These past couple of months, the slow, slow sales have comprised the backdrop to rising doubts on my part about my chosen course of self-publishing.

The novels I have up there haven’t been selling much at all–maybe a copy or two a week–while the new anthology that I launched last week has sold exactly one copy (to a friend, who very kindly downloaded a copy shortly after the launch! :-D). Of course, there are mitigating circumstances.

  1. I am giving away the first novella in the collection. I had 60 downloads of that in the first week. So, many people who downloaded it might not yet have read the novella–and in particular, those who actually like it enough to want to download the full, paid anthology. So even with the free download, it might not have found its audience as yet.
  2. Short stories don’t sell as well as longer works, apparently. There seems a fair bit of confirmation of this. I don’t know if rebranding it with emphasis on the novellas might make a difference, but I have no plans to do so for now.

And yes, there are a number of additional factors that no doubt go into this. But I cannot help but wonder whether the recent changes at Amazon have just pushed the books out of visibility.

Naturally, there are things I can do to get myself out there. I’ve done a few interviews and hope to do more going forward, but I always wonder how much impact those have. How much of my as-yet undiscovered audience (who will require some convincing that they are my audience in the first place) are likely to find me? Of course, the more places that I am, and the greater number of websites where I have a presence, will mean that there’s a greater chance my audience will find me! But will they?!

These past, slow weeks have made me wonder whether the traditional publishing route is the best one to take after all.

Self-doubt, loss of faith, and all the other demons to which we are so vulnerable in our creative lives have been getting restless.

I’d still have to promote with a big pubco, but at least there’s some chance that I’d get some better visibility and leverage by association with one of the biggies, who would have some clout or have negotiated better placement (indeed, this may be part of the way forward for pubcos that re-emerge and become dominant in the years to come).

And yet, and yet, AND YET

I still can’t get there.

If I sign over to a pubco, then my revenue percentage goes way down. Obviously. The temptation is to believe that whatever better placement the big publisher can buy will mean that many more sales, and will more than make up for that dip in per-item revenue. Perhaps. But that assumes that as an unknown newcomer, I’ll:

  1. manage to make that sale to the pubco in the first place, during these uncertain times; and
  2. even get that kind of support from a pubco with bigger fish to fry, during these uncertain times.

And even if I do, that exposure will be on their terms. Their cover art. In high rotation for however long they deem is appropriate, even if that’s not realistically long enough to sell the book of a newcomer who is busy trying to build her own platform and find her audience.

So, by putting my books out under my publishing company, I can give them time to find their audience. I might not have the money and the leverage to get favourable placement, but by blogging and doing interviews, and taking other steps to promote and connect with people, I end up getting placement of another sort. And I do believe that you ultimately have to grow your audience one reader at a time. The big pubco probably wouldn’t provide me with the time to do that. My own pubco will. Sure, it’ll take longer. But in truth, I’ve always loved the persistent diligence of the tortoise. I don’t mind trundling along.

I also love the control. I love going at my own pace. I love that I can shop around for cover artists whose work I love, I can contact them and make those decisions about who will do that work.

I love the empowerment of it, even if I feel like I’m spending my every spare moment  (and some not-so-spare moments, to boot!) promoting or building platform, while the “expensive, delicate ship… sails calmly on”–i.e. the world continues on its path, serenely indifferent to my efforts. Of course, I don’t want the world to take notice, necessarily–I just want to find those people out there who might enjoy my books–my readers. But to do that, I need to sow widely and see what falls on fertile ground. It’s still nice to be doing it myself, as I can. I put enough pressure on myself–I wouldn’t need the extra pressure of a pubco with a bottom line breathing down my neck, and the worry that I’d need a certain basic threshold of sell-throughs to get another book published.

And even the fact that the promo takes me away from writing finds its answer in the fact that I am not someone who can write all the time. My creativity seems to work along the same principles as crop rotation. I write fiction madly and productively, and then lie fallow. The soil has to regenerate, regain nutrients, and grow fecund and creative once again. While I wait for my fiction writing self to regenerate, I can market. Indeed, the process of going out there, connecting with great people just for fun, knowing that some of them might buy my books but many of them won’t, and being fine with that, is regenerative. So is the search for interesting things to tweet about and discuss (which also ends up being a way of nurturing the creative soil and getting it ready for another burst of creative production).

This isn’t to say that I would say no to a really good deal if offered one tomorrow–nor that I wouldn’t look to work with some of the cool e-pubcos that are out there these days. There are some great companies out there, who are fair in their royalties and their expectations, and I’d be thrilled to work with some of them at some point.

But for now, I’m enjoying this venture. I need to remind myself of that. I need to let go, once again, of the all-too-compelling dream that the books will become a big revenue stream that will change my life. If they don’t, they don’t. I have to remind myself that I love the process–it’s been so much fun, so challenging, and so engaging, over the past months, to try this exciting new venture. I need to do this for itself. If the rest comes, it comes (and that would be great). But if it doesn’t, I need to remember that I’m doing this for the pleasure of the journey.