11. the numbers so far

This is a brief and very transparent history of my writing career as of June 2017. It includes a detailed breakdown of some stats that many authors keep hidden.

I wrote my first novel when I was fifteen years old. It was written in roughly the same form as all of my novels – in the first person, and built around a philosophical issue. It was also terrible. Luckily, I loved writing it, and so from that point on, I wrote roughly one novel per year. They’ve each fit roughly the same formula: about 250 pages with a short, sharp writing style that ranges from abstract to gritty, typically in present tense. My novels are “contemporary fiction” and focus on existential and metaphysical issues explored through human drama. Some include elements of mystery or suspense, and some don’t. With each new book, I put in a lot of effort to make sure it’s better than the last. My passion isn’t to pump out diaries – I do this because I want to create great novels. When I was nineteen, an independent press in the UK called Flame Books (now defunct) published a novel of mine called Jimwamba.

I continued writing, but was dissatisfied with the small press experience.  So for a period of years, I chased after mainstream publishing deals with a variety of agents, and came very close to achieving that goal after [sic] won WeBook’s Page2Fame contest. The deal was with one of the giants, but ultimately fell apart.

I was burned out on the whole experience. But in the ten years since I started writing, digital publishing became a thing. At the same time, I secured a pretty solid career in the legal field, and didn’t hate it. As a result, I decided to chase readers instead of revenue. I combined a large presence on social writing platforms along with various Amazon giveaway events of my purchase-only novels. This was my strategy up until around 2016, and these are the hard numbers resulting from that:

  • A combined total of around 215,000 reads (not just downloads) of the four novels I made available.
  • Around 9,100 followers across three different sources (Wattpad, Facebook, and my mailing list).
  • 361 positive reviews on Amazon, and 954 on Goodreads.
  • 31,200 votes on Wattpad.

But now I’d like to write full time, and that’s going to involve charging people money. So, my last few novels can only be purchased, and that’ll be the trend going forward (with a few exceptions). Not that I haven’t sold some books in my life, but nothing to replace my day job.

The new game goes like this: I pay Facebook advertising fees to give you a free book. Why? Because after you read it, you’ll want to buy the others. Also, you’ll wind up on my mailing list. I send out a few emails a month with bonus content, special deals, personal messages, musings on literature, my short stories, or whatever else I think you might like. Sound interesting? You can take part by clicking this link.

10. Kill the Ghost

Poor Traits of an Artist as a Young Man: Kill the Ghost

For a table of contents of the entire series, click here. 

Little hard to write about this one, because it’s not done. As of the time I’m writing this, it’s about a third of the way completed, and I’m happy to tell you I’m very proud of it. If you enjoyed the first two books, you will love this. And yes, Sean will have his redemption – his journey will come to an end. No cliffhangers this time.

I’m also trying an entirely new technique. I’m leaving behind the split-mind (italics voice) from Shadow Box; Sean is now fully reunited with himself. The book hits the ground running, beginning a couple of hours after Shadow Box ends, and Sean’s dead within the first four chapters.

Yeah. You’ll see.

I am trying a new trick with this book, as I’m prone to do with each new writing project.

See, an advanced form of writing I strive to do includes binding together all of your metaphors and similes. You don’t just say “shadows crossed the man’s face” in the Keep the Ghost trilogy. The term “shadow” has a special place in this series’ mythos. If I say someone has a shadow across their face, I’m trying to tell you they have issues with ego projection. Same deal if I make use of the term “ghost” or one of its variants, like “wrath” or “spectre.” I’m trying to draw attention to the soul of the person who I’m referencing.

But let’s take it a step further. There is what I’m calling a ‘metastory’ in Kill the Ghost. The literal rafters from which the scenes hang. In the metastory, Sean is lowered by a silver thread into the underworld, and then the thread is cut. He’s trapped in the depths of the series’ version of hell, and only the clarity of self and banishment of his own shadows, gained by his previous adventures, can guide him out.

So as you read the novel, look for these themes unfolding – this basic metastory is woven through the entire novel, and Sean’s journey through the underworld works itself through the plot literally as well as metaphorically.

It’s coming soon, and I’ll let you know the moment it’s available. And just for coming along this far, I’ll give you the opening paragraphs as they exist today:

I am damned. Seven months ago, I committed a sin against the earth. For that, I’ve earned her wrath.

She cries out to me, always. A loathsome wail I feel in my marrow. But then, she’s going to be mad – my open grave makes for a deep wound.

Gambled my way this far. But, it doesn’t seem to matter how fast I run – fate wants this travesty corrected. I cannot escape a force that moves at the speed of dark.   

