Indie authors look for clues to gauge success. Unfortunately the messages we receive are clear as . . . foghorn weather. There are the outliers, of course. If our latest offering has sold only two copies (Thanks, Mom!) then we know we are “Not doing well at all.” And if a title sells anywhere in the four digit range we naturally are full of smiles, feedback and dollars that says we are “Doing fine.”
But what about the vast interior range? Is a launch of 25 sales for a YA novel with a brand new voice the start of something good? If we use a free promotion and there are 75 downloads of our new detective story over three days, have we done well?
I’m coming to the conclusion that it is impossible to know at the Week One, Two or Three juncture but it is highly possible (even highly likely) to beat oneself into the carpet with nervous wonderings.
Here’s why: There are a plethora of books for the author along the line of “How I sold a gazillion books on Day One.” While such guides can have some useful nuggets, too often they have a component that our Indie Author doesn’t have and can’t get. If the Successful One says, “I email a hundred fans/friends and ask them to pre-order my book” then what is the Indie to do if she has a small circle of pals and zero fans so far? Anxiety ensues.
Online articles by highly successful authors again provide some insights but their numbers can roil the stomach of the newbie. 46,000 downloads the first day? Really? I’m supposed to compete with that? Oh, right. I’m supposed to combine my launch with a BookBub ad campaign – only BookBub has never heard of me and seems strongly disinclined to take my money.
This week I learned that obsessively checking online sales every few hours is not at all healthy. As one fellow writer observed, “What difference does that make?” She’s right. Her advice was to keep writing. Each piece produced is part of an author’s catalog and the thousandth sale of Book Three may not happen until one has launched Book Twenty and finally has enough fans that some readers are avidly going through one’s back list.
So, how am I doing? This week I have a book that is completed, formatted and on-line. I’m doing fine. That is an accomplishment I can hold in my heart forever.
Will I earn fame or fortune with my writing? The first part is quirky. If I count “being recognized as an author at the family reunion” as “Fame” then I have arrived at my destination. If I am holding out for an interview on The Daily Show, then I have some miles to go.
“Fortune” is more tightly defined. One can’t claim “fortune” until all the bills associated with the production have been covered and there is further income beyond starvation wages. While we writers can obsessively collect stories of other writers’ success in attaining fortune, these stories carry with them a spear of jealousy that can pierce the heart of the striving. Perhaps it is best to treat “Fortune” stories as a visiting Dark Elf who is mesmerizing but also rather dangerous.
As someone who has sold more than two books but is a long, long way from “Fortune,” I am concluding this: I am not in a position to see through the fog and know if I am headed to a mountaintop or into a swamp. I do know, however, that I am not alone on the journey. We writers are pilgrims, immigrants and wanderers. We meet up in person and on-line to share and collect tips, connections and horror stories.
I suspect that we are keen to get some positive feedback on “how am I doing?” because there is an inner acknowledgement that our time, money and effort could have been directed elsewhere. All those hours picking the perfect name for the new character in Chapter Four could have been spent cleaning, organizing, earning or connecting with family and friends. When we finally look up from the keyboard we can wince as we take in the dust bunnies, the delayed maintenance and the skinny bank account. If we could only have, please, some rave reviews and bulky deposits, then our time use choices can be argued to be smart instead of indulgent.
How am I doing? I’m too close to the fabled elephant to know whether I’ve got hold of the trunk or the tail.
Ellen King Rice is the author of The EvoAngel and A Gentle Travel Guide to Leaving Prescription Opioids and Neuropathy Drugs.