Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Stepping away from the watched pot

Cold turkey. No, not Christmas or Thanksgiving leftovers but the only solution to compulsive communication syndrome.

I thought I had it beaten. 18 months after the launch of Peril as an ebook and with three further titles subsequently released, my social media platform had become increasingly demanding. A couple of neat tools (Triberr and Feed140) had helped me semi-automate promotion via twitter and blog. It gave me a lot more time to concentrate on writing. But I couldn't help continuously watching the pot, looking for incremental changes, following sales figures, interacting on Twitter and facebook, and surveying the virtual world for new reviews of my books. It's a common problem, this compulsion to keep your finger on the pulse of a complex system. You can read about it on any number of author blogs. But recognising and acknowledging the problem doesn't fix it.
34,000 blog page views, 3,600 Twitter followers, 5,200 tweets, 867 facebook friends, 1,429 Goodreads friends and lots more. A modest social media platform that grows organically, so I tell myself.

I was achieving my writing goals, adding between 500 and 2000 words a day to Yellow Ribbon (sequel to Peril) and rewriting Allen's Mosquito (The Crucible Part 2). So what was the problem? Why not just turn off the internet connection? I didn't have the will power.

A new kind of syndrome was developing - Indie Author Anxiety. Indie authors all over the planet are beavering away at marketing their work, clamouring for a piece of the e-revolution. What if I stopped interacting with my platform? Would Ruby Barnes's steadily building sales momentum disappear? A few weeks ago I took the plunge and dropped the day job down to four days a week, dedicating Fridays to writing, and those sales are essential to support that commitment. It all added to the Indie Author Anxiety.

If a man ploughs his own furrow in life does it eventually become a rut? Summer brought a chance to break the grind and we had a week long visit by friends from Switzerland. I balanced hosting with sneaking off to check the laptop or the iPhone several times a day. Twitter, blog, facebook, Triberr, Goodreads, around and around. That watched pot never boils. Then came the family break to Tenerife.

My backpack weighed a ton. Chargers, leads, adaptors and gadgets. Phones and laptop. Kindle and Kobo fully loaded. At Dublin airport I could see on my iPhone a couple of new Amazon sales for The Crucible and I had ordered the CreateSpace paperback proof of The Crucible online before leaving home. The plane took off for the Canary Islands.

Then nothing. Two glorious weeks of nothing.

We had no internet connection at the villa and my iPhone wasn't enabled for international roaming. Enforced exile from the virtual community. The kobo and kindle ran red hot as we devoured book after book. Some real gems came to light and I'll be adding them to Ruby's Reviews (Blue Mercy by Orna Ross, Bad Moon Rising by Frances di Plino, A Storm Hits Valparaiso by David Gaughran, The Casablanca Case by Simon Swift, The Virginia X by Keith Nichols). My laptop stayed in the backpack. Not once did I power up Old Faithful. Fourteen days of reading, eating, drinking, family and thinking. Thinking that the existing three sequel projects are all worthwhile. Discussing and designing a formulaic new series of crime thrillers for 2013. And shaving my face one half at a time. Because I could.

When we returned to Ireland last weekend I put off looking at the computer for half a day. Had the simmering pot boiled dry or the flame gone out? The results: 500 new emails, of which maybe a dozen required my action, the rest just information; blog views down to double digits per day; 50 new followers on Twitter, gazillions of new notifications on Goodreads and Facebook. One look at my Twitter stream showed I had turned off my automated tweets on Feed140 before leaving and hadn't sent a tweet for two weeks. Neither had I shared any blog posts via Triberr. Those two things accounted for the low blog views. I turned them back on and the system began to ramp up immediately.

How about sales? While I'd been attaining the 12,198 ft summit of Mount Teide had Ruby's books slipped off the radar? No. The best month so far. Go figure.

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  1. Hi, my name is Donya, and I a recovering anxious indie author. When I was unemployed, I spent 12-16 hours a day writing and feeding the social media community in an effort to keep my sales and author presence felt, and life was good. Then I got a job working for an old friend of mine. It was bittersweet, because I was cruising along to the tune of writing 5,000-10,000 words a day, and suddenly I knew I wouldn't be able to keep up that pace. What I had been doing in 12-16 hours per day was going to have to be done in less than four hours per night. My anxiety ramped up as I tried to keep up with blog posts, blog tours, writing, tweeting, Facebooking, etc. Long story short, I've finally stopped stressing over it. I can only do what I can do. The machine will still run even if I'm not there. Sales have fallen off a bit, but not detrimentally so. In fact, in a way I feel like I'm actually doing more to promote myself now than I was before, because instead of promoting my books, I'm getting to know people. And this way is much more enjoyable, I can assure you. :)

    Thank you for a pertinent post.

    1. Hey Donya, I totally hear you. I started my social media platform early 2011 when I was 'in-between jobs' and thought the thing would sink when I had to go 9-5 again. It's difficult to avoid getting sucked back in. The fact is unless we know the origin of absolutely every book sale we can never really know what is contributing and what isn't. So the fear of stopping something that might be working is a difficult demon to exorcise.

  2. Fantastic insights and food for thought for yet another Indie with anxiety issues here. I've no idea as to how the network works anymore.

    1. Thanks Dean. Very difficult to know what's really going on, especially when sales volumes aren't massive.
      I was listening to the infamous recent debate at the Harrogate Crime Writers Festival and Stephen Leather said he gets a 10% conversion rate from his free short story to sales of his follow-up novel. That's the nearest I've heard to anyone knowing anything definitive!

  3. thanks for sharing..