Sunday, August 23, 2015
How dare I self-publish and then not hustle to "sell" (copies, so others can make a living even if I don't have to)
I’ve gotten a lot of new Twitter followers recently, and most of them are in the book self-publishing business. And the timeline of tweets, instead of offering a lot of news and personal friends’ activity, now has an enormous volume of pitches from people trying aggressively to sell content, sometimes making rather blunt overtures.
It does strike me that it is unlikely that a large volume of people can really make a living selling fantasy or romance novels, or self-help. It’s hard for a large volume to make it selling anything (including earning ad revenue), despite some specific spectacular successes with mommy blogs (“dooce”) and sometimes other niches (like “Blogtyrant”).
And then I get this attitude from author services’ companies and other vendors: how dare you opine for fifteen years and not make people pay for your stuff, not dedicate yourself to helping us make our own livings by competing in an almost zero-sum game of selling a commodity (in this case, “instances” or printed books, following object-oriented software jargon). I think back ten years ago, when I wrote "editorials" on my legacy site (before taking up Blogger); today, one could look at this out-of-date material (especially on matters like gay marriage) and wonder who was I to opine? But it didn't seem so gratuitous then.
It’s true, for thirty-plus years I had a stable, well-paying career as an individual contributor that didn’t make me “compete” for attention or authority (or “power” of Putin’s kind). When I got into self-publishing, I managed to live a double life for a number of years, but in the era of modern social media that’s now officially impossible. And resistance of users to relate to ads, and of investors sobered by lower growth, exchange rates, commodity gluts and currency concerns, the age of “free” user-generated content could come under business-model pressure (not to mention all the legal and security-related controversies like downstream liability, hacking, cyberbullying, do-not-track, and “right to be forgotten”).
Yet, I focus on finishing my own “original” content, most of which I had conceived of before the Internet created the bug distraction. In my fiction, I do wonder, can I sell it? I can create mystery, and answer questions about what it might be like to live on another world, and even defend the idea that may come sooner than we think. On the other hand, in my fiction, the “gifted” seem to prevail, and the more “ordinary” or disadvantaged are not guaranteed any happy endings. That may have seemed all right ten years ago, when TV series like “Smallville”, “Everwood”, and “Kyle XY”, among others, were popular, and all presented “hero” like characters (brought down to scale from comic book origins). In the past few years, though, I’ve detected a desire in the public to see the “less gifted” make it, and lauded for their efforts (the whole “trophy” debate). That might sell, but it’s hard for me personally to warm up to that.
There’s also the issue that I put so much into telling my own life narrative. I think mine is pretty unusual, in the number of ironies it presents, and in that many incidents really do lead to unusual moral parables. I can, in my own mind, name some people who may have faced some comparable situations, but I know much less detail than I do for my own knittings. Is it the duty of an author to imagine moral dilemmas faced by “ordinary” people unlike the author, in struggling with the adaptive concerns of ordinary life? It’s true, I experience less “instinctive emotion” in ordinary social situations (or in common hardships) much less than a lot of people, and tend to see “marriage and family” as a private, personal afterthought (the way a lot of spy fiction does). The fact is, many people “marry” and form families out of what seems like practical necessity, and that’s never been interesting to me.
All of this goes through my mind and people approach me to get involved in their causes, or even their lives, once I’ve made myself known. That was an unexpected result of self-publishing. My “moral compass” has moved farther from (pro-libertarian) the focus on “personal responsibility” to include things like resilience (especially as relationships start), responsiveness to need, and belonging. Maybe these things are preached by religious scriptures, but they also come from the law of karma. I think a lot of us may be surprised how we will be judged in the afterlife (which physics convinces me to exist). For one thing, there is no honor in victimhood; you’re helping pay for someone else’s sins because you didn’t meet real needs earlier, a lot of times. Luck, an hidden dependence on others' sacrifices and dirty work count a lot more than I like do admit (meaning interdependence, often facilitated by family, becomes inevitable). As I get older, these things become apparent. And the freedom that comes with asymmetry provides new parameters for morality.