Writer’s blog: Stardate: 19.10.2013
What did Will mean by that? ‘To be or not to be, that is the question.’ A lot of people think he was harping on about living and dying. Maybe he was. I’m asking myself the same thing. Not about living and dying but about my writing, or more precisely my self-publishing. Actually my focus is a little different. It’s more like this: ‘To be me or not to be me, that is the question.’
Not for the first time, I have to ask myself, what the hell am I on about?
I wrote and self-published the Romney and Marsh Files under my own name. No problem. Call it vanity if you like. I like my name and I believe it’s unique. Thanks mum and dad. Then I came to self-publishing my Acer Sansom novels and I did pause to wonder whether I should put them out under my real name. Why? Because they are not like the R&M Files. They are in a different genre. I have written them differently. The R&M Files are studded with my own brand of what I think is funny. There is no humour in the Sansoms. They are different reads regarding content, structure, pace and style. So what? So, naturally, I have been/will be actively encouraging readers who have enjoyed the R&M Files and who follow my blog or Twitter account or Facebook account or my Amazon author page to download the Sansoms. And I have good reason to believe that many have. (Thanks by the way.) But just because someone likes a British police procedural with toilet jokes does not mean that they will enjoy a serious thriller in a different style. And if they don’t enjoy the change it will probably lead to Amazon comments that come across as less than impressed. And we all know how important good Amazon comments and ratings are to sales of self-publishing nobodies, not to mention self-esteem.
And of course, I’m writing this because it’s happened: just yesterday two three star comments that both said the same thing. Liked the R&Ms, but weren’t so keen on the new stuff. Bugger. One even referred to Dirty Business as ‘boring’ in comparison. Ouch!
But what can you do as a struggling self-publisher? A great part of being successful is building a following and a platform. If you go changing your name every time you self-publish a book with a different set of characters in maybe a different genre you’ll be starting over again from scratch as a nobody. The mountain of recognition is steep and high and the climbing is not easy. Ask anyone who’s having a go at it.
So should I have put the Sansoms out under a pseudonym? To be me or not to be me, that was the question. (Was because it’s too late now for anything other than reflection where those books are concerned. The dye is cast.) And in the not too distant future, I will be self-publishing another book with new characters which is different in style again to both the R&Ms and the Sansoms. But its biggest difference is that it’s written in the first person whereas all my other stuff is written in the third. Should I put that out under my own name and risk less than favourable comparisons to previous work?
Once again it seems a case of swings and roundabouts. Because my name is familiar to some readers now through the R&Ms the Sansoms are being downloaded and given a try. Sales go up and the books become more visible in those all important charts, which leads to the possibility of new readers sitting up and taking notice and looking at Amazon comments before they buy. And there have been some very encouraging comments (several by readers who have tried the Sansoms after the R&Ms so it’s not all doom and gloom. Thanks to you. You know who you are.). But no one really takes any notice of those, do they? Everyone believes that these are comments of friends and family and the product of comments factories in Taiwan where reviews can be bought by the tonne. We gravitate to the one, two and three star comments looking for ‘truth’, ‘honesty’ and a dose of schadenfreude.
Of course, it’s not all negative. There are positives. If readers try the Sansoms and like them they might decide to give the R&Ms a try and like those too. More downloads equals more kerching and more visibility. But what if readers who come to the Sansoms first then go on to be underwhelmed by the R&Ms and leave feedback to that damaging effect? Sigh. There we are again.
I suppose what it comes down to is faith. Faith in one’s writing that it is good enough. And I do have faith, more in the Sansoms than the R&Ms, actually. And vanity of course; I like seeing my name on book covers even if I have to pay for it myself.
I have had one question answered through this thoughtful experience. I have often wondered why some traditionally published covers say things like, ‘X writing as Y.’ Clever really, but probably not as useful a ploy with ebooks. Too much writing on the thumbnail images. And it means very little if you are a nobody in publishing terms.
One thing I am now certain of: my trilogy of erotic dinosaur porn during which an Olympic squad of young and busty lady beach volleyball players accidentally fall through the fabric of space and time into a parallel dimension to find themselves in the Cretaceous Period with a bunch of randy reptiles looking for something a little less scaley to have some fun with will not be self-published under my own name. Working title: Fifty Scales of Grey. Just my luck if it turns out to be a massive hit.