On this journey, there have been good days and there have been bad days.
It seems as though at every stage of this process, I think the breakthrough is going to happen when I hit the next big milestone. Then, that milestone comes and I discover that all that has really happened is that this one particular milestone has been reached, that one small goal has been achieved. In reality, success never happens all at once, it is the product of a seemingly infinite chain of small goals being achieved towards some broader and more meaningful overall goal.
It’s been like this my whole life, lofty dreams that if only this one thing could happen, everything else I wanted would immediately and inevitably follow. It’s the whole ‘when my ship comes in’ mentality. But life never works out that way; we’re just conditioned to believe it is by two hour movies where it seems as though things do happen with such intense immediacy. The older I got and the more mature I became though, the more I was able to understand the old proverb that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and with a seemingly infinite number of small steps and goals along the way. I learned about this a lot in university since it too was a long term goal accomplished in a series of much smaller goals. I never became immune to that kind of thinking though; I suspect I never will entirely.
When I wrote my first book Launch, I believed that when I finished all I had to do was submit it to a publisher, that the first one would pick it up and love it as is was, and that I’d immediately become renowned and wealthy. Things don’t work that way though. I remember a story I heard as a child which for some reason left a lasting impression on me. The details are vague in my memory, but it involved an African runner who was far and away the best and fastest runner in his little village, so much so that when he had the opportunity to go to the Olympics he figured he didn’t even need to practice. Inevitably of course, he finished dead last. He went back to his village and committed to training every day, and would never race against others in his village because he’d learned that they were not his real competition. He pushed himself against his own limits every day, and went back four years later and won.
It’s a simple story, but it always made me remember to consider who my real competition was. This can be problematic if you’re always comparing yourself to the best, but it also keeps one wanting to strive to improve because it leaves one’s best as never good enough, and reminds one to not necessarily compare oneself to the competition at hand.
I submitted Launch way before it was ready, and it was rightfully rejected. I didn’t give up though, instead I rewrote it into something far superior. And when I was ready to submit it again, I’d already started working on the next book Midway. At some point though, I had a dozen rejections and three books piled up. Recalibration was required.
I learned that much like virtually every other medium these days, there were new media solutions for people in my position. There were disruptors like Amazon and Createspace who allowed authors to bypass the gatekeeping publishers and reach out directly to their audience. So, instead of writing another book which I couldn’t figure out how to get into the hands of readers, I set about making them available online on my own.
Here again, I figured that all it would take was making them available, that fate would smile on me, that they’d be picked up and widely bought, and that fortune and adoration would immediately be mine. All I had to do was a little advertising. I made the books available and proudly began advertising them on the Facebook and Google AdWords advertising system. What did it get me? Not a damn thing. Not even all the people who knew me and assured me they’d buy them ever did, though others did and to them I say thank you very much. Either way though, I was stuck. Advertising had been my plan, I thought that was what one did and that it would work. My next step was to spend thousands of dollars on a broader and more intensive advertising campaign, but I was now appropriately skeptical of this plan. I had to recalibrate.
Why had the advertising not worked? I asked. I could see on my website metrics that indeed traffic was coming into the site, but there was not a single sale to show for it. Why? After some investigating I believe I’ve figured out the problem, a total lack of reviews. The books are as much a completely unknown entity as the author is. Why would somebody bother to read books with no other voices saying anything about them one way or the other? I realized that I’d errored, that advertising comes later. First you need to get the right people reading the books, and having them say something about them. Only then can the advertising effectively point to something compelling. The naked books themselves are after all only compelling if you read them.
So, I looked into how one gets reviewed. I learned that for five hundred dollars there are professional and legitimate reviewing agencies who make no promises one way or the other as to how they’ll review your book. This makes it quite possible to pay five hundred dollars for the privilege of having your book utterly shit upon. However, they also might really like it. After all, they claim to make every effort to appropriately assign your book to a reviewer who at least likes your genre of books to begin with. If it’s a bad review though, I can have it buried and it never needs to ever see the light of day. If it’s good though, I then have a professional review from an industry reputable reviewing company, which they post on their own site, and make available for me to use on the book itself, in the amazon description, or wherever else I want.
