How NOT To Go Insane By Degrees
No, no, no, this is not alluding to Glenn Reynold’s study of the education bubble. What I’m talking about here are the various crazy making pitfalls that haunt the indie writer.
Mind you, it wasn’t all that easy to be a traditionally published author either. This is Sarah, and I was traditionally published for over ten years before I first dipped toe into indie waters with a publishing company I control (Goldport Press) and the innards and numbers of which I could see moment to moment.
As … ah… interesting as my first publication experience was, I’m sure I must have driven my editor crazier than any other writer had driven her before. I wanted to know moment to moment what they were doing to promote the book – turned out nothing, but she couldn’t tell me that, I guess – and also how the book was doing. I don’t think she could tell me the latter if she wanted. Statements the traditional way involve some arcane sampling, a lot of relying on Nielsen’s, and, in the more scrupulously run places, a counting of what came in for which book. (In the big houses none of this is very accurate because the practices date back to the early century “estimated printruns” accounting.)
Anyway, they wouldn’t have any numbers for a good six months, maybe longer, and to ask for them must have driven the editor insane.
Fortunately in indie, at least with a company you control, or an editor who will put up with you asking often enough, there’s a lot of data coming in from the very first minute.
I discovered the fascination of checking my numbers when I first put up one of my backlist short stories. This is a short story whose rights had reverted to me, and I decided to see if it would sell – I forget what it was, but I THINK it was The Play and The Thing.
Anyway, I put it up, and started checking. Considering it made me $12 that first month, you may guess how slowly that ticker moved. But I had to check and itemize the milestones. “Ooh, ooh, first sale in England.”
Then I put up a lot more stories and there were still times of driving myself insane: for instance, when I had a freebie running, I kept checking to see how many I’d given away, and if it was budging the others at all.
It did make the other sales go up (I do put links to similar stories at the back of the book, mind.) Two years ago, from November through Jan. I was making $400 a month and kept checking to see it go up.
Then came the summer-of-sales-death, last year. Nothing moved. I mean, my income dipped down under $100 for a month. And for a while there I thought it was going to be $12. I swear all the sales came in the last week.
Still, largely, I had it under control. I made myself check only once a week. Even then it was enough to worry me. Take the month ONLY No Will but His sold until the twentieth. I was wondering what the heck was wrong.
BUT as I say, I kept it under control.
Until this month, when I put out Witchfinder, my first indie novel. And then the checking every hour or so started.
It’s been okay – with minor hiccups – save for… after the fifteenth. Honestly, if I weren’t also selling used books via Amazon (mostly the kids’ old textbooks but also some specialized research I bought years ago and will never touch again) I’d think there was something wrong with my books. But no. The sales on the used books dipped even lower than the ebook ones, and I had my first day (in two weeks, granted) of no sales, yesterday.
My husband says this is known of every businessman for the two weeks after taxes. Who knew?
So – in the interest of saving you from going as crazy as I am, here are some rules for indie mind-space management.
1- Yes, you could suddenly sell 100 copies in the next ten minutes. But there’s nothing you can do to make them do so, and if you sell them or not, the result is the same without you watching the numbers. Try to limit yourself to say early morning and late at night.
2- Stop trying to interpret patterns in your sales. That’s like reading tea leaves but less coherent. Why is it that as I was doing a big push on Witchfinder, I suddenly started selling my little how-to booklet May You Write Interesting Books all across the outlets? Who knows? Maybe people read Witchfinder and it was wonderful and they want books on how to do that? OTOH maybe a writers group with 40 people, somewhere in Kansas (or online and all over the country) discovered the booklet. This stuff happens. At any rate, I can’t influence it.
3- Why does the first book in a series sell very well, the next sells okay, and the third one sells not at all. Death of A Musketeer is a good seller every month; The Musketeer’s Seamstress sells pretty well; The Musketeer’s Apprentice sells not at all. This puzzle is made more complex by the fact that the fourth book, The Musketeer’s Inheritance, is selling like crazy. Yes, The Musketeer’s Apprentice has a bad review (for the Berkley version. There was some... interesting editing). But surely people who trust me with the other books would give it a chance? Or did I go nuts and have a spelling mistake on the cover? (It wouldn’t be the first time.) If it does, I can’t see it, so maybe it is the fact that online selling, because of the huge market place involved (all the world) slips the bonds of logic to an extent. It partakes the mechanics of a sand pile. There might be a reason that grain moved and not that other, but the calculations would be infinitely complex. As for knowing how to start an avalanche of sales; if anyone knew how, the big companies would be doing it. So, stop checking the numbers and go write.
4- You are human. I keep telling people this in hopes they’ll make me believe it. There will be mistakes. Some typos will escape you. For instance, I know there are five typos in Witchfinder because I’ve got that many lists with at least one valid typo. The others (curiously, usually five, also) were only things people thought were typos. (Guys, the subjunctive is not a typo. Main publishing houses decided to eliminate it in copyediting about ten years ago because “it’s old fashioned.” That’s like saying the possessive is old-fashioned. It reads strange to you because you haven’t seen it, but this ex-English-teacher (ESL) begs you to look it up and reacquaint yourself with it.) That many typos – and more – escape the big publishers. Take a deep breath and stop cowering. My worst snafu was when my glasses weren’t working and I missed a row of “ghost” text, (the title, misspelled and upside down) on my cover of Something Worse Hereafter. (And yes, that cover is a crime against humanity or at least humanity's eyes. I'm redoing the old ones as I have time. It was all cutting edge at the time!) Oh, that was fun. Also, no one said anything until a fan asked me what that meant.) You know what, I survived it. You are human, not a machine, and your errors are probably not worse than things big publishing houses have done.
5- Not to say you should put stuff out and never look again. One of the best things about indies is that we can be flexible and fast, like the English ships against the Armada. Lacking formidable size, we have adaptability. Keep your ear to the ground. Form connections. Learn if your cover style is out of date, or if your pricing has fallen out of sinc with trends. Sometimes that’s all it takes to goose sales. But don’t change your cover every day or your price every week. Take a deep breath. Set yourself a time, like every three months, and do it then.
6- Write the next book. Even if you are the best salesperson in the world, the best way to sell a book is to write the next one. That way you have many more chances one of them will take off, and when it does, you might start an unstoppable avalanche of sales. At least there will be a chance. So, shut up and go write!
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