We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of the publication of my debut novel, “Voodoo Hideaway,” and I have this creeping paranoia that somebody, somewhere, is reaching through the internet and into this blog as I write this with the intention of grabbing my wallet and making a run for it.
If it’s not happening now, you can bet it will happen sometime in the next day or so, when this blog has a chance to spread like wildfire through the web, to my many thousands of loyal readers, who exist in my imagination, if nowhere else.
But the hand reaching for my wallet? That’s real, my friends. So is the upcoming one-year anniversary of “Voodoo Hideaway.” That, too, is real. The book made its world publishing debut on June 20, 2021.
I’m pleased it’s out there for all the world to read. Seeing it published was the culmination of a lifelong dream. I spent many years writing and rewriting the book. I spent a lot of time polishing it, restructuring it, expanding it, contracting it, cursing it, hugging it, going over it with a fine-tooth comb, again and again, until it became my second self. It’s nice to have completed a novel and see it in print.
But all I’m really thinking about during this particular milestone are a pair of numbers. One number concerns how much money (and time, and energy) I spent writing and commercializing my novel. The other concerns how much money I have earned from it.
The first number – how much money and personal resources I’ve spent – is much more finite. At some point, surely, it must come to an end. I have thrown a lot of money – my money – behind “Voodoo Hideaway.” And I am tired of throwing money (my money) behind “Voodoo Hideaway.”
Here’s one thing they don’t teach you on your way to becoming a book author: There are about a million and one people devising a million and one different ways to separate you from your money. This is the case even if you don’t self-publish. You can have a publisher behind you, and still spend great gobs of money.
There are exceptions, of course – but only if you’re lucky enough to hook up with one of a handful of major book publishers who rule the industry. These publishers take on all the costs themselves, while the authors sit back and collect advances and royalties. As for everyone else….
Even small, legit publishers might ask authors to share certain costs, usually involving printing or promotions.
That’s just the nature of the business, 21st century style. You have a few industry Goliaths and a bunch of Davids, and the Davids don’t have enough capital to finance all the promotions and kickbacks necessary to make them Goliaths, so they ask authors to share the costs, and meanwhile the Davids rarely win these battles against the Goliaths (unlike in the Bible, where Davey Boy always wins).
I have a publisher behind “Voodoo Hideaway.” It is one of a growing number of “hybrid” publishers that share costs with authors. This is technically accurate, although I’m guessing that in this case the word “share” typically means one party puts up 90 cents for every dollar, while the other puts up a dime. I won’t tip my hand on which party puts up what.
I’ve spent several thousand dollars on “Voodoo Hideaway” over the last year-and-a-half. I have paid for editing and design services, legal costs, marketing costs, social media promotions, reviews, ad placements, stuff I’ve probably forgotten about. I have tossed around money like a drunken frat boy in Vegas. Being the biz whiz I am, I’m itemizing these expenses on my tax returns. But it’s still mostly money out of my pocket.
I spent this money because I believed in “Voodoo Hideaway,” believed in its qualify and sales potential. I still believe in that. I will go to my grave believing it’s a decent novel, funny and entertaining, well written and structured, suspenseful and engaging, with a ready audience.
Does my publisher believe this? I’ll never really know, to be honest. I paid them money and they did as much as the money was supposed to do, and not a penny more. The second I stopped paying money, they stopped doing whatever it was they were doing. I get 100 percent of the royalties. They don’t get a nickel. They don’t have any skin in the game, so what possible motivation do they have to ensure steady sales?
I knew all this before I started paying them, BTW. I knew writers are not supposed to pay publishers, or anyone else. From a strictly business standpoint, that’s the dumbest goddamn thing in the world. But I was willing to do it, just to get the book out there. I figured it’s maybe the best book I had in me, and I didn’t want to see it languishing inside my computer for all eternity.
And there was also this, which is key: I have the money to spend. I’ve managed to save a decent amount of money through the years, and the publication of “Voodoo Hideaway” happened to coincide with a big uptick in income from my work writing web content.
I was making enough money in a month to pay for all the book services and promotions. This is a luxury I have, being an older writer with a lifetime of income stuffed away, and a ready source of new income adding to it. It’s not a luxury younger writers have – yet they, like me, pour money into their books on the off-chance that it might pay off, which probably doesn’t happen very often.
It must be said that I’m happy with the way the book looks, the quality of the design and pages, and the fact that it is for sale on so many sites. Certain bookstores carry it, and I didn’t have to deal with all the legal/copyright minutiae, which I hate.
As for the money I spent on marketing? Pretty much a waste. I’m not sure I got a dime’s worth of value out of it. How could I? How could anyone? When a publisher has nothing to gain from a book’s sales, how can it possibly commit to helping it sell? They designed a marketing brochure, fired off some emails, and called it a day.
This wasn’t the end of my spending, though. I spent money with Instagram folks who claimed to have 50,000 followers or so – and could guarantee a lot of potential readers! Which might be technically true as far as it goes, but I’m convinced none of those 50,000 followers gives a shit about the books being promoted on these pages. To this day I still get pitches from IG hustlers. Wasted money.
I spent money on influencers who could guarantee a lot of potential readers! Wasted money.
I spent money on review sites that could guarantee a lot of potential readers! Wasted money.
I wasted money on ads.
I wasted money on promotional services.
I wasted money on consultants.
One marketing consultant suggested I give my book to the bartender at a jazz club I frequent and have him pitch it around to customers. I thought to myself, “If this is what promoting a book is all about, count me out.” I go to the jazz club to watch music. Not to pester a bartender who barely even knows me.
Others suggested I blanket the publishing world with email pitches – anyone and everyone connected with the book industry, from the lowliest marketing drone to the CEOs of the world’s biggest booksellers.
“Market yourself!” I was advised. “Share your narrative – let them know the power behind your work!”
I test-ran a couple dozen emails I made up on the fly. I got a series of nice form emails in return, thanking me for my interest and wishing me the best of luck.
I still get a steady stream of offers from folks on the fringes of the book industry requesting that I waste money with them. This happens every week, all the time. Once you are outed as a writer with a book to sell, these people appear in your life out of nowhere, like magic.
Well, I’m not spending one more red goddamn cent promoting “Voodoo Hideaway.” Nor am I going to spend half my life trying to grow its sales, one book at a time. I have no interest in trying to convince some little bookstore to let me give a little reading in front of little gatherings of people who just want to sit down for a few minutes. Neither am I going to plead for a podcaster to help me pimp my book, or an influencer, or any of the others you are supposed to market yourself to.
I’m not going to hustle my ass off just to sell an extra hundred copies or so. It’s not that important to me. I don’t need the money, and I got better things to do with my time than stumble blindly around in a ridiculous industry where a few big book publishers suck up most of the profits, and maybe 100 book authors in the whole world make a decent living at it.
Would I like to sell a million copies of “Voodoo Hideaway?” Yes! Indeed, I would! But if I can’t sell a million – or even 50,000 – then I don’t really care how many I sell. I have a Go Big or Go Home mentality about all this. I figure it will either get picked up by the right reviewer or agent and sell a bunch of copies, or it won’t.
It’s out of my hands, from here on out. I enjoyed writing it and I’m happy someone published it. I’m proud of it and I hope others will enjoy it. If enough enjoy it I will write the sequel. But my marketing days are over.
Oh, and those numbers I was crunching earlier? The money I have taken in vs. the money I have spent? One is bigger than the other.
I’ll let you guess which….