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An Enormous Wave of Secret Relief

December 16, 2012

So “The Lion and the Scorpion” has sold all of five copies this week. None yesterday. Soon it will even disappear from the “new” list on AMZ. I know. I know. The Keebler elves were not waiting to spirit it to the bestseller lists. And I’ve done what I could face doing so far, which was to ask the Goodreads folks on the SF/Fantasy board to please read and review – even gave out a free coupon. Only one of those has been redeemed.

Then it was time to face the long, long list from the review of reviewers that either SM Reine or Michael J. Sullivan, I can’t find it now, thoughtfully provided on Reddit. But I threw up my hands nearly immediately. Like Goodreads, even the reviewers are firewalled, armed and ready for us writers – okay, I said, rubbing my hands together, there’s the “most liked reviewers” on the side, let’s click “Opinions of a Wolf.” Okay, here’s the review policies tab. “I am closed to review requests at this time!” Fuck! Fuckity fucky fuck! And I got up and walked away from the computer.

I know that the great appeal of digital self-publishing is the fact that you don’t have to deal with the (mostly passive-aggressive) rejection from the analog publishing world. Lots of us creative types are cringing wallflowers – why the hell do you think we started curling up in a corner with our notebooks in the first place? And to be honest, it takes an emotional toll on me to put myself out there and get shot down. It doesn’t roll off my back like water off a duck. Better, like Caroline, never to have loved than to have loved and got shot down. So imagine my relief when I discovered this Reddit post from Michael J. Sullivan.

Sullivan is amazing, not just because he found success self-publishing but because he’s constantly on Reddit sharing info with other writers on How I Did It. Yesterday’s post, his “Author’s Guide to Self Promotion,” was very good. It came hard on the heels of someone else’s posting of Guy Kawasaki’s “Top Ten Tips” for ebook writers, which contained this awful nugget about “building your marketing platform.” Kawasaki (a salesman, really, more than anything else) said that you had to start laying the groundwork for your sales at the same time you start writing. “My recommendation is to spend two hours a day writing and one hour a day on Google+, Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.”

Can you imagine? As I posted previously, let’s face it – if you’re spending a full third of your time, creativity and energy on sales and marketing, are you writing a good, original novel, or are you building just another vacuum cleaner, like every other vacuum cleaner, that will only stand out in the crowd because of your advertising campaign? There is nothing in Kawasaki’s list, other than some lip service in point #1 about “writing for the right reasons,” about writing a great book, about doing something nobody else has done yet, about putting something good and new in the world. It’s not the cereal, it’s the box.

Sullivan’s idea was different – depressing and dismaying to me at this point but also secretly relieving a good deal of my stress. His take on dividing your time as a writer is:

Dividing your time

· 1 book released: Divide time 90% writing / 10% promotion

· 2 book released: Divide time 90% writing / 10% promotion

· 3 book released: Divide time 50% writing / 50% promotion

· 4+ books : Divide time 80% writing / 20% promotion

His reasoning is,

Because it’s at three books that you have enough content to make marketing worth your while. When only one book is out you work hard to get a sale – but there is nowhere else for that person to go (to get more stuff). Things are better when you have 2 books….but it was when I hit three that people started to really spread the word about my books. It’s really the first time you are "viable" so you need to help to build the audience at that time – if you try too soon…it’s just not nearly as efficient…he "big push" is at 3 – and you’ll either make it or break it. I’m assuming "make it" in which case your minions (readers who liked your book) are going to be doing a lot of the work for you because word of mouth is spreading and others are having conversations about your book that you didn’t have any part in. At this stage of the game…your responsibility is to give them more to consume – so you have to spend more time writing then during the "big push" of the 3rd book’s release. You can’t abandon it altogether. But you want to make sure that you are devoting most of your time to generating new content to keep the readers "well fed."

So only five days after release, I’m already cycling through the stages of grief, anger that it didn’t immediately and with no help from me become a big seller, denial that my nearly pathological aversion to marketing has anything to do with it, acceptance that as Sullivan says, you’ve only got one story and it could be the greatest thing since sliced bread and people aren’t going to pick it up anyway, and the death of my delusion that I would be the Emperor of Everything in two months’ time.

But nobody is going to buy a book with no reviews, that is the first novella, really, in a cycle, that could go nowhere and never be completed. And nobody is going to review it unless I beat my head against a wall begging them to, and even then they may say, eh, it’s just the first in a series, I’ll wait and see.

So. I’m free! Free of worrying about whether or not it’ll sell, because…it won’t! All I have to do is keep writing. The horrible day of marketing judgment can be postponed for two more stories.

And, it appears I *may* have work for six months, which will take the pressure off me to become an overnight millionaire on the strength of my writing. Hell, I’ll hire someone to do the marketing for me, to pretend to be me – let him or her be accepted or rejected, and I’ll never know the sting of the lash of rejection.

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