Another year, poof…gone. Funny how time works. Relativity and all that. And it has become (or has always been) customary to reflect on the past years achievements, failures, and experiences and then to cast our gaze into the new year that waits before us. 2018 was an interesting year, to be sure though not as traumatic as 2017. But, a year being a year, it would be difficult to go through all the many turns and dips in the road, so instead I’d like to reflect on some of the bigger impressions.
2018 began with a very slow start. I had just started a new “day job” and had just released my second short story collection (Beautiful Ugly: And Other Weirdness). The release had a decent initial push, but then fell flat in the coming months of what i call “The Dead Zone.” This dead zone consisted of the months between April and July, or what some indie authors sometimes call “the summer slump.” This “summer slump” hit me pretty hard. Sales dropped significantly, as well as Kindle Unlimited page reads. It seemed in those four months that an inevitable question came to mind: “Why am I writing if nobody wants to read my books?” Its an honest question, but as I thought about it more, the more I realized my priorities and objectives were not in sync. NO, not the band, its the general understanding of what you want, why you want what you want, and setting goals to get there.
In those four months of the “summer slump” I had written nothing…absolutely nothing, or at least nothing with any gusto. My unfinished manuscript of The Last Hellfighter lay waiting on my PC. The sequel to Plant of the Dead nothing more than a concept. The ideas for plots and books were there, but my drive simply wasn’t. It had sputtered, not because I couldn’t write anymore, but because I had a poorly conceived objective. My belief that I could only be successful in writing if people are buying my books (i.e. reading my books) became a crippling roadblock in my brain. Why write if no one wants to read, right? Well, that is utter bullshit and shame on myself for thinking it. Why write indeed. Hinging my success on the notion that sales equates to success is a misconception created no doubt by my fantasy of becoming one of the few authors who are actually rich and famous and can write full time. Fantasies are fine and dandy, but they cannot be the objective. And believing that sales is what defines me as a writer is perverse.
So, some time in late July I came to a re-realization. I remembered why I started writing and publishing in the first place. Why? BECAUSE I LOVE TO TELL STORIES! Jeez, imagine that, writing for the love of reading. And also because writing had always been one of the best ways that helped me with cope with all those nasty feelings leftover from the war. Writing has allowed me to express emotion and has kept my mind busy, which for me is a very good thing.
Do I abandon all hope and direction in making sales and becoming a successful writer? Yes, and no. Confused yet? Its all about balance. Simplicity. And…? Balance, as in remembering to have fun (a very human aspect that helps impregnate your story with feeling) whilst keeping to whatever your goals are. For me, I created a way of keeping tabs of sales without having to constantly keep tabs on sales (useful KPIs, but not the only measure of success) through a detailed P&L (profit and loss, or revenue and expenses) spreadsheet that helps me keep track of what books are more profitable as profit (sales) does indicate what title is selling, i.e. which book are folks reading more of. This helps guide me in what books readers are more interested in. The balance becomes then a pull and tug between writing as an art and writing as a business. Perhaps this sounds strange for those who write for only artistic sake. Which is totally fine, writing is an art nonetheless. HOWEVER, if you want readers outside of your social media circles to take a peek into your art, you’ll have to accept some measure of the buiness aspect of writing too. And for those who focus almost exclusively on the buiness side of writing will forget to actually write and thus begin to lose those precious readers who have moved on to the next author. Balance means remembering to keep a healthy medium, knowing when to write (which should be always) and when to market (which should be strategic and minimal).
Simplicity is simply simple. There are so many ideas and so many ways of tackling the buiness AND art of publishing books. My problem was that for years I tried casting the biggest widest net in hopes of reeling in an undisclosed unknown number of fish when in fact those wide expensive nets often only brought in meager catches. This is normally when frustration sets in. What’s the secret formula? Certainly there must be one, how else do you explain authors like King and Rowling and Rice. Sometime in August I read this article that changed my marketing methodology. Its message was to keep marketing (the buiness side of writing) simple. It told me I needed to focus on a few key areas regarding the buiness and spend the rest of my time on the task at hand, the ART of telling that next story. The fun creative stuff. Whilst keeping in mind the rule of balance. Without balance, the fun art stuff will begin to lose its luster when sales begin nosediving. And without simplicity the buiness of writing will feel like an uphill march in a snow drift.
And…? What those above authors have in common is work ethic and staunch stubbornness. No matter how many times an agent or publishing company turned their nose up at them, they kept putting themselves out there AND they kept writing. And sometimes all that hard work doesn’t “pay off,” and hey, that’s okay too. The point I came to realize was that I needed to just keep at it by remembering to maintain a writing marketing balance, keeping simplicity in those business methods, and…? being stubborn in the belief that readers want to read my books no matter what publishers or agents tell me or even my often poor sales tell me.
And what has all this equated to? Well, a record (my record) breaking last quarter for 2018 in sales (gained readers) and increased productivity (writing new stories). AND hopefully a continuation into 2019. This is not me saying I’ve “made it” or the such, simply that I feel as if I have found my footing. And the feeling of being “grounded” with clear objectives and ways of measuring how well things are going is a very good feeling. As 2019 spreads out, my goal is to maintain my goals, to keep things simple and balanced with a strong work ethic while being stubborn in the belief that even if my sales dip that doesn’t mean readers do not want to read my books.
I wish all of you great success and a sense of balanced adventure. I for one am very much looking forward to what this new year brings.