Tuesday, 7 August 2012

What I won't do to sell more books

I'm at least moderately at ease with how things are for me as a writer, even though I earn far less than I believe I deserve, mainly because I am not selling many books. (In fact, I plan to reveal everything about my modest self-publishing sales quite soon...)

I know there are things I could do which would make me sell more books.
  1. Stop writing so many different sorts; focus on one genre and write lots within it. (There'd be nothing wrong with that but I happen to want to write lots of different things.)
  2. Or cut back on being a writer and bust a gut to do more marketing. (Because as far as I know there are only 24 hours in a day and I can't stay awake for all of them.)
  3. Be strictly market-focused, deliberately tailoring the books I write to have a far greater mass appeal, even though those are not the books I really want to write. (Nothing wrong with them but they don't beat my heart.)
  4. Ask all my friends, family, blog-readers and Twitter followers to write fantastic reviews on Amazon, even if they haven't read my books. (Ugh.)
  5. Do many more events, and really push my books at them, instead of my usual pathetic, "I've *cough* got some cards here with info about my books, if *cough* *mumble mumble*". (Sigh.)
  6. Spatter Twitter with BUY MY BOOK messages instead of spending 99% of my time there talking about other things and making friends. (Ugh.)
  7. Care much less about what people think of me. (Impossible.)
But if I did any of those things, I wouldn't be the writer or the person I want to be. That's why I'm and have to be at least passably at ease with the way things are for me. Yes, I think I'm worth much more money than I earn; no, I wouldn't say no to selling more books; yes, I already do more than I'd like to in terms of marketing; yes, I think I work as hard and as well as most people on substantial salaries. But I chose to be a writer and anyone who goes into writing with a direct intention of becoming rich is not my sort of writer, or my sort of person. I never did think I'd be rich, though I couldn't have predicted the shocking fall in author income that has happened in the last few years.

There is something else that might have been on that list but I could not bring myself even to suggest it in case you thought I would actually consider it even in the same breath as those other things. And that is the idea - much spoken of recently and I won't put the links here because you either know about it or you are better not knowing - of setting up fake accounts, "sock-puppet" accounts on Amazon, for example, to give yourself deceitful 5* reviews or your rivals 1* star reviews. The idea sickens me. It's mendacious and greedy and wrong. 

But even apart from that, there are lines I personally don't want to cross, things I don't want to do in the quest for sales, fame and fortune. I don't want to lose sight of the fact that writing is about the books and the readers. It's not about how many copies I sell but about how much my readers get out of my books. It's not about marketing and money but about a passion for words. It's not all about me. (I read the fascinating interview with Will Self - he says almost the opposite and I slightly envied him and certainly don't disparage his view. It's probably why he might win the Booker and I won't!)

Anyway. Back to the point. I get a massive buzz out of writing, and out of someone reading and liking one of my books. Of course, I also get a massive buzz when someone likes it enough to bother to write an Amazon review (or anything at all) and when that review encourages others to buy. I hope the buzz I get while writing makes my writing better and the buzz I get from good feedback keeps me writing more.

But without an ethical stance and an adequate measure of integrity, that buzz would feel more like a whine. A nasty wasp instead of a gentle bumble bee. I need to be at ease with the writer and person I am. At this point I was horribly tempted to say, "The only way is ethics", but actually I don't exactly think it's about ethics, although faking reviews is. There's nothing unethical about doing many other things to generate more sales.

So, not ethics, but what gives you heartsong. I've written about heartsong before. The lack of it made me ill. Being published gave it back to me. So, perhaps you'll say, "So, it is all about you, then?" If I look deep inside, then yes, I think it was all about me. But it's not now. Now it's about books and readers and it's about quality, not quantity. I've come to that conclusion, that resting point. Yes, if a commercial publisher took me on and planned to push my books hard, I'd enter into that energetically, but my self-published books? No, I just can't bring myself to shout any louder. I wouldn't enjoy it.

And that's why I'm fairly at ease with how things are.

