A Fall Update:
As summer comes to a close, I’ve become very aware of the fact that in December I will have been a published indie author for 10 years. This means I have seen self-publishing change dramatically from the early days when I felt the need to explain that publishing through Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace was different from publishing through a vanity press, to the so-called gold rush years when my income from the sales of my books had visions of sugar plums dancing in my head, to now, when I have come to understand that I am not willing to spend the time and energy that it would take (in both writing and marketing) to recapture the income level I was making in those gold rush years.
I came to this realization this summer, when I encountered a series of minor domestic crises, including a broken water heater (requiring a major room remodel), a broken sewage pipe (don’t even go there), an elderly dog who went through two bouts of vertigo (imagine your dog not being able to stand up without help, or walk straight, or eat because of the nausea), and some minor medical ailments of my own. In addition, to be very frank, the current political climate in my country has seriously undermined my usual ability to bounce back from even minor set-backs.
The result? I stopped writing. I had been making excellent progress on a science fiction novel all spring, but suddenly, not a word got written. Yet the very reason I had chosen to work on this novel, a sequel to a novella I had written with my daughter, rather than start on my next historical mystery (which takes months of research) was because I thought I would be able to get it done and published by this fall.
What I didn’t foresee was that writing a story about the near future––focusing on the destruction of the earth and the inability of many of the characters to rise above their selfish individualism––wasn’t a good idea when I was already upset about the state of my house, my animals, my health, and the world in general.
It’s not that I stopped working. For example, I spent much of June and early July on two blog posts I had committed to write on audiobooks (if interested click here and here for the two blog posts). Mostly, however, I did a lot of recreational reading––of books I knew would transport me to other worlds, provide a little romance and humor into my day, and reaffirm my belief in the general goodness of the universe.
But none of this was getting me any closer to having a new book to publish this fall or doing the marketing that I should be doing to keep the books I have already published visible.
The result, of course, has been declining sales, which wasn’t doing much to counter my general grumpiness. Then, one day, when I was chastising myself for once again not working on the novel that was sitting there on my computer, I decided that I needed an attitude adjustment.
I reminded myself that getting an income from my writing has never been my primary goal. I was fortunate to come to indie publishing upon retirement, so every success I have with my books has been a lovely addendum to what had already been a very satisfying career. Instead, my primary goal has always been to write the kind of stories (about the past or the future) that I would enjoy reading, the kind of books that would do for others what my recreational reading this summer had been doing for me.
I do care about giving my books a fair chance to be discovered by readers, yet even the time I have spent developing marketing strategies has been more about entertaining myself (because I do enjoy reading about what other indie authors are doing and learning new skills) and less about increasing my income.
What this summer made me face, once and for all, is that the self-publishing industry had changed too much, become too competitive, for me to expect that I could just do what I enjoyed and still maximize sales. For example, when I first published Maids of Misfortune in December of 2009, there were only 82 books in Amazon’s historical mystery category, and with minimal marketing, Maids remained at the top of that category’s bestseller list for over a year. There are now over 10,000 books in this category, and while my books routinely hit that best-seller list when I discount and promote them…they usually disappear from sight as soon as the promotion is over.
That’s the reality of publishing today. A reality I needed to accept, just as I needed to accept that I wasn’t going to change to adapt to this new reality–and still remain happy. And so I made my peace with the fact that I am never going to be the kind of writer who can write, publish, and market multiple books a year–and have gratitude that I don’t have to do this to support my family. I also made peace with the fact that I wasn’t willing to put in the time it would take to maintain the kind of social media presence needed to build a rapidly expanding fan base, nor was I interested enough in tinkering with Amazon, BookBub, or Facebook ads (A/B testing of graphics, targeting, etc) to develop a successful and scaleable advertising strategy. And that was all right.
So here’s the new plan for this Fall.
First, I put away the science fiction novel. I know I will come back to it because it is a story I want to complete–just not now.
Second, I have started doing the research for the next full-length Victorian San Francisco mystery, which will focus on women in the medical profession in San Francisco and feature Annie and Nate Dawson (who had much smaller roles to play in my most recent work.)
Third, while I engage in that research (in this guest blog post I explore why my research comes before my plotting), I have decided to write four short, light, fun stories set in the Victorian San Francisco world. These stories will feature Beatrice O’Rourke, the boardinghouse cook, Tilly, the new young Irish maid, Mrs. Esther Stein, the grandmotherly boarder, and Dandy the Boston Terrier.
I hope these stories will satisfy those readers who told me they wished my last book, Scholarly Pursuits, had spent more time in the O’Farrell Street boardinghouse. But the primary reason I am writing these stories is that I missed these characters and I will enjoy writing about them. This probably explains why, despite a lovely visit from my daughter and grandsons, followed by a short trip out of town, and another minor ailment, I still have already written more than five thousand words in the first of these stories, tentatively entitled, Beatrice Bests the Burglars.
If you want to keep up with my progress with my research and short story writing, I would suggest following my Facebook author page, where I will begin to do frequent updates.
Meanwhile, I haven’t completely abandoned marketing, so currently here are a couple of discounts that are still available this month.
The Audio Book Edition of Maids of Misfortune is only $3.99 on Apple through August 31.
The Victorian San Francisco Novellas (the collection of the novellas––Violet Vanquishes a Villain, Kathleen Catches a Killer, and Dandy Delivers) is only 99 cents on all retailers through September 1.
Here’s to a fun and productive autumn for you all.
Mary Louisa Locke, August 29, 2019