This book publishing thing, I tell you, it’s rough business. But it is a business, and so I’m going to talk about it because, well, why the heck not. I’m writing a blog post about my writing. What could be more appropriate?
Readers who aren’t writers, stick around. This one’s for everyone, because it’s not about business in general, it’s about me.
Or, in the words of my sister-in-law (bless her for this quote, it’s made it into at least one book so far), I want to hear my voice now.
And so do you.
Publishing is a rough business because it’s an oversaturated market. I knew this going in, which is why I started going on Twitter, why I made a Facebook page, why I made a blog in hopes of garnering readers who would buy my books. Nothing is free; I’m selling something. Come on, babes, you know that. But you probably don’t mind it because I’m making it so darn entertaining, right?
I published doing the best I could. I wrote about a dozen emails to various reviewers hoping to get my book looked at pre-publication; one of them had the courtesy to write back, and they said no. Okay. I honestly had better success soliciting random people on Goodreads for reviews than I did with actual reviewers, and bless every one of them who replied to me (100%, actually). So coming out of the gate, I knew my book didn’t have a lot going for it. No billboards, no half-pages in the Times, no signings, just me and my Twitter page shouting to heaven and back, and the handful of pre-readers I’d managed to gather.
The pre-readers came through, big time. You all, you made the difference between my sinking into despair and just going straight out the window. I figured I could sell fifty copies in my first month. Fifty copies in March. That seemed like a modest goal.
Let’s just say right now, I didn’t hit it.
Man, does that hurt, does that suck. And it doesn’t just suck, it made me feel like I suck, because books aren’t drills, they’re bits of soul. Which apparently nobody was interested in.
Keep in mind I’m getting five-star reviews. I have nine five-star reviews on Amazon. The book is good. But if I’m not getting sales, it means something’s wrong, and so this isn’t an angry speech so much as it is a state of the union address. Bear with me.
It was a rough first month, because every time I thought I’d adjusted, it just got worse. Goodreads giveaways—I’ve done them. I’m on my fourth now. They’ve garnered me 666 to-reads and not a single buy. Facebook ads? Fifty clicks, no buys. Twitter? Those were expensive, I only put in five dollars, and with more than a dollar being charged per click, I got four. No buys.
Guest posts, reviews. You remember that big “Hey lookie I published a book!” post I put up the day of? Ninety hits!
Two people clicked through to Amazon. Two. If you did it, you have my gratitude.
Last week cemented my hitting rock-bottom. Remember that idiotic Ed Balls post I made? Well, it went not quite viral, but popular. Six hundred hits in two days, best post I’ve ever had. And lucky for me, I’d put an advertisement for my book at the bottom. Six hundred people seeing my advert whilst enjoying my writing and probably clicking that link!
One click. One buy.
But that does give me enough numbers to give me the info that I’ve been needing: something’s wrong with my cover.
Very wrong. People should see my cover and click. If they don’t? Problem. Yes, I like my cover; you might like it too. Doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong.
So I’m staying positive, right, I’m staying on track. Got my eye on the ball and all that shite. Spent a couple days this week looking up new covers.
Maybe I branded my books wrong. I didn’t call them sci-fi, because they aren’t. They aren’t sciencey or spacey and the don’t go “whoosh” or include aliens or robots or any of the other stuff I hate about sci-fi, because I got the message very early that sci-fi was for boys and passed it by without an ounce of regret. Yet due to the fact that they are set in the future, my books are technically sci-fi. That’s a big market.
And I also resisted calling my books dystopian, because they aren’t. A dystopia is the opposite of a utopia, and you know a book is a dystopia because people go to jail for jaywalking. My book is about anarchy, law of the strong. It’s the lack of government on any level. Not dystopia. Yet due to the fact that they depict a harsh future society, they are dystopian. Another big market.
I marketed my book as lit, because that’s what it is. My book is about the human experience, and in this case it’s about the human experience of some crap stuff. Depressing in the best of ways, though that’s the worst tag-line ever. It’s Chiaroscuro, it’s a backlit sheet with holes punched in it. It’s life on the edge, and it’s not sci-fi because this shit is happening every day. I set it in the future because I didn’t want to deal with a murder investigation, but the fact is, I could have set it today and it could still match up with life.
Except, I forgot the number one rule: this is business. Doesn’t matter what cover I like, it matters what cover readers glance at and go “ooh, my kind of thing, clickity-click.”
Different is bad. Different sells in bookstores, but it doesn’t sell online. Same is what shows people I’ve written more of what they like and makes them look twice. And so I’m searching for new covers, covers that scream dystopia and hardcore and angry suspenseful people, because goodness knows it can’t hurt my sales.
This is one of those ironic moments, the type of irony that has you screaming into your pillow at night. See, I love Catch-22, and I have always compared my books to Catch-22, because the overarching message is the same: if you’re going to lose anyway, you might as well try anything, because the trying is important and who knows, it just might work.
Well, guess what. My book isn’t selling anyway, so I might as well change the covers, because changing them just might work.
Open mouth. Press to pillow. Release massive quantities of frustration.
This is my way of saying blog posts are moving to twice a week, not three times, because I need more time for writing, and for the various side-jobs that prop up my writing, because editing isn’t free, cool dystopian covers aren’t free. Writing for this blog isn’t free—time is money.
But hopefully, at some point, with the right covers, my books will make money. And prestige and wild fame would be fun too. I mean, why not dream big, babes. You might as well have small dreams crushed as the big ones.
And on that optimistic note (I swear it is), I’m going to email a billion people before I get back to working on the editing for The Mercy of Men. Let’s make this thing shine!
2 thoughts on “A Nice Punch to the Gut from Reality”
Reality can be a real jerk…
I can certainly empathize with you, as I’m in a similar boat. But what I’ve learned over the years is this: being a good writer isn’t the same as being a good author, and being a good author isn’t the same as being a good marketer. And when it comes right down to it, I think the best marketing will always be word of mouth.
There’s just so much noise out there. We realize that if we do nothing, no one will find our books. Yet if we embrace the “tried-and-true” marketing techniques, we’re just another contributor to the noise.
In order to get noticed on Amazon, you have to have sales and reviews on Amazon, but you won’t get those until you get noticed.
I agree that cover art is a huge marketing element. For what it’s worth, when I look at the cover of your book, I expect to read a novel in the same vein as Chuck Palahniuk’s “Fight Club.” Not sure if that’s accurate or helpful…
In my case, I’m trying my best to keep a positive outlook as well as a long-game perspective. Sales aren’t the only measure of success, and I think it will take a lot of work and, unfortunately, a fair amount of time before I build a readership and amass sales.
One of my favorite quotes is by Cassius Longinus: “In great attempts, it is glorious even to fail.” And yet I try not to think of setbacks and obstacles and mistakes as failures because we learn from them.
We learn, and we adapt, and we persevere.
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Marketing really is the worst. Word of mouth is the one everyone wants, but it’s also difficult to get rolling, and takes a while–people have to buy the book, read it, and tell people, and that process can take a month per person, depending.
I have heard from a couple people about my cover looking like Fight Club; I have to say, the comparison bears out through the first chapter…and goes right off a cliff from there, so probably not where my cover should have aimed. Which is part of what I’m learning. Argh.
The nice thing is that, as I realized the other day, I literally have the rest of my life to get this book to make a profit; it isn’t going anywhere. Maybe it will take twenty years to pay off editing (dear lord no) but it’s written and it will stay writtenr. Long run stuff indeed!
Thanks for sharing your thoughts! You’re absolutely right; it really is about chugging along, however hard that is sometimes.