You have been culled

When it comes to book authorship, the stat that matters is sales. There are lots of other stats you can follow, but they don’t mean much if they don’t result in sales. Most of the stats you can watch don’t result in sales.

If you are an Indie/self-published author, and you don’t have lots of time or money to spend on promotion, you might not see much movement in your sales numbers.

There are many reason why you may not have time for promotion: you work a day job; you have multiple family obligations (e.g. children); you need your limited spare time to write more books.

Likewise, there are good reasons you may lack funds for promotion: your day job doesn’t pay well; your family obligations outgrow their shoes every three months; Uber passengers complained because you were typing at a keyboard while you’re driving in your spare time.

Sorry children. Daddy bought a banner ad instead. You’ll just have share the one pair until the sales start rolling in.

Everyone has their crosses to bear, and anemic book sales is one of yours. Compared to keeping your family obligations healthy and in fitting shoes, it’s not even a heavy one.

But it’s the reason you bother to look at other statistics.

Other statistics are less important, but they’re probably more interesting than the drying wall of paint that is your sales total. They can keep you engaged in your own writing career (using career loosely) until that future day when you actually develop a writing career.

Goodreads offers a full menu of ancillary stats. These stats don’t mean much in terms of charting success, but an author can move them without a huge investment of time or money.

It’s kind of an illusion to make you feel better.

If it makes you feel better, it’s a useful illusion.

The easiest feel-good illusion to create on Goodreads is the “to read” line. You can bump this by giving away a single book. When people enter the giveaway, a percentage of them neglect to uncheck the box that puts the book on their “to read” shelf, making it appear as if new readers are getting ready to read your book.

Like all temporary stupors, this Giveaway buzz comes with a hangover. Periodically, Goodreads readers realize their own mortalities, and that no one is likely to read 250,000 books in one lifetime. They turn to their “to read” lists and weed out some of the whims and un-won freebies. This is your book. You have been culled.

Being culled is somewhere below spilled milk on the list of things to cry over. Yes, a number related to your book has gone down, which isn’t good, but it’s a fantasy number. “To read” numbers rarely translate into “currently reading” numbers, which is the only stat in the same neighborhood as sales.

There is no shame in being culled. It means there was a person who at one time was willing to accept your book if it were totally free and delivered directly to their home, and that’s a start. That person has moved on, and so should you, because it’s time to take your family obligations shopping for shoes again.

 

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The publishing process made me a better storyteller

Maybe I should have kept up my vigorous regimen of procrastination.

Fortunately, I hadn’t given up procrastination cold turkey, I was gradually easing off it as part of a 112 step program.

While I am waiting for my initial beta reader (wife) to list all the things wrong with the first draft of my latest book, I decided to twiddle my thumbs for a good long while before reworking one of the several unpublished novels I keep tucked away for later.

Incidentally, there are a many things wrong with the first draft of the latest book, so it may take her some time to compile them.

Thanks to the fascinating qualities of my twirling thumbs, combined with confluence of youth spring soccer and baseball seasons, and a big project at work, I have rewritten all of 12 pages in the last two months. The manuscript is more than 400 pages, so those dozen pages seem somewhat measly.

Yet, I am a man who can occasionally find sunshine in little things. (My initial beta reader may disagree with this, but she doesn’t always appreciate the subtlety of my understated sunshine.) I am pleased with what I have accomplished.

There’s a lot in those 12 pages. Mostly, there’s a much more engaging beginning to a story than there used to be.

I finished the draft of this novel about 10 years ago. I didn’t publish it because, though I believed it a good story, it wasn’t everything I wanted it to be and I didn’t know why.

Ten years later, I might have figured out why.

My presentation of the story did not measure up to the story itself.

In those 10 years, I could have written 10 novels and still not learned enough about storytelling. As it happens, in those 10 years, I spawned three children, so I may have changed 10,000 diapers but I didn’t write anything near 10 novels.

"How many diapers?"

“How many diapers?”

But it wouldn’t have mattered if I’d written 20. The thing that made me learn most about storytelling was publishing three books.

Publishing wasn’t a financial windfall by any means, but it was a learning experience, and a valuable one. Knowing I would put these stories before the public made me consider them from angles I’d never had to before. It made me focus on readers: how I took hold of them, how I held onto them, and where I led them. It forced me to act like a professional: to analyze my own work and that of competing writers with new attention to detail. It didn’t mean I was going to attempt to copy the successful ones, but it did make me think about the elements that made them a success.

The act of publishing made me more aware of many things about my books, but more than anything else, it made me constantly reevaluate how I present a story. There’s more to learn, but I’m better than I used to be.

If I can keep up this breakneck pace of rewriting, I may actually turn this old novel into a well-presented story to share in about five years or so.