Selling Books in the Apocalyptic Year of 2017

So. 2017 in the United States of America. Some interesting stuff going on, amIright? Maybe we’ll all live to see 2018, maybe not. Check in on Twitter to find out!

klehey

In the meantime, we’re all still hoping civilization is going to continue onward, and part of that hope in my own squirrelly little life is releasing a new novel this fall. 2017 will actually mark the 10 year anniversary of the publication of my first novel The Suicide Collectors with St. Martin’s Press. I think it’s fair to say at this point that promoting and selling a novel has been a quixotic process in my experience and I’m finding it harder than ever to gear up for another campaign, especially in a world where it seems like people read, and care about books, less and less.

Living on the road my friend,
Was gonna keep you free and clean
And now you wear your skin like iron,
And your breath as hard as kerosene
 -“Pancho and Lefty”

But then again, everybody warned me writing would be a hard road. Yet I persisted, like some kind of lunatic cat attacking a scratching post. So what the fuck did I expect, right?

Last night I stood by a table for 4 hours in attempt to sell copies of my novel The Firebug of Balrog County and handing out free bookmarks.  I don’t mind talking to people, but selling something as personally meaningful as Firebug, much less anything at all, tends to make me a little queasy, even after a decade of practice. I started out the night feeling proud and cocky, wondering aloud to my buddy how many of the authors gathered at the event were published by mainstream presses (as if it really fucking mattered, right?) and ended the long night with a grand tally of three books sold. Ah, the swift reality check that is trying to sell your work to the public! No matter how many great blurbs and reviews it may have garnered! No matter how cool you think the cover is!

I often tell beginning writers that they better love editing as much as the initial process of writing or otherwise they’ll be bound to burn out long before the process of polishing their work is complete, not to mention the process of becoming a good writer. So does it follow that if you want to be a published author who makes a decent income (through product sales) that you must love promoting your work (and thus yourself) as well?

By necessity, a novelist spends a lot of time alone and withdrawn from the world. Even the ones who write in a coffee shop, surrounded by keyboard clacking and the ritualistic banging of espresso machines, are still very much alone in their inward process. Either by natural inclination or through the learned habit of repetition, a novelist embraces the solitary side of their nature, which, you’d think, would cause you to drift further and further from the more extroverted traits a good salesperson calls upon.

(Is it just me or  do the authors who are very slick, with shiny hair and gleaming lupine smiles, often write forgettable schlock? Is there some kind of correlation between how good you are at sales and the level of authenticity in your work on the page? Does the blunt relentless self-assessment that aids good writing detract somehow from your sales ability? Or is this just my own bias speaking? My own jealously at how slick and best selling these writers tend to be? Probably. Though I think there’ some kind of kernel of truth here, nevertheless.)

Of course, there are plenty of great writers who are also great at the promotional side of bookselling. Personally, I’m still a promotional work in progress. (Or maybe I’m just kind of lazy?) If my publicist Megan is reading this, I just want to say thanks for bringing the new The Town Built on Sorrow bookmarks to the event last night and chatting with me far longer than required by your profession. I promise to pull my share of the publicity load as much as possible, writing all the blog posts and interview responses required, pestering my long suffering friends and family (hey, this will be book #5, I get it folks!) and standing in front of an audience or two, wondering in the back of my mind how it was again that I ended up here, reading a book with my own personal feelings in it to a crowd as if I’m asking a longtime crush if they’d possibly, maybe, perhaps, want to go on a date with me, the sweaty bumblefuck.

 

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