Having said that, I wouldn't say no to any of you buying my books and generating some more sales for me! I'm not entirely stupid...

27 comments:

Sue Purkiss said...

Followed the post to your link about heartsong and the need to write: very interesting, and rings so many bells!

Carol Hedges said...

Yes. Fine line here. I get too many Tweets just promoting something and you feel 'used'. Even so, some publicity has to be done, else why write in the first place. In my 4 years of not being published ,it felt like baking a lovely cake and throwing it in the bin.

Nicola Morgan said...

Carol, I do agree that it's a fine line. And the line is different for everyone. I think I'm just feeling rather jaded, rather sick of doing it for myself. I've recently seen some authors do some things that make me uncomfortable. It's hard not to make that sound like a moral judgement - I do mean it more personally than that. And you're right that for most of us a part of writing is wanting it to be read and if we want it to be read we have to shout a bit. I do shout a bit! I just don't want to shout any louder than I am. (And even that may be too much for some.) I really wanted to say something about needing to be content because I'm not prepared to do more.

Sue - glad it struck a chord!

Kate Dunn said...

What a perfect expression of the writer's dilemna today - in a weird way it gave me heart song, you're right, the only way is ethics and it's inspiring to hear someone say that writing trumps marketing when sometimes it is easy to feel the opposite. I only want to sell books so I can continue to write them. Onwards and upwards!

johannanield said...

Nicola, I've nodded in agreement with and recognition of every point you've made here: I feel as though you've read my mind! You've described the situation far more eloquently than I could, though, especially with regards to heartsong. I've always felt that writing is something my soul needs to do, regardless of what happens to the finished product, and 'heartsong' is a beautiful description for the emotion and feeling that's generated by simply writing. Thank you :)

Ben Arnold said...

My father as an attorney won every criminal law case, but he usually only represented minor offenses, which is why everyone was shocked that he was one of the higher earning attorneys. He constantly complained that he wished he had a marketer and people to do the foot work so that he could just go into court and do what he loved. Police say it all the time, they wish they could just drive the beat instead of doing paperwork all day and night. So that's been my philosophy that drove me into the marketing world. I'd love to find somebody who just wanted to write and let me do all the marketing. That's why I became a publisher :D

Nicola Morgan said...

Ben - your comment had a great punchline! You should be a writer...

Kate, Johanna - thank you. I'm glad it made you nod! I do love the word "heartsong". Two important words coming together and making something bigger than both of them.

JO said...

Thank you for putting this so eloquently. I feel an increasing pressure to be much more active on the marketing front - but I know I'm rubbish at it, and I don't enjoy it. If I don't feel comfortable with myself - then what's the point of writing? I write because I love it. and if marketing begins to take over from the sheer joy of playing with words, then I'd rather retreat into a corner with my cocoa.

Derek said...

Morning Nicola, I echo those sentiments and I'll probably print them out!

There is no guarantee of financial success so it's important, as writers, to work in a way that is meaningful to us. Otherwise who are we doing it for?!

esmeraldamac said...

Nicola, putting my marketing head on here (20yrs, and sort of know what I'm doing) - most of the things on your 'things you could be doing' list would only get short-term sales uplift. What *you're* doing, in marketing terms, is building a brand, which can only be done slowly by acting with integrity and promoting the inner identity of what you do rather than modifying it to suit a supposed market or trend. In theory at least, your approach will deliver sustained success rather than quick hits. And as someone who loves writing for itself, wouldn't you prefer that? Don't trouble yourself with people who go for the 'quick and dirty' approach. They'll shout about their short-term success from the rooftops (cue communal groan), but it won't last.

Joe said...

Love this post Nicola. I'd rather not be published at all than do the things you've listed here! When it comes to advice and tips for writers, the emphasis seems to increasingly be on how to market yourself as opposed to how to improve the craft of your writing. There is a place for that, of course, but the buzz of writing is why we all do it, is it not? So hurrah for a post that emphasises this fact!

Myra Duffy said...

