Thursday, February 20, 2014

Marketing-Related Depression

by Giselle Renarde

I never read just one book at a time. I've always got about four on the go.  At the moment, those four would be (in the fiction category) The Bonfire of the Vanities, and (in the non-fiction category) A History of Mistresses by Elizabeth Abbott, Buzzmarketing by Mark Hughes, and Who Cares Wins: Why good business is better business by David Jones.

Yup, I read a lot of business and marketing books. A lot of them.

Why?  Because writers are businesses, these days.  Writers are marketers.  It doesn't matter whether you're traditionally published, self-published, or hybrid--if you put pen to paper for profit, you need to get yourself out there.  Sell! Sell! Sell!

At least, that's what I've been hearing from every blogger everywhere since forever. It sounded like it was probably true, so I really went at it.  I've been reading marketing and business books for years, trying to establish innovative and ethical marketing plans for my books.  I really work at this.  I do.

And does it make a bit of difference?

A bout of depression came over me this weekend--a work-related bout of depression. It started when last month's Amazon royalty statement came in.  I only set up my self-publishing accounts last October, but I have such a huge backlist and so many previously published works whose rights had reverted to me that I already have... I'm going to say 50-60 ebooks on the market?  Maybe more than that.  Everything from erotic shorts to box sets.  Just a lot of material.

So, how much did my self-publishing account earn me in January?  At, $71.  Seventy-motherfucking-one dollars. With dozens of books on the market.

Wouldn't you be depressed?

If you're an author, you're either thinking "Yeah, you suck" or "Yeah, it sucks" or "You made $71? I want $71!"

Some authors are really really super-successful.  I know they exist because I know them.  I know A LOT of them.  And then, on the flip side, I read a study that said most writers (and we're not just talking self-published authors) earn less than $1,000 a year.

It's getting to the point where I have no idea whether I'm doing well. What I NEED out of my writing (considering it is my career) is to pay my bills.  Sorry, but $71 isn't going to cover my rent. Yes, I have many other books placed with many other publishers, but I've kind of got self-publishing tunnel vision right now.

I start to scramble.  I start thinking, "What could I do differently?  I try so hard.  How can I fail so miserably?"  I used to think it was because I was a terrible writer.  And then I actually read work by other (popular!) authors in the genre and I realized that, yeah, there are some amaaaazing writers out there, but there are even more terrible writers (not YOU, obviously), and even MORE middling ones--like me. Realistically, most of us are middling.

But are other middling authors rolling in dough?  Some are, yes.  But most of the authors who seem popular?  Do they actually have sales or do I just think of them as "popular" because they give that impression?

Can you taste my anxiety?

I don't even know, guys.  Sometimes I'm like, "Why do I even bother?  Why try?  Why not just write and be a hermit and not bother marketing at all?"

If you've got all the answers, I'd love to hear them.  Because I've done a hell of a lot of reading and I still don't have a clue.


  1. If it's any consolation, virtually every business tended by one person is going to be a handful. Here, you are not only selling wholesale, retail, blogging, doing synopses, readings, reviewing, advertising the product, but you're creating the product as well. That's lots of work, and we all expect to be paid for work, don't we? Many self-run businesses can't make money. I would know. I started several, and struggled with each one. Luckily, Momma X had a steady career.

    But technology has outpaced my ability to keep up. If I did everything necessary to be financially successful (and if I had the talent) it'd take all my time, and I really couldn't be as effective in creating the product in the first place.

    So I guess I'm saying I also don't have a clue. I kinda approach this as a hobby. I submit to an altho every now and then, and have been surprised and delighted when I have things accepted. I'm happy to be a medium-sized fish in a small pond. Of course, Momma and I both get Social Security, and our little house is paid for.

  2. I have no clue either. Some people seem to do well with online networking, but as far as I can tell the subset of people who actually buy books (and take part in this networking as readers) have no interest in the kind of thing I write and edit, that is, erotic short stories.

  3. And I'm certainly not the one to be asking either. I'm in the school of, "You made $70 IN ONE MONTH? My checks are usually half that or less, for a 3-month period, and I'm with 3 publishers and have 15 books out there." Phew. Now that's out of my system.

    Husband says I can't claim any tax breaks for being in business because I spend hundreds of dollars every year in paying for promotions, buying ads, buying my own books, either to sell (I don't pay sales tax, so that's another can of worms I'd have to deal with if I claimed this was a business) or to give away in contests. So my meager earnings are WAY overshadowed by what I spend trying to get noticed. And might I add that subbing is sporadic work, so sometimes I'm charging what I don't have, when it's a time-sensitive ad, and the credit card never gets paid off!

    But I don't write kazillionaire meets virgin stories. I also don't write what the other current hot genres are either, apparently. And many of the sites I'm a regular visitor/commenter on, always review the same authors, maybe 15-20 or so, and it's like a private party and no one else can play. Sometimes I gnash my teeth in frustration because I've written a book that sounds exactly like someone just described they'd like to read, but if I respond with my website or book title, I'm spamming and I'll get censured. But how the hell else do I get noticed?

    Daddy X, I just hope I live long enough to be able to retire. We have a couple more years of multiple kids in college, then the long, hard road of paying off what we borrowed, and trying to help them any way we can, while they pay off what they borrowed. My dream is to be like you and Mama X. I hope we get there...eventually. But I've already told the husband he'll have to go out fishing by himself. I'm not going to bring my laptop out on the canoe, only to have it fall into the water! He can go fishing...I'll stay home and write.

  4. Ah Giselle! I don't blame you for being depressed. I've been going through similar times, but then, I'm not trying to support myself through my writing. If I were, I'd be in a panic.

