In under two months I’ll be taking a year away from dayjobbery and seeing how close I can get to generating a full time freelance writing career. For the next couple of months I’ve the luxury of preparation time, trying to figure out how to make it work and putting some things in place that will pay off down the line (maybe). Then, at the end of September, I’ll take the leap, put all of this into practice, and see if I’m right about any of it. You can browse previous entries here.
People keep asking me for advice. At least once a week somebody I don’t know will email me via this website, and ask how they should go about self-publishing. A fortnight ago, the supplicant-of-the-week got rather snotty when I refused to tell them (though most, to be honest, have been more than polite). As far as I can tell, she felt that I was somehow cheating by not giving away all my secrets.
Let me make this perfectly clear. I don’t have any secrets. Like everybody else, I’m looking around, trying some things, discounting others. There is no masterplan for this stuff. Even the loose business plan I have for the coming year isn’t so much a plan as it is a structure that I hope will allow some level of success, if that’s what’s coming.
What you get here, is the full extent of my wisdom. I can save you some reading if you like, and tell you right here that it is very limited indeed. A little bit of common sense, a lot of watching how this stuff works for everybody else, and a willingness to try stuff and fail.
Do not do what I do. If this series is of use to you, it should be as one case study among many. That’s what I do. I find people who are talking about what they’re doing, and pay attention. I’ve long ago learned not to mimic them though. You should do the same. What works here for me will almost certainly fail to work for you. Don’t watch the actions. Look at the principles behind them, and see how you can adapt the good stuff and learn from the bad.
I hope never to give advice, except for this one thing. Nobody in publishing knows what they’re doing anymore, and nobody has a career path you can copy or follow.
You have to make your own. Try it. It’s sort of fun.
Case in point: Monday and Tuesday’s Craven Place giveaway. I was hoping this would be on a bigger scale than launch day, after submitting details of the book and the giveaway to a handful of worthwhile promotional sites. Unfortunately, as feared, not one of them ran with it. In the end, it was the world’s least promoted promotion*.
Those sites are a bit of a lottery from the start, with more people wanting to be promoted than they have time or inclination to promote. I had a few other things against me too, in particular the lack of reviews on Amazon. The sites tend to use the number of reviews a book has as a gauge of quality. If they have more books submitted to them than they can feature, it’s one means by which they can try to choose the ‘best’ books for their readers. Craven Place has a couple of reviews in both the US and UK, but that still puts it low down on the ladder next to others hoping for the same slots. Ah well. C’est la vie.
Despite an absence of promotion (apart from the efforts of one or two of you – thank you), I still gave away about six hundred copies worldwide, enough to bump it to the top of the free charts in the categories it’s listed in. That’s about the same as we gave away on launch day, except this time it was the visibility the book has already achieved that did most of the work, a knock on effect of the strong launch. Nowhere near the numbers needed to help the book do anything interesting after the promo stopped, unfortunately. Now that it is no longer a new release, Amazon pays less attention to what it’s doing.
That said, everybody who picks up the book is a potential new reader. On that front, six hundred more people now have a chance to read some of my fiction. Many won’t – the problem with free downloads is that they’re forgotten about as quickly as they’re downloaded – but some might, and they might love it. We’ll have to wait and see.
And in the aftermath of the promotion? Sales stopped. An absolute halt. One paperback has sold since Tuesday, and that’s it. Before the promotion the book was selling several copies every day. Now nothing. That isn’t how this is supposed to work.
I may be doing it wrong.
I have two free days left to play with, and will probably line them up for the 1st and 2nd of September. I’ll try those promotion sites again, and see if they pick it up this time around.
From a business point of view, the unpredictability of all this might seem a little daunting. What can I do, to guarantee success, especially when I’m about to make myself reliant on this for a substantial part of my income?
The answer to that is actually just as obvious as it always has been. Nothing. There are things to try, new buttons to push and shiny toys to play with, but for everything I can do to give my books a chance there’s an equal or greater part of luck involved. So far the only thing that has worked reliably and repeatably is word of mouth. When you lot decided to push Thy Fearful Symmetry last year and Craven Place when it launched, good things happened. That’s great, but when you think about it, even that’s out of my hands.
What can I try and do? Same old thing. Try to write good stories. It’s almost** reassuring that it still seems to come down to just that.
But that wasn’t advice. People who like to give advice tend to end up writing things like this. It’s on the website of the HWA (LA chapter), an organisation that tries to promote and support professional genre writers, and is written by the vice-president. It’s a naive and silly list of ways you can tell that you’re a professional writer. Apparently, if you answer ‘yes’ to eight out of ten of these questions then you are a professional writer. If you can’t, you’re nothing more than a hobbyist. Ready? Here’s my return…
1. Is your home/work place messy because that time you’d put into cleaning it is better spent writing?
I have a nine year old daughter. I have a housekeeper too. The nine year old daughter wins, every time. No power on earth can stop my house being messy. So. Yes. But that’s nothing to do with writing.
2. Do you routinely turn down evenings out with friends because you need to be home writing instead?
No. I turn down evenings out with friends because I’m anti-social. Sure, sometimes I write instead. Sometimes I just lay about watching Buffy DVDs.
3. Do you turn off the television in order to write?
No need, I don’t have a television in the room where I do my writing.
4. Would you rather receive useful criticism than praise?
Hell no. I love praise. Criticism is good too, but nothing beats honest praise. Getting it is the best feeling on earth.
5. Do you plan vacations around writing opportunities (either research or networking potential)?
You keep using this word ‘vacation’. I do not think it means what you think it means.
6. Would you rather be chatting about the business of writing with another writer than exchanging small talk with a good friend?
Oh god, no. I mean, sometimes it’s the same thing, especially when writers get together, but in general? No. If your whole life is writing, what do you actually have in the tank to write about?
For the record, I get really uncomfortable talking about my writing. I can bluff confidence better than I used to, but inside I feel too much the fraud to really engage people about it. At conventions or other writer meet ups it’s different, because the mindset is different. Everyone there is exactly as insecure as everyone else, and the awkwardness sort of cancels itself out.
7. Have you ever taken a day job that paid less money because it would give you more time/energy/material to write?
Nope. I’ve taken the best dayjobs I could get at any given time. I write better when I’m clothed and well fed.
8. Are you willing to give up the nice home you know you could have if you devoted that time you spend writing to a more lucrative career?
Got me a very nice home already, thanks. Don’t see any reason to give it up.
9. Have you done all these things for at least five years?
I haven’t done them, so moving on…
10. Are you willing to live knowing that you will likely never meet your ambitions, but you hold to those ambitions nonetheless?
No. I’d quite like to meet the ambitions and move on to new ones. Why is that not allowed? I’ve don’t think I’ve ever read a more self-defeating mission statement in my entire life.
Anyway, that’s me put off joining the HWA for the next few years (the one year I joined, I didn’t get much use out of it, though it does seem to work for others). I clearly don’t qualify as a professional writer, at least not so far as the vice-president of that organisation is concerned. Based on that list, I don’t even aspire to.
Meh. Suffering for your art is so last century.
The thing about that stupid and irrelevant list is that it’s well meaning. The author is well meaning, and might actually believe it. The organisation is certainly well meaning. Most people who ever tell you how to do it (whatever ‘it’ happens to be at the time) is well meaning.
What I do? I listen to them. Nod. Think. Steal bits, and add new bits. It’s only in adding new bits that I’ll actually get anywhere interesting.
Your mileage may, and probably should, vary.
*based on no evidence at all, obviously.
**almost, but not quite…