What a re-assuring post,Nicola. I wonder if it's something in our psyche? I once heard an Irish writer say that too many Brits suffer from a 'debilitating modesty' but it's so difficult sometimes to keep promoting! Good luck to those who do it with ease.

Jacqueline Pye said...

I so agree, Nicola. For most of us, thankfully, integrity is vital to confidence and self-esteem and we maintain it, although it can be hard when everyone else is playing dirty. I don't consider you shout at all too much, especially as you offer masses of free advice to writers at the same time. You keep up a very pleasing balance and that's another reason why we love you.

Sally Zigmond said...

I don't think it's a British modesty thing. It's not exclusive to one group of people. It's more that writers are more likely to be introverts and successful self-publicists are extroverts. If if one tries to be another, the wheel falls off the wagon. To introverts, self-worth is more important than success (even though they still want to feel wanted and admired whatever psychological types we are).

Nicola's post sums it up so well. It's not false modesty, it's about being at ease with oneself. Of course we all need to believe we have worth - and that can be achieved by pushing up sales and going out there and shouting 'Look at me!' That can give you a huge buzz indeed. But only for a short time. WE have to life with ourselves in the dark, cold, nights.

But, in the end, it's about what you feel inside and if you can't be at ease with yourself and hear your own heart singing, then it's all glitzy on the inside and hollow within.

I'm not religious but the Bible is usually spot on. "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"

That's why so many so-called celebrities may end up with public adoration and a vast fortune but often turn to alcohol or drugs and generally lead a miserable life, detached from reality. They are not at ease with themselves; their hearts do not sing.

Brava, Nicola!

Nicola Morgan said...

You are all very kind. I know not everyone agrees and I probably annoy a lot of people, which I wish wasn't the case, but I guess it's inevitable. Pfffth, as I sometimes say on Twitter.

Jim Murdoch said...

One other piece of advice I’ve seen offered is simply to write more books. Now, on the surface, that’s a good idea—the more books you have out there the more landing sites are available and the greater the possibility that you might get a sale or two or even an actual fan—but that wasn’t what was being suggested. What they were saying was, “Write three or four books a year” Now considering it takes me three or four years to write one book I find that advice laughable. I made a comment but the author replied (completely deadpan if it’s possible for words to be deadpan) with a set of calculations showing exactly how it was possible and even factoring in time for rewrites. Okay maybe Proust could work that way but not the rest of us. What happens to the quality? Even Philip K Dick at his peak wasn’t working at that pace and we all know how he kept up that pace.

It is not easy being a writer these days. Any kind of writer, not simply one who goes it alone. I was writing on my own blog recently about how I feel my attitude towards my writing has suffered in the five years I’ve been online and trying to live the life of a writer. Beforehand I wrote for me and only me and then stuck the stuff in the proverbial drawer. Now I have readers (okay not many but even one or two would be enough) I am suddenly aware that I have an audience with expectations and I find that terribly off-putting. Now I feel I have to think of them when I write and that’s hard to shake.

But as far as your list goes I agree totally. In my very next post I’m going to announce that I’m cutting back on my blogging because I don’t think it’s the best use of my time. And that’s the real problem we all have. There are only so many hours in the day and so if we are going to market let’s make sure that we spend the time wisely and as effectively as possible. The blog is fun but it’s time-consuming and it’s not bringing me sales so it needs to be put in its place.

Gillian Philip said...

Oh Crabbit, thank you for this post. (I am NOT being sarcastic, honest.) I'm constantly hearing that 'units shifted' is the main thing, and I feel guilty about not shoving them harder, but I honestly, truly, not-in-a-sour-grapes way, DON'T just want to shift units. Yes, it would be lovely to sell more - LOTS more - but I would not be happy with myself if I was bludgeoning every friend and acquaintance to buy/review/download just to get me up the charts. I wrote the books I wrote in the hope that people would read them, enjoy them, love my characters as much as I do. Yes, to get them to join in the 'heart song' (and heaven knows as you do, I'm not sentimental). Otherwise, what's the point? Like Derek, I'll be printing this post and keeping it safe!