I learned that there is an even greater number of cheaper reviewer options who again make no promises as to the favourability of the review, but are less known reviewing agencies and thus charge more in the hundred and fifty to two hundred dollar range. The deal is seemingly the same; I have to pay in advance either way, but a bad review can be buried and a good review can be used however I wish. Beyond this, there is a seemingly infinite number of free reviewers who are looking for exposure as much as I am, and as many literature blogs who would be happy to get a free book to write about to create their own online content.
This is the world I am now going to dive into. Since I love and believe in my work, I feel there is a good chance of positive review in any of these venues, and if I get the odd negative review I can live with that. Instead of investing in advertising now, I’m going to invest in getting reviewed. I will in my usual style use a shotgun approach and spend the next month or so submitting Launch to anyone I can find online who will review it for me, or even just tell me they might if they can get around to it. Then, several months from now when I am getting my reviews back, I will investigate a well thought out plan of attack for a comprehensive advertising strategy for Launch.
And that’s another thing I’ve realized. I’ve been focusing too much on pushing all three books as a set right from the get go. That’s way too imposing. I am instead going to proceed in phases and deal with Launch first (though all three will remain available online all along). I will pursue reviews for Launch specifically first, and only then after going through that process and learning much more I am sure, will I submit Midway independently to all appropriate reviewers. Around this time I will also be ready to tackle advertising again.
Once I’ve submitted Launch for review wherever I can, while awaiting responses I’ll start working on the audiobooks. I’ve already bought all the appropriate equipment and have done some chapter tests to learn how to properly use the equipment and editing software. A couple of the people in the Thanks and Acknowledgements page of the books specifically requested audiobook versions, but doing so was always part of my larger plan and strategy. As a voracious podcast consumer, I well understand the appeal of listening to something while doing body work. While actual reading is certainly rewarding, it requires a total commitment of one’s time. It’s an activity which monopolizes the body as well as the mind.
Goodreads is another thing I’ve looked into. It’s my next small goal along the larger journey after the small goal which is taking the time to write this post. At the moment I don’t know enough to say exactly what I’ll be able to do with them, but it’s an online community of readers and as an author I have the opportunity to add my books to their online database, and when the time comes there are promotional opportunities I can use when I’m ready.
Also, Kindle Unlimited is a program through which people who pay a monthly subscription fee can borrow your book (or any other book signed up for the program) for free, and then the subscription revenue is put into a pot and distributed among all of the participating authors according to how many ‘borrows’ your books incur. You sign up for three months at a time, and during this time you also have to have an exclusivity deal with Amazon which means you can’t publish your ebook on any other platform. Well, my contract expires tomorrow and I have declined renewal. When I first signed up I had several borrows, but they then died off entirely. Tomorrow I will begin work on making the books available on all other possible platforms, the Apple store, Google Play, Nook… and whatever other platforms I can find.
Two days ago was one of the very good days, a day in which everything seemed to come up Ross. Not only did both of my hockey teams win games they were given odds to lose (Vancouver Canucks and Ottawa Senators), and thus earning me six dollars on my humble two dollar Sports Action bet, but it was also that day that I realized I’d received my very first revenue for my books. I was officially a paid author. Aside from the eleven plus dollars of revenue I received from Amazon for ebooks family members had kindly purchased, there was also a four dollar and ninety-nine cent deposit from Amazon from those who borrowed my book through the Kindle Unlimited program. Wow. That was something special for me to see. Yesterday I went to the bank and withdrew that five dollars, and I intend to frame it. In an infinite series of small steps, that is a step that stands out and which one remembers; that is a milestone one cherishes. That day I also discovered that I had another sale, which made me even happier. It was a cool thirty-five Australian cents, but it was a special thirty-five cents. Some random person in Australia, like some random person in Great Britain a few weeks earlier, took a chance and laid down 99 cents to buy my book Launch.
Reducing the prices was another time when I had to recalibrate. I didn’t want to sell my books short, but I began to wonder if I was pricing myself out. So, especially since I have three books to sell, I reduced the price on the ebook and paperback of Launch as much as I could. I made the Launch ebook only ninety-nine cents and made the others two ninety-nine. The idea is to make the first book as appealing and easy to obtain as possible, believing that if they like it they’ll be perfectly willing to pay just a bit more for the next in the series. I employed a similar strategy in repricing the paperbacks; I made Launch as cheap as the system would allow me, Midway a bit more, and Arrival somewhat more. If a reader makes it to the end of Midway, how could they resist paying a bit more to be able to read Arrival? Recalibration.
