I 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.
I 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)
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.
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.
In 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.
Months 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.
Since 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.
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.