So I didn’t get into this to make books, per se? The whole point is that it’s a serial, it’s episodic, I like the zines, it was always about those, you know? But you should do an ebook, people said, you can sell it on Amazon, people said, so I did, because why not? —Having already formatted the text for the web, it turned out to be pretty easy to set it up as an ebook, and with a little more work what I’d already done to format the text for the zines made it relatively easy to set it up for a paperback. So in 2011 I took the eleven chapters done so far and published them as a book, and last year I took the next eleven chapters and published them as a book, and over the three and a half years of this career I’ve backed into, as a publisher of books, I’ve sold—
—Maybe I’ll sell a book a day, I said to myself, when I was putting the finishing touches on the first one. On average. —That’s not too much to ask, is it?
It’s not like I’m going to quit. It’s not like it’s even a failure. It’s a number. Numbers require context; “I don’t have any whiskey,” may be a fact, as the man says, but it is not a truth, and the context, the truth of the matter, is that it costs me nothing to keep these books out there, nothing at all to make a new copy to fill any order that does come in, so why not leave them be? Two books exist where before there weren’t any, and more to come, and they’re mostly doing what I want them to do, in terms of words and sentences and people-shapes moving through story-spaces—and there’s more coming? —So what’s a bottom line, compared to that?
It costs me nothing, except what it’s already cost: three or four days of taking the HTML and flowing it into EPUB, and then a MOBI; four or five days of taking the files I’ve already made for running off the zines and flowing them into a single document for the paperback, and oh but also the day or so originally spent on each chapter, making those files in the first place (I have templates, I have systems, there’s also the time I spent devising and refining those systems, and the false starts, like the whole first edition of the first paperback, which came out a little too small, and had to be redone)—oh, and the covers, a couple days fiddling in Photoshop for each, and you’ll notice I’m being a bit vague, airy even, with the figures, these aren’t actual days, you know, but time snatched here and there, a couple of hours in the mornings, before anyone else but the cats and Twitter is awake, a couple-three hours after the bedtime story, and an old TV show being ignored on the other monitor, and of course the weekends, so it’s hard to quantify, and how do I even begin to tot up the time needed to snap the photos in the first place? The time spent walking and driving and looking about—having already seen the pink blossomfalls in spring, say, it wasn’t all that hard to put myself on a sidewalk by a fire hydrant with a camera in my pocket, but for the second book, see—there’s this thing that happens, when the fog’s burning off the river, tatters of it still clinging here and there about the buildings downtown, on the west bank, and if you’re standing on the east bank, down on the esplanade, mid-morning, the sun shining bright behind you, and you’re looking at the US Bancorp Tower, ol’ Big Pink, you’ll see hints of a ghost building beside it, the light reflecting off that amber glass, reflecting again off the shreds of fog. It’s eerie, and it’s rare, and I’d see it but not have a camera, or I’d go for a walk on likely days with a camera, and never see it, and then that one bitter day I happened to be working in an office building downtown, a couple blocks away from Big Pink, eleven floors up, and looked out to see the sunlight splintering the icy sky like that, and hey, I had the camera in my pocket—how do I account for that, on a timesheet?
Oh and of course the time spent writing it all down in the first place. Two hundred words a day, four hundred, twelve hundred, fifteen to sixteen thousand words a chapter, thirty to forty days for a draft, not necessarily in a row, a couple-three weeks to revise and rewrite, twenty-two chapters in now, the first eleven from oh let’s say 2006 until 2011, and the second eleven from 2011 to 2014, and oh but there’s also all the time spent noodling, dreaming, poking, prodding, idly testing this bit of plot during a dull meeting, muttering possible lines of dialogue when I-5 northbound’s a goddamn parking lot again, settling down to sleep only to leap up and scuttle back out to the keyboard to jot down the thunderbolt that just assembled itself from God-knows-what, and also all the time spent before 2006, running at this possible approach or that, coming to some grips with whatever-it-is I’m trying to approach anyway, figuring out what the voice ought to be trying to do and how it would sound, I mean, can I tell you, the original draft was a screenplay? —Does it show? —So tell me, how does all this get accounted for, on the P&L?
But! We are assured by economists that sunk costs are a fallacy. They do not exist! Pay them no heed. It costs me nothing, now, to keep these books out there. And it’s not like I’m going to quit. Or fire myself. Cancel the contract. Shut it down.
