Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
Just finished reading Alina Simone’s piece in the NYT about the plight of creative artists in our winner-take-all economy. She tells a familiar tale of having to self-promote her music after the label that had signed her went bankrupt. She wound up putting the album out herself and found the whole thing highly daunting:
“What I missed most about having a label wasn’t the monetary investment, but the right to be quiet, the insulation provided from incessant self-promotion. I was a singer, not a saleswoman. Not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur.”
Simone was somehow rescued by a deus ex machina in the form of an editor who contacted her out of the blue and asked if she might want to write a novel. She did. And it was published, and now she teaches and has time to write, and I’m guessing does her music too. She’s also best buds with Amanda Palmer, who was her bridesmaid. (This is where I rolled my eyes and went, “WTF?”)
But her particular too-good-to-be-true story aside (one suspects inside contacts), she makes some excellent points about what artists have to do to be noticed, much less make a little money. (And the comments to the article are revealing as well.) As I’ve talked about recently, the fact that the consumer doesn’t wish to pay for songs or books anymore makes it hard to earn a living like this. You must become a carnival barker and tout your wares all over virtual Christendom if you want to climb the rungs of Amazon’s sales ladder, but in doing so you become, well, tiresome. You must sell things other than your books or songs: shirts, mugs, services, stunts. In other words: You gotta put yourself out there, man!
So, I’m about to publish a book in this environment, and to be perfectly honest I’m not optimistic. I don’t want to be an entrepreneur. I want to write. There’s no deus ex machina on my horizon, and, frankly, I don’t really believe in the entrepreneurial tactics everyone (mainly self-dubbed “experts”) is selling. Mainly they sell them to earn their own living. You know the ones. They peddle webinars and books and DVDs and personal consultations and blog tours, and you almost start to believe these things might make a difference. They don’t. Not really. I think they make the writer feel proactive, but I can’t imagine they translate into big sales.
A few things make me skeptical about all of this in a way that doesn’t bode well for Yesterday Road (though I’m going ahead with publication in spite of my doubts!):
1) My blog traffic is down and flatlining lately. Not sure why.
2) Twitter and Facebook are completely ineffective in attracting committed followers, i.e., potential readers. (And I confess that I all but completely ignore other writers’ Twitter promotions because they are so clearly automated and constant.)
3) People closer to me than online acquaintances have not been able to garner much support for my project, other than promising to buy the book themselves. Our Children Are Not Our Children has not been a hot seller, but then again I haven’t put much into selling it. My own efforts at promotion haven’t yielded great results, and frankly, though this blog now has almost 600 total followers, only about 10% of them seem to read it consistently. I can’t complain about that. People are busy.
4) Experience in the music business (see, for example, Blaise Lucey’s blog) tells me that frustration is the norm and nominal success the exception in independent marketing. Word of mouth does more than all the online hype a band can generate. Easy to extrapolate that to writers.
5) My study of independent ebook publishing suggests that it is so heavily slanted toward genre fiction — and I’m sorry but I really don’t get the popularity of faerie stories, Game of Thrones clones, vampire novels, YA dystopian lit, et al. — that the chances of a literary novel finding readers seem slim.
In short, it’s an uphill climb from here on out. I’m shooting for a launch date of October 22 for Yesterday Road.
So anyway. I’m in Alina’s camp. Only I don’t know Amanda Palmer.
Amanda? Call me?