Lord of the Jungle

Blog

It’s been hell trying to normalize my existence with the crazy shifting around of shifts at the home improvement. If you asked me what day it was I’d guess Tuesday. When it’s actually Sunday. But last night I was indeed back on nights on a suitably short five hour shift and finally my schedule seems to have been adjusted to reflect my preferred level of commitment: twenty hour weeks on the closing shift. That allows me, presumably, enough time and mental space to get my writing done (I write early in the day unless I’m editing the novel which I’m more apt to do in the afternoon or  evening). Meanwhile my new manager, R., asked me if  I wanted to work full time, an offer that seemed inevitable all the months I’ve been enduring the thirty-plus hour weeks. Well, I was prepared for it and promptly said, “No; and I actually want twenty hours a week and the closing shift.” “Noted,” said R. We’ll see if things remain reasonable.

Why not take the hours? Why not maximize the money? Why not just surrender to what works, literally, and let the rest go? Like the novel, for instance? Well, there are those who would evaluate my sales and remind me that most books don’t sell more than a hundred copies and TC has yet to attain half that. In fact, if I’ve sold thirty-five copies, despite the little upsurge of sales in August, I’d be surprised. I must admit that it’s been a little challenging to keep track of the sales as they trickle in because of the multiple tracking systems that Amazon uses, namely, one for real-time so-called sales rank (only in the US), another for ad campaign sales (and within that system, a different sub-system for each country) and then, within Author Central, a “Reports” function that generates real-time Kindle sales but delays print sales until the book ships. So that I may see a sales spike on the ranking database that only appears on the campaign database and the Author Central reporting database after the order ships. It’s all a bit convoluted and frustratingly tedious. I get a sale spike on a graph or chart but have to verify that it wasn’t just a book that already sold but is just now shipping, for example.

As much as all the Amazon weirdness frustrates me I have to again give them kudos for allowing indie authors a medium for selling and marketing at all. If I relied on any other bookseller I’d not be selling anything. Nothing. Zero. Waterstones/Barnes&Noble? – forget it. Zero sales. Zero opportunity to promote TC. To this day I cannot search for “Time Crime” on their system and get any result, rather, I still have to type in “Carnegie Olson” for their search engine to bring up my title. Correction, at least on Waterstones I can indeed get a result, halfway down the page alongside old listings which don’t include my book cover. Otherwise, it’s a silly, stupidly clumsy, intolerably ineffective and inefficient online retail environment. Frankly, it’s unacceptable. But, oh, you can see Jamie what’s-his-name’s zillionth new cookbook at the top of the page, advertised to WHOM? Who fucking does business this way and expects success? God. Benchmark your systems, for Christ’s sake.

Ranting. It gets me nowhere. It’s a waste of energy. Take what’s given, maximize your opportunities, seek new realms of productivity for the book, reach out to the audience such as it is, to the early adopters – thank you all! – and be patient. Work the long game. Pressure and time. Market, which is to say advertise, as efficiently, narrowly, in the most focused manner possible towards the most financially savvy targets I can manage. When I make mistakes, when I acquire new information, make changes. Thrust, dodge, parry, as Daffy Duck once said. Adapt and overcome like the Marines do. No surrender. Unless letting go of it all, letting go of my vision of the book’s success that is, presents itself as the next adventure. Make lemonade out of lemons? Whatever. When my heart tells me its time to quit on the novel then, well, I’ll need to listen. Meanwhile, I’m not receiving that communication.

