Self-Publishing: Ups and Downs

Update on my Commitment to Professionalism
I have passed the 75% point on re-editing Chroniech. If all goes according to plan, the editing will by done my the time my next blog post comes out. I then begin the process of reformatting for both ebook and print versions. Each one requires a full pass through the novel.

Next Sunday, I will be traveling to North Carolina (Charlotte) on business. I develop Microsoft Access database applications as part of my day job. One of my applications was instrumental in helping us reduce the number of maintenance activities we perform every year. Next week, my supervisor will be making a presentation of this work at a nuclear work management conference. I'm tagging along to answer any questions concerning the programming and setup of the database. This also means I will have a lot of time on my hand to do editing and formatting.

I rarely get ideas for short stories and it's even rarer for me to have one that is not science fiction or fantasy. The other day, I had such an idea and -- after bouncing it off my wife -- I'm seriously considering working on it. The idea is (as far as I know) unique. It will be a difficult story to write correctly and I'm still working out the details in my head. What's strange about this story is that the ideas keep popping into my head. That tells me, my subconscious has a reason for wanting me to write this story. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Ups and Downs
You hear it all the time: “Don’t let a bad review get you down”, “Don’t worry, sales will pick up”, “Rejections are a fact of a writer’s life, accept them and move on”. The truth of the matter though is that writers are human and bad reviews, rejections, and poor sales bother us. Nothing anyone will say can change that. Pretending that such things don’t bother you creates tension and can lead to headaches, ulcers, and all sorts of other problems. Walking around the house with a dark cloud over your head, kicking the cat (or dog) out of the way, and telling your wife to leave you alone certainly isn’t the proper response either. So what is a writer to do?

The first step is to realize that you are going to be bothered by all the negative things a writer encounters in this business. It’s okay to feel bad about being rejected. It’s acceptable to worry about sales. You’re human and there’s nothing you can do about that. The human mind, however is a powerful instrument that is capable of shaping its own destiny. Here’s an example:

I have a large stack of books I want to read. If fact, I want to read them all right NOW. If a couple of days goes by and I don’t get any reading done, I begin to get that ‘antsy’ feeling about not reading. My wife likes me to spend the evenings with her and when I start to feel “unread” I’m tempted to grab a book and read while we sit together. But this is being rude. If I’m reading, I’m not paying attention to her and she begins to feel ignored. Not conducive to a good marriage!

So how do I handle this? I take a few minutes and talk to myself. I tell myself that there will be plenty of time to read in the future – after all – I have many more years to live. I also remind myself that reading is not as important as I think it is and I’ll be much happier if my wife is happy. After a self-discussion like this, the need to read is reduced and I can enjoy the evening with my wife. The urge is still there, but it’s not so overriding as to put me into a bad mood. If things get too bad, I’ll swap out my writing time for some reading time. There’s always a solution to the problem.

I would imagine that all writers have these problems, but I tend to think that the self-published writer has even more to worry about. We are responsible for writing, editing, cover art, formatting, proofing, marketing, and promoting. That’s a lot! I often wonder if I’m spending enough time promoting my books. But that is a very time-intensive activity that takes away from writing and reading. It also has only a small impact on sales. I don’t believe I’ve ever purchased a book because of what the author has said in a forum or blog post.

Recently, a few of my author acquaintances have made significant sales to publishers and/or magazines. Their books are getting good reviews in multiple publications, blogs, and websites. I’ve been spending my time making my past works more professional-looking instead of promoting my books or writing more. I’ve begun to question my decision to do so. This is a bad road for me to start down. I made this promise to myself after attending WorldCon because I realized my books do look like they were produced by an amateur. Backing away from my promise is not the professional thing to do and I won’t.

There is one emotion though that all writers must be on the lookout for: Envy. It’s one of the worst human emotions and can lead a person down a horribly self-destructive path if allowed to grow unchecked. Envy can cause all sorts of issues and it must be stopped long before it takes root. If you detect the warning signs, do whatever it takes to keep it from growing because failing to do so can ruin your life. No one is immune. If you pretend you’ve never been envious, you’re fooling yourself and potentially creating an emotional problem that will be hard to get rid of.

I am acquainted with a number of very successful authors. I’m very happy to see them doing well and getting nominated for awards. There are times though when I am a little envious of their success. I get pissed off when I feel that way because I recognize it as envy. I value my relationship with other authors and when envy begins to rear its ugly head, I feel I have to beat it back down into the depths of hell from where it originates.

There are a number of ways to deal with this when it happens. The first is to be able to recognize it. Everyone can’t be nominated for an award. I am convinced that envy was the cause of the puppy scandal during the last WorldCon. Sales go up and sales go down and there’s never any rhyme or reason to it. I’ve had fantastic sales in the past, but at this moment, sales are down. Instead of feeling envious for those authors who are doing well, I realize I must put forth more effort to promote my books. But, I won’t do so until I know I’m promoting books that look like they are from a professional author. And that takes me back to my promise.

The commitment I made stemmed from the simple fact that if a reader were to look at a preview of my books on Amazon, they might see them as being from an amateur writer who has little regard to what their books look like in print. I promised to fix that. It’s a lot of work and it means no reading, no new writing, no watching television (except Agents of Shield of course), and no spending time on the internet in forums, Twitter, and chat rooms. Sales are not as strong as I would like and I feel I should be promoting my books, but that takes time away from writing.

I have a plan and I’m going to stick to it. If it means a few months of lower sales, then so-be-it. I do not want to be seen as an amateur. I am a member of SFWA with 9 books published. I’ve sold tens of thousands of copies of my books. My name might not be recognized by the public and I don’t see my books in large full-page ads paid for by a traditional publishing house. But, I am a professional author. I’m happy with my decision because I know it is the right thing to do.

Envy has no place in my life. I’m better than that – and so are you.