12 November 2018

Oh, Yeah!!!

by Steve Hockensmith

I would be a terrible pundit. There's one thing you need to be a popular one, and I don't have it: self-confidence bordering on megalomania. Instead of capping every diatribe the way pundits do – you know, with "And that's what the lamestream media won't tell you!" or "This president must be stopped!" or (if you're Alex Jones) "They're turning the friggin' frogs gay!!!" – I have a different mantra.

What the hell do I know?

I can't resist the urge to add it every time I state even the simplest opinion. Here. Watch.

Hawaiian pizza is delicious… but then again, what the hell do I know?

I think Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year... but then again, what the hell do I know?

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has a self-indulgent, sloppy-ass script, and it pisses me off that it got good reviews and Oscar nominations… but then again, what the hell do I know?

Everyone needs to stop paying attention to Kanye West… immediately.

O.K, so there are exceptions. But generally, the rule holds. Here. I'll demonstrate it again.

It seems to me that self-publishing isn't just a viable option for writers today. If you're creating certain kinds of fiction – romance, say, or gay Amish bondage porn starring cowboys – it's probably the smart way to go. But then again, what the hell do I know?

See? It kicked in again. But I can tell you where to find people stating the same opinion – that self-publishing is sometimes a writer's best choice – without any "what the hell do I know?" about it. A few years ago, I went there every day. It's a website, by the way, not the local Hardee's. I don't want to link to it lest these extremely self-confident publishing pundits follow the trail back here to cyber-yell at me. I will say this, though: It's a blog-ish site with a strong emphasis on (A) self-publishing, (B) owning the libs and (C) the belief that agents and publishers sacrifice virgins, eat babies and turn the friggin' frogs gay. 

It was (A) that hooked me back when I was a full-time writer watching his numbers (sales, advances, days left before bankruptcy) steadily dropping. So the idea that I could carpe me some diem, cut out the middle man (and his baby eating) and save my financial ass while writing whatever I wanted was really appealing. I won't say I totally drank the self-publishing Kool-Aid. I'm too instinctively timid and full of doubt to guzzle anyone's Kool-Aid, even when it's my favorite flavor. (Tropical Punch.) But eventually I did decide to give it a try.

That was over two years ago. After that, I got back the rights to five of my novels, republished four of them on my own and wrote one new one, which goes on sale next month. Goody for me. But I've also accepted that I'm probably not cut out for self-publishing. I mean, geez – it took me two years to finish a new book! Self-publishing success is often built on momentum (or so I used to read), and I've got all the unstoppable propulsive power of a runaway freight train...after it's gone off the rails.

I've also noticed that some of the loudest proselytizers for self-publishing have gone silent over the past couple years. Even on The Website That Shall Not Be Named, things have gotten a lot more quiet. It's still an "indie"/libertarian echo chamber, but with fewer voices shouting about the evils of New York publishers and the glories of the unfettered free market and the danger posed by insidious liberals luring unsuspecting amphibians into alternative lifestyles.

Does that mean anything? That the Kool-Aid party's over, and it's time to switch to SunnyD? Nope. I ain't saying that. But I am very, very curious to see how my new novel does. If it sells 3,000 copies in its first year, I'll be thrilled. If it sells three dozen copies, it'll feel like someone came bursting through the wall with a big, icy pitcher of Gut Punch.

But even then… what the hell will I know?

Kool-Aid pitcher


  1. Great post, Steve, and I sympathize.

    My first novel was produced by a small publisher, and the entire experience made root canal seem pretty good by comparison. As soon as I could leave the agreement without financial penalty, I did. Now I self-publish, too.

    Output is important, especially early. When I went solo, I had several rejected novels I could revise and eventually publish. I released four books my first year and two a year for the next three. After that, I ran out of rejects and slowed down considerably. I published my first book in about ten months this last weekend and only have a rough outline (sure to change radically and often) for the next one. That means at least a year, probably longer, for the next one.

    Maybe I should look into the Amish porn...

    Yes, I have a few short stories floating around, but none of this is really paying bills. Most of my "writing income" comes from my writing workshops. Sales may not be at that 30 a year mark you mentioned.

    I did the books MY way and I'm happy with them. But, like you say, what the hell do I know?

  2. Well, Steve, to paraphrase William Goldman, what the hell does anyone know?

  3. Steve,

    I've been an Indie writer since 2009. Since then I've had 23 novels and 4 short story collections published. "Built on momentum" has not worked for me. If anything, it has hurt because readers have told me I put too many books out a year (sometimes three). My eBook sales were high at first but with the glut of books out there, they have not remained high. I do not know the answer to marketing. When Bouchercon came to New Orleans, I had a New Orleans novel nominated for a SHAMUS that year and could not get ANY of the booksellers at Boucheron to carry ANY of my books.

  4. Good luck with the next book, Steve! I'm assuming it won't end up being Amish porn, but I wouldn't blame you if it does. On the one hand, we've all got that compulsion to tell the kinds of stories we love. On the other hand, nobody wants to tell their story to an empty room. We want our stories heard -- and preferably paid for, too. But obviously that can be hard to swing. Even "Amish Hogtie" only has one review on Amazon, and you'd think there'd be tons of Amish readers out there desperate for erotica they can read on their Kindles.

    William Goldman's a far smarter man than me, Paul, so I think he's right. Then again, if I don't know anything and nobody knows anything, can I trust that he knows anything about the rest of us not knowing anything?

    Great day in the morning, O'Neil -- that is depressing and infuriating about your books at Bouchercon. I think you're probably right, though: It's the glut that's the villain. I assume the booksellers in question didn't say yes to one indie author lest a hundred more come along later. Instead of evaluating on a case-by-case basis, it's easier to play it safe with a blanket no. The common wisdom on The Website That Shall Not Be Named is that there can never be too many ebooks or indie authors because book sales aren't a zero-sum game. To me it's pretty clear now that that's wrong, and the huge flood of indie titles over the past eight years or so does make discoverability and marketing more difficult. Then again, you know how much faith I put in my own analysis. (All together now: What the hell does Steve know?!?)

  5. O'Neil,

    It's easy for bookstores to turn down indie authors because they can claim they don't get the same price cut. I've offered a discount to various libraries and been told they can only buy books through approved sources (?). The ONE local library that took me up on the author has more of my books than any other one...

    Yeah, I was nominated for a Shamus for best indie novel a few years ago, and Barnes & Noble wouldn't touch it. One local B & N is now making well-meaning but badly-thought out gestures toward local (and indie) authors. Unfortunately, they think an event should be like Woodstock, with at least 20 authors so we all cancel each other out.

    Besides, it they had to READ all those books, they might actually learn something that screwed up their prejudices or their business model.

    The little venue that hosts most of my workshops has started an arrangement by which they will carry a few copies of local author books and give the authors 80% of the cover price if they can have twenty. We're not talking massive sales, here but the venue is a great place for readers and writers to hang out, so it's good exposure.

    And, as I said above, I make more of my paltry writing income on workshops, which I enjoy doing anyway. I'd like to sell more books, but it's better than listening to disco.

    I'm not sure there is a "right" way to do this, but I'm happy with my final product, so I hold on to that with both hands.

  6. It should be instructive how your experiment works out. I suspect it's a good option for already published, out-of-print works, but otherwise?

    Hmm… gay Alex Jones cowboy frogs? The mind boggles!

  7. I can guarantee that it will sell at least 1 copy...


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