It was with understandable disappointment, then, when I discovered, a few days ago, a rating on amazon.uk (again, all the countries have their own Amazon sub-business architecture, apparently so that a rating in U.K. does not propagate into the other markets; in the US, for example, the book still seeks its first rating or review). And speaking of ratings, that’s just what I received. Whereas I was under the impression that one had to contribute a review to post any star rating I’ve discovered that as of a couple years ago Amazon changed their requirement and now allows just a star rating, no accompanying review. Argh. Akin to Goodreads, of course. But it allows for the lazy, tossed off, unthoughtful, possibly frustrated drunk-buy disappointment type to shit on something with almost no effort required, let alone any accountability. My first Amazon feedback then, at least in the U.K., a region I was just beginning to cherish as perhaps a stronghold for my tribe, ends up as a mere three stars. What does three stars mean? Well, whatever its technical description – “it was okay,” “liked it,” “really liked it,” “loved it,” what have you – the reality, which is to say the impression and degree of social proof stands, with a three-star rating as at best, “good but not great” and at worst: “mediocre.” And of course only an emerging author obsessed with traversing the threshold of obscurity, an author like me, that is, would obsess on what a three-out-of-five star rating really means; what it really says about the book. That said, I’ve noticed three-star rated books with a few hundred such ratings/reviews. So, apparently it isn’t a deal breaker or a guaranteed sales killer. Though it won’t help, either. Other than indicating to a potential buyer that, yes, somebody else, perhaps the author’s cranky mother for instance, actually read the thing. Or not. Who knows? I know that I pay attention to star ratings and I always read at least two or three reviews, one bad, one good, say, so as to get the lay of the land so to say for the thing. For every perspicacious, attentive review there are always exponentially more indifferent or off-target or just naïve, even ignorant postings. “The book arrived in good (or bad) condition…,” that kind of thing. Or, “I bought this on a whim and it wasn’t at all what I was expecting…,” or, “Gibberish.”

A rating is progress. Any effort that anyone makes to provide feedback I ought to interpret as something positive. At least it’s not negative. Because in the end I’m to play out the adventure come what may. Risk poses the potential for failure and the accompanying humiliation. Moving forward with departure, trials and return doesn’t guarantee a happy ending, as it were. No. Far from it. It could still all end up as an unsightly train wreck, full of casualties. Or, less spectacularly, less glamorously, the adventure of TC may simply encounter its vanishing point. (I’ve written at length through the DOP about vanishing point, by the way).

Anyway, at this point, if you ignore the handful of five star ratings I’m happy to have garnered on Goodreads, on Amazon proper I’m positioned smack on the fence between thumbs up and thumbs down. Which probably speaks to the nature of the book itself. Which is to say, it’s not for everyone. I didn’t write it to appeal to the masses. Rather, it arrived, via the cosmos, and I rendered it. It may be more of an acquired taste, who knows? – something that requires time and proper context and an environment of expectation (there is always an expectation) that connects with the novel’s quirks. Because I admit, it is quirky. Time Crime is not “cool” or “hip” or otherwise pandering to the now. It is mythological and that’s that. Folks will get it or they won’t. Nevertheless, it will be helpful, ultimately essential perhaps, for a reader who is behind the book to communicate their support. I can’t ask for it, I know this is not how it works. Well, for some shameless authors I suppose begging for reviews, good ones, and soliciting them whenever possible is part of their marketing plan. Not me. It’s just a place that I do not want to go, the “remember to review my novel…” obnoxiousness. Goodreads supposedly encourages giveaway winners to post reviews/ratings and that’s okay because hell, you won a free book for Christ’s sake and if you liked it, shout it out loud. If you didn’t? Well, so be it, but try to be mindful, thoughtful, fair and specific in communicating  your critique. There is a lifetime of experience and many years of devoted, dedicated, long-suffering effort that goes into publishing many books. So that first impressions – judging a book by its cover as they say – are best set aside in favor of a thoughtful communication. You don’t have to like TC. Hell no. It would just be really nice to receive something more than a brush off if somebody spends their hard-earned cash on my work – thank you! – and finds it not to their preference. I’ll shut up.

Meanwhile, back to the long game. Which includes the audiobook, of course. Which hasn’t sold a single copy despite being available at every retailer besides Audible. Or B&N. Audible, when my narrator refers to it as the 900-pound gorilla in the business is, apparently, just that. They sell all the audiobooks and everyone else – the forty-some other retailers – sell, what, none at all? Statistically zero? Not that I expected TC to jump off the shelves, as it were. But zero sales in three weeks of being a new release in a still very limited marketplace? I don’t know, perhaps I have it all wrong. Perhaps I don’t have a clue as to the reality of the audiobook market. Perhaps it has collapsed? Perhaps I’m just goddamn too impatient? There simply isn’t a lot of information easily available on the web, at least as far as I can tell at least, regarding the status of the audiobook industry, let alone sales figures for any particular retailer. Not that I should care.

