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HERE I SIT, I CAN DO NO OTHER


With Apologies to Martin Luther...



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My Great Uncle Richard wrote a book once, and was so excited he had five thousand copies printed. Most of these spent the next decade piled up in cardboard boxes beneath his dining room table. The book was about a man who converted from Hinduism to Christianity early in the 20th century and his name, etched forever in my memory, was Sadhu Sundar Singh.

 

Great Uncle Richard thought it was a wonderful book and couldn’t understand why no-one else did. But it soon became apparent there was no way Sadhu Sundar Singh was ever going to shift from beneath the dining room table, let alone make the bestseller lists.

 

As time went on, Great Uncle Richard grew increasingly desperate. That’s when he hit upon the brilliant notion of employing my friend Kathleen and I – then teenagers – to help him realize his literary ambitions. We were to take to the streets with armfuls of unsold Sadhu Sundar Singh and attempt to flog them to an indifferent public in return for a small commission on each copy sold.

 

We agreed, for reasons that now escape me, and because I’ve blanked out most of what happened next, so awful was it, I asked Kathleen if she remembered how it went:

 

“We lasted a whole hot and sticky afternoon of door knocking and we sold two books,” she wrote in an email. “Most people didn’t answer the door because they thought we were Jehovah’s Witnesses brandishing copies of the Watchtower. One customer answered the door in his underwear; he gave us the money just to get rid of us. I don’t recall who the second copy went to. Our commission was very disappointing…not even enough to buy an ice-cream.

I do remember having to break the awful news to your Great Uncle that there were still 4998 copies left, and also having a cup of tea at his flat afterwards which did nothing to calm our nerves. I think that Sadhu Sundar Singh was very influential in my subsequent aversion to selling.”


Ironically, nothing has changed. I am still trying to flog books to an indifferent public, only now they are my books, not Great Uncle Richard’s. It’s still about as much fun as trailing round on a hot afternoon trying to unload Sadhu Sundar Singh. The only real difference is that they are ebooks and print-on-demand books, floating intangibly about in cyber space, rather than physical volumes taking up actual space beneath the dining room table. The other significant difference, of course, is that they aren’t about Sadhu Sundar Singh.

 

The manner of selling self-published books is also very different these days, and sometimes all that tweeting, blogging, liking, one-plussing, skiting, bragging, and spamming can do your head in. But this is not the right attitude, according to a recent article in the Huffington Post by Rachel (“I am the author of three bestselling books and you are not”) Thompson.

 

In the article, which is tactfully titled “Authors are A**Holes,” she helpfully provides a list of all the things authors ought to be doing as they endeavour to unload their books on an indifferent public (“this is my way of giving back”).

I’ll reproduce it below, even though just looking at it brings on waves of fatigue and panicky feelings of inadequacy.

  •  a spectacular book (professionally edited, formatted, designed, proofed)
  •  reviews (minimum 25) within the first few weeks
  •  beta or ARC readers before you release
  • an optimized website (professional graphics, social media icons, key wording, HTML, CSS for faster loading, etc… all to increase your SEO). Not sure what it means? Look it up.
  • an active blog (once weekly minimum)
  • a book trailer (share on your own site, social media and YouTube)
  • participate in memes like‪ #‎MondayBlogs or chats
  • meet cool peeps, learn, promote others
  • interactive social media (not spammy) at minimum Twitter, Facebook and Google+ (important for your Google ranking) following readers, book bloggers, book reviewers, book clubs
  • groups (important to establish connections with peers) Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+
  • an eBook version (duh) Don’t care if you hate eBooks. What do your readers want?
  • a virtual blog tour (won’t sell books. DOES increase visibility, SEO, reviews, connections with readers and bloggers, and Google Ranking)
  • Google AdWords (get advice on how to do it correctly, study and research, or pay someone to do it for you), or FB or Goodreads or blogger ads. Something!
  • book clubs
  • book signings
  • swag (bookmarks, pens, postcards, etc)
  • guest blog guest blog guest blog (and not only about your book and how wonderful your toenails are)
  • interviews (give and do for others)
  • don’t argue with reviewers
  • giveaways, promotions, etc.
  • email newsletter (aka, email marketing)

 

Is she serious? Yes, I'm afraid she probably is.

 

But the problem, at least the way I see it, is not the failure to guest blog, guest blog, guest blog, whether it be about your toenails or something else. I think the problem is rather that every man and his dog are self-publishing these days.

To prove my point – taking at random a very small sample from Smashwords, a well-known self-publishing site – here’s an example of what every man and his dog inflicted upon the world in the space of an hour one Saturday morning:

  1. Boy and the Older Man, 3,400 words, $2.99. (Yes, that’s right, 3,400 words for $2.99, and the title I’ll leave uncommented.)
  2. Frustration Unchained, 13,000 words, $2.99. (No Comment.)
  3. In complete contrast to the above, Your Jesus GPS, 28,000 words, $2.99.
  4. Business plans for entrepreneurs, 6,000 words $9.99 (Who is going to pay $9.99 for 6000 words, unless it’s the subjects of the next entry…)
  5. The World is Full of Idiots, 850 words, $2.99. (Does this person seriously expect anyone at all to spend $2.99 on 850 words about the world being full of idiots? Sadly, he or she probably does, and even more sadly, they probably will.)

So that’s the competition. It’s not particularly daunting in itself, no need to feel overwhelmed by the quality. The quantity is a whole other matter, however. Multiply the above by millions and it’s easy enough to understand why selling a self-published book in 2014 is even more difficult than flogging Sadhu Sundar Singh was in the 1980s.

This is the point in the blog where I am supposed to provide the answer, unlock the secrets of the kabbalah, decode the mystery, for according to all those proliferating blog posts on how to write blog posts, blog posts are supposed to be helpful and informative.

 

All I have to offer is this:  I have no choice but to remain planted in front of my computer, weaving words together, because this is what I was called to do, or, to misquote Martin Luther, “Here I Sit, I Can Do No Other.”  And ultimately, when I’ve done my part to the best of my ability, success or failure will not depend on how much I guest blog, guest blog, guest blog. It will depend on the One who called me.

 

(The image used in this post is a public domain photograph of a painting by Van Gogh entitled The Novel Reader).