Whatever hand on high holds my thread lets out a few hundred feet of slack – the plane’s nose tilts earthward, scything through the white shroud toward the ground. Everything ends, even the sky.

Way down we go.

I have some other entries planned in the series, if you’re interested in reading more. Things covering my influences, my writing process, maybe going a little deeper into some of the unreleased works I discussed here. Let me know what you think by dropping me an email at scott@scottkellywritesbooks.com or leaving a comment below.

As always, thank you for reading!

9. Shadow Box

Poor Traits of an Artist as a Young Man: Shadow Box

For a table of contents of the entire series, click here. 

My first sequel since Liq, which no one read.

There are some great things about sequels. I took a major risk in the first five chapters, kind of pulling a trick to hopefully delight and surprise the reader. Never would have tried that in a first novel, because there’s too much world-building to do.

I stored up on inspiration before starting Shadow Box. Raymond Chandler was my guiding light – the 1950’s noir author of hits like The Long Goodbye. If you’re unfamiliar, any time you see a hard-drinking detective in a crummy office waiting on a stunning blonde to fill his life with treachery, that’s Raymond Chandler’s influence.

I read all his books. The guy can write; he’s got one-liners that make me jealous. In fact, in the opening paragraph of Shadow Box, I pay homage to the master.

He has a great line about staring into a killer’s eyes. He says they were “as cold and dark as the space between two stars.” I played with the line in Sean’s opening introspection on his Holbox hotel room, simultaneously referencing the climax of Keep the Ghost. “I open my eyes, but fail to catch the dream that woke me. Just a white expanse of ceiling, as clean and innocent as the space between two scars.”

Shadow Box is more mystery than Keep the Ghost, which devolves into more of a suspense/thriller in its second half.

In terms of the evolution of my writing, it’s my favorite book to date. Dripping style, fast-paced and I took great care to further the philosophical questions of Keep the Ghost.

In Keep the Ghost, Morgan makes faking your death sound great – just start over fresh, a brand new life. But can anyone do that, or only someone with Morgan’s particularly loose grip on reality? What happens when Sean tries to recreate himself in her image?

Shadow Box happens.

For the next entry in the Poor Traits series, click here.

8. Keep the Ghost

Poor Traits of an Artist as a Young Man: Keep the Ghost

For a table of contents of the entire series, click here. 

When I sat down to plan what would eventually become Keep the Ghost, I had certain goals. I wanted something I could market under the guise of genre fiction, but still be distinctly my own book. Sounds like the same recipe for disaster that led to Ten Minutes to Midnight, I know. But I had a better balance in mind this time.

I leaned much further toward my own instincts and the style I’d developed writing The Blue. I wanted it to be immediate again, an uninterrupted stream of conscious book written in first person present tense. I knew some people would dislike that, just like they’d dislike my reliance on semicolons and dashes. But I like it; it’s mine, and it is very distinct. Some readers love it, some hate it. But, it’s not average.

That was the issue with Ten Minutes to Midnight – someone else could have written it. Whether my novels are great or crap, I want the reader to have no mistake about who wrote it. It can only be me.

A crime television show, Forensic Files or something similar, got an idea stuck in my brain. In it, a man had faked his own death to receive his own life insurance money. He then resurfaced with dyed hair and was immediately caught.

When I was pondering what genre to lean into for this book, mystery caught my eye. It could be gritty and modern like [sic] and The Blue – I didn’t need any fantastic elements, and it left a lot of room for character study. What if I combined the mystery genre with the existential trend that had always been driving focus?

It got me thinking. Fake your death, and what is left? How much of a person is made up of their relationships with others and those influences, and how much is core to that person? Their soul, if you will (or ‘ghost,’ as I prefer.)

By being forced to fake your death, you are burning away your old identity. In this case, you can never even answer to your own name again. So, what rises from the ashes? Is it purified somehow? Will the experience leave you with some sort of enlightenment?

Keep the Ghost was the first novel I released with no intention of finding a publisher. I would prove to the world that my books have a market, even if that market wasn’t a well-worn path just yet. So I started bringing my novels directly to readers, mostly likely using a method that brought you here in the first place.

And I need you. Early signs for Keep the Ghost are great – it’s been downloaded over a hundred thousand times, hit the #1 free novel spot on Amazon, received 160+ reviews on Amazon with a 4.4 star average. But that’s just the beginning. To really prove myself, that number needs to be over a thousand.

So, please. Help me with my journey. Leave a review, even if it’s just something short and simple. Share the book with a friend, tell them about it. You matter – you are, literally, my only hope.

