Monday, July 18, 2016

Defining Success

By Lisabet Sarai

A couple of weeks ago, I received my royalty report from Excessica for the first quarter of 2016. I opened it right away, very eager to see the sales numbers for my latest novel, The Gazillionaire and the Virgin (which by the way is currently half off at Smashwords).

The book came out at the very end of January. I invested a huge amount of energy and some significant money in promoting the new release. Among other activities, I organized a fifteen stop blog tour, with unique posts for each day and a $50 first prize. I sent out media kits to at least fifty author colleagues who sometimes post promo material for me. I booked (and paid for) features in two newsletters that highlight free or cheap books (after asking Excessica to do special price deals for a couple of weeks). Almost every day, I sent out one or two come-on quotes from the book via Twitter. I also contacted lots of sites to solicit reviews.

Reactions to the book were really enthusiastic. The book currently has a five star rating on Amazon. Readers wrote things like:

This book is one of the top five hottest books I have read. These were two of my most favorite lovers.”

Or:

I was completely drawn into this relationship, and the relationship IS the story.”

Or:

"Do I recommend this one? Oh hell yeah. Realistic D/s with hot as hell kinky sex? Yes, please!"

Obviously I was delighted by this reception. Maybe I’d figured out at last how to write a romance that could please the masses! Perhaps, after sixteen years, I’d finally written something that I could honestly label a best seller.

The royalty report poured some cold water on my hopes. In Q1 of 2016 (only two months, given the book’s release date), people bought 103 copies of the novel. Many of those copies were discounted or free.

I’d be lying if I claimed I wasn’t disappointed.

I’m sure the book will continue to sella few copies per month, considering the thirty-day cliff. So, given the current topic, I have to ask myself: Is this book a success? Am I?

It’s all relative. This is more copies than I’ve sold of any book since my first (which actually earned out its advance). I guess that should make me happy. It’s more copies than some of my author friends sell in a year, I know. Am I looking a gift horse in the mouth?

But I deserved to sell more, my bitter side whines. People who write the same book again and again sell thousands of copiesof each volume! And readers liked my book, that’s clear. All I need is more readers...

I don’t want to make myself miserable, though. I have to let it go. I value my peace of mind more than the money or the fame I’d imagined this book might bring me.

And it occurs to me, that the real definition of success just might be continuing to tell my stories, even if I’m not a best seller.

Or is that just plain stupidity and a waste of my scarce time?


13 comments:

  1. And it occurs to me, that the real definition of success just might be continuing to tell my stories, even if I’m not a best seller.

    Or is that just plain stupidity and a waste of my scarce time?


    Speaking for myself (and, as I think you know, I've been through something highly analogous in almost every respect), my big touchstone is that I refuse to delude myself. So, for me, it boiled down to a choice between continuing to write just because I wanted to, without kidding myself about how many readers I was likely to ever reach or how much good any of our "promo" could ever do—or not. Unrealistic hopes was not an option I would allow myself. So, in my case, I found I wasn't motivated to write books "just for me (and a very small number of readers)." Maybe, in your case, you'll decide otherwise—that it's worth doing for its own sake. It's not foolish or a waste of time if you choose it with your eyes open.

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    1. I for one deeply regret your decision to shelve your writing career, Jeremy. You may have been writing for a relatively small audience-- those of us who could appreciate your cleverness, warmth and sly humor -- but it wasn't just for yourself.

      And I can't seem myself stopping writing, regardless of how improbably commercial success might be. It's part of who I am.

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    2. Thank you so much, Lisabet—that really means a lot to me.

      It definitely sounds like you're doing the right thing in continuing to write, given your undying impetus. So then, returning to the question of "Is that just plain stupidity and a waste of my scarce time?" I would assume the best answer is a hearty NO! (:v>

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  2. I would be quite happy with numbers like that. But as you say, for the amount of work involved, it's not much compensation.

    I have always tried to turn my hobbies into businesses. Some of them make money, some don't; but the compensation is that I always enjoy what I'm doing.

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    1. I love the way you've lived your life, Daddy. Seriously, you are one of my heroes.

