Thursday, August 7, 2014

I'm Tired of Writing Books That Don't Sell

by Giselle Renarde


I need to stop writing so many books.

I write waaay too many books. Do you even know how many completed manuscripts are sitting on my hard drive right now?  Three.  Three full novels just wasting away. And it's not like I've shopped them around and they've been rejected by publishers.  I haven't shared them with anyone yet.

I've blogged before about how getting published is only half the battle. Less than half, these days, probably. You spend all this time pouring your heart out on the page and, what, three people buy a copy?  And then you feel like you've disappointed your publisher (and you probably have, and they'll probably never give you another contract) and you wonder if you'd be happier if you just self-published. 

So you self-publish the next one and how many copies does it sell?  Three.  And you go to town marketing this son of a bitch because it's a good book (it really is! if only someone would read it!) but the marketing makes no difference. Sales slip. Across the board. You suck. You must suck, or more people would be buying your books. What's the point in writing?

I shouldn't write blog posts when I'm half-asleep, because this is what comes out. But I post these thoughts because I'm too honest for my own good and there are enough fake-it-'til-you-make-it authors out there.  Don't believe the hype. People keep telling me I'm famous, but I still live below the poverty line.

A lot of readers have told me they appreciate how close I let them get to my life. That's why I decided to publish a book of correspondences. Remember how I was off in the woods a couple weeks ago?  Well, I was on vacation with my family and all the while I wrote letters home to my girlfriend, who was looking after my cats.  You can read them now in "A Week in the Woods with Family: Ramblings of an Author in Cottage Country," which is available for FREE at Amazon until Sunday:
Amazon.com
Amazon Canada
Amazon Australia
Amazon UK



Anyway, the question was what book do I want to write?  The answer is... the book that sells.

28 comments:

  1. Nothing wrong with being honest. I feel the same way...and I'm currently sitting on three finished books too. I have no motivation to do anything with them because like you said - why when no one is buying them.
    Hope things turn around for you. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad/sad I'm not the only one. I feel awful for new writers coming in and looking at all us "successful" names and not realizing that being seen as successful doesn't necessarily equate to being commercially viable.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, I've gotten some sad/hilarious emails from people looking for advice about "how to be successful." Believe me, if I knew I'd be taking that advice.

      To be fair, I do know a few things about writing at this point, but as far as the marketing end of it, I'm guessing as much as anyone else (and not as well as many other people, apparently).

      Really, part of the problem is that marketing brings out my rebellious side. I want to do right by myself and my publishers, so I do try to do my part. On the other hand, I'm personally skeptical about a bunch of the supposed rules people toss around. I keep feeling that if my stuff is ever going to take off, it's only going to be because I was being myself and presenting my work for what it is. If I somehow caught the attention of the alpha-male loving crowd, they'd only respond by leaving me a bunch of one-star reviews—that's just not what my writing delivers.

      Delete
  2. Giselle:
    I've only sold one. My arms are tired from flapping them like wings. Where do you get wings? I think it was Lisabet who said, in a recent post, 'it's easier than ever to get published and harder than ever to get noticed.' My publisher must be happy as they have bought two additional works but you do wonder how they make any money. Good luck to all of us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was definitely thinking of that post by Lisabet when I wrote this one. Writing the book is starting to feel like escape, and then marketing is this weight that gets tied around it.

      Delete
  3. Giselle, I definitely empathize. The only consolation I can offer is the definite assurance that sales and quality have absolutely zero correlation.

    My sales, never great, have been plunging too.

    I'd love to see you get noticed though. You're a tremendous writer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Awww I love it when you say nice things about me, and you do it so often I actually believe you!

      Delete
  4. Part of the problem, in my analysis, is that in the e-book/POD age publishers can get away with investing so little in any one book that they can release an absurd quantity of items and then sell only a few copies apiece of most of them. Moreover, I imagine these minimal production/distribution costs can then, in turn, be an excuse for not investing in advertising/promotion—with so little at stake to begin with, why risk real money in trying to drive visibility and sales? This model may work out all right for a publisher (if the bottom line is the company's chief concern), but obviously it creates a glut and does a huge disservice to the authors.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I hear this. It's heart-wrenching to know something is really good and you've poured yourself into it but you don't know how to tell people (or they may not care even if you do reach them). I've published enough to know the harsh reality you're describing, and yet I can't help hoping every time that this one will be different...

    Jeremy is right, I think, in his analysis of the source of the glut that we see now.

    I'd add that we've also got a huge amount of noise. Everyone is flapping their wings, as people say, trying to get noticed. The result is a race to the bottom.

    It'll be interesting to see how this all shakes out in a few years.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And because of the direction things have gone in with online networking, it seems the writers are primarily flapping their wings at each other, not at the people who might actually be the reading public.

      Delete
    2. Stupid hope. I guess that's what keeps us going, so it's probably a useful thing, but it always leaves me feeling like an idiot.

      Delete
  6. And it's not just the reading public that we need, Jeremy, but the buying public. The reading public has become accustomed to finding plenty of free (or pirated) stories to read. The subset of those who will actually buy our books is shrinking. Easily two-thirds of the search terms that lead people to my blog are about sex with lesbian cops, but that anthology was the worst seller of any I've done, and the indie stores that did buy it returned it later in droves, making the distributor refuse to carry my next couple of books in their catalog. I think the publisher only kept me on because the cops theme was the owner's wife's idea, not mine (plus the fact that my books, including that one, have good records when it comes to being Lambda Award finalists and winners, which doesn't much affect sales anyway.) They've now reissued the book with a new name and cover because they had so many paperback copies left and have access to a machine that can replace covers on the original books, and according to my newest royalty statement they've sold quite a few of those to bookstores, but I expect the returns to come in just the same.

