For the past five years that I’ve ben self-publishing I have paid for zero marketing. I’ve paid for cover art and copy editing and that’s it. Everything amazing that’s happened to me and my books has been because of word of mouth. Sure, in the beginning of my career I spent hours planning a few blog tours for some of my earlier contemporary novels and the first book in my paranormal series. But at most I’d get about twenty reviews and never did those appearances translate into significant sales. For almost two years I’ve mostly just sat back in awe at how far my stories have travelled, watching silently while people talk about and share my books online.
But after two years of having to do absolutely nothing in order to generate sales (except write more books, of course) everything sort of fell off a cliff in January. According to other indies, the immediate drop-off in sales happened sooner–around November–when the world was in a state of panic, unable to concentrate on work, let alone reading for pleasure. There was too much to worry about. There still is. But at least the fear of falling into a “Handmaid’s Tale-like” dystopia has loosened its grip on the majority of us just enough for us to actually function. Not that it can’t happen, but even in the midst of resisting the rule of tyranny we also need to eat, and pay the mortgage, and do all of the other things necessary for survival, which means we need to make money, which means we need to work.
But how do you survive in a society on the precipice of total ruin when the product you sell is (for most people) not considered one of those essential elements of survival? Writers know the essential value of stories, but art, as well as the appreciation of art, is so incredibly subjective. This means that when the shit hits the fan no one is going to be concerned with reading more books. They’re just not.
But…we’re not totally there yet and there’s still hope that I can eke out a living a little while longer. But how? How, when people aren’t reading as voraciously as they used to? How, when people only have enough leftover energy to consume the news? How, when that news is so depressing that it makes “frivolous” activities like experiencing or creating art seem even more futile?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. All I can do is write more books–books about human beings who are learning how to cast out their demons and approach others with compassion–and take more control over how exactly my books find readers. Part of this means being willing to finally spend a little money on marketing, which I conceded to when applying for my first BookBub ad. I’m still monitoring the results, which I’ll be sharing on the blog in the coming days. But at the same time, there are still so many factors out of my control. And it’s scary. Not just as an artist but as a teacher and a daughter and a friend and a human being. But maybe I’ve been afraid of what’s next only because I’ve felt helpless to stop it. Maybe it’s time to stop being helpless.