Monday, December 8, 2014

NINJA STUFF: Author, Year One (Part One - Fortune and Glory)

This is to be the last post of the year, Esteemed Reader, as I'm shutting down for the holidays. We'll start up again sometime in January with new guest posts and interviews with writers and publishing professionals and I might even review a book or two or finish that chapter-by-chapter retrospective of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (the internets need more posts about Harry Potter!). But as you may recall, when I began my experiment in indie publishing a little over a year ago, I promised to share my experiences with you, so I thought we'd end the year with my thoughts on being an author so far.

Rather than telling you once again about the books I've published, I'd like to begin with a discussion of expectations and setting them properly that I think is relevant to all authors, whether traditionally published or otherwise. Based on chatting with a number of writer friends after publishing their debut novel and my own experience, I want to write a post assuring debut novelists that they're not alone.

If you find yourself moping a bit after the publication of your first book, it's completely understandable as most major happy life events are followed by a bit of moping to balance emotion--I find this is best offset with exercise and ice cream:) If you find your moping to be sliding on toward ruminating or depression, odds are that you haven't set realistic expectations for what life as a published author is going to be like.

As you know, I'm now wildly rich and famous and would someone please tell Steven Spielberg to stop calling me for ideas as I'm far too busy counting my money and reading my fan letters and marriage proposals from around the world. My hometown has recently been renamed Ninjasburg and all the girls who snubbed me in high school, recently renamed Robert Kent High School, have written to tell me how wrong they were and to assure me they cry their eyes out every night with bitter regret. Also, I have reason to believe I'm developing super powers, so my first year as an author is going pretty well:)

Obviously, none of the previous paragraph is true, nor would I want it to be (except the bit about superpowers--those would be sweet). In the information age, I can imagine few fates worse for someone than to become famous. I like twitter mentions and FB posts from strangers and I've got no problem speaking in front of a crowd (I once wanted to be an actor, after all), but real fame on the level of say, John Green, looks to be a hassle.

I occasionally make an emergency run to Kroger in sweat pants with my unwashed hair poking in all directions and I'd hate to be stopped while looking so slovenly by someone asking "aren't you that author fella?" Nor would I want people talking about how much money I must be making as I have no desire for a target on my back. A server friend of mine once waited on Stephen King and confessed that he and the rest of the restaurant staff gathered and stared at him and his daughter while they ate their lunch. I personally witnessed Michael Chabon being yelled at for his success while the screaming stranger's manuscripts had been rejected. And I mean really yelled at to the extent security moved in, as though Wonder Boys had taken the last publishing slot available.

This same waiter friend once told me he loved to play video games because most of us are destined for lives of mediocrity anyway, so why not fantasize about being something great for a few hours each night. I love video games, but I'm not living a mediocre life and I hope you don't feel you are either, Esteemed Reader. I'm not the President, or, more important, a teen idol, but I don't want to be either of those things. I'm perfectly happy being who I am and should future historians fail to note my many accomplishments, I won't be around to read their histories anyway, so I can't imagine I'll be bothered by the grievous omission. If friends and family think of me and smile, that will be memorial enough. Is being beloved by most of recorded history after he died penniless and in relative obscurity doing Mozart any favors?

I bring all this up because we Americans live in a celebrity-obsessed, capitalist society. It's just our time and place in history. Even if you don't subscribe to the idea that only the most rich and famous among us are truly successful, you'll be impacted by the fact that so many Americans do. One of the great absurdities of our age is the masses of Americans living lives better than any of the generations that came before them longing to be the folks at the very top, while the folks at the top appear largely miserable. If happiness in this life is being rich and famous, what is the deal with Mel Gibson, Robin Williams, Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, next year's celebrity drug-related suicide, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera?

Of course, despite these words, you may crave fame, Esteemed Reader. If so, you will probably have better luck dropping this writing thing and setting up a YouTube channel (or work as a cashier at Target).

