The Vacuum of Doom

By | January 25, 2008 | 7 Comments

I called my Corporate Masters the other day and was put on hold for seventeen hours while their Muzak played “MacArthur Park” softly into my ear until I was convinced that I’d never have that recipe again. Every few minutes someone would pick up and ask if I was still there, and every time I said “Yes,” as politely as I could, I heard raucous laughter in the background and then I was unceremoniously put on hold again.

I’m in that strange first-book twilight zone, where I don’t know anything. I won’t get sales figures on The Electric Church until next summer, probably, and in the mean time I’m in the Vacuum of Doom, where I have no information to go on and therefore am free to imagine the worst possible scenarios, like Doom Scenario #1: Not only have sales been too low to measure, but people are actually returning it for angry refunds.

Okay, maybe a little paranoid. Part of the problem is that damned Amazon Sales Rank, which has been swelling of late into larger and more frightening numbers. On the one hand, Amazon is one of the few metrics I have to judge sales by. On the other hand, it is famously useless, as Amazon has invented its own New Math to calculate it and Amazon is less than 10% of the total sales market for a book like mine. Still, it’s all I have to go by, and as it grows it looms large in my paranoid fantasies.

My shelves here in the Compound, you see, are stocked with a lot of 1980s SF/F paperbacks by people who have completely disappeared. Some have died, of course, which is a good excuse for not publishing anything since 1987, of course, but some you can find on the Internets, sadly wondering why they haven’t sold a book in 20 years. So I glance at my shelves and think, damn, that could be me. Damn, maybe that is me. And then you pour yourself another drink.

Of course, then you read about something like this: an author defying his own publisher and helping to pirate copies of his own book by way of marketing, and as a result seeing a huge surge in sales. This reminds me of another recent story here, where a self-published author spent $50,000 or so of her own money promoting her self-published book and eventually got a $2-million deal for it. It all starts to make you wonder.

On the one hand, I’ve heard from a lot of people who believe fervently that giving away your art actually results in more sales, and the first story I linked to seems to be another proof of that concept. But I don’t buy it, personally. This is probably because I’ve been trained too well in the education system, but I think about my own experience, and the simple fact is that when someone gives me something for free, I tend to not buy it. Simple truth. I regard free shit as a sucker’s gift and I run away with it clutched in my hands to gloat over it and call it precious and then sleep the sleep of the just later on.

Now, if you give me a part of a book or album of movie – a sample – that will, naturally enough, sometimes inspire me to buy the whole thing. But if you give me the whole thing, I simply never even consider buying it. I don’t steal books or music either, I want to point out – I’m talking about a freely given copy of something. Maybe I am just an evil little bastard. It’s always possible. Certainly my imaginary double, Mr. Evil, tells me that all the time, generally while he’s advising me to burn down buildings and build homemade pipe bombs.

And one thing I definitely am is ignorant and slightly foolish, so it’s always possible I’m totally missing the damn point with this theory.

None of which helps me with my paranoid fantasies, of course. Oh well.

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7 Comments

  • I am with you, in the lifeboat, sometimes rowing, sometimes bailing, sometimes trailing my hands in the water wishing the sharks would just get it over with. The worst part? People keep asking me how the book is selling. What do you say? I don’t know, but I hope well enough that I don’t have to go back to waiting tables like I did when I was in college? Dude, I think we gotta just hope for the best while we go on and write something else we loved just as much as the first thing we ever published. Any other alternative seems to lead straight to loonyland.

  • jsomers says:

    Jennifer,

    Thanks for letting me know I’m not the only sad, paranoid author in the world. I know, people seem to think we actually have sales info. Ha!

    As for the rest, you’re absolutely right–keep writing for yourself, hope to sell it, just like we always have.

    L
    J

  • Hey dude, quick note to let you know that your usage of the word “vomitorium” in the current TIS made me literally laugh out loud when I read it.

    Also, I’ve started on TEC and I can see why it’s been so spectacularly reviewed. You’ve evolved to a lofty level.

  • jsomers says:

    Frank,

    I think all quality literature should include the word ‘vomitorium’, don’t you?

    Thanks for the kind word! ‘Lofty’? I dunno about that, but I’ll take it!

    Best
    J

  • J'aime says:

    Hey Jeff,
    Here’s a bit of encouragement for you: I picked up TEC from the scifi table at B&N yesterday on a whim and sat in the cafe and proceeded to read the first few chapters. I not only bought the book and am nearly finished with it, but I intend to NOT return it, and will even recommend it to my geektroid friends. It’s a great read. I’m pretty psyched that I stumbled upon it.

  • jsomers says:

    J’aime,

    That helps tremendously–thank you! I appreciate the pat on theback, and I’m glad you enjoyed it!

    If any of your friends doesn’t want to buy the book, they can just send me three or four bucks, and that’d be nice too. :-)

    L
    J

  • Yes. “The Vomitorium Chronicles” indeed.

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