When we’re not writing, we authors love to complain. That’s natural. Writing is hard work (despite what the general public seems to believe) and often, painfully thankless.
We sweat blood, straining for just the right phrase. We revise, review, revise again – cut, reorganize, shift focus, change tense, juggle point of view – hoping that when we finally perfect our prose, we won’t be too exhausted to recognize that fact.
And when we do reach that pinnacle, at least in our own eyes, when we’re finally satisfied with our opus? When the precious book hits the shelves and we proudly announce our new release, what happens?
All too often, not much. I don’t know very many authors who are satisfied with their sales. It has become easier than ever before to get your books out in front of readers, but it is damnedly hard to get those readers to pay attention. Social media, contests, blog tours, videos, newsletters, review solicitations, advertising, freebies – there are dozens of strategies for spreading the word, but not one of them is guaranteed to do the job. Furthermore, what might have worked last year is likely to be less effective this year.
It’s so frustrating! No wonder we complain.
I guess I’m a sympathetic ear, because I frequently receive emails from my author friends bemoaning their lack of sales. Here are a few quotes, just from the past week or two.
“It makes me dream of the early days of Covid, when I could stay home and write/promote all day. Of course, I had NO $ coming in. And I was hugely disappointed that my books weren’t selling, no matter how much promos I did. According to [redacted], unless I have a newsletter, I’ll be stuck as a bottom-feeder forever. Very discouraging.”
“I’ve been thinking about you lately and wanted to unload my frustration on you. I feel like I’m doing something very, very wrong with my writing. I spent a fortune on [redacted] (and [redacted2]) but I haven’t sold a single copy of [redacted]!….You’ve read my works in all their varieties; what would you say is making them unappealing to readers?…Where am I falling short, do you think?”
“Hoo-boy the marketing angle of this is really a bear! Marketing a book on Amazon is like trying to market a needle in a haystack.”
I do find it ironic that my colleagues are asking me these questions, because my own sales are far from inspiring. The only thing that encourages me is that my work sells better now than when I was writing for publishers as opposed to self-publishing.
Just the other day, I got a rather emotional note from an young author friend with the title I wanna quit! “I can’t sell a book to save my god damn life,” he continued. “I feel like I’m wasting my fucking time.
I gave him my usual spiel. “If you’re not writing for love and fun, it’s not worth doing. It is not about money.” Now I truly believe this. If I were being rational, I would have given up writing long ago. The time I put in could be invested much more profitably in other activities.
But not, perhaps, more enjoyably.
My hot-headed correspondent replied in a more measured tone.
“Hmmm it’s not so much about money. It’s about entertaining an audience. I don’t like feeling like I’m shouting at a wall.”
I sympathize. When nobody is buying your books, the silence is deafening. Conversely, there are few things as wonderful as getting a note from a reader, telling you how much they enjoyed your story. It doesn’t happen to me often, but when it does, I’m high for days.
I don’t like shouting at a wall either. So one thing that I do is give away a lot of my books. (Another reason I like self-publishing – I can do that whenever I want, without asking anyone’s permission.) Some authors will tell you that you’re undermining your sales by providing your books for free, but if they’re not selling anyway, why not? Besides, if you can get someone to read a free book, and like it, they might just be willing to shell out some cash for another of your titles.
One thing I know from surveys I’ve done of the folks on my email list. Most of them love to read, but many have restricted incomes. If a reader’s budget for books is only five bucks a month, how is she going to decide which title to buy? With all the competition, what are the chances that your book is going to be the one she selects?
So I’m philosophical when it comes to sales. Of course I can afford to be. I’m not trying to support myself. I do view every sale and every dollar I receive in royalties as grace. Someone, somewhere, bought one of my books. Maybe he or she will like it. If I’m really lucky, perhaps the reader will leave a review.
In any case, it’s evidence I’m not entirely shouting at a wall. So even when I’m tempted, I try not to complain.