Love Thyself: Publishing, Marketing, and Impatience

I got to thinking today about why I have so much trouble celebrating success and just sitting back and letting things be. I know I’m not alone, but I was alarmed to discover just how strong the impulse is within me. When I posted The Kayson Cycle yesterday, I immediately began hitting up the sales reports to see how it was going. Of course, being a complete unknown writer with virtually no following and near-zero promotion outside of Twitter and my blog, it wasn’t exactly selling like gangbusters. I don’t know what I expected, exactly, but it obviously wasn’t what I told myself to expect.

I started thinking about why I have this problem. This definitely isn’t the first time. Rationally, I know that I’m in for the long haul (and this doesn’t just apply to writing). I have the patience to stay with the long haul and not give up. But sometimes, in the short term, I do get impatient. Why is that? Why can’t I just sit back, relax, and be okay with things? It’s almost tied to a need for control with me. The more factors that I feel I can control, the better I feel about things overall. Of course, with a writing career, that just cannot happen. Even when you’re self-publishing, many factors are way out of your control, and I’m starting to see that now.

That leads me to another topic. I think I need to be a little easier on myself and realize that this is my first time doing all of this. When I was writing and formatting and editing (at a feverish pitch, no less – locked away in my fortress of solitude), I was getting insanely frustrated with myself for not knowing all of the formatting rules and having to keep going back and changing things. But that’s the whole point. I undertook this process to learn so that I was ready for my bigger launch at the end of the month, to have some know-how going in.

I don’t know how much this happens with other writers, but I think that sometimes I just get ahead of myself. I get a little too enthusiastic, and I need to remember to restrain my expectations while reminding myself that I’m doing okay. Not even Stephen King got to be Stephen King overnight. I mean, I get it. I read about people who get discouraged about their sales numbers, and I understand – often their works are pretty good and deserve to be outselling some other garbage that’s out there. In fact, I should probably evangelize more for some of these authors, and I’m actually working on an idea to do just such a thing. But what I’m trying to say is that this may be common. We put in long, long thankless hours toiling away at these works, and while a lot of us are just doing it for the craft, I think there’s a natural impulse to seek some sort of reward at the end.

You know, you’ve jumped through all the hoops, and your work is out there. Now the thought, naturally, is “I’ve done my hard work, time for it to pay off”. Only it trickles in, and the frustration starts to set in. I think that’s natural, and it’s important to acknowledge that, while establishing more realistic expectations and goals for yourself.

I’ve started to set up boundaries and guidelines for how to stay sane throughout the marketing process. Here are a few:

  1. Stay Calm. Seriously. Easier said than done.
  2. Check Sales Report once a day. Sales are important, don’t get me wrong; knowing the how, when, and why of sales would be even more useful, but beggars and choosers. I would like to be able to measure the effect of advertising as it goes forward, so checking at certain times would be strategically important. However, the problem arises when I associate those sales numbers with my value as a writer. I know that’s not the case, but it’s very tempting. I mean, I believe in my writing, I think I manage quality posts here, and yet my readership is still not quite what I’d want it to be. There’s not much more that I can do, though. I just have to sit back and accept the process. The same goes for sales. It’s about being consistent with quality while accepting that some trials will fail. That’s why I’m only allowing myself to check this once a day.
  3. If I start to panic about marketing – stop. Stay Calm. I’m not going to commit to any marketing schemes or plans based on emotion. If I start freaking out and draw up a plan based on those emotions, it will just be bad, as it will come from a place of desperation. Trust me, I’ve done this. From now on, I’ll step away and do something completely unrelated to marketing: play guitar, play a video game, read, what have you.
  4. Focus on the next step. One of the most important things to do to stay grounded is to work on the next book. Working on Entanglements has been refreshing, and a reminder of why I do this in the first place. That helps, because lately I’ve been questioning my sanity. That process of creating the story is so much fun and so good for me that it’s hard to say no to continuing that. I just need to keep that in mind, and when I’m stressed about not knowing how to effectively sell a book, return to that pool: remember why I’m doing this in the first place.

Marketing can eat up a good career. You start to worry about why you’re not selling this, that, or the other. Yes, there are proven methods, I’m sure, but I think just as often it’s about luck. Strike that – preparation meeting up with luck. If you’ve done good work and you’re prepared when luck comes along, that’s where the real success comes in.

