Another Teachable Moment (For the Self-Taught)

15 Apr

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.

Public Domain Photo by Chaplin62

Public Domain Photo by Chaplin62

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.

sa coverThat’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.

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14 Responses to “Another Teachable Moment (For the Self-Taught)”

  1. mattblackwellmetro April 15, 2013 at 8:20 am #

    Good post…focused not on the technical challenge of writing but the emotional. I wonder if the biggest hurdle is simply getting folks to part with their cash and credit card. Whenever I buy a new music release, album e.t c I want a taster first, then I will buy if I like what I hear. We should do the same with books. Upload some sample first chapters to wet the appetite maybe. Strictly Analogue has a great premise but as a reader I want to know if it’s a cracking good read…and I am a real tight-wad with money! I am sure it’s good though. Just an idea to consider? Matt

    • richardlevesqueauthor April 15, 2013 at 10:34 am #

      Thanks for the input. I actually did put up a sizable sample in my blog post last week including a giveaway of signed copies based on leaving a comment on the excerpt. So far only one person has bothered to enter. I don’t know what that’s supposed to tell me–other than samples alone won’t lead to sales.

  2. Scott Marmorstein April 15, 2013 at 9:22 am #

    We writers all deal with this. The biggest piece of the puzzel (for me at least) has been to learn to take none of it personally. I only have one novel out there at the moment and am working on the sequel. What helps most, or so it seems, is having a huge platform that you’ve been dealing with friends and acquaintances on for years. In my case I made an unrelated circuit around the US doing healing. Now I have a novel, and a whole lot of people who know about me.

    What’s absurd is, out of all those people who know me, a mere handful have picked up the novel. Still, it’s encouraging. Your book that you talked about here is priced well, and it’s a short read at two hundred and thirty pages. The cover art looks fine. I think you’re a great writer, and there’s clearly a market for what you have available. Here’s something I’m toying with. Making tiny little flyers with my book cover image and one of those barcode thingies that people with a phone can scan. I would post these around various places, like Starbucks, local grocery stores that have bulletin boards, leave them on tables at restaurants. Put them on people’s car windows…actually, strike that last one.

    But you get the idea. The more exposure people have outside of the computer, the more it could potentially generate sales. Oh…and give them something really COOL to talk about. You know how Snapple Caps have some weird piece of information that makes someone want to share it with someone else? Yeah, try adding something like that which relates back to your book…and you just might start seeing an increase. I’m going to try this myself soon and see what happens.

    Oh, by the way. Have you read anything from Jo Konrath’s blog? I’d recommend taking a peek there, not for tips, but about the industry of self pubbing in general. He had to market his books while he was with some of the Big 6 publishers, and ended up spending all the advance money he made just to reach paying customers. Now I know this is particularly long-winded (I’m a writer, it’s my wont), but I don’t want you to feel like I’m a douche whose being flippant about this prevailing issue that more indie writers are going to see than not see. I’m going to buy your book you mentioned, just for writing this blog. I don’t expect it in return, mind you. I want to read it and see what it’s like. Hope it spikes some sales for you!

    • richardlevesqueauthor April 15, 2013 at 10:35 am #

      Thanks for your input. That’s a lot to think about. I’ve been giving thought to redesigning my website and a few other things. I’ve been running a giveaway based on the post I put up last week, but so far there haven’t been many people interested. Your ideas sound interesting. I hope something comes of them. And, if you do buy the book, thanks in advance!

      • Scott Marmorstein April 15, 2013 at 10:38 am #

        I did buy the book already. I have a few I read at a time. And a lineup ahead. I’ve read a few pages so far, and it looks interesting. You’re welcome. And yeah..it is a lot to think about. We’re approaching a whole new world where apathy and interest seem to walk hand in hand like stale lovers. We’re the new sales force in a frontier of blind, deaf and oddball consumers.

      • richardlevesqueauthor April 15, 2013 at 10:47 am #

        Onward, then! And thanks again for picking up the book.

  3. Jaye's Brain April 15, 2013 at 11:13 am #

    I skipped the contest and went right to (purchasing) the e-book. But the contest is what got my attention, and I am sure that is true for others. Lots of luck!

  4. Dirk Porsche April 15, 2013 at 12:27 pm #

    After reading this and as soon as I have read “Strictly Analog”, I promise I will write a review. Even if I don’t like the book. But be a little patient I’m a slow reader and currently consumed by “The Emperor’s Edge”.

    • richardlevesqueauthor April 15, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

      Thanks! Of course, I hope you’ll enjoy the book, but even if you don’t I’ll consider a less than stellar review as constructive criticism. Thanks for reading.

  5. jadereyner April 15, 2013 at 2:44 pm #

    I couldn’t agree more. I think we all hope for the runaway best seller but you sum up the reality brilliantly. I am about to publish my first book and will continue to write, regardless of how it performs, as I do it for the love of it – just like you say.

  6. Penlateral April 15, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

    I’m glad you are sticking with it. If it didn’t get you frustrated at times you wouldn’t be as passionate as you are. Passion links nicely with dedication. Be proud by what you have achieved in the work itself. I’ll keep my eyes open for Strictly Analog, and I hope you want mind if I drop you a line once i’m finished. take care

    • richardlevesqueauthor April 15, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

      I’m absolutely sticking with it, and I think you’re right about the connection between passion and frustration. Thanks for your interest in the book. If you do buy a copy, I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially in the form of an Amazon review if you’re comfortable with that. At any rate, thanks for reading.

  7. mattblackwellmetro April 16, 2013 at 4:19 pm #

    Thanks for the Follow Richard. It’s weird that the only likes and follows I’m getting are from the U.S. Maybe we Brits are just bored by each other! Ha ha!
    By the way, have you considered the pitch sites where you can propose your ideas for movies. Yes, much of it may be fanciful hocum but there are some legit sites that do get looked at. Strictly Analogue is prime movie stuff that would make a great film screenplay. I do have a good film producer contact in London if you ever get a screenplay version available. Would only be too happy to help. Cheers, Matt.

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