I don’t sell a lot of books.
Not yet, anyway.
And I think I’m making peace with that.
But it’s a rather uneasy peace, kind of a tentative peace, one subject to tremors and the occasional shake-up of the conditions that have produced it.
But peace nevertheless. The alternative is frustration and depression. And those are things that lead to quitting, which I’m not about to do.
I’m not alone. There are countless other indie writers out there, all of us competing in one way or another for the small number of readers who are dedicated to finding the hidden gems not put out by traditional publishers, reviewed by traditional reviewers, advertised by…well, you get it.
The odds of “making it” as a writer have always been slim. When traditional publishing was the only game in town, the ratio of rejections to offers of publication was astronomical (I’ll bet someone has data on this, but I’m going to go with conventional wisdom and assume it’s true). These days, it’s more a case of the ratio between the number of books available (indie and otherwise) and the number of readers willing to pull the trigger and actually buy a book by an unknown author. Readers have thousands and thousands of choices, and indie authors are all pretty much trying the same things to reach those readers.
So to continue writing and publishing in the face of these odds requires a bit of nerve, a bit of audacity, a lot of hope. To succeed requires those things as well as talent and luck and a lot of hard work.
I’ve written before about the luck part. Now I’d like to talk about the hope. That’s what’s required, at least for me, if I want to keep that peace I mentioned earlier. I believe in my writing. I’ve had enough people tell me it’s good. I’ve had enough people tell me it’s really good. And still, not a lot of people have found it. Certainly not the right acquisitions editors.
So it’s a question of looking on the bright side, of relishing the small victories. For example: a very nice person contacted me last week to say how much she’d enjoyed Strictly Analog. I thanked her for it and took the opportunity to ask if she’d be willing to put together a brief review on Amazon to let others know how she felt about the book. The result was quite flattering, calling me the “Lee Child or James Patterson of futuristic literature” and comparing my narrator to Jack Reacher or Alex Cross. Another reviewer suggested that William Gibson should be worried about me as a competitor.
That’s high praise. Super high praise. But the part of me that’s still frustrated, the part of me that feels a bit inadequate by having to use indie to preface the description of myself as writer, the part that’s still bruised from years of rejection letters and unanswered queries…that part of me wants to go negative and shake that peace I’ve made over not selling many books. Strictly Analog is good; the people who’ve bothered to tell me or the Amazon community about it have agreed that it’s really good. Sure, there are readers who didn’t like it or were indifferent, but none have been motivated to say so.
So if it’s that good and it only sells a handful of copies every month, what good is all the praise? Where does it get me?
And here’s where the hope part comes in, the part where I remind myself what it’s all about. I’m not writing to make Lee Child-style money. If I was, I’d have quit a long time ago. Instead, I’m writing because I love doing it. I’m writing because I can’t not write. And because of readers like the one who contacted me last week, I know I’ve written something really good. If masses of people never get to find that out, so be it. I won’t say it’s not frustrating to be hanging out here on the edges of obscurity, but I take comfort in knowing I have entertained a handful of people and in knowing that my writing is good enough to make it.
It just hasn’t yet.
My guess is that a lot of struggling writers deal with the same things. You can’t give up, though. You just can’t. Look for the bright side. It’s bound to be there somewhere.