Lucy Coats said...

Dear Crabbit,

You say what is in my heart better than I ever could. Thank you.

With love from your nearly-as-Crabbit friend. xx

Nicola Morgan said...

Jim - re the point in your first para, I completely agree. I believe that one of the main people who has given the "the more books you have out there..." advice was Amanda Hocking, who quite honestly and interestingly pointed out that one of the reasons she did so well was that she had loads (I seem to remember 17 or did I invent that?) of unpublished novels which she as able to publish in quick succession. Obviously, without wanting to knock her success, that's not what you or I want to do. I have several unpublished novels from my rejection days and trust me on this: they are going to the grave with me!

Gillian and Lucy - keep the faith. xxx

verytessatangent said...

I think you can see from your comments above that you speak for many writers who also hold the common-sense view. Thank you for articulating it.

I never had a rejection slip with short stories for magazines but I've awarded my own rejection slips to the first two novels I wrote. I hope I'm writing my best one now and Heaven forbid I should step over the promotional line when it's finally a reality!

I tend to unfollow on Twitter those who are overtly selfish/sales-dominated/egotistical/cliqueish. Particularly if every one of their tweets is a sales or 'buy me' tweet.

But those who find the balance between engagement and reasonable promotion, without resorting to sock-puppets, tend to get me buying their work. Simples.

K.M.Lockwood said...

I haven't got to the dizzy heights of having anything to promote yet - but I found this article stimulating. I was also taken with esmeraldamac's points.
As in social media as in life - be true to your own identity & love what you do - and that integrity is what will come across. It's not constructing a brand - it's being you.

Tania Hershman said...

Another fab Nicola Morgan post, thank you, exactly what I am struggling with right now, and I think the thoughts of marketing are paralysing my writing. It's very hard, everyone needs to find their own balance, which I haven't done yet, not at all. I wish I had a marketing person, because I, like you, do that " "I've *cough* got some cards here with info about my books, if *cough* *mumble mumble*" thing! I must get a grip on myself. Thank you for expressing so well and so often what many of us feel but don't know how - or are scared - to say.

Hayley N. Jones said...

So refreshing to read this amongst all the articles and blogs saying 'do this to make more money writing.' Integrity seems to be undervalued by some people - but a lot of us still value it and appreciate coming across people who feel likewise. Thank you for an inspiring post.

Mina Lobo said...

Folks over-Tweeting their stuff to promote it (many times a day!!!) get on my last nerve (and I'm the mom of a teenaged son, so that nerve's hanging by a mixed metaphor).

I remember reading some stats about self-pubbed folks and the numbers reflected that those who wrote more sold more, though they didn't necessarily market more (and, in fact, those who did market more sold the least). http://www.epublishabook.com/2012/05/30/self-publishing-statistics-who-are-the-top-earners/#axzz1wL84hOFD

Anyway, I'm with you in that I believe you've gotta write what you feel and carry on with business as you feel more or less comfortable carrying on (and by that, I mean it may not feel comfy to a person to do a book reading/signing gig, but it's the kind of thing that person may need to seriously consider doing).
Some Dark Romantic

Melinda Szymanik said...

You have been peeking inside my mind. This is exactly how I feel. I wouldn't complain if I sold more books but I can't write any but the ones I feel right writing :)and I won't force my books on people. I want the fans who arrive at my books by themselves

Diane Fordham said...

I really enjoyed this post. You've made many good points. Thank you :-)

Nicola Morgan said...

Tessa, KM Lockwood, Tania, Hayley, Mina, Melinda, Diane - we're obviously all on the same page! Yes, over-promoting can have the opposite effect to the intended one, and I've certainly unfollowed the over-promoters, and not bought their books because I've been put off. At the same time, not being noticed at all is a writer's other dread - not through egotism but because we simply have to sell copies, otherwise we can't be and stay published. It's very difficult!

I think I'd be brilliant at selling other people's books - shall we sell each other's?!