Monday, October 18, 2010

When The Internet is Not Your Friend

Sometimes I think this writing profession is the equivalant of sitting in a dark cave. We're not sure what's around us, if we're steps from a cliff or a giant pile of delicious brown sugar snickerdoodles. Every once in a while a light goes on in the cave and we get ten seconds to look around. But we can only see part of the cave and we make a thousand guesses as to what the rest of the cave looks like.

Drunk Writers love to have theories, but the truth is, at least for me - I don't understand the business. I don't understand what happens in a publishing house when they're deciding what to buy or what not to buy. I make a lot of guesses because I've had that light turned on a couple of times, but for the most part - I got nothing.

The one real glimpse into publishing and my success in it is my royalty statement and trust me that's a light that shines down on me and me alone. I have no idea where my books sold best, what my print run was, how many books were shipped, what my publisher's expectations were - all I know is how many books I sold. Which, you would think would answer a lot of questions, but it's kind of like the smoke monster on Lost. One answer - lots more questions.

So, like most authors I obsess on the internet. I check my amazon ratings and troll various review sites checking to see if I have any buzz. And in my head buzz=success. But the reality is that MOST romance buyers and in particular most category romance buyers don't review, don't create buzz, they don't buy on amazon. So the internet is quite possibly the most misleading light ever. It's a spotlight on maybe...a couple thousand readers? Maybe hundreds. I've heard a bunch of authors say the book with the most buzz sold the least and the book they thought was failing miserably sold like gangbusters.

TRW had a panel discussion this weekened with a lot of authors at various stages in thier careers. Some people felt good about thier careers, others were feeling some stress. And across the board, the people with the LEAST amount of information, the ones that sat happily in that dark cave trying to get better, trying to write the best story they could, ignoring the light - they were the happiest.

It's totally in our nature to want to figure this puzzle out - but sometimes, I really think, ignorance is bliss.


Stephanie Doyle said...

Awesome post. Cave, brief amounts of light... I totally get that.

I absolutely think the less you stress about what's happening outside your control... the happier you'll be.

What I struggle with is... is buzz really outside of our control? Or can we by tweeting, facebooking, blogging and putting yourself out there in a 100 different places create buzz?

Leah Braemel said...

LOL, join me in my blissfully ignorant cave, Molly!

I got a lot out of the weekend and the panels (even the one I was on) got me doing a lot of thinking, which is another reason why I want to crawl in that cave of ignorant bliss.

Thanks for being such a great influence on my career and helping shed light on some of the areas that I WAS blissfully ignorant of before.

Eileen said...

Leah and Molly,
Take me with you to the happy cave! Having just received my first royalty statement from a certain publisher, I realize how completely in the dark I am anyway.

I think this goes with the new motto I was working on at Nationals. I believe it was "Whatever."

I think if you can find 100 places to post/tweet/status update/comment on a regular basis, that you might be able to create buzz, but that's a lot of self-tweeting/posting/updating. You might go blind.

Molly O'Keefe said...

Steph - to some extent we can create our own buzz - but I'm already blind like Eileen said - that feels like so much work with too much questionable return.

Leah - it was great to see you the other day and I'm glad that Carina is treating you well.

I feel like learning the business has the same side effects of learning to write - to some extent that blissful ignorant joy is gone once you start trying to get some answers. And we can't afford to keep the ignorance with our writing and I think maybe I'm going to see how long I can stay ignorant in terms of the buisness. How's that for shooting myself in the foot?

Eileen said...

I don't think you're shooting yourself in the foot. The one thing I've learned about publishing as a business is how very little control I, as a writer, have over what happens.

My writing? I have (as my kids would say) hella control. Not complete and total, mind you, but definitely hella, which is way more than I have over my cover, my print run, my distribution lines, my reviews or my placement in the bookstore.

Maureen McGowan said...

I think this will be the single biggest challenge for me, because I'm the kind of person who likes to have the lights on in the cave... or maybe gets off on finding all the clues in the cave and trying to deduce the big picture.

But I think it can drive you crazy. And it's something so outside our control, whereas writing the s**t out of the next book is under our control. Still, not sure I'll have the discipline to ignore this stuff.

I'm still obsessed by the fact that amazon still has the old version of my books up -- listed as out of print -- and the big Canadian chain bookseller doesn't have the new versions at all... only the old ones listed as "not available".

But I think you are so right about the internet buzz thing being a drop in the bucket -- especially for category romances. 99% of your readers are not on Dear Author or All About Romance or the blogs... They are buying your book at the supermarket and buying the next one because they loved the last one. (Or the guy on the cover is hot, or the kid is cute...)

Eileen said...

Eesh, Maureen. I'd be obsessing about those things, too. Can you rattle your editor's cage to get things updated? That's the only way I've found to get anything changed on Amazon.

Sinead M said...

I'm trying more and more to keep the lights off. At least right now in the WIP stage. It's too easy to get distracted...

so hard not to want to look, and the internet is so much easier than actually writing...

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