The late Douglas Adams gave us the 2-word mantra: “Don’t Panic,” and it’s a pretty good one. It is (pun dubiously submitted) universally applicable.
Here’s why it’s resonating with me lately:
I have invested a fair amount of money in getting my novel out there. I paid to have it edited, and I paid for some marketing activities that I am still sort of in the early stages of overseeing. Not to mention the cost of shipping and distributing promos of the paperback. I have one financial goal with this book: Break even. Yes, I would love to make a lot of money, but I will settle for not losing any money.
Last week, I did the Amazon free eBook promotion, and I ended up giving away about 500 eBooks over 3 days, with 90% of those being downloads within the United States. I was hoping more people would download it, but 500 isn’t bad, and I’m still holding out hope that A) a subset of those will actually read it and B) a subset of that subset will post reviews. I’m not sure what my odds are. I am told that reviews are what move indie books on Amazon. Well, that and the book being about vampires having sex. Which, unfortunately, is not what my book is about.
I’ve really tried to resist name-dropping and crass comparisons of my work with that of well-known others. I’m not above cutting and pasting clips of reviews which draw such comparisons (references to Palahniuk, Vonnegut, Amis), but saying so myself feels cheap and lowly. But if you’re not the next Michael Crichton (I’m not) or Stephanie Meyer (I’m definitely not) or at least not willing to claim you are, then how do you sell a great book in an oversaturated market to an ambivalent and distracted potential readership?
I sort of understand the fascination with erotica. There’s a few pages in Hyperbole that sort of poke fun at the genre, in fact. But the great thing is that erotica has a lot of the sensory elements of pornography without the apparent/implied subjugation of real people. So I can sort of understand why it might be popular. Not that I have any interest in spending my reading time reading about pulsating and undulating and quivering. Unless it’s got a punchline, I guess.
Nor have I produced a heart-racing story of intrigue and action. And to be honest, I don’t understand how anyone can be interested in a car chase in the 21st century, let alone one in a book. But there’s no accounting for taste or whatever.
So what the hell have I produced?
I’ve produced the darkest parts of my personality, with a lot of humor and enough of a plot to justify turning the pages. That sounds like a shitty review. I think the book is better than that, and there are reviews on Amazon that do it much more justice. But that’s what the book is to me. It really is an expression of the cynical humor I live with like a disease. It’s a manifestation of yearning and disappointment and exasperation, told through someone who’s the opposite of a Mary Sue. I had a lot of fun writing it. And I think there are a lot of people who would love reading it. The challenge, as always, is finding them and convincing them to spend a few dollars and a few more hours.
Sometimes I console myself by thinking about David Lynch’s Eraserhead. He spent five backbreaking years on that clusterfuck of a masterpiece, and it took some time after its release for it to be held in the regard that it now is (by some). I think I have produced a clusterfuck of comparable appeal. Maybe 5% of the population would love the shit out of it. That’s all I want. 5%. But how do you target those freaks?
One of the many challenges that I perceive is that my book, which rails against consumer culture in lots of unsubtle ways, has to be marketed. And I’m trying to market an anti-consumerist, counter-culture-y type thing to the very people who would balk at marketing. (How the hell did Fight Club get popular?)
So, back to word-of-mouth. How do you generate word-of-mouth? By having thousands of Facebook friends (I don’t)? By having thousands of Twitter followers (I’m getting there)? By pestering your friends and family to help you promote the thing? (I try not to hound anybody, though I welcome the mentions that friends and family have made.)
I’ve brainstormed all sorts of possibilities: Offer to donate copies to book clubs. Leave copies in coffee houses. SPAM. None of these seem particularly like the correct approach for a book like the one I’m hawking.
The marketing dollars I’ve spent are on a series of press releases. I’ve submitted 2 of the allotted 24. Which sounds crazy. It feels crazy. What am I doing?
It’s early. I’m building a Twitter following, even knowing that a very small percentage of that following may turn out to be actual fans. The free copies of the eBook have only been with those readers for a week. Maybe some of them are just starting to get into it, while others are offended by page 3 and clicking “DELETE.” I have to hope for those non-zero odds. And I have to live with myself and my neuroses 24 hours a day. Yes, even while I sleep.
That’s all. Just venting / talking myself down. If you haven’t read Hyperbole yet, please do at least check out the free sample, which is about a chapter and a half, on Amazon. I’ve reduced the price of the eBook to $2.99 to entice people who may have been dissuaded by the $5.95 price I had most recently.
It’s a percentage game with a book that’s not a romance and not a sci-fi wizard-wanding extravaganza. It’s a weird, original story that’s grounded in something pretty close to reality. It’s funny and sad and creepy and fun to read. The narrator is a complete mess, which I always find fun to read. That’s what made American Psycho more than just torture porn. That’s what made Catcher in the Rye more than an assignment in high school. Hyperbole is messy and awkward and engaging like a 30-car pile-up.
I need to connect with the rubbernecks.
Thanks for reading. If you have any suggestions for selling hard-to-place-in-a-genre fiction, please post a comment.