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  3. I'm sick and tired of those old canards: Do what you love and the money will follow. Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life. What a load of horseshit!

    I love teaching kids. They love me back. Doesn't matter the ages...elementary, pre-teen, teens...we relate to each other. And I knock myself out trying to help them learn. I preach respect and tolerance along with their grammar and literature lessons. I truly love what I do. But it IS work, and hard work at that. And I get paid so little that I have to work 2 jobs, 13-hour days during the school year. And still I don't quite make $20K for the year. It helps with the bills, but not by much. And I have to have a college degree for both jobs. I also have to pay to stay re-certified, every few years. And I can't wear jeans, so I have to have nice clothes.

    I originally thought I could write and make enough from sales to drop my second job. I dropped my third job, but can't afford to drop the second one. I don't know how writers support themselves. Luckily I'm not the main breadwinner in the family, or we'd be eating a whole lotta ramen noodles, mac and cheese, and day-old bread.

    My hat's off to you, Lisabet, for doing so much promotional activity. I'm sorry that you didn't get results commensurate with what you paid for, and put into it. BTW, I bought a copy and plan to read it on my vacation camping up north. Will write a review after I've read it. After all, you said I gave you the title! ;-D

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    1. I'm not sure I'd say "Do what you love and the money will follow." However, I am 100% sure that doing what you love is one of the prerequisites to true happiness.

      Having the financial resources to survive in relative comfort is another. It's awful when the two conflict.

      I've been fortunate to have another career that I also love, which pays enough for me to have that relative comfort. I will never be rich, but that's not a goal.

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  4. Hi Lisabet!

    I wonder if sometimes our shared torment is that we, as writers, have also bought into the mythology that people have about writers and the act of writing, or really any other art form. In public you see the big names. "Stephen King Master of Horror" and so on. On NPR radio hopeful new writers hear gushing reviews of their new literary books on obscure topics. Fresh Air has an endless parade of men and women whose life style or marriages went sour and they wrote about their angst and signed a movie deal. A baby boomer gets cancer and his/her first thought is "Can I get a book out of this?"

    For the vast, vast majority of us, its just a thing we do. Some do it better than others, some work harder than others, but the vast vast majority of - we just do it. We sell a few copies. Nobody promotes us unless we promote ourselves. We wonder how others like E L James knock it out of the park with awful books - did they sign a deal with the devil? How can we get that deal?

    There are people who get rich writing. Most people don't. We just do it because its who we are. Some birds are Eagles. Some are sparrows. But they're birds.

    Garce

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    1. Funny, but I never, ever fantasized about being a world-famous, successful author. So it's not really a "torment" for me. Just a certain level of frustration.

      And you're completely correct...we write because it's who we are. One of my bios says I've been writing since I learned to hold a pencil, and that is 100% true.

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  5. I wonder whether any published writer has tried the reverse of what certain big money makers have done. Instead of building a fan base in fan fiction first, then "filing off the numbers" and publishing, does anyone start with publishing and then try to make a mark in the huge fan fiction community? Would it pump life into your backlist? Probably not. Probably the fan fiction groups would resent you. And it would take a whole lot more time and energy than I could give it. Cecilia Tan may be making a success of it, but she's completely genuine in her Harry Potter obsession, and it's not all that likely that her current success with erotic romance books owes anything to the fan fiction community.

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    1. Are Cecilia's Magic University books selling well? I'm delighted.

      She's one example of a stellar author who has labored for twenty years, writing what SHE enjoys. I greatly admire her.

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  6. I suspect you're right that such a strategy would be unlikely to work—and the specific reason I say that is my assumption that the fan-fic community is used to reading for free and, generally speaking, not interested in buying books. Similarly, this may be a reason why those of us whose stories were appreciated when they ran at the various free webmagazines didn't necessarily succeed in persuading those readers to buy our books. When the Oysters & Chocolate site launched a book-publishing offshoot—with much fanfare—they couldn't even carry that many of their own website's followers over into buying books written by authors considered "favorites" at the site.

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    1. Indeed, free books are driving out all of us who are trying to actually make a bit of money. Have you seen the "boxed set" phenomenon?

      In the early days of software CDs, this was called "shovelware".

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