For the next entry in the Poor Traits series, click here.

7. The Blue

Poor Traits of an Artist as a Young Man: The Blue

For a table of contents of the entire series, click here. 

I wasn’t about to stop writing, but Ten Minutes to Midnight wore me out. I was exhausted with trying to chase success, with trying to fit a mold. So when it came time to write another novel, I was sick of trying to bend to trends. That only led me to failure.

So I wrote what I wanted to write. The Blue. My most personal book, my simplest in many ways. An adult literary drama, postmodern and existential. Inspired chiefly by Camus’ The Stranger.

It is a book that contains my deepest fears and insights on humans and human interaction. The Blue follows the path of Derek, an alcoholic and struggling painter who finds himself stricken with face-blindness, a real disability in which the sufferer cannot recognize anyone by their appearance. Not even themselves.

Isolated by his condition, Derek finds himself in the center of a legal battle over a car crash which resulted in the death of a mother and her children.  He’s hunted by the surviving members of the family, ostracized, and left struggling with the nature of reality itself.

blue front cover

Another great Greg Poszywak cover. You can get your own copy of The Blue as either a paperback or an e-book by clicking here. 

It is my shortest book, at around 50,000 words. I also further developed my style; rather than the flashback/forward structure of [sic], I wrote in one uninterrupted first-person narrative. The reader lives the book with the narrator.

The Blue is my choppiest book, in that I stayed away from semi-colons and dashes but stuck with small, simple sentences. It’s a divisive style, and it will bother some people. Others love it, and my biggest fans tend to swear by The Blue as my best work.

At one point, it was the #1 most downloaded free e-book on all of Amazon.com. It’s been downloaded around 80,000 times. By a weird coincidence, I met NYT bestselling author John Lescroart through a mutual friend who’d sent him The Blue. He was impressed by the book, and we talked on the phone about it.

I love it. I’m happy to take stylistic risks. The Blue is probably my personal favorite of my novels. The reviews are mixed, but then the reviews are mixed on some of what I consider to be the greatest books ever written. This is the sort of novel that speaks to me the most.

For the next entry in the Poor Traits series, click here.

6. the lost novel

Poor Traits of an Artist as a Young Man: the lost novel

For a table of contents of the entire series, click here. 

I was on the right path in terms of ability. However, any competent author can write a bad book. A movie can be filmed beautifully, but still be terrible.

I was bitter over [sic]’s rejection from Simon & Schuster. So, I decided to write something more commercial, something that fit the popular trends of the time but still carried my brand and style.

A young adult supernatural book. I already had a bunch of fans on Wattpad, and Wattpad is primarily made up of teenage girls between the ages 13 and 18. As you might imagine, this was around the era of the “Twilight” phenomenon and supernatural young adult stories were all the rage.

TMTM Cover front - Copy

Another beautiful cover courtesy of Greg Poszywak.

Ten Minutes to Midnight is about a group of kids who uncover “the truth,” in an existential sense. Except if they tell anyone the truth, that person immediately dies.

Drama and action ensues. I completed the book, had a cover made, sent it to my agent – ready to move forward with this hybrid attempt at commercialism.

But something became apparent as I began reflecting on it. This book was poison, because it was average. Boring. Normal. I’d cut too much of myself out. I’d much rather have an audience that hates me for my particular style than one who cannot pick my books out of a lineup.

Never got into this to be normal. I never released Ten Minutes to Midnight to anyone. It remains locked in my vault, a reminder that I can’t sell out. Whatever came next had to be true.

For the next entry in the Poor Traits series, click here.

5. enter [sic]

Poor Traits of an Artist as a Young Man: enter [sic]

For a table of contents of the entire series, click here. 

Despite mixed results from my work between Jimwamba and Frightened Boy, there was never any thought of quitting. Frightened Boy was gaining traction online, and I landed a new agent. She gave me the hint that young adult was blowing up right now, and that I may have an easier time targeting a concept like Jimwamba to teenagers.

She might be onto something.

[sic] was a new novel that copied the central premise of Jimwamba. The game remained – tag someone on the back, and they have fifteen minutes to change their lives. Except now it was a story about teenagers, and written much more competently. I pulled in many elements from my personal life, but it was in no way autobiographical. There’s a big difference between a diary like Jimwamba and a novel inspired by my childhood. [sic] felt real.

For the first time, I pulled a book together the way I’d always dreamed. Motifs, themes, recurring elements, a direct attack on our assumptions about life. I became much more critical of my own work, refusing to write the next chapter until I knew exactly where the story was moving. My career was stalling, and it was because of my material. Enough wild creativity; I needed control, direction, something to temper my outlandish surrealist tendencies.

