Recently, I put up four of my unpublished novels on Amazon in Kindle and publish-on-demand paperback versions. The books are out there, and now I am encouraged to market them. Here’s an example of such encouragement, picked at random from many such:
“Achieving publishing success is 5% writing a good book and 95% marketing.” If you like to get out there and hustle — “eat, breathe, sleep, and live your book” — this is a fun way to make a living.”
It is not fun to me and I won’t do it, for the same reason that I don’t use the self-checkout machines at the grocery store. Checking out is not my job and neither is doing book publicity. I don’t think this is being precious, like, I’m so grand as an “author” that I can’t stoop to marketing, nor is it a horror of engagement with the public, of the kind associated with Pynchon or Salinger. I have happily shown up for readings, including those where two people were the audience, I’ve gladly given interviews, some of which still float wanly on the Internet, and if someone writes to me I always answer. I get that participation of this type comes with the job.
But not this new apparatus of personal branding that social media make possible. I get that things have changed. I’m in the generation of writers caught in that change, with the result that after nearly thirty years of making a good living doing nothing but writing fiction I can’t sell a book. I admit to confusion, but not regret. I had a terrific career as a writer, and if it’s over, so what? In this I am brother to pro footballers—lots of money and then you’re done. Fun fact: about as many Americans make a decent living as authors of fiction as play in the NFL, maybe 1200 people. This number may rise if self-publishing takes off, but I believe I will miss that flight.
My last novel came out in 2013. The publisher, for reasons of his own, decided to release it with no publicity at all. I paid a firm in New York a good deal of money to push the book, with no discernible effect on sales, which were below dismal. With such numbers, no New York publisher would touch my later work, which is why these four book are available only through selfies on Amazon.
Again, I totally get this, and that this is just the nature of the business now. Beyond that, I have also had to recognize that whatever the merits of my writing, I can’t seem to write books that lots and lots of people want to read, nor do I have enough purely literary inventiveness to attract the attention of literati. I’m a cult author. A small number of people really like my real stuff, which is another reason I think putting a lot of energy into expanding my base is futile. Here I am one with the President.
The other reason is that I’m too old to be comfortable in social media. I can’t care what anonymous people think about me. I did read Amazon reviews when they were written by staff, but not since. I don’t consult the stats to find where I rank among other books in the genre. I do hope people enjoy these books. I hope I sell lots of them, but if I don’t, no problem. As I wrote when I released the novels, I felt I was just doing a service for the cult: you like my stuff, I’m glad, here’s some more. I guess that’s my brand.