I sold an ebook today. Just the one. For seventy-nine pee. Woo… ahhm, hoo.
Okay, hear me out. I spent eight years chiselling that mother from a lump of granite called my life. When I released it in November 2012 it was the culmination of a lifetime’s ambition. Ever since I first learned to read I’ve been a devourer of books. In my day job I’ve been writing marketing copy for the best part of twenty years. I have an MA in Creative Writing. I was proud to have finally nailed a proper book, a collection of fine poetry and short stories. A book that if I achieve nothing else in life my son might one day look back and say hey, you know what, my dad did that.
Like most writers who’ve published an ebook, I’m learning fast. The first thing I’ve learned is this. Writing a book is the easy part. Unlike their printed brethren which bask in a publisher’s marketing and have a tangible, browsable life on the shelves, an ebook is a stone thrown into a vast and fathomless ocean. Within seconds it sinks out of sight, submerged beneath the millions of other ebooks gushing out every day. And there it will stay for all of time, at the bottom of the sea. The Titanic of books. If nobody knows it’s there, nobody is going to search for it. If nobody searches for it, nobody will ever know it’s there. Basically, unless you’re already a famous author, actress, sports star, or reformed murderer, you’re screwed. You could say it was a real eureka moment I had. Ohhhhhhhhhhh shit.
It was at this point that the words of all the epublishing experts I’d read started beeping and flashing somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind. All that stuff about how crucial social media was going to be, that I’d need to ‘build a platform’ first, ‘gain some traction’, ‘grow my profile’, ‘write a sequel’, ‘leverage the virality of the internet’, and all those other buzz phrases. I’d set up my blog and Twitter page, but so had everyone else. There seemed to be a million author blogs and Twitter accounts, all shouting louder than me, posting and tweeting a billion times an hour, 24/7, 365. Somehow I’d hoped I’d just put my book out there and the whole world would magically know it was there and flock to buy it. Nothing had prepared me for the booming silences, the zero sum of interest, the utter invisibility of half my life’s work, in the days and weeks that followed.
As I sat there over Christmas watching my Amazon and Smashwords stats flat-lining, I realised this was going to be much harder than I thought. As one does in times of crisis, I began doubting everything about the book. The quality of the writing. The choice of subject matter. I especially worried that the title (Sex on the Brain: Poems and Stories for Men), and the cover image (of a woman’s midriff in sexy lingerie) might have shot me in the metatarsal. Had I in fact alienated the very readers I hoped would buy it?
The cover image had been chosen not without a little irony.To a casual browser I have to admit it did shout erotica. And there’s a lot of that about. Dreadful, vacuous erotica, so formulaic it depresses the hell out of me. Let me say straight out that my book is not erotica. I have nothing against erotica. There are some really good erotic authors out there, writing some inventive and thought-provoking stuff, but they are in the minority. The majority are bandwagon-jumpers, pumping out salacious garbage to make a fast buck. When E. L. James wrote Fifty Shades of Grey it may not have been a contender for the Booker Prize but it was competently written, had a semblance of a story and characters who weren’t just a collection of body parts. When you compare Fifty Shades to the oceans, the waterfalls, the torrents of cheap trashy imitations it seems to have spawned, it’s practically a candidate for the Nobel.
One of my main goals as a writer is to try and make people laugh. I’m not saying that’s the only goal of fiction, or even the most important one. But god knows the world is a grim enough place. There are worse things a person can do than put a smile on someone’s face. Good fiction should stimulate the mind and the laughter gene, not just the genitals.
But here I am, three months in, still struggling to raise the book from the depths of the ocean floor. Finally I’ve had to swallow my pencil and start tweeting. Hesitantly, haltingly, and posting blog posts like this one. It all seems so painfully slow. What I’m learning, in baby steps, is that to be a writer in the 21st Century is like at no other time in history. The internet has changed the publishing landscape forever. No longer is it sufficient to be a great writer. Nowadays one must be a great self-publicist too, a great marketer, tweeter, blogger, poster. An egotistical attention seeker. Many of these attributes don’t sit comfortably with the writer. In previous centuries all we had to care about was our craft. We let our books do the talking. But the rules have changed. And anyone just starting out had better get used to it. Multi-tasking is the new writing.
I know it’s going to be a long haul but look, my book’s out there. That’s a start. I wrote it, I published it. And I think it’s good. Nobody’s found it yet, but that’s okay, they will. In time. Hopefully posts like this will help, if only a tiny bit. Each small step gets you closer to your destination, right?
Wanna know something else? Today when I logged onto my Amazon account, instead of the big blank rows and empty columns I normally see, there was a big fat ONE in the sales column for this month.
I’d sold a book.
For seventy nine pee.
Someone had taken the time to have a peek inside, then bought it, with their own hard-earned. I didn’t know how they’d found me, who they were, or where they’d come from, but it felt as though someone had reached out and given me a big hug.
I tried to picture them with a conspiratorial smile on their face, lying on a sofa with a kindle propped on their knees, occasionally laughing aloud at the stories and poems I’d written. They might have been in Brazil for all I knew, Finland, Australia or the other side of the moon, I didn’t care. Young or old, male or female, it didn’t matter. All I knew was some blessed soul had liked my book enough to want their own copy, and that made me feel a foot taller for a whole day. That single moment epitomised for me the magic of why writers write, baring our innermost soul to millions of strangers, hoping our thought-seeds one day land on fertile soil and bear fruit, from where friends will spring up.
I sold an ebook today. Just the one. For seventy nine pee. In case you hadn’t realised, it was never about the money. My joy would have been the same had it been seventy nine million sales. That one tiny act of companionship probably meant more to me than the thousands of dollars every best-selling author made today. Would I swap places? I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t one day like to be a famous writer. A million adoring readers is better than one, right? But that doesn’t mean I feel any the less richer in the pleasure my one reader has given me, on this leaden-skied February day.
Right now I feel as if I will feast on this feeling all week. For months if necessary, knowing that my readers are out there. They just haven’t found me yet. But they will. And for every one of them that does, I’ll feel blessed, as though I have made a new friend. As Joe Konrath said in a recent inspirational blog post, “Good books will find their audience. Ebooks are forever, and that’s a long time. Keep at it.”
Now, I’d better get back to being a bad-ass writer, all this waxing lyrical is ruining my image.by