How to be an Obsessive Compulsive Indie Author

So I wrote a science fiction western historical fantasy, The Ghosts of Watt O’Hugh, and according to the critics – those who have looked at it – it’s a good book. (Kirkus Reviewsnamed it as one of the best of 2011, as you may have heard me mention about a thousand times, if you are a regular reader of my blog, or someone who knows me at all, or someone who was just unlucky enough to be introduced to me at Kiddush anytime in the last couple of months.) Happily, it’s the first book of a planned trilogy, and my next book seems good so far, at least to me – it’s got some surprising time travel, a gunfight in Death Valley, a visit to 枉死城, which I believe loosely translates as the Chinese “City of the Innocent Dead” (a really nasty place in the underworld that, surprisingly, has a bakery with delicious moon cakes), a rip-snorting train robbery, a magical Montana rabbi, and more from that dastardly and evil mathematician, Leopold Kronecker.

Less happily, it sometimes seems that an “Indie” author makes a choice between writing books and selling books.

Since my novel was published in July, I’ve queried numerous bloggers, followed up with those who agreed to review my book, and gave interviews to every website and newspaper that would talk to me. I have flown to every bookstore that would have me, near and far, and did what I could to publicize it. I’ve posted updates for everyone on my Facebook list, and my GoodReads list, and my Linked-In list, and anyone who checks in with my website. I pop by the local bookstores to see if they’re out of stock. With the help of my cover artist, I’ve designed my own publicity, from web ads to posters, which I’ve taped and tacked on the street and in coffee shops from Brooklyn to Maine. I’ve written guest posts for other bloggers, anyone who would have me. When my novel was chosen as one of the best of the year by Kirkus Reviews (as you may have heard me mention before), I emailed everyone who kind of likes me, and maybe everyone who has ever pretended to like me. I recently quit my job, and in my goodbye email, I reminded everyone that, if they missed me, they could always purchase my book, available on Amazon and at your local bookstore. My sales briefly rose, which was gratifying.

This is kind of normal, but the web gives us too many opportunities to “monitor” things. How many people hit my website today? How many people read my GoodReads blog today? (To my chagrin, next to no one read my most recent GoodReads post, in spite of my mentioning the ever-popular web-search trending masterpiece Drunken Master Part 2 in the headline, just to get clicks!) The readers who clicked my well-positioned Facebook ad generally didn’t click through to buy the book. The Project Wonderful readers who clicked onto my website clicked through with more regularity to buy the book (but sometimes didn’t buy it). I know this, because I can see how many people click onto my website, where they click from, and then what links they click to. If they click onto Amazon from my website, I can then check the Amazon rankings to see if anyone is buying.

Not only this – I can check to see if anyone has “tweeted” about my book. (My favorite: “Has anyone heard of The Ghosts of Watt O’Hugh? Is it any good?” from an up-and-coming novelist of some repute.) I can check google to see if any bloggers or other media have mentioned it. Do you know, for example, that the ever-popular website mentioned my novel in its aptly titled article, 2011年度中外媒体好书评选汇编. Happily, Google provides page translations. If anyone mentions my book on a discussion board, I will know about it. (My favorite: “Here’s a new one that keeps showing up on my dash. Haven’t read it so can’t comment on quality, though.”) Mostly, people on the web have been saying very generous things about my book, and when the King of the Nerds called it “one of the most exciting and original debuts I’ve read in years”, I knew about it within the day. But I did as well when “Barman” at the 1000 Bars website called it “convoluted”. (He also opened his review by claiming falsely not to be my brother-in-law. So the weirdest twist in my Indie career is that my one bad review to date was from family. But he is entitled to his opinion, just like anyone.)

It gets worse. Not only can I see how many libraries have purchased my book, I can look to see if anyone is checking it out, and when it’s due back. And whether anyone has requested it in the meantime! GoodReads tells me who wants to read my book, and who is actually reading it, and even what page they are on. I can see what used bookstores are carrying it, and what it’s selling for. I can see the book’s rankings on Amazon every hour. If my book sales drop (as they are doing right now — I just checked), to make myself feel better, I can compare my novel’s rankings with the new book by a distant relative I met 25 years ago. Who doesn’t love being competive with his relatives? Currently (as of Saturday night), his tome is 473,091 in the Kindle Store. Ouch! I’m way above him! On the other hand, he’s outselling me in paperback. Oh well. When I was running a GoodReads giveaway, I could see by the minute how many people were entering the contest and how my number of entries compared to other books. (I did pretty well on that front, I am happy to say, although my giveaway on the Earth’s Book Nook blog was rather unpopular.) I can check to see if the GoodReads giveaway winners are reviewing the book, and even whether they are reading it.

Back in the “legit” publishing world, they reputedly have “people” to take care of things like this. And before the advent of the internet, there was no way to find out most of this stuff. Anyway, the City of the Innocent Dead awaits. So my Chinese New Year’s resolution is to stop looking at the web and keep my nose in the books. Sales will do what they do; the web will do what it does. I won’t notice, as I type away at Watt’s exciting new adventure.

We’ll see how this goes.