It was time to evolve. If I had any doubt about a scene, it was replaced or deleted entirely. Brutal self-reflection. The book may have wound up at sixty-thousand words, but I cycled through well over a hundred-thousand words of material that didn’t make the cut or was reworked entirely. This has been my process ever since.

I first released [sic] on a webpage called WeBook, as part of an audience-voted contest. [sic] won the whole thing; suddenly I had offers of representation from three different literary agents. The tables were completely flipped from just a year before.

So I chose one. Over the course of a year, I was in serious talks with Simon & Schuster over publication of the book. A new editor on their youth fiction imprint was smitten with my novel, and said it was the sort of book he got into the industry to publish.

But the larger editorial board disagreed. I received a very lengthy and polite email from the chief editor at Simon & Schuster’s young adult imprint, Pulse. [sic] wasn’t being published. It was too different – people didn’t want to be challenged like this, it didn’t fit their mold. The market wasn’t proven.

I was crushed, I’ll admit. The process of choosing an agent and having them shop your book around takes about a year, and at the end of the long road I found defeat.

Still wasn’t about to be done writing, though. I write because I love it – when I wrote Kid, Dark Scary Monster, and Steam, virtually no one read them. But I still wrote them, because I have to write. If I’ve got forty novels written by the time I die and no one has read them, so be it.

So I put [sic] on a new type of website, a sort of Facebook for authors and readers. It’s called Wattpad, and it turned [sic] into a huge hit.

It’s been viewed over a million times, with fifteen thousand individual votes and hundreds of comments. I started getting emails from people who really tried to play my hypothetical game of changing your life in fifteen minutes. I still get those emails today. Just a month ago, I got a letter from a teenager who said he’d read [sic] over ten times in the past two years, that it helped him through a crisis. Students started convincing their school libraries to order copies, and I still get a spike of paperback sales around Christmastime as parents order copies of the novel for kids who fell in love with it on Wattpad.

A group of student filmmakers from Bosnia turned their favorite scene from my book into a short film and entered it into a contest. You can view it here. 

Christopher Pike, the guy whose books I devoured when I was thirteen, read it. He messaged me out of nowhere saying he really enjoyed it. We exchanged messages for a few weeks; he offered me some industry advice. This was a first from me – mutual respect from an author who I was a fan of.

One thing I became aware of, is I started to feel like I’d passed that 10,000 hours mark. You know, the hypothetical amount of practice required to “master” a craft. From Kid up until this point, I’d written seven novels. And not first drafts or outlines – completed, rewritten, best-of-my-ability books. I’d received guidance from a wide audience, as well as from professional editors, authors, and agents. My voice was developed, my style coming easy and natural when I sat down to compose.

[sic] taught me I was on the right path, even if mainstream presses weren’t willing to roll the dice on me. I stood in a park and sold printed and stapled copies of my books before, and I’d do it again if that’s what it took. Luckily, self-publishing and the world of e-books has developed around my career, and now I’ve got the ability to grow fans directly.

And that’s where you come in.

For the next entry in the Poor Traits series, click here.

4. the books roam

Poor Traits of an Artist as a Young Man: the books roam

For a table of contents of the entire series, click here. 

Jimwamba didn’t sell. There are plenty of reasons why, like that indie presses often aren’t equipped for commercial success or that a twenty-year-old doesn’t know a lot about marketing. Let’s not linger.

I wrote a sequel called Liq, which never saw the light of day. Still stored away on a hard drive somewhere.

But I wasn’t even close to being finished as a novelist. Instead, I took to abusing my university’s printing privileges and mass-producing my own printed/folded copies of Jimwamba. I sold them at festivals and coffee shops for $3 a pop.


I once sold thirty-five copies at Eeyore’s Birthday, an annual event in Austin. And yes, those are yard signs I stole and spray painted over. I’m hoping the statute of limitations on whatever crime that is has run its course.

At the same time, I was developing as a writer. I got my Bachelor’s in English Literature, and started paying more attention to my own approach to writing a novel. If you manage to find a copy of Jimwamba, you’ll see a fundamentally different approach to the basics of scene craft than I use now.

I started to strip exposition away whenever possible, instead relying on obscure details and reactions to supply the reader with evidence of my backstory. There was also a shift to seeing the book as a series of a scenes, a bit like a movie, with each scene having a definite beginning, middle, and end.

