This post is in response to a very nice post by my awesome man-twin, Andrew Mocete. His post is in response to a recent ABB (author behaving badly) incident that erupted on Twitter last night. If you want to check that out, I believe the link is in Andrew’s post. Basically, it was a book blogger review of a self-pubbed book that contained some criticism. The author showed up to argue with the reviewer and the whole thing exploded. You all know not to do that, so I’m not even going to talk about that.
I was touched by the thread that ran through some of the comments to the post in question, the sense of desperation lurking just beneath the surface, and at times, in one comment in particular, peeking through and all but imploring the author to cease her unprofessional behavior for all our [indie] sakes, and for the readers and reviewers present not to judge us all by her actions.
Deeeeeep, cleansing breath; shake off the drama, mama. Whew. I’ve been there, and it hasn’t been so long ago. [I have to interrupt myself to tell you that the soundtrack in my head right here is “Cool It Now” by New Edition. It’s…Kind of evil, actually. I’ll provide video below.]
When you’re starting out there’s this sense that this is your shot, and it’s such a long one, the odds are so stacked, and most of all (at least this is the way I saw things) that your pool of potential readers and reviewers is both very big and very small. Too big, in the sense of how will I ever reach all these people so they’ll even know about my book? [cough]answer: read Kristen Lamb[cough], and too small in the sense that I have so few potential readers that not a single one can be wasted! And it’s the latter that makes reading a thread like this one–or the why I don’t read self-pub in general–feel so tragic.
It’s a math problem. You take your view of the world. You look around and watch people’s habits. You get a sense of how many people are actually reading books as opposed to watching TV, playing games, immersing themselves in the internet. Of those, you look at the tattered paperbacks with the used bookstore labels, the people reading in Barnes and Noble and not buying the book, and of course, you stay up to date on all the incredibly scientific numbers thrown around regarding ebook piracy. And this gives you a really accurate picture of how many people are out there buying new books.
Not. Incidentally, and you may know this, using your own experience in this way is known as “anecdotal evidence.” It’s when you use one or two cases from your personal experience to “prove” something. Such as…I believe we all heard of someone who claimed a relative had taken a pregnancy test and it was wrong, so DNA evidence is obviously a bunch a bunk. Or some shit like that. One or two cases is not statistically significant, and making decisions based on anecdotal evidence is often a recipe for crazy.
Moving on, you take your non-scientific sample of what percentage of the English-speaking population reads new books, and then you have to correct it for the ebook market. Because ebooks only count for, what, 20% of books sold? On every third Wednesday, anyway, but check back if you’d like a different statistic. Ok, so you just lost 4/5 of your readership. Yeah, it’s feeling real important to reach all these people and make a good impression!
And then, of course, you have to correct for demographics and genre. Because those ladies over there in Paranormal Romance just have it so easy, don’t they? They can crap 50,000 words about vampires, and as long as their heroine has two hot guys to choose from and the readers get to be on a hunky guy team…right? (I’m pretty sure I read that recently, damn my vampire-free writing lifestyle!!)
And, you know, it’s not all even hardly about the money. Especially in the beginning when you’ve still got your day job. You need to sell copies to every single one of those people in the dinky little pool you’ve got left after your mathathon (you mathlete you) so that you can prove you don’t suck. So that you can prove, not only that you didn’t go indie as any last resort, but so that you can legitimize indie for all indies coming up after you! Because somehow that’s on YOUR shoulders!!!
I know I had a point when I started writing this post in Andrew’s comments. I think the point was that if you recognize your own thinking in anything I said above, you should breathe. It’s really not so dire as all that. One of the many things I have learned this year is how truly small my world-view is. There are so many more readers out there than realized.
If the reviewer you’d LOVE to have review your book doesn’t accept indie submissions, just shrug and move on. Tell yourself that someday you’re going to be so much talked about that she’s going to pick up your book because she just HAS to know if it’s as good as everyone’s saying, and then put that aside. Does it seem like every book blogger has a NO INDIES ALLOWED sign? It can feel that way some days. Google other indie books and you’ll probably find book bloggers reviewing them. And I’m probably not the only indie who keeps a list of reviews that you can use as leads.
I consider myself to be a very small, little known indie. I have not been asked to join the cavalcade of stars on Konrath’s blog nor even mentioned on a list of successful indies. I have not been approached by an agent. I have not been contacted by a traditional publisher. I have not been asked about my movie rights. I have never been asked to do an interview for a print publication. I have never made the top 100 on Kindle or BN. Many of my friends and colleagues have achieved these things, reinforcing my small-fish view of me.
That’s okay, by the way. I’ve had one tiny little title out there for several months now. I haven’t built to what they’ve done. The above mentioned are things that may be in my future, after I’ve done the work, so don’t feel like you need to make me feel better about that. I’m not exactly crying in my soup over here.
Because the point is, despite being a small fish compared to my friends, I’ve sold thousands of books. You can sell thousands of books too. What got said in that comment thread ultimately does not matter. It is not statistically significant. Any time you stumble on a comment thread like that, any time you start to feel anxious, as though ALL readers are going to be turned off indie before you can get your awesome book out there, there are things you should remember:
Humans are storytelling creatures. It’s the way we’re wired. No matter how the formats change, if you possess the ability for story, there will always be a place for you and you will always find an audience.
People are excessively mercurial. All those readers who are attached to the paper and ink? Not all of them will hold out forever. If Kait Nolan can be swayed into buying a NOOK, honey, there’s hope out there. The ranks of the ebook buyer will continue to grow. Those people who “don’t read indie”? Not all of them will stay that way. All they need is to be intrigued enough to to read one good indie book and they’ll start to re-learn to judge books on book stuff, rather than publication stuff.
Most importantly, there’s a basic sanity issue here: You can’t control other people. You can attempt to influence, but ultimately you cannot control what anyone wants to read, the prejudices of others, nor how other self-published authors choose to act. What you can control is the quality of your own book. So stop reading crap on the internet and go finish it.
I have to go take my own advice now.