Something else I should mention, is the success I’ve had at the small step of putting my books in the hands of some of the people who helped to inspire their creation. Although the majority I never heard back from, many I did receive remarkably positive responses from. Phil Plait said he’d love to receive the books, so I mailed them to his PO box in Colorado. The same day I mailed a copy of Arrival to Penguin/Random House as per the contract I signed in buying the rights to use an Asimov quote from ‘I, Robot’ at the beginning of Arrival. Signing and fulfilling that contract was another small but immensely satisfying step along the way. That day I also mailed two copies of each book to Legal Deposit Canada, our equivalent of the Library of Congress, as is required to publish in Canada. My books are now part of our collective culture in a very real way, and that feels pretty special.
Kiki Sanford of This Week in Science gave one of the most positive and gracious responses, and I sent three copies of each book for her and her co-hosts Justin and Blair. As I briefly eluded to earlier, Pamela Gay and Philip Adams both responded and said that when I have an audiobook they’d love to have and listen to them. I even got a response from somebody at the Hundred Year Starship project and while he said he couldn’t guarantee they’d be able to get around to it, he told me that if I sent them my work they might be able to review it for me. Sadly this was before I had the realization that I should push Launch independently and I sent them all three at once, but still. It is also remarkably satisfying to have my own private email address like a digital big boy when corresponding with these people. I feel so delightfully professional when using my email@example.com address.
Another incredibly good day on this journey happened when I was in Victoria last week. I’d emailed Bob MacDonald of CBC’s Quirks and Quarks, and he also responded to say that he’d be happy to read the books. I asked him for a mailing address and when I saw that it was in Victoria (which I wasn’t expecting), I realized that the trip to Vancouver Island which Joyce and I had already planned, meant that I’d be able to deliver them to him personally. He said that this would work for him as well and let me know which days he’d be there. On our last day on the island, Joyce and I went to the CBC studio in Victoria and met him in person. It was a wonderful experience; he even showed us around the studio and his office, and we had the chance to chat for a bit before leaving. That was another good day which I won’t soon forget. The good days stand out in my memory more than the bad days.
Lastly, I want to talk about my self-imposed deadline. The books are called New Horizons, and as I look at the countdown on my phone which has been there for a couple of years now, there is only 102 days left until the New Horizon spacecraft flies through the Plutonian system. My goal was to have my books available online in all formats by the time the flyby occurred. It was both a hard cap to motivate myself as well as a natural cross promotion opportunity not to miss. So far it looks like I will achieve that goal, and I can be proud of myself for it. It took a lot of diligence and hard work. Again though, the hard work never ends, and there is no finishing line. As Q so memorably said, “The trial never ends…” Any meaningful struggle is an ongoing one, and only fools ever think that any great challenge can ever truly be overcome. This and the idea of a grand project being broken down into manageable small steps uncoincidentally is also central to the books I’ve written. When the flyby happens I should be starting to get reviews back for Launch and be in the middle of creating a plan of advertising attack. If my timelines are correct, actual advertising should be occurring just as all of New Horizon’s exciting new data on the Plutonian system will be in the middle of being processed and released to the public. This will be wonderful timing if I can keep up my pace.
So, although there isn’t any finish line which I can see at this point, nor can I really see the now distant starting line either. I’m in it. I’m working my continually recalibrating plan. Although success will never happen all at once, neither can failure. I’ll never just plainly fail and have to give up any more than I’ll ever plainly succeed and be finished. Although for the next year or so I’ll have to take off my writer’s hat and don a publisher’s and agent’s hat, I haven’t stopped writing entirely and I don’t think I ever could. I’ve written the first few chapters of several potential books since finishing Arrival (one of them being part four of the New Horizons Series), and I have new ideas all the time. For the moment though, there is no time to pursue any of them as zealously as I could Launch, Midway, and Arrival. Selling the books I’ve already written has to be my priority right now and for the foreseeable future, and I’ve made peace with that.
If you want to help me, as I’ve illustrated right now my priority is reviews. Writing positive reviews on Amazon (the .com variety specifically) would help me more than anything right now, even more than buying the books (though on any Amazon site if you buy the ebook and then write a review, it is tagged as reviewed by an Amazon verified purchaser, which grants the review even greater legitimacy). If you go to the trouble of doing me this kindness, I would ask that you not indicate that you know me (if indeed you do). Just present yourself as any random person who happened to have read the book and enjoyed them, and know that I am incredibly grateful.