Yesterday, Thanksgiving Day, was a good day. It was just the three of us this year, as our large, family gathering will be a Christmas, a change from our normal routine. I fixed a turkey dinner, but without all the side dishes. We ate our full and have plenty of leftovers. Yes it was a good day.
But, we couldn’t find much on television that was of interest to us. So Lynda wanted to see the latest episode of The Curse of Oak Island. She couldn’t get it in Oklahoma City on Tuesday night. So I fired up the Roku, had to re-set a password (since it had been a while since we’d used it), and found the show. I had seen it, but it was good to watch it again.
We decided “why not watch some back episodes?” I intended to go to last season, which was season 4, and watch some of the later ones. Somehow, though, I went back to Season 1, so I decided to just start with the very first episode. It was almost as if I hadn’t seen it before, it was so long ago.
One thing that struck me was the similarity of the rhetoric. The searchers for treasure were saying the same thing in Season 1 as they are in Season 5. The narrator’s shtick hasn’t changed at all. It’s always one more search will get us there; we’re inches from the treasure; today may be the day; this new find gives us the motivation to keep on going. That much hasn’t changed, so far into the fifth season.
It suddenly occurred to me that that’s exactly how I am with my books: hoping this next one will be the breakthrough book, the book that gets widespread attention and lots of sales. My first publication was the short story “Mom’s Letter”. I had no expectations for it to sell. It was a story I wrote for a contest (that I didn’t win), and I self-published it because I didn’t have anything else quite ready, so I published it to see what the mechanics of self-publishing were like.
I was intending to publishing my first novel, Doctor Luke’s Assistant, but I didn’t feel like it was ready. So I pulled together my newspaper columns, expanded them, added fifteen new ones, and had Documenting America: Lessons From The United States’ Historical Documents. I didn’t have high hopes for this one either. It sold 30 or so copies in it’s first year.
It wasn’t until the next year, 2012, that I finally published Doctor Luke’s Assistant. It became, and still is, my highest selling book at 128 copies, adding seven to the total so far this year. Now, you’re going to note that 128 is NOT a lot of copies, and if that’s my highest selling book, how low are the others? Good observation. I had high hopes for my next book, The Candy Store Generation, being a political book in a political season. But it sold poorly: 15 copies its first year and a few each year since.
Then came my baseball book, In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People. I thought it was good enough to sell, and would be popular. Alas, not. I sold a few more in 2016, when the Cubs won the pennant, but it still hasn’t sell.
My point is, with each publication (now 26), I’ve thought “this will be the one, the one to breakout.” But each one disappoints. I don’t do a lot of marketing, just Facebook posts. I did one Facebook ad that resulted in no sales. I’ve interviewed authors on this blog, who have sometimes reciprocated. Each of those has resulted in no sales. I did an hour long radio interview, which resulted in no sales. I haven’t done any paid ads yet. Maybe that’s what I need to do. But I’ve thought my publishing should pay for itself, and so far haven’t seen my way clear to buy an ad. Perhaps I’ll change that in 2018.
So I’m much like the people searching for treasure on Oak Island. Just keep going, sinking costs—in my case the cost of time—into the endeavor a little at a time, hoping for change, for lightning to strike. My recent publication, When Death Changes Life: The Danny Tompkins Stories, is a boxed set of six related short stories, reaching all the way back to “Mom’s Letter”. I set the price of the e-book at $2.99, and the print book at $6.00. I sold zero. I do have three pre-orders of the print book, which will happen next week once my copies arrive.
I have two works-in-progress. One is a prequel to Doctor Luke’s Assistant, which is more laborious than expected. The other is the sequel to The Gutter Chronicles. I actually have people at work asking for this, so maybe I should turn my attention to it. I could sell 30 copies without difficulty, and might sell 10 to 20 of the first one to people who are new at work.
But will either of these be a breakthrough book? I can hope, I suppose, because without hope there’s no reason to go on. Hope is starting to grow thin, however.