I called my Corporate Masters the other day and was put on hold for seventeen hours while their Muzak played “MacArthur Park” softly into my ear until I was convinced that I’d never have that recipe again. Every few minutes someone would pick up and ask if I was still there, and every time I said “Yes,” as politely as I could, I heard raucous laughter in the background and then I was unceremoniously put on hold again.
I’m in that strange first-book twilight zone, where I don’t know anything. I won’t get sales figures on The Electric Church until next summer, probably, and in the mean time I’m in the Vacuum of Doom, where I have no information to go on and therefore am free to imagine the worst possible scenarios, like Doom Scenario #1: Not only have sales been too low to measure, but people are actually returning it for angry refunds.
Okay, maybe a little paranoid. Part of the problem is that damned Amazon Sales Rank, which has been swelling of late into larger and more frightening numbers. On the one hand, Amazon is one of the few metrics I have to judge sales by. On the other hand, it is famously useless, as Amazon has invented its own New Math to calculate it and Amazon is less than 10% of the total sales market for a book like mine. Still, it’s all I have to go by, and as it grows it looms large in my paranoid fantasies.
My shelves here in the Compound, you see, are stocked with a lot of 1980s SF/F paperbacks by people who have completely disappeared. Some have died, of course, which is a good excuse for not publishing anything since 1987, of course, but some you can find on the Internets, sadly wondering why they haven’t sold a book in 20 years. So I glance at my shelves and think, damn, that could be me. Damn, maybe that is me. And then you pour yourself another drink.
Of course, then you read about something like this: an author defying his own publisher and helping to pirate copies of his own book by way of marketing, and as a result seeing a huge surge in sales. This reminds me of another recent story here, where a self-published author spent $50,000 or so of her own money promoting her self-published book and eventually got a $2-million deal for it. It all starts to make you wonder.
On the one hand, I’ve heard from a lot of people who believe fervently that giving away your art actually results in more sales, and the first story I linked to seems to be another proof of that concept. But I don’t buy it, personally. This is probably because I’ve been trained too well in the education system, but I think about my own experience, and the simple fact is that when someone gives me something for free, I tend to not buy it. Simple truth. I regard free shit as a sucker’s gift and I run away with it clutched in my hands to gloat over it and call it precious and then sleep the sleep of the just later on.
Now, if you give me a part of a book or album of movie – a sample – that will, naturally enough, sometimes inspire me to buy the whole thing. But if you give me the whole thing, I simply never even consider buying it. I don’t steal books or music either, I want to point out – I’m talking about a freely given copy of something. Maybe I am just an evil little bastard. It’s always possible. Certainly my imaginary double, Mr. Evil, tells me that all the time, generally while he’s advising me to burn down buildings and build homemade pipe bombs.
And one thing I definitely am is ignorant and slightly foolish, so it’s always possible I’m totally missing the damn point with this theory.
None of which helps me with my paranoid fantasies, of course. Oh well.