But my focus slipped. My early twenties were… wild. I wrote two more books in this period – one was a fully-illustrated novella with its own soundtrack called IDa. It was extremely surreal and very experimental, largely a reflection of what a mess my life was at the time. It was also my first (and last, really) attempt at collaborative art. A supremely talented artist by the name of Chad Stoermer supplied all of the illustrations for IDa, and it’s really my writing that let the project down in the end. Here are some examples from the story:

It’s still around here somewhere. I tried something very experimental, basically writing a cartoon, and I am just not confident in the end result.

After IDa came Frightened Boy. This was another experiment in writing as creatively as possible, with no boundaries. I think there are some good threads in Frightened Boy, and some interesting imagery. It’s a post-apocalyptic dystopian novel that may or may not take place inside a gun-toting terrorist’s mind. And that terrorist is the artist MC Escher, convinced he’s in a bad dream.


The first cover Greg Poszywak did for me. You’ll notice I cannibalized the graphic for my Identity Crisis box set, because I wasn’t going to let this amazing cover go to waste.

The end doesn’t really hold together, and it’s not as good as the books that came later. Nevertheless, it’s been clicked about a million times on Wattpad and has quite a few fans. I never plan to sell it, and would probably delete it if not for the loss of followers, votes and readers. I do plan on revisiting the central theme – solipsism – in a future novel. It is something that intrigues me.

Sorry, Frightened Boy. Still, I learned a lot from these experiments. By this time I was about twenty-five, and my writing was about to get serious.

It’s also around this time that I met Greg Poszywak, the brilliant artist behind all of my covers from Frightened Boy to the present. He’s had a huge impact on my career by distilling the essence of my writing into a series of eye-catching covers, and I wouldn’t have made it this far without him.

For the next entry in the Poor Traits series, click here.

3. Jimwamba

Poor Traits of an Artist as a Young Man: Jimwamba.

For a table of contents of the entire series, click here. 


I was looking for a followup to Steam. I wanted to ground the story in my life, take a more Kerouac approach to it. I was about to be a freshmen in college and all, and it was my time to write that pseudo-biographical coming of age story that all serious authors seemed doomed to commit to at some point.

So I came up with an idea. I knew it was a good one, because it scared the hell out of me.

A group of people agree to play a game – if one of them is tagged on the back, they must change their life in a direct, irrevocable way in the next twenty minutes. Afterward, they can tag whichever unsuspecting player they corner.

People fear change. I fear change, at times. And yet, we’re also very aware that we’re at the whim of change. You can work your whole life to build a stable and secure home only to have a natural disaster or personal tragedy demolish it all.

So what happens if we embrace that? If we revel in that?


This was Jimwamba. Written in a first person, past-tense confessional style. It was published by a small (now defunct) independent press in the UK called Flame Books. Not a vanity press, not some situation where I’m paying – it’s the other way around. When I was nineteen, I signed my first publishing deal.

For the next entry in the Poor Traits series, click here.

2. My first three novels

Poor Traits of an Artist as a Young Man: My first three novels.

For a table of contents of the entire series, click here. 

I never wanted to write “normal” books. I wasn’t interested in writing what I would call “simple” thrillers, or fantasy, or sci-fi. Books that fall directly into a genre category and bring little else to the table – for instance, a sci-fi book that plans to attract an audience by including space ships, laser guns, and little else.

My goal has always been to give my readers that same sense of the rug being pulled from under me that I got when I first read Catch-22. And it had to be uniquely mine.


I made my own covers. Can you tell? Haha. Give me a break, I was fifteen.

And it was uniquely bad, because a fifteen year old wrote it. However, from the plot hook you can already see where my mind was going in terms of literary goals. Kid is basically the story of a modern day Jesus and his apostles, except the Jesus figure in this allegory steals the girlfriend of the main character. My envisioned tagline: What would be it be like if Jesus stole your lady? It was around 50,000 words, and I did wind up writing it three different times. A lot of this was spent just figuring out the basics.

After a few re-writes, I moved on to this:


The novel I wrote at sixteen.

Also pretty bad. About a clandestine organization that travels the world faking miracles and otherwise creating false evidence for religious phenomena in the country.

And then, Steam. Here, I was starting to mature a bit. I actually may revisit this theme at some point.


I thoroughly wrecked it, because I still hadn’t quite hit my stride, but the premise was this: Steam was a woman who has seen everyone’s last breath. She knew how everyone would die, and when, but nothing else about them. She was the only supernatural element in the story, and a trio of men sought her for their own purposes.

I wrote and rewrote these three books up until I was about 18 years old. And then, while mowing a lawn one day, an idea struck me that would wind up escalating my career to new heights.

For the next entries in the Poor Traits series, click here.