Urban Fantasy author J.A. Cipriano’s The Thrice Cursed Mage series is currently enjoying great success at the top of the urban fantasy charts. This week I talk to Jason about his exciting new series, what he did to “break out,” and the 19 other books he wrote before getting to this point.
Jason started out like most writers, developing a love of reading at a young age, scribbling stories down in his notebook — however, probably most writers didn’t graduate high school with four novels under the belt. He also wrote tons of fan fiction (Bleach), almost a million words.
He later partnered up with other writers in a critique group and eventually saw two of his critique partners go on to sign with traditional publishers. Despite an agent telling him his book was great, but too clever and not sellable, he persisted in seeking a traditional deal until 2011. That’s when he discovered Amanda Hocking and Kboards and decided to give self-publishing a go. He formatted his novel, but had difficulty finding a cover artist. Around the same time, he was promoted at work causing him to leave off the book until late 2013, when that job ended.
Jason decided that 2014 would be his year. He reformatted his book, found a cover artist, and got his first book published that fall, Book 1 of The Lillim Callina Chronicles. In the meantime, he had continued writing in the series and quickly followed up with Books 2, 3, and 4 within the next six months…then he jumped to writing a new YA spy thriller series…then a middle grade urban fantasy series…and then his friend joked about him writing a mummies vs. werewolves series called Under Wraps, so he did that too.
In 2015, Jason ended up writing and publishing 18 titles in five different series.
In the fall 2015, he published a prequel to his Lillim Callina series, which did very well. Unfortunately, he realized that the readers who discovered him through the prequel were not enjoying the series very much, a fact that he attributes to him becoming a better writer since he wrote Book 1.
So Jason decided he needed a new series.
The Thrice Cursed Mage
Noting that bestselling urban fantasy authors Jim Butcher and Craig Schaefer both had white, male protagonists, a rarity in the genre and an indication that it was an underserved niche, Jason set out to write an awesome book featuring a white male protagonist. He read lots of books in the genre, took extensive notes, and even spent an afternoon with a Navy Seal to learn about guns. He took everything he liked about urban genre and cool magic powers and awesome guns and stuffed it into a 30k-40k-word book.
It was terrible, Jason says. The worst thing he had ever written.
So he went back and tried to figure out what he was missing. This time he paid close attention to the tropes of the genre and applied them to his book. He changed his female lead to the typical sympathetic single mom character with a precocious nerdy 8-year-old, then let his protagonist save the kid from a horrible demon and, in turn, become a more sympathetic character himself. He added in the tropes that urban fantasy readers have come to expect, he says, and ended up with a book that was so much better for it. His initial reviewers all wrote him back telling him it was the best thing he had ever written.
He hit publish and sold 100 copies the first day, his best launch ever. On advice from his friend and fellow author Chris Fox, as soon as his also-boughts populated, he bumped the price from $.99 to $2.99. The day he did that, he sold 150 copies. The next day was 200. The day after that was 300. The book ranked between #1000 and #3000 the first 30 days.
And then he hit the cliff.
Day 31, his sales dropped from 150 sales a day to 50, a stark reminder that the Big Bad 30-Day Cliff is a real thing.
But it was all good because a week later Jason published Book 2 of the series, hitting No. 3 on Amazon at $3.99. Book 3 came out a little more than a month later, and he’s currently hard at work on the next one.
As a result of this break-out series, Jason reports that his regular average sales of 500-600 books a month (across all titles) has jumped to 6,000-7,000 copies a month at the time of this interview. He’s also experienced great cross-over from his new fans to his old series: his Lillim Callina series has gone from generating $1,000 in monthly revenue to $4,500.
Jason’s Ridiculously Impressive Publishing Timeline
In order to assist RSP readers in studying Jason’s path to urban fantasy breakout success, a timeline is provided below. As you can see, his path to success is crowded with published titles — a tremendous amount of work published in a relatively short period of time. (And yes, he does have a day job.)
