No Shortcut To Awesome: What I've Learned

I’ve said before that there is no shortcut to awesome and it’s time to take my own advice. I’ve had an interesting publishing journey so far and I’ve made a lot of mistakes (I’ve done some things right, too, but I’ve made a lot of mistakes.)

Right now, 24 hours after Save My Soul went live on Kindle, I’m already reflecting on things and thinking about WHY I make myself so crazy over this [stuff]… things which I largely cannot control.

[Editor’s Note: strong language after the jump]

I’m in an interesting position of having another pen name so I actually have sort of a “control group” to study. Like I don’t have to just speculate about how things might be different if I’d taken the Zoe thing in a different direction. I sort of have the closest comparison I’m ever going to get.

Let’s compare and contrast shall we?

My other pen name does not do Kindle giveaways or any giveaways. She doesn’t market at all, really. She announces her book release in her varied platforms, and then she’s out. She blogs a little. That’s about it. She doesn’t obsess over rankings or stats. She doesn’t do a big launch/release. She has no expectations about anything. It is what it is and that’s that.

Zoe… does kindle giveaways, spazzes out over release week, stresses herself out, gets anxious and worked up about the entire process. Has expectations she can never meet then feels disappointed when she doesn’t meet them. (because they are unrealistic for where she’s at). And there is some serious obsessing about sales and rankings that goes on. Zoe did a book trailer, a private contest for newsletter subscribers, blah blah blah.

And yet, the sales for 24 hours after the Save My Soul launch are almost exactly the same as they were for the Blood Lust launch. Even though Blood Lust was previously released material. And didn’t have a gee golly wow book trailer, or as large of a newsletter following and on and on and on.

January is pretty crappy for sales for all types of entertainment. People have just gotten off Christmas and are trying to recover financially from overspending during the holiday season, etc. So that could factor in.

But the bottom line is… I’ve made myself crazy. And it’s not really that much about “ego”. It’s about… this is the first time in my life I’ve ever made a living doing anything and I’m terrified I’ll fall off the map and lose that, but there are no guarantees in life. And it seems to me that freaking out and worrying about the future is a great way to not enjoy the present and the awesome things I’ve been blessed with… i.e. great readers and the ability to write as my only job.

But here is the really interesting part. You’d think that Zoe would be doing a lot better than the other pen name, but she isn’t. The other pen name sells just as well, sometimes better. So why am I wasting time making myself crazy?

I can’t MAKE everybody “act now”. I know I have more fans than what have bought so far. I also know some are waiting for other formats (totally reasonable), some don’t have cash right now, some just have missed the announcements. Some haven’t “gotten around to it yet”. And that’s all fine. The world doesn’t owe me shit. Other people have lives and everything doesn’t revolve around Zoe Winters. We’re still very much in that Zoe Who? phase of things.

I also know that most people who have bought Save My Soul haven’t had a chance to read it yet. It’s not a novella that can be read in just one sitting for most. It may take a few days before even the most serious fans get it read and start talking about it. Since Amazon continues to change their algorithms for sales rankings so book blitzes become less effective unless they are long, drawn out, obnoxious events, I’ve got to go back to the “slow build” mentality. I am NOT going to camp out on Twitter and Facebook every single day going “buy my book, buy my book”. That’s a guaranteed recipe for losing the fan support I currently have.

I also can’t spend a ton of time doing social marketing “right”, where I’m building all these “relationships”. Because relationships take time to maintain. And all the time I spend being social on Twitter and Facebook, is time I’m not spending writing. So it’s too much focus on the wrong stuff. I like you guys, and I answer my @ ‘s on Twitter. And I won’t ignore you. But… constantly seeking out social interaction to “get my name out there” is not fair to the readers who want me to actually be writing so they can read new books from me.

So what’s the plan now? Well, I think I’m done with big contests. No matter how I structure it, adding incentive to purchase doesn’t seem to drive enough purchases that wouldn’t have happened anyway. (Though, I think I’ll probably still do an initial sale price.) I also want to know that people are buying the book simply because they want to read it and for no other reason. I’m also not sure how many people I “annoy” with giveaways. Like some people don’t like to feel like I think I have to bribe them to read. Some readers/fans may be insulted by big giveaways as incentive to purchase. So how much damage am I doing compared to how much good? I have no fucking clue.

I’ve already backed off the indie rah rah train. So that’s good. Basically I’m just going to focus on writing and publishing fiction. I’m not going to attach expectation to another book release. My other pen name is not insane. She’s happily just writing and publishing and doing her thing. She’s passionate about the work first and foremost.

Now I just have to make Zoe more sane. So that’s the plan going forward.

Another reason I think I need to let go of expectation is because it’s making me ungracious. As previously mentioned, the world doesn’t owe me shit. And when I get to the point where I start seeing readers as “numbers” and not human beings who are graciously giving up both their time and money to read me, then I have MISSED THE PLOT.

I think that’s the most unhealthy part of book releases with expectation attached. It slowly turns me into somebody I don’t want to be. At some point I do hope my work breaks out. Once Save My Soul gets more out there and people read and react to it, it may even break out somewhat. I think it’s a strong story. I think it’s stronger than Blood Lust. But the focus here needs to be on building backlist. I am FAR from ideal backlist. Most trad pub authors don’t really break out until book 5 or 6. I am not a magic unicorn or a special snowflake and the rules don’t just suspend for me.

This is a slow tortoise event. And dude, I’m just on year 3 on my 10-yr-plan. What the hell happened to my 10-yr-plan? Oh, I know what happened, I started comparing myself to other people and getting my eyes off my own paper.

With every book release I learn new lessons. Some of them are hard to deal with. The main lesson I’ve learned so far from this is that I’m no less crazy than I was with the Blood Lust release, and it’s because I haven’t yet shifted my attitude. I was shifting a marketing strategy, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that every author is on their own unique path at their own unique pace and the most important things for me to do are:

1. Write good books

2. Get them out there

3. Be decent (i.e. don’t turn into a little shit, or if I’ve been one, definitely don’t continue on in that path.)

So now I’m going to go work on a short story for an anthology and try to get my word count back up some. (I’m behind on my 365k goal.)

In 2011 I want it to be ALL about the words. Not about the ego. Not about the competition. Not about the drama. In the spirit of the title of the new release, I’m not losing my soul to reach any dream. If I can’t get where I want to go while being a decent human being, the cost is too high.


This is a reprint from the Weblog of Zoe Winters.

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