As I mentioned on the Tamao page, the story has now finished, and I’m not currently planning to write a sequel. This is because I have lost money on the project; I have spent more on advertising it than I have received from readers, even leaving aside the fact that I would like to be paid for writing it, as well. So, the question becomes, why was it a commercial failure? There are several possible explanations.
1. It’s just not that good. Clearly ridiculous. It’s true that it isn’t a deathless work of literature; it doesn’t measure up to Middlemarch or even Tigana. However, being a deathless work of literature is not a necessary condition for commercial success; witness the popularity of The Da Vinci Code, or even the Harry Potter books. The Harry Potter books are good, in my opinion, but not great literature. The Da Vinci Code isn’t even well-written. On an artistic and technical level, I would claim that Tamao is better than The Da Vinci Code. (I wouldn’t make that claim with any confidence for the Harry Potter books; I could hope for “not significantly worse”, however. But then, I think The Da Vinci Code is very badly written, which is why I’m not linking to it on Amazon.) It is, of course, very possible that I’m vastly inflating the quality of my own work, but people I have never met like it enough to give me money, so it can’t be that bad. I strongly suspect that it’s good enough to be popular.
2. It doesn’t contain enough kinky sex between teenagers. Well, most of the popular web serials seem to centre on this sort of activity, and Tamao doesn’t. Kazumi has almost certainly had kinky sex in her time, even if you don’t count being paid to do it as intrinsically kinky, but it all happened off stage. This point can be generalised. The problem may be that there was nothing about the story to make people deeply passionate about it, to the point of wearing t-shirts proclaiming their allegiance. If you’re a teenager discovering a sexual identity that involves BDSM, a story centering on BDSM teenagers might well do just that. However, I’m not sure how I could deliberately write a story with that sort of resonance, even in another field. (My lack of personal interest in BDSM would almost certainly make it utterly impossible for me to do it in that context.) If this is the problem, it it probably something I can’t deliberately address.
3. It’s too alien. While the story draws heavily on legends that date back well over a thousand years, those legends are all Japanese. What’s more, they’re not even the ones that get the most publicity in Japan. People who know a bit about Japanese legends have probably noticed that none of the famous kami appear in the story. (That’s not quite true; one does, very briefly, but is not named. Brownie points for people who know where.) Thus, since it’s written in English and directed largely to a non-Japanese audience, people don’t have immediate reference points. I suspect that this is a real problem, and I might try to make future fiction more accessible to people who speak the language it’s written in. This may mean writing a sequel to Tamao in Japanese.
4. Luck. I think this has a lot to do with it. Had Stephen Fry tweeted that he liked the story, I think it would have been a commercial success, given where my standards for success were set. Of course, that would have been a stupendous piece of good luck, and the problems mentioned above may have increased the amount of luck required for it to be a success. However, I think that luck does play a large part in these matters. If you’re good, and persist, you are extremely likely to achieve some degree of success eventually. But then, I already have achieved some degree of success. Just not with this book.
Writing better books is a matter of practice. Finding something that resonates with people requires writing more books. Similarly, I need to write more books to write ones that are more accessible. And, of course, the more I write, the more chance I have to get lucky.
I guess I have to keep writing.