On this date in 2012, I published a novel, One Night in Bridgeport. Back then, the whole self-publishing craze was still somewhat new and developing. I think. Maybe it wasn’t and I was just late to the game. But in my memory, it seemed like self-publishing was still an experimental concept. Earlier in the year I published two collections of short stories to give the process a try. To see how it worked. And then I moved on to Bridgeport.
Originally written a number of years before, I put it through two edits, cutting out over 20,000 words. And I published the thing. My sister designed the cover, a cover I like. I no longer remember the details of my marketing efforts, but I sold a few dozen copies and downloads and then offered it free for a few days and something like 6,000 or 7,000 people downloaded the book. And then I offered the download for .99 and sold a couple thousand more and then there was this and then there was that. And overall I made a couple thousand bucks on the book. I got some really good reviews on Amazon and Goodreads from people who don’t even know me. And I got some really bad reviews, which I value just as much as the good reviews because in each bad review (well almost all of them) there is a kernel of truth.
A year later, I published Weed Therapy, my second novel and I had plans to publish another novel the following year and then another and another. But something happened with that plan. Weed Therapy completely and totally flopped and I learned something. In the world of self-publishing, genre sells, literary doesn’t. And then there was the little problem with Weed Therapy being an incredibly personal story and the act of publishing it caused a little bit of strife. So I de-published it.
Ever since, I have struggled in many ways with the art of writing and the business of publishing. While I have written a number of short stories over the past three years, completed a novella, and started several novels, I have not been able to convince myself of the right approach to publishing. And, ultimately, I have convinced myself that self-publishing is no longer a real option for what I do. My heart lies in literary fiction, not in genre fiction. I value the challenge of writing different stories in different ways and most of what I’ve tried over the last few years is most decidedly not in the genre category.
But I actually want to make some money doing this thing. I put a lot of myself into my writing. A lot of effort. A lot of sweat and tears and I believe I deserve more than “free” or .99 cents per reader. The world of self-publishing has developed into something where if you want readers you basically have to give your work away. And I’m not interested in that. I want an audience but I also want to earn something for my effort.
There are plenty of other things I can do with my time if nobody wants to pay for the product of my efforts. Plenty of other things. There are a lot of writers who claim that they “cannot not write.” For a period of time, I probably put myself in that category. But, again, something happened over the past few years. I’ve taken to referring to it as “somewhere along the way I feel like I’ve forgotten how to write.” I think there’s some validity to that statement, but there’s also some truth to the idea that I’m not sure I see the point in it anymore. I’m beginning to see a world in which “I can not write,” no matter how many stories continue to bubble along in my head.
As a writer or artist, once you think you’ve attracted an audience that makes your effort worthwhile, it’s hard to go back to a world in which you don’t. I thought that maybe those thousands who got Bridgeport were the beginnings of my audience. I’m not expecting that I’ll ever achieve best seller status, although it would be nice, but I thought that each book would build upon the other and eventually, I’d have a real audience that followed me from book to book. From book one to book two, that definitely didn’t happen. (Yes, that’s a small sample size. Very small.)
When I first set out to write Bridgeport I never expected to publish it. That was only a dream that was really beyond my comprehension of how it could actually come true. I just wanted to see if I could write a novel. That was it. That was my objective. I had no concept of whether what I was writing would attract an audience, whether readers would enjoy the story. I just wrote a story to see if I could do it.
Once I did that and then started writing other stories and coming up with all sorts of ideas for more and more stories, something changed. And when I published Bridgeport and people started downloading it, something else changed. I started caring about what readers might think. I wanted to make sure I wrote stories and novels that could grow my small audience. Kind of. The reality is that I have these ideas for stories and novels. They are mine. They are stories that speak to me and I have no idea if they will appeal to the masses. Although I think they have the potential to. But the allure of a paying audience is strong. So strong. It keeps me second-guessing what I write when I can force words onto a page. It fills me with doubt and uncertainty.
I need to get away from that. I need to get back to the simple idea of this … an idea for a story, can I write it. From beginning to end. Screw an audience. Screw publishing. Just write. Or not.
That’s where I’m at. Four years later. Depending on how you want to count these things, four or five half-completed novels. Some short stories that could be the starts to even more. And I’m trying to focus on one of them now. To just write it and see where it takes me. Without consideration for publishing or for you, my readers. It’s time for me to write again free of those types of thoughts and challenges.