It’s a little over a year since I published Scar, and the promotional effort has finally run out of steam, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the whole process of bringing a book like this into the world.
It's probably not going to come as a surprise that the publishing industry is a mess. But if you're new to the industry, you may not be ready for quite how chaotic it truly is.
By way of example; I was scheduled to be interviewed on a major national arts and culture program, the sort of coverage I barely dared dream of. For months, I was told I was going to be on the show – then suddenly, one day I wasn’t. Just like that, they decided not to do it. Likewise, I was told I would get coverage in a national newspaper; that didn’t happen either.
If I sound bitter, it’s because I am. I almost wish I hadn’t got so close, because I never expected to get coverage like that. But to be promised it, and to have those promises broken, took a huge chunk out of my enthusiasm. This is not in any way unusual, but for me, it was unexpected, so be warned. In media, nothing is real until it actually happens. I had to stop announcing upcoming interviews or reviews because so many of them fell through at the last minute.
I can’t complain about the coverage I did get, though. For an unknown writer with a self-published novel, I got a good deal of media attention – way more than many people in a similar position to me. And what did that attention get me? Next to nothing.
Luckily, I went into publishing Scar with what I hoped were reasonable expectations. ‘If it sells 500 copies’, I thought to myself, ‘I’ll be happy with that.’ Well, I’m not happy. Scar is still for sale, and as a self-published book on Createspace, will never go out of print; it’s possible that someone will be buying a copy of Scar after I’m dead. So the final numbers are never in. But with thousands of books published each and every day, and Scar now a year old, and with me no longer attempting to get any kind of media coverage, it’s safe to say that Scar has reached its twilight years. Not only am I nowhere near my dream of supporting myself through writing, I haven’t even recouped the money I spent bringing Scar to print and promoting it. Far from being a career, writing for me has become a massively expensive hobby. To date, I’d estimate I’ve sold less than 100 copies of Scar, in all its formats, and that includes friends and family who have bought it.
Yeah, it’s depressing. To work this hard on something, pour your heart and soul into it, and find that nobody gives a shit is not what an aspiring writer dreams of. I would not have chosen this.
But a more fundamental question is, if I could have known what the reception would be like for my book, if I could have known how disappointing this whole process would be, would I still have published Scar? The answer, if there was any doubt, is yes.
This is why attitude is crucial if you want to be a writer. If you’re writing because you think you’ll get rich, you’re doing it wrong. Breaking even is a dream for most of us. I wrote Scar because I wanted to, because I had things I wanted to say and scenes I wanted to write. I wrote Scar to address certain aspects of my past and of myself, to express certain ideas I had, and, if it doesn’t sound too grand, to change who I was. And I did all of those things.
Of course, I could have just written the book and left it at that. I didn’t need to put myself through the heartache of publishing and marketing a difficult novel in an ADD world. My reasons for doing that are not all that clear to me, mainly because I don’t have the heart to examine them too closely. I suspect that I would find something small and unpleasant at the bottom of it all, some pathetic craving to win the admiration of strangers which I have worked hard to weed out of myself in every other facet of my life.
Either way, Scar’s out there, and I don’t regret it. I’m upset that I failed, but not that I tried. There are things I would do differently; if I knew I’d sell less than 100 copies, I wouldn’t have spent thousands of dollars on marketing. But I would still have published, still gotten reviews, still done interviews. Doing those things was its own reward; I had fun doing it, which I didn’t expect. Failure is a prerequisite of life; hiding from it is ultimately the surest guarantee against both success and happiness. So no, I don’t regret publishing Scar.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to see a show put on by someone I consider to be one of Canada’s best songwriters. When he started playing that night, there were three people in the audience, including myself. By the time the show finished, the audience had peaked at four or five. Last night, I was talking about it with some friends. One of them voiced the opinion that if he were that songwriter, he would have left without playing anything; what’s the point?
I disagree, though. An audience of one is still an audience. I always said that if one person was moved by my book, one complete stranger who has no reason to lie, who doesn’t know me but truly loves my work, it would all be worth it. Well, that theory was put to the test with Scar. Some people have really loved this book. People I don’t know and will never meet, who only know me through Scar, were touched by what I wrote. That’s worth a lot.
So my advice to the hypothetical wannabe writer I loosely address this blog to is to be sure in yourself why you’re doing this, and be prepared to fail miserably. If it’s money and fame you’re after, put out a sex tape. Writing is a compulsion; it has to be, like a caged animal obsessively rubbing its body bare against the bars of its cage. There’s nothing else on this world I’d put anything like this amount of work into. My story goes to prove that you can work your ass off, do everything right and still fail.
Writing’s the only thing I ever wanted. The other things people want – material possessions, relationships, careers – never really interested me, and I never made any great effort to acquire those things. Interestingly enough, though, all of those things happened while I was busy chasing other dreams. Maybe there’s another lesson in there somewhere.
Will I write again? Almost definitely. Will I self-publish again? Quite possibly. The publishing industry is still the giant mess it was when I started this blog; in some ways, it’s probably worse. Until publishers start trying to publish quality writing and support and nurture new talent, instead of endlessly chasing the Next Big Thing by mindlessly aping the Last Big Thing, self-publishing still holds out hope to dreamers like me. But I’ll approach it with less starry-eyed optimism, I know that. I’ll work just as hard at writing something new, but I don’t see myself going to the same efforts to promote it. It turns out that all the promotion in the world is not going to make people like my books. Not many people, anyway.
It’s not all bad. A few weeks ago, my ten-year-old niece was told to do a project on somebody she admires. We live on separate continents, but she picked me, because in her mind, I’m this famous published novelist. And at the risk of sentimentality, that was worth more to me than any amount of glowing reviews.