I suppose in part this was inspired by a recent rash of posts about writing and money and sales—like Kameron Hurley’s characteristically blunt “What I Get Paid for my Novels; or, Why I’m not Quitting my Day Job,” which mostly made me feel a little less conflicted about the contract I signed for the one work-for-hire job I did that then got cancelled; Ann Bauer’s Salon piece on being “sponsored” by her husband; Shaun Duke’s musings on the Author Earnings January report; Jenny Trout’s “realistic” response to the Stacey Jay Kickstarter kerfluffle, which mostly has me muttering “Easy money in the ketchup factory” at inopportune moments, and then cackling bitterly, and refusing to explain the joke. —And I look up, and look around at my current situation, to compare and contrast, and I suppose the Spouse and I sponsor each other? —We both have day jobs; she has two, essentially, with her freelance coloring work, and I do a lot of the day-to-day housekeeping, the cooking and the laundry and the shopping and the chauffeuring, and while it’s not so much the case that one of us carries the other, it is true that taking care of three people at once is easier and less time-consuming than three people each taking care of themselves, and so with that bit of magic to hand we can carve out for ourselves a bit of time and a room of our own, and work to keep each other’s as sacrosanct as possible, and though it’s not enough, no, not even close to enough, still—the work gets done? —And I realize this isn’t data, per se, it isn’t hard numbers or facts, it’s overheated puffery, vague gesticulations at truth, but it’s as close as we’re gonna get for the moment. We live paycheck-to-paycheck, like so many others, and though there’s that background radiation of anxiety we’ve all learned to live with and don’t bother talking about, still we beat on, month by month, against the current. —Eyes steeped in ketchup-logic might look over what numbers we have and roll away, insisting as stentoriously as eyes might that a responsible business decision really ought to be made—but we don’t live in balance sheets and annual reports, where all cows are spherical, can openers might be assumed, and every human is a rational actor; where anything that can’t be quantified and commodified is blithely dismissed. —Maybe we tell the ketchup magnates that this work we do is, essentially, our 401(k)—accounts in which we store what excess value we might generate in the hopes that one day yet to come these elaborate, lovingly detailed lottery tickets might pay out?
But then we start thinking in numbers again. —A hundred and seventy-five copies! Seventy-nine last year! That isn’t even a rounding error.
It isn’t even enough of a sample size to use for constructive generalizin’. —Oh, you can look at the peaks in last year’s numbers and say, okay, January was the Bookslut review, so there’s those numbers explained, and February and March was when volume two was released—
(Wait, a sale just rang in—now we’re up to 176! And one whole sale for 2015! So far!)
—sorry, yes, where was I: June! Two of June’s sales I’m cheekily certain can be attributed to Fangs for the Fantasy’s review, and July I was at Readercon; the lessons to be drawn, then, would be: release books (trying), get talked about (okay), and go places and badger people until they buy your book (well).
So there’s the Kip Manley plan for success in self-publishing. —Should I have charged you for reading this? Would that’ve helped?
I’ve glossed over a couple of things, of course. (When you look at something, you can’t help but look away from something else: thus, the secret of eyes.) —The first being the zines—remember the zines? What I got into all this in the first place for? —I do sell zines, after all, and have been since long before the books were even a line item on an earnings projection. But the books are easier to report on, is basically it. Zines are almost entirely sold by hand, or given away, and inventory’s printed whenever I’m running low (I’m almost out of nos. 4, 14, and 16, say) and while I make a stab at quantifying the number each year for taxes, I’m not digging through nine years of returns for a blog post that’s already too long. Suffice to say I’ve sold somewhere between three hundred and four hundred? I think? Total? Maybe? So somewhere between nine hundred and twelve hundred dollars, since 2006. I think. Maybe. —Not even beer money, really.
The other thing glossed is the fact, of course, that I give it away for free, too. —This isn’t the time or the place for to-ing and fro-ing the pros and cons of monetizing the gift economy or whatever the fucking hell; I give it away, that’s been part of the plan from the beginning, it isn’t likely to change, and if it did it wouldn’t make much of a difference. So I can say to myself it doesn’t so much matter, the low numbers over here, if there’s other numbers there that—
—but, I mean, numbers. Pfeh! The hell do they know.
(There’s been other things I’ve been reading, of course; things people say about the writing of people I admire; things that people whose writing I admire have said about what they’re doing, or trying to do. The sorts of things I’m always reading. And when I read these things I tend to look down, and think about what I’m doing, which doesn’t do anything like what those things are doing, and I feel this pang, this ache, this sense of loss, like I’m disappointing—I don’t know. Them? Words, or maybe language? Myself? —Takes me some little time, sometimes, to remember I’m doing other things, things those other words aren’t doing, and yes but wait are these things worth it? —Is that a question I can even ask, much less answer? —Look, for good or ill, we’re committed. This is what we got behind. Our flag is planted; our costs sunk straight to hell. —Steam on.)
—Oh, hey! A December sale though Apple that Smashwords just reported! We’re up to 177! —Though they haven’t updated the balance yet. —Where was I? Opening statement, numbers numbers data, ketchup-logic, doubts—oh! Reassurances, right. Steam on. —Volume three’s well underway, two episodes done, a third being heartily procrastinated as we speak by writing long blog posts about numbers and doubts and reassurances and suchlike. —I’m not quitting; far from it. I’m not even really shaking things up all that much, just looking to where I can double down on what’s already being done.
—But if I’m still feeling this itch to make a change, to do something to alter the situation, I could, I dunno. Maybe fire my marketing department?