- 9/22/14 – Book 1 of The Lillim Callina Chronicles – Urban Fantasy
- 1/1/15 – Short story in the Lillem Callina universe
- 1/15/15 – Book 2 of The Lillim Callina Chronicles – Urban Fantasy
- 2/23/15 – Book 3 of The Lillim Callina Chronicles – Urban Fantasy
- 3/23/15 – Book 4 of The Lillim Callina Chronicles – Urban Fantasy
- 4/23/15 – Book 1 of Meet Abby Banks – YA Spy Thriller
- 5/8/15 – Book 1 of The Caleb Oznek Missions – Middle Grade Urban Fantasy
- 5/24/15 – Book 5 of The Lillim Callina Chronicles – Urban Fantasy
- 6/23/15 – Book 1 of Werewolves vs. Mummies – Urban Fantasy Adventure
- 7/20/15 – Book 2 of Meet Abby Banks – YA Spy Thriller
- 7/26/15 – JET: My Brother’s Keeper – Thriller in Russell Blake’s Jet universe – Kindle Worlds
- 8/14/15 – Book 2 of The Caleb Oznek Missions – Middle Grade Urban Fantasy
- 8/22/15 – Book 2 of Werewolves vs. Mummies – Urban Fantasy Adventure
- 9/23/15 – Book 3 of Meet Abby Banks – YA Spy Thriller
- 10/15/15 – Prequel to The Lillim Callina Chronicles – Urban Fantasy
- 10/26/15 – Book 6 of The Lillim Callina Chronicles – Urban Fantasy
- 11/21/15 – Book 3 of Werewolves vs. Mummies – Urban Fantasy Adventure
- 12/20/15 – Book 1 of Revelations – Urban Fantasy
- 12/26/15 – Book 1 of Revelations – Urban Fantasy
- 2/7/16 – Book 1 of The Thrice Cursed Mage – Urban Fantasy
- 3/14/16 – Book 2 of The Thrice Cursed Mage – Urban Fantasy
- 5/3/16 – Book 3 of The Thrice Cursed Mage – Urban Fantasy
The Next Big Thing
Jason has nine books planned in his The Thrice Cursed Mage series, each of them with “horrible cliffhangers.” He says he plans to keep writing them until they stop hitting the #1,000-2,000 mark on Amazon.
Advice to New Authors:
Jason recommends that authors get clear with themselves about their motivations for pursuing a self-publishing career:
“I’m thinking you should really look at the reason why you’re deciding to self-publish and what your goals are and make sure that you as a person have the time, ability, and whatever to actually accomplish that goal. Because if you can only write, let’s say, 20 hours a week and you have 60-hour-a-week goals, you’re just setting yourself up for failure.”
The other thing Jason recommends is to critically read the top authors in the genre you’re trying to break into and develop a solid understanding of the tropes and conventions that readers love and expect in that particular genre. Write a good book that hits all the sweet spots your readers are looking for. Then give it a great cover that is similar to other bestselling covers in your genre and a solid blurb — the minimal bar to entry (to indie success), as he calls it — and you’ll definitely have a book that sells.
“If you don’t have an awesome cover, blurb, and a reasonably good book, you shouldn’t even try. You’re not ready to do that. That’s like starting a business with no money.”
- Study up in your genre to find out what readers enjoy and what they expect. Select the top sellers and fan favs in your genre and read critically, take notes, and figure out how you can fit tropes into your own story in a way that makes it a great story. Check out Chris Fox’s excellent book on this topic: Write to Market: Deliver a Book that Sells.
- Publish often. You never know when a book is going to take off. The more you have in your catalog, the better you’ll be able to satisfy a new reader who’s just discovered your work and is eager for more.
- Take care of your mailing list. Keep them warm and engaged by staying in touch. Email is your way to communicate directly with your readers, and if they’ve taken the step to sign up to your list, that means they’re interested in you and your work. Let them know what’s happening in your universes!
What do you think about writing to market? Is it pandering to the masses or giving readers exactly what they crave? How important do you think it is to follow tropes in order to achieve genre success?
Let us know what you think in the comments below.
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