Anyway, back into writing mode for the next few weeks, until I start prepping Corridors for the big release. Maybe I’ll still be sane by the time that comes out.

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  1. I’m right there with you on every aspect of this post (except I don’t play video games). Last time I checked, I had 15 sales of my short story. I wouldn’t be surprised if I knew all 15 buyers, either personally or through twitter. (But I don’t want to *know* that, so I don’t ask.) Short stories don’t sell well, especially from unknowns. After the first week, I did my best to forget it’s out there and let the sales trickle in unnoticed.

    Will I be able to do that when I release my novel in a few weeks? I dunno. But I will try (outside of some probably-lame attempts at marketing). Otherwise I might go into paralysis and not have the strength to write the next novel. Which is, I understand, the real way to win a readership: Keep putting out good novels.

    • Hey Marie! A little birdy told me I might be one of those sales. 🙂 I hadn’t considered that about short stories not selling well, but it makes sense. I’ve heard bestsellers complain about lagging sales of short stories, so I probably should have known that going in. Oh well, it helps to get the name out there.

      Great point about the novels. Rationally, I figure that the snowball effect will be in play here: good word of mouth and some residual effect from marketing on the first effort, second effort, etc. builds up and people recognize the name. Definitely a long game…

  2. sales report? Where’s that??

  3. You’re not alone. Honest. I put out free reads ahead of time, and sales trickle in. We have to keep at it and keep getting product out though. Then someone someday will leave you a nice note or review … someone you don’t know … saying they’re a fan … saying they don’t even read sci-fi but they love my writing … you’ll get one of those notes one day and it’ll make it all worth it.

    I read on another blog somewhere — building an audience is building a beach one grain of sand at a time. It is. But if we all tough it out and help each other along, we’ll all be OK.

  4. I agree with you wholeheartedly! Although I am of course sorry that this happens, it is nice to hear that I am not the only one who does this. When I published Four Lives, I was checking sale figures constantly at first which is like checking the value of your portfolio too often – all it does is cause stress. Patience is not easy, but as you mentioned, and my wife keeps reminding me, it’s all a process. It would be like going to class and expecting to already know everything – what’s the point of that? Thanks for sharing!

    • Hah, yeah you have no idea how comforting it is to know I’m not alone. I figured others did it, but I had no idea so many others did. I like the comparison to learning something new – that’s a great one! I’ll have to, uhm, “borrow” it sometime. With due credit 🙂

  5. Oh, wow this blog made me feel so much better. I set myself up for failure by believing I’d sell lots and lots – even to people I don’t know! When I groused to my daughter, she asked somewhat sarcastically: “When did it go out, Ma?” Then I had to admit it was only a week ago. It was great to hear all of your angst, but sane and encouraging attitudes. I still feel fortunate to have been gifted with this writing obsession. Even when it makes me feel obsessed and anxious!

    • Oh yeah, definitely not alone. I kept telling myself it was going to be a slow, arduous process, but I guess there’s some part of you that believes you’re going to be the exception that sells hundreds of copies overnight. You’re right, it’s definitely an obsession, and I think sometimes that obsession is VERY double-edged. Keep plugging away, and I will too!

  6. You’re not the only one. Most other writers I know, whether it’s their first or tenth novel, can’t help but peek at their sales a few times too many during the start of its release. And I’ll probably do it too when my first novel gets released soon (so thanks for the advice).

    But it sounds like this is your first novel published, so obviously it’s going to take a while with the sales. Hopefully with some marketing work, more readers will start to pouring in. And with more books under your bibliography, it will just start snowballing (pretty much every indie writer says that you don’t make your living with the first novel but rather, the first dozen or more).

    • I think part of my problem is living in the paradigm of other media. I’ve deliberately walled myself off from some parts of the publishing industry, specifically sales, because all those overnight success stories honestly just make me anxious. To maintain my sanity, I HAVE to stay away from those, so I really only take them in when it comes to other media – music, films, etc. In those, you don’t really play the long game. First-week sales are the big story, and it tapers off after that. I just have to retrain my brain, I think. I like that about the first dozen…it gives me hope because I already feel like I have that many ideas.

  7. I think we all have some high expectations. As you said we put in countless thankless hours of work. Validation would be nice, don’t you think? Good luck my friend.

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