    I blogged about part of this problem recently:

    The market is completely flooded and some of what is out there is just plain crap.

    However, Fiona has put her finger on another problem. The number of readers who want the sort of edgy, transgressive, weird, taboo-laden stories you write is small compared to the number who want "kazillionaire meets virgin" stories.

    Does that mean there's no hope for a grandslam? Not necessarily. Every now and again something truly weird and original catches the public's attention. However, you have to shout to be heard above all the authors peddling more of the same.

    I'll tell you one thing, though. I wouldn't bother reading marketing books. What works for one person will definitely not work for someone else. You'd be better off writing - or fucking.


    Honestly, I tried to write a "kazillionaire meets virgin" book and it quickly became too ME. By the end of the first chapter, I actually LIKED the damn thing, which is not what I was going for. It's finished now, and it's good by my standards, but the kazillionaire is far from Alpha and the the virgin is a single mother, so... yeah.

    Thank god for you and that blog post you linked to, Lisabet. I needed to hear all that.

  6. What do you think of the school of thought that says marketing is a waste of time that would be better spent writing stories? The reasoning behind this idea is that readers have seen so much advertising they're pretty much immune to it.

  7. Giselle, I don't have great answers either, but I definitely recognize what you're talking about. It's depressing to work very, very hard for little recognition or reward (and sometimes the opposite). Lisabet, I'm glad that post exists! I read it in my feed reader last week, but when I went to comment it had dematerialized. Not sure what the glitch was there.

    As far as reading marketing books, I have pretty mixed feelings. As someone who used to work with social media, I was very aware of how many marketing "experts" had no idea what they were talking about. And with social media and Internet marketing especially, things are changing very fast and I think most people don't have great answers even if things weren't changing so much.

    Sybil, it is hard for me to hold to that school of thought because I constantly feel peer pressured to do more marketing, but my experience and the data I do have suggests it is correct, at least for me. I think there's more reasoning than what you mention, though flooding is certainly a factor. The thing I've discovered is that I find writing pleasant and I can be productive at it, but you should hear the whining and misery that starts in my house when I have a blog tour scheduled. The emotional effort, the time, and the cost of tours and giveaways and many similar popular marketing tools are absolutely not worth the return according to the data at my disposal (ie they do not translate into enough sales to justify what they cost me emotionally and financially). Perhaps this means I'm not good at those things, but that needs to be taken into account.

    1. You're absolutely right, I was over-simplifying. Another piece of it is the thought that the best marketing for a book is the author's other great stories. The more books and stories someone puts out, the more likely one of them gets noticed, and each book serves as advertisement for the other books.

      In comparison, marketing doesn't give any value to the reader, so it's easy to ignore.

      It resonated with me as a reader, but I don't know. Maybe no one knows.

    2. I often think about my own behavior as a reader, which I'm not sure is typical. I definitely will notice an author's work in an anthology and then check out other stuff written by that person, so that makes me feel that being in anthologies is good. I also pick up books that I read about on blogs, but I tend to want the mentions to be truly organic. Since that's what makes sense to me as a reader, I sometimes feel that's what's going to work for me as a writer.

      I tend to unfollow, say, Twitter accounts that are wall-to-wall pleas to buy books, so that also seems like an unsuccessful tactic.

      There are things like giveaways that one could argue are giving value to the reader. As far as that goes, the best advice I have seen is to do them if it's fun for you but not if it isn't. Based on the calculations I have done, it's difficult to come out ahead on a giveaway (you have to sell a lot of books to make up for what you spend on the giveaway in many cases, or, if you're just giving away a backlist title, I'm not convinced you sell any books or that the title you've given away is read).

      In any case, I keep coming back to the idea that you've brought up—that the best use of my time is writing. That's due to personal preference as well as the math that I can do based on my royalty statements and costs. I do read one marketing blog religiously (Kristine Kathryn Rusch's), and I'm so faithful about it because she does this sort of calculation to figure out what's justified. She always says that any marketing must pass the "Would I Be Better Off Writing?" test. I have not been great about sticking to that advice, but I will say that the longer this goes on the more sense it makes to me. As you point out, when I write a story, that's something I hope people actually want to read and that it will draw people to my other work. For a lot of marketing, I write lots and lots of words and I'm not sure anyone reads them at all.

      On the other hand, I think it's important not to overlook things like the cover copy that goes with a book. That's a form of marketing—I certainly read blurbs to inform my purchasing decisions—and in the case of things like that, designing good covers, etc, I think it's well worth the time.

    3. I also unfollow twitter accounts that are all "buy my book" (even if I consider the person a friend).

  8. I see a marketing hiatus coming on. Not sure I could stick to it, though. I'd feel like I was letting down... someone? I don't even know who. My publishers, I guess.

    The most successful author I know (personally) never did any marketing when she started and her books sold like a motherfucker, but her work is infectiously good.

    1. I always worry that my publishers will think I'm not willing to support my books if I don't make the effort to do some marketing. I am still searching for ways that I can demonstrate my commitment to my books without wasting my own time or making myself crazy.

  9. Hi Giselle!

    I'm getting back to everybody so late these days.

    I think a lot of success is pure luck. period. I'm not the only one who thinks so. I heard an interview with Mick Jagger on Fresh Air and he said a lot of the Rolling Stones early success was sheer luck. "We were a very lucky band." I read an interview with Bryan Cranston, lately TV superstar and 4x Emmy Award winner for "Breaking Bad" and he said the same thing. He said there are actors who are very talented. persistent and patient - and they'll never hit the big time - just because of luck.

    What can you do?


    1. That's funny--I heard a radio host talking about that Mick Jagger interview this week. In my mind, it tied together with this post.


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