The Shame of Selling Yourself
If you follow me anywhere online, then, because of my harping on about it, you’ll know that last week, I had a book come out on the Kindle. You might think that this is an exciting time; the ticker tape parade after the drudge, the sunny afternoons and children’s tea parties that follow the painful gestation. But you’d be wrong.
Look on people’s bucket lists, and alongside “Throw my arse out of a plane” and “a threesome with the Cheeky Girls,” you’ll also find “Write a book.” So surely, Millard, there’s a great sense of achievement that comes with bleeding your heart and soul onto the page and sharing it with the world; and a feeling of hope that, in finishing off the chapters, so begins a new, exciting chapter of your own life? Yeah, not so much. In truth, the weeks following a book’s release are a tedious, soul-destroying, grind of despair. The great thing about being an ‘Indie Author’ is that you have complete creative control to say whatever you want, however you want to say it, but everything else is a gigantic downside, as it’s you, and you alone, that gives a shit about making this thing sell.
I’ve gone through this a number of times now, and by this point, the giddy, youthful aspirations, and daydreams of wild sales figures ticking up like the hits on a website for videos of farting cats have been stamped right out of me. In its place remains the creeping dread of knowing that, come release day, I’ll have to switch into Salesman Mode. Salesman Mode is a necessary evil, particularly when, right now, this is my only source of income, which makes the whole process utterly terrifying, adding so much pressure, I can feel my bones grinding to dust beneath the weight of it all. But aside from the money, I happen to think I have a pretty fucking fantastic, original book, that I want to share with as many people as possible. Unfortunately, with the selling part so crucial, I seem to completely suck at it, so not much sharing happens, and not much money gets made. Which is bad. This time, I swore it would be my last crack of the whip, that I was done with ebooks and I’d spend my creative time more productively, so I’m here again for one final shot.
Here’s what it’s like to be an ‘Indie Author’. First off, you immediately become obsessed with sales and stats. Effectively, you can see how much money you are — or aren’t — making in real time, which psychologically, is nuts. The Kindle Publisher dashboard racks up the sales within about ten minutes of them going through, and pretty quickly this can become such a habit, you’re instinctively checking so often that you see the Kindle logo burned into your retina whenever you tab-out onto, say, Facebook, or a thumbnail gallery of redhead porn. It’s crazy how quickly you take this for granted, too, as one of those weird side-effects of this future-world we live in, whereas paper-book authors were given their tally once a decade, in the form of unearthed cave paintings. The immediacy of sales turns them into a constantly ongoing concern. You know if today’s piece of promotion didn’t work, exactly as it’s failing, and every bedtime is spent stewing over the day’s failures.
At this point, I check my sales the way the parent of a missing child looks beneath a sheet in a morgue. But it’s not just sales. As part of the whole ‘selling’ thing, there’s always a bunch of other stuff going on. Tweets, blog posts, pictures, posts on my Facebook Page, miscellaneous nonsense; and these too have measurable hit-counts to drive yourself insane with. It’ll happen with this thing you’re reading right now. My F5 key cowers like a scalded dog each time he sees the approach of a finger.
The thing about Salesman Mode is that there’s no way around the fact you will be mentioning the product you’re trying to sell. A lot. Book, album, Youtube video of you screaming into elderly women’s terrified faces in the park as a prank; most of us have something we really think the world should see. Look, I know it’s irritating to see that stuff if you follow me on Twitter, but I make a big point of doing it in the most entertaining way possible, with a new joke, or poster, or something that’s different than before, and hopefully a little entertaining, even as its own thing. But some people just take offence at you polluting this great forum of free speech, live TV commentary and hashtag pun games with your crass money-making schemes. Thousands of free tweets filled with nob gags and hi-larious news-based satire, and then, a couple of quick Amazon links, and it’s how dare you and goodbye. My Twitter follower count is currently in that Salesman Mode freefall, as people see yet one more plug and decide to cut me loose. But I feel like I’m at least going about that the right way.
The bulk of ‘Indie Authors’ follow a set pattern on social networking, which is to do the Social Networking Guru thing and follow as many people as they can — Following 64,323, Followers 64,104 — in the hopes of finding new streams to flood with generic, repetitive plugs. In the past, I’ve had a “thanks for following me, here’s the amazon link to my book!” DM, which is like being briefly introduced to someone at a party and coming home to find them clambering through your bedroom window.
So, outside of the social networking stuff, what do to? How to let the world know about the awesome thing that I did, that they should totally read, with zero budget, and without coming across like a needy, aggressive prick? Obviously the main thing would be online exposure on pop culture or book sites, but reviews like that are pretty impossible to come by. Most book review websites only want your paranormal romance-style genre stuff, or have a backlog of 18 months, and/or a horrifically high and mighty attitude for someone who’s basically figured out a way to get free ebooks while feeling important.
Then there’s the celebrity rub. I feel like my stuff, particularly the Beach Diaries, is a great fit with the young, pop-culture savvy, creative crowd, and I’m so confident in it, that generally, I think almost anyone, from suicidal ex-reality stars, to those whose word carries even more weight, would dig it. A cover quote, a “…fantastic, a literary masterpiece – Mr. T” in the Amazon blurb would get copies flying off the non-existent shelves, but how the fuck do you go about that? Famous types are super accessible these days, but that works both ways, and you’d be fighting against 10,000 requests for a retweet because “huge fan, there’s blood in my semen, plz rt” or an almost infinite number of Kickstarter appeals seeking that self-same rub. When in Salesman Mode, I’m in constant fear of being ‘that guy’, the one shamelessly pestering and tugging on sleeves, but is there a non-grubby way of saying “Look, I think you’re great. I love your work, and respect your opinion, and I’ve done this thing you might like…”?
Then, what to do? I guess I keep plugging away with what I’m doing now, in the hopeless hope that something sticks, and someone with pull decides to let everyone know, but really I’m just riding it out until I that sense of defeat kicks in, and I push it to the back of my mind and stop, and this thing I made that I love dies. For now, the salesman trudges on, because he has to.
So if I’m annoying you by mentioning that I have a book out, and that maybe you’d like it, then I’m kinda sorry, but not too sorry, because I don’t actually want to be living in a shop doorway come summer. I still feel apologetic and shameful, having to constantly whore myself, but as an ‘Indie Author’, this is my lot in life. At least, until Mr. T, or some other recognisable face or media entity decides otherwise.
(Incidentally, if anyone wants to review The Beach Diaries 2012 — or any of my books — on their website/blog, or is a semi-famous notable-type willing to give me a blurb quote, get in touch.)
Oh, and the book…