I’m up to 233 Twitter followers, yay me. I give a lot of attention to my tweeps, and feed them a steady stream of entertaining true fact/bar facts, twitter-tales and newly invented words, interspersed with those not so entertaining but oh so critical calls to action (“Buy my book! No, that one! No, the other one!”) without which the whole endeavor would be a massive exercise in pointless self-indulgence. But you know what? There’s a massive element of self-indulgence in it anyhow, as I flatter myself to think that my mots are all that bon, that someone somewhere is hanging on my every tweet. (Well, why not? I mean, perpendiculous is a good word, and the world’s been crying out for it.) I confess that I take way more than inordinate pleasure in noting the addition of new followers. In the case of Twitter, then, I’ve found a way to strike a balance between grudging acceptance of a social network chore and genuine enjoyment in the task. File all of this under the heading of “getting used to the new model.”
And don’t think you’re not part of this. I’ve already told you that these monthly contributions to WriterUnboxed, and the immediate (and mostly positive) feedback I get make writing and posting these columns something I’ve really come to look forward to. Not only that, they really force me to focus and articulate my thoughts on what I’m going through as an author of the new model. Clarity? Never a bad idea. And the fact that some of you have joined my Cavalcade o’ Tweeps or friended me on Facebook or even – who knows? – bought one or another of my books or ebooks is just a certain sort of gravy on the cake. (And yes, that phrase was written exactly as intend because, among other things, these columns grant me full License to Whimsy, which license I never need to be coaxed to exploit.) So here again I have reached a rough accommodation between meeting my emotional and creative needs as a writer and carving out, by achingly slow degrees, a new way of selling myself to the world.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that new way lately, and taking giant steps not just toward accepting it but actually embracing it. A big turning point in my thinking came just last week when I received the latest royalty statement for my two Random House novels, The California Roll and The Albuquerque Turkey. These books are not selling well. How not-well? I did a quick calculation and determined that, at current rates of sale, the books won’t earn out their advance until sometime early in the 22nd century. Good thing I got those advances, huh?
But here’s the thing: Three, four years ago, when I was making those deals and getting those advances, I had a viable corporate customer in Random House. The notion of mid-list authors selling to big publishing houses still had some traction. (And maybe I’m flattering myself by calling myself mid-list, but whatever.) Today, scant years later, that model is dead – dead as disco in the hearts of the unforgiving. I can’t sell to corporations anymore. I can only sell to folks.
The good news is, I can sell to folks, and as you know, I’m doing everything in my power to fill my Amazon author pages with all kinds of product, everything from previously unpublished novels to flights of fancy like Decide to Play Drunk Poker to (one day soon, you betcha) JV Unboxed, Volume 1, my first collection of Writer Unboxed essays. I’ve also branched out into audiobooks, recording my own works, publishing them through Spoken Word, Inc. and distributing them through audible.com. I am of the completely unsubstantiated opinion that audiobooks are a growth vector for me, that I can find a market for people who want to hear, specifically, me reading my works, on the assumption that the author will inject a certain heart and nuance into the read that no professional narrator, no matter how polished, could capture. If I’m right in this, I will have found yet another way of trying to get rich two bucks at a time.
I have no choice. Gone are the fat advances of 2008. I’m not even sure I miss them all that much. After all, big publishers never did much of anything for me except publicity (which they didn’t do), marketing (which they didn’t do) and distribution (which they didn’t do). So I’m left with the grass-roots approach, building my network of fans of my work and friends of my efforts, and doing it one tweep at a time, one reader at a time, one pair of eyes or ears at a time. By luck or self-hypnosis, I’ve come to enjoy the network-building part of the job in ways I wouldn’t have imagined. Maybe it’s self-indulgence, but at least it’s real. My Twitter feed tells me that I have one more fan today than yesterday. And that’s not nothing.
Know what else? The effort has completely re-energized my writing life. Knowing that I am now solely responsible for what I release, and when and how I release it, my mind is alive with Big Big Plans. I intend to launch one new novel every six months if I can manage it. And I think I can manage it. I’ve written six so far, and they’ve all taken me about six months. In between, I’ll litter my product stream with whatever small efforts I see fit to spawn. Maybe JV Unboxed. Maybe Christmas stories. Maybe my memoir in sections. It can be anything at all, anything I want, because, for better or for worse, this particular inmate is now fully in charge of this little asylum. I don’t have to get rich two dollars at a time. I don’t even have to get rich. I just have to keep writing (which I would do anyway), keep reaching out to my fans (which I would do anyway), keep promoting myself (which I would do anyway), and keep enjoying my days.
Per this latter, let me close with the most profound definition of success I’ve ever heard: “Success is enjoying your days.” And when I wake up in the morning and find that my Twitter feed has grown by leaplets and boundlets, I have every reason to believe that today, at least, I’m going to enjoy my day.