November 4, 2015:
Okay, so last month I had a more prolific blogging period than usual. Much of that came from my “need” to promote a novel I was pushing out to the public, complete with chapter samples, launch day announcements, and the eventual cave-in to the freebie model that satisfies the growing trend of $.99 books (and pricier titles) getting ignored. That blogging series steamrolled right into the day that cinemaphiles (including myself?) have been waiting for for 30 years (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re either not a cinemaphile, or very sheltered, or grounded in reality–take your pick). And then there’s the seasonal writing push I tend to feel in October, thanks to the perpetual shots of pumpkin that blitz my system.
And all of this prolific writing leads to the inevitable issue that various viewer stats begin to spike, and with it my “need” to drive the numbers higher starts to eat at my brain. What can I write about next? What will draw the masses? Are the masses out there to be drawn? Why are so many people interested in pumpkin macchiato and hoverboards? It becomes a give and take of experimentation, acceptance, and confusion. How does one article generate more readers than all of my other articles combined? Higher numbers lead to more obsessive questions. And thus my search to answer those questions leads me to experiment with even newer ideas and loftier goals. The results often reveal that one shouldn’t mess with a working formula. But I digress.
The same can be said in the world of e-book commerce. My new e-book, The Computer Nerd, has already shot well past the number of downloads that my last two e-books have generated, in spite of their one- and two-month leads over it (Lightstorm and “The Celebration of Johnny’s Yellow Rubber Ducky” respectively). But how? It’s getting ready to catch the total download count of “When Cellphones Go Crazy,” which I released back in July. And the thing has been on the market for just two weeks. Its acceleration up the graph has been relentless (ever since I made it free, but not at all when it came with a price tag), and I keep holding the planned $2.99 price at bay because I’m curious to see if it can catch the top three (“Amusement,” “Eleven Miles from Home,” and the highest downloaded title, “Shell Out,” which is ten days older than “Eleven Miles,” but a good 80 downloads ahead). The idea that it could take my whole author catalog is thrilling. But then it drives me to wonder, Should I make everything I release, ever, free? If so, how quickly can the next e-book rise? The answer to that next question, of course, will hopefully be answered on Black Friday, when I plan to release my next title, a novella called Cards in the Cloak. Given the cover, length, and category, I’m assuming it’ll have a run similar to what Lightstorm experienced. Just a hunch. But again, the question comes back to “Why?” Why did The Computer Nerd have such a lousy first two days (in viewership and sales) then take off like a rocket in spite of its views never topping the dismal first-day views? I have my theories (coming in the post-mortem I’ve been promising for the last two weeks), but the deeper question is, “Can I replicate and improve these with the next one?”*
So, these numbers become a source of obsession for me. But can we call it a healthy obsession? Besides the weirdness that a writer is even attracted to numbers–as a rule, people with degrees in English don’t mix well with anything related to math–I think a “healthy” obsession with these statistics is possible because that means I’m motivated to write something even better than the last thing and to do it soon while the fire is burning, not just in me, but in the readers who have come to find my writing stash.
And that’s really my main drive, to keep the writing coming.
As a reader, you may be wondering what this means to you. To put it simply, it means, don’t ignore what drives you (as long as it’s healthy and won’t cause you or others physical or psychological damage). That might be obvious, but there are still millions of people in the world who aren’t seeking out their dreams, or aren’t putting as much into them as they could, so I guess the message is still important, and if you’re reading this, and you’re not doing anything but dreaming, then stop driving yourself crazy and start doing what matters. Satisfying a dream is psychologically rewarding, even if it keeps you stirring in bed at night wondering if this was really such a great idea. The answer is yes. It’s such a great idea. You may hate the results, but at least you did what you’ve always told yourself you’d do, so you can stop asking all those “what if” questions, at least the starter “what if” questions–the branching “what if” questions, including “What if I had a million people reading my story about penguins in a jungle?,” may not actually stop assaulting your brain. But that’s okay. We’re humans, and we are never satisfied completely.
It also means that pumpkin coffee and hoverboards are popular subjects, way more than e-books and reading.
*To answer the above question, I think the answer is “not necessarily.” Books are like dates. You might have a successful run with one and a lousy run with another (not usually in that order), but you can’t really learn from your triumphs and failures because success comes from the other person’s experience, not yours, which means you have no control over how successful you are. You either hit the mark or you don’t. If you don’t, don’t despair. Just try again. Unlike true insanity, you probably could do the same thing the same way and have better results because the reader (or your new date) may have different needs that are more in line with what you have than the last reader (or your old date). You could also do it differently and have the same results. You just don’t know until you put yourself out there. If you do hit the mark, then congratulations, you’ve got a book that connects to people (or a follow-up date, which is also preferable).