Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Disappointment, Part 2

     Over the past twelve hours I’ve received about two dozen emails in response to this piece. About half have expressed a wish that I continue to write fiction. The other half are divided between expressions of sympathy and variations on “well, so much for you, then.” The preponderance are, broadly speaking, supportive, but they leave me uncertain of my course.

     One particularly longwinded fellow told me that I should “ask yourself why you write.” (He followed that with “I'm not going to tell you I read your books -- because I haven't, and it doesn't matter.” It might not matter to him, but I’m somewhat differently positioned.) I’ve said it before: I’m a storyteller who seeks to express “eternal verities” (Tom Kratman) through my fiction. It’s my mission. If I were a priest, it would be called my charism. So let’s consider that “out of the way,” shall we?

     One correspondent who knows I’m well off asked, if the money isn’t important to me, why I charge a price for my novels. If he’s reading this, perhaps I can remind him of Robert A. Heinlein’s observation from Stranger in a Strange Land:

     “Matter of fact, running that whole Temple hasn’t cost what it costs you to keep up our home. Except for initial investment and replacing some props, coffee and cakes was all—we made our own fun. We needed so little that I used to wonder what to do with the money that came in.”
     “Then why did you take collections?”
     “Huh? Oh, you have to charge ’em, Jubal. The marks won’t pay attention if it’s free.”
     “I knew that, I wondered if you did.”
     “Oh, yes, I grok marks, Jubal. At first I did preach free. Didn’t work. We humans have to make considerable progress before we can accept a free gift, and value it. I never let them have anything free until Sixth Circle. By then they can accept . . . and accepting is much harder than giving.”
     “Hmm . . . son, maybe you should write a book on human psychology.”
     “I have. But it’s in Martian.”

     People almost unanimously value things according to what they cost. It’s the whole reason for vanity purchases and the majority of luxury goods – a category in which I include “trophy wives.” (“What we obtain too cheaply we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value.” – Thomas Paine.)

     So: if you have enjoyed the fiction I produce and would like to see more of it, here’s the situation in its barest bones:

  • I have a very small readership: fewer than fifty readers per novel, as measured by Amazon sales;
  • Even the members of that readership seldom review my books – and reviews sell books;
  • The major promotional services have all rejected me, for reasons they decline to specify;
  • Giveaways have not produced a positive result. (Most books downloaded for free are discarded without being read.)

     What does that leave me?


     “But whose mouth?” I hear you cry.


     Assuming, that is, that you’re a reader of my fiction who would like me to produce more of it, and that you know other readers whose tastes aren’t too distant from yours.

     I don’t expect to become the next Stephen King. But I cannot persuade myself to undertake a year’s painstaking labor to reach at most fifty readers. (Yes, it takes me a year to produce a novel. Others do it more swiftly; I cannot.)

     I’ll keep looking into promotional methods. But so far they’ve all rejected me. I have little hope that that trend will be broken, but I’ll keep you posted.

     Verbum sat sapienti.


SSG Mac said...

Mr. Porretto,
I am sorry for you predicament. I have always enjoyed your posts here, and have one of your books (The Chosen One), but have not gotten to it yet. I have been remis.
The single provider for a family including two with chronic health issues, and a factory worker, leaves me little measure time. Reading for pleasure has seemed almost a theft from my other responsibilities.
I do however have real feeling for the plight of authors, so I am making an effort to support those I like. I will read "The Chosen One" and leave a review. I have also purchased "Which Art In Hope", and (ahem) hope to read & review it soon.
Please do not give up! The commonest thing in the world is talent; it is perseverance that is rare (paraphrased -I think- from Robert Heinlein).
Best wishes.
Bill McCormick

George True said...

Regarding marketing, it is not just A thing, it is EVERY thing.

A mediocre book (or anything else) can sell extremely well with the right marketing program. And a superb book might not sell at all with the wrong (or no) marketing program.

I wish I could point you in a direction. And I can only imagine the frustration of being shut out of the marketing niches you have identified. And to add insult to injury, many of the books promoted in those venues probably cannot hold a candle to your work.

Clayton Barnett said...

My midlife crisis, six years ago this month, was to become a fiction writer. As costly as it is sometimes, it's a cheaper crisis than a fireball-red sports car and a shiny new blonde wife.

If I reach only one mind, that sucks, but okay. I'm a shark in the waters of Machine Civilization: if I stop, I'll die.