Since the first royal courts, artists have traded expression for survival. (Non-civilized cultures, because they’re wiser than us, don’t have this dichotomy.) I decided about 10 years ago that I didn’t want to stake my welfare on my poems.
Paradoxically, that’s probably responsible for both my depression and notable absence of ulcers. I’ll work harder and longer, and have higher hopes for my novel than any other project, but I’m not starving along the way.
I’ve been working on The Dredge Cycle since 2006. (Tagline: “What if the world ended when you were a kid, and no one noticed?”) First what kept me going was pure inspired adrenaline. Then came the verve of collaboration. I sent a section to semi-blind readers for review, to good responses. (Maybe because no one wanted to talk any shit.) Through it all, one modest goal underlay my ego: These ideas are important. Let’s discuss them.
My confidence grew. By 2010, I was sure this book would enjoy such underground success I’d have to practice soundbites for my Democracy Now! interview. By a year ago, I was tired of talking about a book no one could read. So I decided to put my novel, in progress, on the internet. I waited for high-fives; yawns; demands for clarification and new chapters; maybe even a church scandal, once the Powers got hip to me.
No, none of that.
It’s not just bad luck. I’m pretty focused on being a poet-novelist, not an industrial self-promotion machine. I haven’t done my marketing due diligence.
I have blogged about it since 2006, emailed friends and family, printed stickers, talked it up at bars and parties. The staff at my coffee shop of choice knows what’s happening under my crinkled forehead on weekend afternoons. I don’t frown on anyone’s high volume/slow reading schedules.
The fact remains: No one is reading my book.
I’m not being paranoid. I just check my webstats. The fact that no one is reading could mean a few things. Let’s consider them in two categories: Things I can control for, and those I can’t.
I can control for:
- The design of the site. Easy to navigate? Am I losing traffic?
- SEO. I probably need professional help.
- Draw. How am I luring readers?
- On-site marketing.
- Off-site marketing. Where should I focus my extremely meager budget?
I can’t control for:
- Appeal. Are the themes/narrative actually…not very compelling? Too esoteric?
- Word of mouth. Readers will talk about it, or they won’t.
- The internet is, like, really big. Staking a website is basically like putting a sign in front of my house.
I’ll tell you a secret: All of these absolutely terrify me.
It’s scary as hell to be a solitary, broke artist, trying to scrape up and implement marketing basics. It’s scary as hell to conclude that, even if I do everything right, this book might fail even my most modest goals. I hold this fear tightly in my body.
So I keep two articles of faith.
First (some days second), I’m young. This book is evolving. We both have plenty of time to emerge more fully.
Second (some days first), writing this book makes me happy. Simple. The deeper, the stranger, the tighter, the more coherent, the more satisfying.
Here’s how they cycle: I gestate, grow, understand (everything) better. I post changes on the website (they’re marked in each table of contents). I daydream that everyone reading now is reading a better book—first timers and returners. I’m on cloud nine…until the views don’t nudge any. Depression folds in, I get anxious. I remind myself that I’m young, and this makes me happy; depression lifts, my little ulcer disappears. I go through this every few months.
Because under my ego-dreams…I really just want a small, human connection. When someone demands the next section, I relax. It’s working.
If no one’s reading my book today, that’s okay. Because I am. Merciful as she is pernicious, my muse is giving me a book I love to read. By her light, I just can’t stop.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.