But it all speaks to how I ought to continue to market the book, audio format or otherwise. And it occurred to me, while I was miserably contemplating advertising options like B&N and Facebook – ugh! – that what I really want to tap is the knowledgeable, devoted sci-fi readership out there; the group of folks within and outside the industry that are predisposed to the reception of a good new book within their genre. Who are they and where are they? Well, I joined a BookFunnel promotion (I pay Bookfunnel to manage the eBook transactions, should I ever have one, on my website) that begins next month. BookFunnel markets eBooks exclusively. So, there’s that and we’ll see if anything comes of it.

Who else? Where else? I kept coming back to Locus Magazine. As much as I’ve been utterly disappointed (but hardly surprised) with their complete lack of communication regarding my inquiries – my offer of a giveaway code, for example – I figured hell, that magazine is a core entity for the field of sci-fi authorship and all things related to the marketing, promotion, reviewing and legitimization of a sci-fi novel. So be it. They can try to ignore me and then I can just keep coming anyway. So, I did. I paid for a graphic designer via UpWork.com – a great little search and destroy method of getting the job done by somebody who wants the work – to create a 1/6th page ad to Locus specifications and bang! – within twenty-four hours I’d emailed an ad to the magazine and promptly called them to make sure they got it and paid for the thing. They apologized for not responding to my emails. And nevertheless didn’t reply to my emails. Oh well. They squeezed my advertisement into next month’s issue – September – and that’s great. Even if it only seems great to me.

 

Quick. Dirty. Not perfect. But snappy. And cheap. Well, relatively cheap. Affordable, let’s say, within the context of magazine advertising for it still cost me $150 for the design and another $275 for the placement in Locus. Ouch, yes. But this is what it is to be an authorpreneur. Do you think, for instance, that a traditional publisher, had I been “graced” with such a luxury, would ever consider springing for even such a modest little effort? Hell no. TC would have already, seven or so months into publication, been summarily and unceremoniously remaindered and my rights returned to me as a categorical flop. Go away and don’t come back with your measly handful of sales, international or otherwise, who cares. Right? Right. Hence, given the challenges faced by my novel – the challenges of seeking, finding and connecting with its tribe – it’s best that everything to do with it remains with me. I care. I give a shit. I’m fully invested. And I continue to invest, literally putting my hard-earned money where my mouth is. Where the novel is. And where I envision it being, in due time. Whatever that turns out to mean.

I suppose I ought not to post any of this because it’s too revealing, too honest and straightforward and therefore I risk coming off at best as a struggling, striving indie authorpreneur and at worst a whining, self-absorbed crank. But surrendering to vulnerability, I’ve learned, is part and parcel of what it is to be an entrepreneur, to say nothing of being an artist-craftsman. There is a price for everything worth anything. If you’re too proud or too well adjusted to rant and rave and reveal your weaknesses, to expose your soft white underbelly (B.O.C. fans, hello!) once in a while, well, I suppose you’re better at this than I am. I’m merely doing my best to offer my best. And meanwhile, somehow, try to enjoy the crazy adventure of it all. If, dear reader, you have endured something similar, I salute you.

I’d like to finish on a positive, super jazzy note. Hence, I recommend listening to Tarzan of the Apes as narrated by my narrator, David Stifel. This is, as the description indicates, the original non-politically correct and therefore substantive and vastly entertaining version. My review (five stars across the board):

Visceral. Elegant. Enchanting.

A timeless mythic gem of a tale at turns gorgeous and terrifying. Stifel’s deft, nurturing narration is a magic spell – gripping, vivid, evocative – he teases tragic beauty and heartrending humanity from the book’s nightmarish sense of exile and cosmic brutality. Alongside the drama, as within all great myths, appear nuggets of lightheartedness, even comedy and in all, Burroughs’s great epic bristles with beguiling description, endearing vocabulary and striking drama. Stifel’s voice glistens. Unforgettable listen. https://www.audible.com/pd/Tarzan-of-the-Apes-Audiobook/B075613QQD?qid=1598203297&sr=1-8&ref=a_search_c3_lProduct_1_8&pf_rd_p=e81b7c27-6880-467a-b5a7-13cef5d729fe&pf_rd_r=4HBB7KW193VQ9JVJYKRV