Writer’s World Episode 117: The Howling Infinite

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A paperback sale last night in the USA! And from my Amazon ad campaign which costs me dearly to keep delivering. So that for the last two months I’ve been allowing it to run out of budget but given the upcoming holiday season I figured bloody hell, why not just shoot the moon and try to keep it running come what may? So I jacked the budget up to $100 per month and the daily budget to $15 per day. Then this morning I find 80% of my monthly budget chewed through and fuck it all I upped the monthly to $150 and the daily to $20 – crazy money, yes, my ACOS is ludicrously poor but what else to do if it keeps generating a sale or two? Advertising is expensive all over the world in all things but for an emerging entrepreneur trying to break through and otherwise build a platform from scratch, well, if you’re going to play you’re going to pay and pay and pay until, one fine day…. I know, odds are the one fine day never comes and the big pay off likewise. But there is no other way. Because the alternative is zero exposure, zero sales and zero future for my work. One must get in front of people to allow the work to do its work, to make a name for itself or flop based on zeitgeist and vibe and, yes, quality.

Time Crime cannot simply be allowed to sit, I believe this, for the competition is simply too outlandishly keen. My single paperback sale in the U.S. last night for example vaulted the book to a ranking of 146,907 from its dismal 3,473,354 spot, an increase. It takes a month or so of zero sales to plummet to such depths and then, bam! – a book rockets into the comparative stratosphere. I’ve shared the hard facts before but here they are again:

Still only the single rating and no reviews, too. Argh. What must it be like to see one’s novel get a hundred positive reviews and indeed attain the coveted thirty sales per day that bestows legitimate (which is to say minimally sustainable) authorpreneur status? To look at one’s sales data and see not a spikey up-and-down snaggle-toothed chart but a moderately smooth amplitude of high-altitude flight? To enjoy sales every day! Furthermore – and this is almost unthinkable to me right now – to enjoy sales of each format, eBook, paperback, hardcover and audiobook, every goddamn day. I try to imagine it, to envision that success because the power of intention is something that works. Why and how it works, well, that’s part of this study as transcribed in the DOP. Meanwhile, it’s difficult for me (just as it’s perhaps difficult for every newbie) to comprehend that type of success because we just fail, I think, to grasp the numbers properly. That is, there are so many goddamn people who buy books in this world that it’s too intellectually staggering to properly comprehend. What, for example, does the fact that print book sales in the U.S. as I write this are at 675M per year mean to anyone? I did a quick internet search: so what is a good sales figure for any book? – and I found an article from 2015 on npr.org, by Lynn Neary, “When It Comes To Book Sales, What Counts As Success Might Surprise You.”

“A sensational sale would be about 25,000 copies,” says literary agent Jane Dystel. “Even 15,000 would be a strong enough sale to get the publisher’s attention for the author for a second book.”

According to this article, Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island, a finalist in 2015 for the Man Booker prize, had sold a mere 3,600 copies in the U.S. The article goes on to discuss indie authorship which of course even five years ago when this article was written was probably an exponentially tinier market than it is now but the lesson is clear, which is to say the data is clear: authors, let alone writers, don’t make shit. And never will. So that it’s both heartening and cruelly disheartening to understand that selling a few thousand copies of Time Crime would be considered an accomplishment. Three-thousand seems doable. But what we want and really need to make a living is sales of ten times that. So be it. There is no other way than to write. And now, for me, there is no other way than to publish as an indie and spend as much as I can on advertising and my own marketing. It’s ugly and desperately frustrating – read my damn journal entries, after all! – but it’s the way of things. Meanwhile, I dream of the Time Crime series selling millions and the books becoming films and the whole shebang. Dream big. Why not?

Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?

But as in landlessness alone resides highest truth, shorelines, indefinite as God – so, better is it to perish in that howling infinite, than be ingloriously dashed upon the lee, even if that were safety! For worm-like, then oh! who would craven crawl to land? Terrors of the terrible! is all this agony so vain? Take heart, take heart…! Bear thee grimly, demigod! Up from the spray of the ocean-perishing – straight up, leaps thy apotheosis!

From “The Lee Shore,” chapter XXIII of Moby-Dick, a novel which I am becoming convinced may be the most mythic, most mythologically potent publication in what may be termed the period of the modern novel. This book may in fact qualify, arguably enough, as the beginning of modern myth. Nonetheless, I’m going to indeed go that far: Moby-Dick stands as the beginning, hence the loadstone and reference point of modern mythology as I interpret it. It may be America’s first modern myth – I won’t speak for the rest of the globe, not yet anyway. But it is the first-mover within my own business, so to say, of fiction and the thing, the instrument of power (to borrow a line and a chapter title from Time Crime) which every myth-centric novel that comes afterwards must acknowledge as its intentional or unconscious embryonic source. That goddamn white whale swims the waters of our unconscious individually and it is perhaps collective in Jungian terms in this way: Moby Dick, the whale, is our modern universal and active affecting image. Perhaps someday it may be a monster from deep space or the monstrousness of deep space itself that thus expresses all our hopes and fears – symbolizes our personal and cultural mythological predicament but still, for now, it remains the world’s oceans that most effectively and reliably stir our soul. The great seas of this Earth are just that: ours as Earthlings. When other inhabited planets are inevitably discovered, well, we’ll see how mythology changes, how it adapts to incorporate such incomprehensible universality. It will.

Meanwhile, of course, we have science-fiction and fantasy novels as our sailing ships and space trains and what have you: our vehicles of landlessness and the howling infinite. And if, to paraphrase American fiction writer Miriam Allen de Ford, science fiction expresses improbable possibility and fantasy expresses impossible plausibility, then my study of comparative mythology, mythography and the psychology of religion (the psychology of mythology) will continue to require the vast mythic resources of both.