I've been asked more times this year than at any other time in my life how much money I'm making. After all, I have books available, so I must be making bank right? And somehow the fact that a portion of my income now comes from writing seems to make it okay for people to ask about a dollar figure in a way it wasn't when I was just working a regular job. I never answer the question as it isn't anyone's business, but I'm doing much better than I thought I would, not as well as I would if I spent my writing time day trading. But I'd keep writing and publishing even if I made no money.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: if making lots of money is your primary desire, writing isn't the way to do it. Yes, a handful of authors take off and make tons of cash. Some people also win the lottery. Neither writing nor lottery playing are strategies to great wealth for the majority of participants. If it's money you want, get 50k, a day trading investment account, and a copy of Technical Analysis of the Financial Markets (a great read, but never going to be a Book of the Week).

One advantage of knowing so many writers is that I was able to appropriately manage my expectations prior to publishing. I've been to plenty of author events where I was one of three attendants and I've talked with no small number of authors during the launch of their debut novel as they agonize over the lack of feedback in the form of sales and reviews.

I'd be lying if I didn't admit a small part of me fantasizes every time I hit the publish button that I'm triggering a mushroom-cloud explosion of excitement across the internet so great that every reader will stop what they're doing to immediately read my book. A horn will sound from the heavens heard around the world so that every head shall turn and there will be a rash of airplane crashes and automobile wrecks as pilots and drivers are too riveted by my new book to pay attention to the sky or road.

I have a similar version of this fantasy every time I publish a post at this blog. It never happens, even when it's an interview with somebody really famous. Instead, what happens is my most dedicated readers who follow me on Facebook and Twitter show up and traffic gets an initial burst, then it ebs and flows and builds steadily before tapering off. The number of readers varies depending on the post, but the pattern of traffic doesn't: A bunch of folks, a few more, another burst when the post gets retweeted and shared, a few more folks, a steady stream for a time followed by diminishing numbers until the next post.

When I started this blog, I used to watch those numbers like a hawk, refreshing every 30 seconds and celebrating a new reader with a cheer. Now I look at them once or twice a week, and sometimes not at all. I still celebrate new readers, but there's so many of them I can't spend all day cheering:) I know what the traffic numbers are and if I think about them too much, I begin to feel like I'm standing on a great stage.

But I also know a secret: whatever the number of people who read a blog post when it's first published, it's a tiny fraction of the number of people who are going to read it over time. Sometimes blog posts suddenly surge in traffic months or even years after they're published. When I do check traffic numbers, I'm frequently surprised to find some old blog post I forgot I wrote has suddenly become the most popular thing on the blog. This blog is available to readers all around the world while I'm sleeping, and they read it whenever it's convenient for them, irrespective of when I would prefer they read it.

I got an email from an excited reader of All Together Now last week with questions about the characters. For this reader, it doesn't matter that I published that book a year ago and I'm not really thinking about zombies any longer as I'm focused on Banneker Bones 2. She didn't care that I had to check old notes for details about Ricky Genero. For her, the story just happened, and the book will be available a year from now and five years from now and 50 years from now to have "just happened" for readers I'll probably never meet. Every month that book sells more copies than it did the previous month and certainly more than it did its debut month.

As of this posting, Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees hasn't set the world on fire, but it's only been out a month. Let's give it a minute:) I've been less concerned with promoting the book than with publishing it and making sure it's done right. Now that I'm comfortable with the version currently available to follow me around for the rest of my life, I have forever to promote it. I'm going to be talking about that book while I promote its sequels and when I publish my next horror story. Whatever I write or do for the rest of my career, readers who seek out my writing will find Banneker Bones waiting for them, and some of them will tell their friends about him.

We live in a world of instant gratification, but books, however published, depend on word of mouth and word of mouth takes time. The best thing for an author to do while he or she waits is to write the next book. After all, however long from publication a reader finds a book, if they love it, they're going to want another book by the author. If they don't love it, it might be better if the next reader finds a different book by the author:) Either way, another book will be needed.

In the second part of this post, I'll talk about how becoming a parent informed how I approach publishing, some of the successes I've had, and Nicholas Cage. Same Ninja time, same Ninja channel.

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