    Much as I sometimes wish I'd written novels, it's probably just as well that I stuck to short stories and editing anthologies. At least with anthologies some of the contributors are bound to have a few fans who will buy the book. I hope.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sacchi, I used to see your lesbian cops antho in bookstores all over Toronto. I guess I saw it so much because it sat on the shelf so long. heh. (I'm laughing WITH you, really I am!)

      And yeah search terms! My blog's most popular search terms have been like "lesbian ass-licking" for years. There is a short related free read on the blog, but the connected ebook (Elementary, My Dear Kathryn) doesn't sell as well as you'd thinking considering how many hundreds+ people are looking for that type of erotica. You're right. Interest doesn't equal buy.

      Delete
    2. I've learned that one way to test how the stock moves is to offer to sign your books when you run across them in stores. Mostly I had the opportunity to do so with certain anthologies, where the editors invited contributors to do this. Passing through the same store in the same city a year or two later, I could observe whether the book was still being carried (yay!)—and whether it was the same copy I'd signed way back when (boo!).

      Delete
  7. All of this...yes. Then you read that FSOG is having a banner year for sales yet again, because of all of the attention due to the new trailer being out. Sigh.

    When my kids were younger, husband and I read aloud to them every night. When we'd go on vacation, I would get a new book and read the entire thing, a few chapters each night, around the campfire. We all enjoyed together the Harry Potter series, which was boring in the first book, improved for the 2nd and 3rd, and ended up going on way too long. But we enjoyed every word of all of the Artemis Fowl books, also dealing with magical beings and happenings. We laughed out loud together, cried when characters got hurt or killed. We often discussed how it could be that one series makes a bazillion dollars for the author, while the other series, which we all agreed was way better-written, makes the author only comfortable. Then other series which we also liked, (the Christopher Chance books, the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, etc.) lingered in obscurity in the library. Who knows what desk is the right one to land on? Or who will be the one influential reader to be the catalyst that catapults your mediocre book to instant fame and success, while others who can write rings around you in their sleep, still have to work 2 other jobs to pay the bills. Life is capricious and luck is random...unless you already have a lot of money to spend to publicize your own stuff, in which case, how nice for you. PTHHP! (blowing raspberry.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do know people who have gotten RICH writing erotica, and I figured their work must be really really WOW. And some of them are amazing writers. And some of them can't string a proper sentence together. I try to be zen about this, but...

      Delete
  8. Life is really capricious. I blogged here early on in a post called "The Devil on my Shoulder" about the day I got my first royalties for my first published story collection and what a jaw dropping let down that was. That was when I knew not to quit my day job.

    I think one of the mysteries of creative work is why some make it and some don't. Mick Jagger said in an interview that when the Stones started out they were a pretty good little bar band but more than anything they were very lucky in the beginning. Talent is good, but luck is neccessary too. The best you can do is prepare yourself to be lucky.

    Garce

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Royalty statements of $1.20 are the reason I bit the bullet and set up self-publishing accounts.

      Delete
  9. OMG. Not only do I not know how to reach a wide audience of readers & become famous, apparently I don't know how to post a comment here that can be trusted not to disappear into the ether.

    Testing, testing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hit "sign out" instead of "publish" about 75% of the time...

      Delete
  10. Okay, that worked. So far, so good. I agree with what everyone else said. Apparently blogging is not a key to fame, even if one flogs one's blog in various social media.

    I sometimes wonder if coalitions of writers in the same field, such as the "Brit Babes" (British women who write erotica -- I had heard of them all before I heard of them as a group), reach a wider audience than all of them could as individuals.

    I am surprised that Lesbian Cops didn't sell well, partly because the publisher seems very successful, and partly because that anthology is especially well-written, featuring non-stereotyped characters. Maybe that's the problem.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My girlfriend's always telling me my lesbian stuff don't sell because it's too real. If I wrote pulpy fantasy lipstick lesbians instead of real people in real relationships I might sell a few copies. And I'm sure she's right because Nanny State is about as non-real as it gets and it's the only lesbian book that's earned me paying-the-rent money. It's also hot as fuck, so I think she's on to something. And Lisabet likes it, which is really the highest compliment.

      Delete
  11. I have the sense that a lot of erotica shoppers (at least online) buy by trope and by topic, not by the author's writing quality, distinctive writing voice, or fresh approach to the material. The only books with my name on the cover that have sold well are a series of short story e-collections on a particular fetish topic. The sales are almost all at Amazon, where there are a very finite number of books on this theme, which show up as "also boughts." Most of the customers buying these items of mine probably buy virtually everything on the topic and couldn't care less about my writing quality, writing voice, or individual approach. They certainly don't run off and buy my books from outside this series.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Every time I read a discussion like this, though, I wonder about myself. That's not how I buy books at all. (And I buy tons and tons of books—so many books). I always return to this—I am writing under the belief that there are other people like me out there. I don't know what else I can do, because I'm me. I can't step far enough outside my own perspective to understand some of these other behaviors.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I buy most of my books from the Toronto Public Library's "we're getting rid of these and they're a dollar" section or from the Victoria College Annual Book Sale, so, for a person who makes her living as an author, I'm really doing next to nothing to support other authors. Karma. Dude. It's all becoming clear to me now.

      Delete