. Something I’m sure Patrick Rothfuss absolutely knows. After all, he’s a guy who believes he has a major franchise and he may, but I also think he wasn’t about to let someone he believed he could quietly take out behind the barn, dig a hole, and put in the ground get there before him.

But Patrick Rothfuss was by no means the first who thought he could quietly take me out behind the barn, dig a hole, and put me in the ground. Why? Because the Internet makes it all too easy for unethical competitors to do and say just about anything they want to. They can do it anonymously, with pen names, with sock puppet accounts. They can do it through friends and family. They can do it through fans, others.

It doesn’t take much really. Just ask Patrick Rothfuss. A few public rants. A few quiet whispers. A few anonymous posts.

Dare to defend yourself? They howl even louder. Isn’t that right Patrick Rothfuss, David Louis Edelman, Jim C. Hines, Stephen Leigh, Victoria Strauss, Maureen Johnson, Tim Spalding?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Tours of Duty: Combat, Memorial Day & the Distinguished Flying Cross

My accomplishments during my 11-year military career earned me 29 commendations, including the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal, and the Humanitarian Service Medal. When I left the military, I was one of the most highly decorated in the command. 

My commander and supervisor loved it when I put on my dress blues and participated in the various parades and celebrations on base, especially Memorial Day and the 4th of July. I met a few presidents, including George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and a few generals, including Colin Powell and H. Norman Schwarzkopf, that way. And let me tell you, it was truly great to have presidents and generals shake my hand and meant it.

With Memorial Day right around the corner, it’s a good time to look back and reflect. I served my country in foreign lands and during several tours of duty in combat zones, including two combat tours in Iraq. I flew on 32 combat missions from the opening days of the war to its end. In that time, there was never a day I didn’t look death in the face. Never a day I didn’t face AAA, SAMs and more as we flew our missions.

Because of that service, I will always know that when the darkest of hours arrives I will not hesitate. When asked, I answered. When called, I went. When death stared up from the void, I did not fear. I gave because it was my duty and because I felt it was the right thing to do.

I write about some of my experiences in my military memoir, Stormjammers: The Extraordinary Story of Electronic Warfare Operations in the Gulf War, which was featured in a full-page review in the Journal of Electronic Defense and on NPR. Though a memoir, the book is largely a tribute to the men and woman I served with.

If you read Stormjammers and I hope you do, I hope the book opens a window for you as big as the original experiences did for me. After combat, the world never seemed quite the same. The return to normalcy was a strange experience, never quite accomplished. I don’t, in fact, think I ever slowed down or ever quite touched the earth after those experiences. For it was afterward that everything in this world changed—that everything in this world became so clear. And afterward that I set my sights on the future and never looked back.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

My 150th book just published, Ruin Mist readership rockets past 1 million, and Bugville Critters bound for the small screen. Read on...

When I began writing stories so many years ago, I had no idea that I'd be celebrating my 150th book today or that 7.5 million people would have read those books. This long road has included a dozen awards for outstanding writing and excellence from peers, recognition from reader groups and other organizations like the Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge, features on my books and work in Parenting Magazine, Children's Writer, The Children's Bookshelf, Writer's Digest, The New York Times, Publisher's Weekly, and other fine publications and periodicals.

All those years ago I never dreamed that my books would be so successful and yet they are thanks to readers who have shared their love of my books throughout the more than 50 countries where my books are available, and in dozens of languages. Hope you'll celebrate with me by visiting the new 'Meet Robert Stanek' website @  where you can learn about my writing or the new 'Imagined Lands' website @ where you can learn about some of the fantastical worlds I've created over the years. 

In other news, it's official: Ruin Mist readership has rocketed past 1,000,000 for the core 'Kingdoms and the Elves,' 'In the Service of Dragons' and 'Ruin Mist Chronicles' books. Readership of the core books has been growing steadily over the years but truly took flight in the past 12 - 18 months, especially with the release of the 10th anniversary editions of 'Kingdoms and the Elves' and 'Keeper Martin's Tale'. For a blast to the ancient past of Ruin Mist, don't miss the new 'Dragons of the Hundred Worlds' novellas.

Bugville Critters is getting some updates too! RP is in the process of releasing fifty--yes 50--2nd Editions of the Bugville Critters books, everything from 'Visit Dad and Mom' to 'Undersea Counting Expedition'. It was a lot of fun to visit the stories again as I worked through the proofs. These high definition (HD) editions release first to libraries and schools throughout North America and then to Apple iBooks. Once these are released, I will be working to bring the first four episodes of the Bugville Critters to the small screen.

Thanks for reading! Find my books on Barnes & Noble at Explore the Solar System ( Visit Magic Lands ( Meet the Elves of the Reaches ( Dance with Dragons (