There is one huge advantage to having had a lot of failure in your life. It’s not for want of trying, of course. But, as the old song says, “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”
Not that I believe in luck, to be honest. Decisions, happenstance, and circumstances, I believe, dictate what we get from life. We need to own our mistakes, not in a negative way, but at least in an honest fashion. If we are the guy who uses up his mental faculties in working out why a result was not his fault, rather than in analyzing what went wrong, we learn nothing.
When you have tried and failed as many times as I have, though, you get a little cynical. When The Road Out sold very poorly, I naturally felt some disappointment. Two years of careful application of everything I was taught resulted in a book that went to 96 sales and stopped. Those sales were generated by the people I know and love.
When I started on The Sixteen Galaxies, I was determined to do better. I realized The Road Out was a difficult book to slot into a genre. At the time, I saw this as a good thing; something different should sell well, shouldn’t it?
If I was an established writer on top of my game, then yes, it should. As a first book, though? No. So, that was the first thing. I aimed the second book solidly at a specific genre. I am a science fiction aficionado, so it felt natural to go that way.
Second thing to address was the price. I felt justified in putting a $5.00 price tag on the first book. Two years work, the input of a respected best-selling author, why would it not be worth that? Unfortunately, that kind of hubris hurt sales badly.
So, let’s look at this as honestly as possible. Who am I in the literary world? To be frank – a nobody. What matters when no name or reputation precedes you? What matters is that people read your work, and that the quality of that work is worthy of some credit. As you progress, one would hope that the writer is justly rewarded. If, that is, they persevere, and continue to learn and apply.
So, I put The Sixteen Galaxies out for 0.99c, and put a 5 day free promotional on it straight away.
Many rail against people selling books cheap or for free. It makes it harder for everyone else. That is true, completely true. However, the reality is that the e-book has yielded the world this industry we now have. Adapt, or die, it’s that simple.
I’ve seen all this before; experienced it first-hand, in fact. After I had been playing drum-kit for a couple of years, it started getting harder to get gigs. The clubs around Brisbane had discovered something they thought was fantastic; the backing track. Now, they could provide “Live Entertainment” at a fraction of the cost, by hiring a duo or solo “Artist” who stood scraping an acoustic guitar and crooning out the classics, with an orchestra in a tin behind him.
Many, many bass players and drummers quit. Bands found themselves paying clubs to appear, in the hope they could garner enough of a following to at least earn some fuel money. The backing track drove a truck through the local music scene and many a second-rate guitarist discovered that tinned musicians didn’t complain about their awful timing and bum notes, and they actually got work for the first time in their lives.
Things hit rock bottom when the mime artists surfaced. These guys were the worst of the worst; recording all their sets (sometimes even paying session guys to do it) and then miming to them on stage.
However, karma kicked in. Clubs found that nobody would pay a cover charge for some scraper with a jukebox, and only poker machines saved their necks financially. Most people simply stopped going to clubs for live music.
Dark days, and the scene lost many good musicians. It never really recovered here. Except for a few guys. They were the ones who kept playing anyway, because they loved doing it, and they were subsequently good at it. I was one of those guys. My health prevents me gigging now, but I would have no trouble getting a chair with a good band these days.
I think writing needs the same approach. Becoming an author is no more of a good career choice than it was before Amazon came along. It’s just that instead of spending years sending out manuscripts in the hope of being one of the fortunate few, we are now publishing books with the same hope. If you’re only in it to make money, then churn out books at a ferocious rate, and sheer volume may bring in enough dollars to make it worth it.
I personally choose the other road, the same one I went down with my music. I have accepted the low return as the path that needs to be trodden to net a greater reward; satisfaction. My track record with music is one of tenacity and a dedication to doing better next time. Writing shall be no different, I promise you that.