Is it time to hang up the typewriter?

$_32I never thought I’d wonder this question — nor open up about it with others like I’m about to do right now, questioning my own ability (let alone talent) as a novelist, and fracturing the ‘mystique’ of sales figures by shoving them right under your nose so you can see how, er, on the nose they’ve become.

Besides, I use a keyboard these days. The red Olivetti got retired off years ago and functions as dadaist art on my mother’s wall.

Yeah, I do still have a hack sense of humour and thank god I don’t take myself or my ideas of art too seriously, or I’d likely be getting out the floral hanky — or fluttering a white flag and calling it a day.

TOBACCO-STAINED MOUNTAIN GOATI think writing was my earliest bona fide passion, something I’ve been doing since at least age six. Along the way it’s morphed from vacuous sci-fi short stories and never-published long-players to university essays, and then journalism, followed by finally publishing a novel (Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat) in 2011.

I don’t have accurate sales-figures on that one, but as you can see in the cute graph (below) I’m pretty much up to date on the sales of the four novels thereafter.

First up, I’m not here to whine about money.

I’m quite content working a full-time job and write on the side; life goes on, and there’re so many inspirations out there in the real world that it’s better than parking myself at home to fiddle on plots. (cont. below)

Book Sales

I’d like to surprise my wife Yoko and daughter Cocoa with the occasional success story and treat them both for being so damned patient with the time I’ve consumed plugging away. I do carry regrets that I’ve missed chunks of my daughter’s growing up behind me while I type.

And there have been moments of monetary ‘glory’—One Hundred Years of Vicissitude and Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? had great eBook sales, though admittedly while both books were discounted on Amazon to 0.99c.

cropped-books-andrez-comics-less.jpg

The reviews, both from critical sources and layman readers, has been nothing short of fantastic over the past five years. There’s the odd hiccup of a cranky critique, but a majority have inspired me to keep writing, to continue this passion, to explore and link the worlds in my head I’ve been creating — and discovering myself as we go.

With Heropa in 2013 getting 31 reviews on Amazon, at an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars, I began to believe in a camaraderie, a sense that what I was doing was right and it didn’t matter if I failed to make much money, or I had to work 40 hours a week teaching… my writing was getting out there, people were reading my yarns, and it appeared like a considerable number might actually like them.

Which was the moment it pretty much changed.

I’ve had some wonderful people continue to read and review my novels, and new ones discover them afresh – I cannot ever thank these guys enough. They continue to motivate and inspire me.

But as you can see from the chart here, my subsequent novels Depth Charging Ice Planet Goth and Small Change have, let’s face it, completely bombed in the sales department.

The printed booksIn two years I’ve managed to sell 57 paperback copies of Planet Goth, and only 54 eBooks. Over the past six months Small Change has shifted 31 hard-copies and 24 digital versions.

Small Change has a single review on Amazon (thanks, Daniel!), and to be honest I bought three of those hard-copies for family.

So, yeah, in reality 28 paperbacks have reached people’s hands.

Compare this with over 100 units sold in eight weeks during the Kickstarter campaign for my graphic novel of Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat. Which is another factor — comics work. Everything I do comics-wise sells far more than my novels, and it involves a miniscule amount of the time and focus that novels demand.

Page_01Months are usually spent living within the pages of a novel, involving every waking moment, before sleep, daydreaming when I should be teaching; burning myself while cooking since I’m plotting out a character.

I’ve written a comic issue in a matter of days and made twice the income of a novel a hundred times longer in terms of word-count.

The thing is, comics and novels are different kinds of imaginative flexing and I adore doing both. I can’t compare them, and will not malign one in favour of the other.

But novels cost more time and more money to produce, and these factors are beginning to prey upon my mind — which is incredibly sad if I really stoop to think about it.

Most of the time I don’t.

But when a prospective publisher (later revealed to be vanity press) asks for  £1900 towards the cost of production of a book because I’m still an unknown author, and another publisher says “I really like this, but there’s no point in our publishing it if we can’t figure out how to sell Andrez” (that’s a real quote by the way; I liked the complimentary part at the beginning)… well, I lose some of my stubborness and determination and self-belief (and the fun element of it all) and just start realizing I’m likely never going to make it in this novel-writers’ craft.

Not to the point that it repays me for all the time and trouble, and simply covers the costs of production of books published by people who believe in my work.

NEW_FRONT_COVER_BLACK_SAILSSince the last couple of novels have run at a loss, it’s no real surprise to see some barriers going up and publishers being less likely to run risks (again) on a novelist who’s actually gone so far backwards sales-wise. And they’re right. These people run a business, not a charity. Why should they throw away dosh to support someone whose art makes no money?

All this is freestyle thinking, believe me, just some stuff that’s been circulating in my head over the past few months and watching those sales figures flat-line.

Could be I’m just tired too, after finishing a duo of novels (#6 and #7) on the trot.

If they reach only a dozen pairs of hands apiece, I’d worship those readers, but the publishers would shut the door on any future work together and the white flag would be attractive.

But I could be in a far worse position in so many ways.

