On the way to work this morning I began listening to a podcast with a writer called Kevin J. Anderson, a pretty big name in the SF field. I haven’t read any of his books but I’d heard the name about, and when I saw that he was interviewed on a podcast I sometimes listen to, I thought it might be worth checking out.
I used to listen to a lot of writing podcasts, but these days listen to very few. Most of them have reached a saturation point where they’re either retreading old ground, or offering so little in the way of new information that they’re not worth the listen. This one, however, came at a good time.
As an indie writer active (at least passively) in several large online writer communities, I often encounter writers who rise meteorically from nothing into bestsellers over a year or two, and quickly begin voicing out the rest of the community with their path to success. It can be interesting to hear but at the same time demoralizing, particularly when you’ve been in the game for a while (coming up to eight years for me) but still fail to see any great success. You follow the supposed branding and marketing rules, only to see things not work out as planned, and it can grind you down. Then you hear something from an experienced voice which gives you a boost.
I haven’t listened to the whole podcast yet, but I got to a point where Kevin mentioned that your writing was like popcorn in a pan: you never knew which piece would blow up first, but the more of it you had in there, the sooner a piece would. I’ve been struggling at the moment with this kind of system of diminishing returns, in that my sales have been so poor I’m starting to believe in conspiracies against my books. Last year my Christmas book did well, for example, so this year I wrote two more and linked them, yet almost no one this year is going on to read the two new books. In fact, the sell-through rate is so small that I’m tempted to check the files to see whether Amazon has auto-inserted a “the next book sucks!” notice just after the place where I typed THE END. It certainly feels like it.
What happened when I listened to the podcast this morning was that I was reminded that this is a longterm game, and that your career will go through cycles of peaks and troughs. I’ve felt over the past year that I’m not so much in a trough but in a long decline, but that’s irrelevant. The takeaway was that you just need to keep adding more popcorn to the pan.
I’m in the process of deciding strategies for 2020. Advertising on paid platforms is proving costly and pretty much pointless, so I’m considering going back to list building, which was my main aim in 2018. More than anything, though, I think simply building on the foundations I have is the important thing. That means more books in series, extending each series so that I can afford a greater loss on advertising the book ones. The writing output has always been the one thing I can control, so I need to focus more on that. Benjamin Forrest and the Curse of the Miscreants comes out on December 27th, and will my seventh novel release of 2019. Hopefully it’ll be the lucky one that takes off. Four pre-orders so far doesn’t suggest it, but there’s time yet.