OK I admit it’s a bit late, being nearly the end of January and all that, but believe me it took a full month of heavy-duty mental gymnastics to come up with that one.
And yet, all joking aside, it’s not quite as obvious as it sounds. During the past three months or so I’ve been wrestling with the reality that being a self-published author involves a lot more than writing. Or more precisely, a lot more than writing the ‘real stuff’, the stories and the books, those things I always wanted to write which is why I ended up doing all this in the first place.
Those of you who also self-publish will know what I’m talking about. It’s not just the editing, the cover design, the setting up and optimising your books’ online presence. It’s also the other bits and pieces – author platforms, review requests, blogging, the general trying to get your writing noticed. Of course you can pay for someone else to do some or all of this stuff, and I’ve no doubt there are many skilled and enthusiastic people who will do a decent job of that. But I’ve also realised that there’s no sure-fire way of making people buy your books, at least not without spending more in the process than you’re likely to get back in sales.
I confess that while beavering away at my first two novels, I cheerfully ignored most of the above. I just concentrated on making my books the best I could make them, and that was time-consuming enough without worrying about anything else. But all that ‘else’ was always there – the elephant in the room, if you like.
And then, soon after completing and publishing BASIC Boy, that hulking great cliché tapped me on the shoulder with its trunk, said ‘Excuse me? Haven’t you forgotten something, old chap?’ (Yes, it was a talking elephant. Bear with me.) It then proceeded to scare the cat, ransack the refrigerator, and finally sit on my laptop and refuse to move until I’d promised to create an author profile on Goodreads.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve found I quite like having my own website, and I’ve very grateful to those who’ve liked my posts and followed my blog. But I’m under no illusions that I’m creating more than the tiniest ripple in the huge Pacific Ocean of the Internet, and – bottom line – it all takes time. And so I haven’t written very much – you know – real stuff recently. A couple of short stories, yes, but that’s all.
I’ve begun to feel a bit like a car factory, the owner of which had the bright idea one day of taking almost its entire staff off the production line and sticking then in sales, marketing and publicity. Which quickly led to two big problems. First, too many people tripping over each other, not really knowing what they’re doing because they’re skilled at welding or painting or electronics and don’t know a thing about selling stuff. Second, no-one’s making any cars any more. Which, ironically, really becomes a problem if and when, somewhat miraculously, the people who don’t know much about sales actually start getting quite good at it, at which point they’ll be taking orders they suddenly can’t fulfil. ‘Result? Bankruptcy all round!’ (That’s a quote from the superb 1951 Alistair Sim version of Scrooge, one of my favourite movies of all time. Yes, my brain really is that random.)
I have tried to write. I’ve had three or four new novel ideas bouncing around inside my head, but none has kept still long enough to do much with. For each one I’ve got as far as sketching out a rough outline, even writing the first few hundred words – and then it’s gone. My enthusiasm for the idea, that is. It’s ridiculous, because I know I can do it. I have written two novels already, after all. I know how many hundreds of hours of work it takes and I’m not afraid of that. I enjoy the process, however much of a slog it might be at times, and I get a real buzz from it.
So what’s the problem? I’ve concluded that I just need to give concentrated blast of good, solid time to at least one of these idea, to really get my teeth into it, to keep pummelling away until it starts to morph into something I can really work with. Last year, between the last two drafts of BASIC Boy, I did make a good start on a third YA novel. I churned out a fairly detailed outline and nearly 20,000 words of the first draft. That’s a pretty solid start. So why didn’t I stick with it?
Because I started obsessing about the fact that BASIC Boy, despite positive reviews and encouraging comments, wasn’t selling. Neither was its predecessor, Falling Girl. I’ve done much in the intervening couple of months that’s been of value. I’ve now got the website, the Goodreads presence. But so have zillions of other people, and I keep feeling that I’m running like hell and still falling behind. I really don’t have a clue how to sell more books. It’s not a nice feeling.
I could of course give up on selling books and write for the sheer joy of the art, which is basically what I’ve been doing anyway. But my dream is to write full time, which would mean giving up the day job, which means selling lots and lots of books, which isn’t happening.
So I’m going back to that third novel, at least unless and until I have a better idea. (It’s a dystopian virtual reality fantasy; provisionally title Upland, but I that doesn’t really grab me and I’m hoping I think of a better one.) And if I get any bright ideas about how to promote my writing in the meantime, I’ll follow them up. I know I can’t just ignore that side of things.
But in 2014 I’m going to write more and worry less. I just hope that elephant sits quietly in the corner and behaves itself.