I have a wonderful family and friends and people who seem to enjoy what I do conjure up between covers — and at least I don’t have any of my characters uttering ‘Hail Hydra’. Actually, that’s not true… sinister businessman Donald Wright barked it out in Heropa.

Anyway.

Fact is I love writing, and want to continue till I’m blue in the face, and have two more novels on the boil. I have so many ideas and plans — but I need to kick back a little and consider the questions: does anyone truly care about my work, and am I being realistic?

There’s the rub.

Shakespeare certainly had his sage moments.

Andrez

 

 

 

 

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10 responses to “Is it time to hang up the typewriter?

  1. I have far fewer sales, almost no reviews of any kind and little interest apart from the five people who read my books. I will likely die penniless and forgotten like William Blake. Alas. But I can’t stop. I can always go back to what I did before I got published, which was write the things and put them in a drawer. So it goes.

    • Kate, I had no idea—to my mind you’re one of our success stories, and well deserve that status. I know the “kindred spirits” thing (in this case) isn’t such a nice whistle to blow, but thank YOU for letting me in on this; I feel less like an unloved flop! We can have a flop party, and use our books for kindling on the barbie. xxx

  2. Hi Andrez. Well, ok, so the sales and figures haven’t been as good as your earlier novels, the comics you write and create seem to sell much more… Maybe you have just been spinning too many plates and you’ve got a bit worn down by things. Being an Indie author is a tough market, you’ve had great reviews on the most part for so much of your work, books and comics, and making that breakthough must seem like an uphill struggle. But above all, your passion for writing is just as strong as ever isn’t really? You know, when I started writing and reviewing, I never expected it to lead to me writing on other sites as well as my blog. I’ve been very lucky, and got to know so many talented writers and artist – yourself included of course – along the way. But there have been times when I’ve thought about giving it all up, a nasty comment here and there, and of course last year a dear friend of mine passed away… I guess what I’m saying, is, don’t beat yourself up about it. Ease up, take a break, focous on comics for a bit maybe, and space out the work on the novels. Family and day to day life comes first, always, life is for living, and believe me the writing will always be there when you get back to it. In fact, it’ll be like welcoming back an old friend. Anyway, my friend, take care, and always believe in yourself and your wirting.

    Best wishes

    Paul 🙂

    • Paul, thanks as always—you’ve been one of the cool people who’s kept me on my toes and inspired all along the way lately, and for that I’ll be eternally appreciative. Food for thought here. I’d just hate to see the doors close to my novels—and a “prouder” part of me thinks walking away prior to that happening might be a good gig. 😉 But I’ll stick at it for now. Cheers, my friend.

      • You’re welcome Andrez. Always enjoy reading your work. I hear what you are saying, I think a step back might be a good move for you, but don’t give up on the novels completely. Perhaps spacing out the release of any further novels might help? I’m sure you’ll figure out what you want to do, give it time, and don’t rush into anything. I’ve always wanted to write a novel but never had the time. I’ve thought about it, or maybe moving into comic strip writing, but to do that I’d have to probably give up the reviewing gigs to have the time to devote to any such projects. There’s never enough hours in a day is there? Well, you take care buddy, all will be work out for the best in the end, whatever you decide. Speak soon 🙂

  3. What’s the end game here? It’s great that you love writing novels as well as comics, but simple economics says you stand a much better chance of supporting yourself as a comic writer than a novelist. Plus, there’s a chance of comics leading to commissioned work from other publishers, and maybe your work taking off with people in the world of tv or film (I remember you mentioning that possibility a while back).

    I get that you’re not at all precious about Art-with-the-capital-A but how about being more Pragmatic? Get a few comics out there doing business for you and you increase your ability to get out and do more of what you love on all fronts. That’s part of the thinking with my own plans, and it finally seems that being able to support myself through creative projects that matter to me is feasible. At the moment I’m doing some freelance copywriting, but the amount of creatively satisfying work I’m doing is increasing and potentially allows me to reach escape velocity next year.

    Maybe that’s your intention with the comics you’re doing anyway, or you’re not as stubborn as I am about the desire to support myself doing what the hell I want. But you’re plenty tenacious already, and being more ruthless about what you focus on in the short term could pay off long term, because I’m betting you don’t want to be looking at equivalent numbers 5 years from now.

    Adrian

    • Right you are, Adrian. I think the 5-year slog kind of wore me out! 😉 Seeing sales go backwards, and publishers’ understandable balking at this trend hasn’t helped, but I am a stubborn bastard. You’re right about hoping not to see the trend continue — that’ll basically mean no chance of publication of novels at all. And the complete lack of support in my own country (Australia) has been frustrating. Only one single bookshop stocks my books, and media there doesn’t touch my writing with a barge-pole. Maybe they thing I have something catching? Doesn’t help when “mates” on Facebook attack you for being too pushy with promotion of new books, either. Anyway, enough complaining. You know the score. Thanks, mate.

  4. Paul, thanks again for the wise words; I’ve had some great advice, feedback and ideas from people—makes it feel much less like a solo mission. Ta, matey! 😉

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