Small press and self-published authors often ask, ‘What’s the point?’

The tales of woe are the same.

A writer works for a year or two on a novel, a small press that’s published his/her earlier work praises and publishes it, Midwest Book Review has kind words for it, his/her followers on Facebook and blog say positive things and click “like” whenever the book is mentioned.

Unlike mainstream authors’ books, the Kindle version of the novel is for sale at 99¢ rather than at a price that’s often higher (initially) than the hardcover edition. The author calls attention to the book’s release by paying Facebook to “boost” posts about it and displays the cover and the plot on his/her blog and website along with notices of any editorial reviews.

After a month or so, the initial hullabaloo of praise from his online friends tapers off. The author is happy none of them asked about sales because they’re in the slim-to-none column of the spreadsheet.

So the author begins to ask “What’s the point?”

His/her disillusionment begins when the hoard of online friends to reacted positively to the book’s cover and the plot never buy a copy. The reader reviews they might have written on Amazon never appear,  so the book sits there with only 2-3 reviews months after the release date.

This guy looks crazy. That’s why he writes.

These online friends aren’t broke. They talk about buying mainstream books at ten times the price, going out to dinner at expensive restaurants, drinking wine at $25-per 750 ml bottle, and taking trips to high-cost venues. The writer wonders what to expect from strangers when his friends won’t even spend 99¢ for a copy. S/he begins to get angry because s/he has purchased their books and written reviews about them on Amazon and his/her blog.

It’s not surprising that s/he asks those of us who’ve been doing this for a while, “What’s the point?”

They complain that in addition to the absolute apathy from prospective readers, they’re losing money. Boosting Facebook posts, maintaining a website, and posting on a blog cost money. So do research materials purchased while writing the book. Some point at this irony: If a person opens a bicycle shop and runs at a loss for months, most people support a decision to close the shop since it’s not a charity. And yet, under the same conditions, the author is expected to keep on writing and losing money.

“Why is that?” I’m asked. I don’t know. I do know that many of those who say an author has some kind of sacred duty to keep writing at a spiritual and financial loss aren’t depending on writing novels for their incomes. Some have a vested interest because they teach creative writing, edit manuscripts, or work for magazines like “Writer’s Digest” that need prospective authors to stay addicted to hope and words and online courses and subscriptions to the magazine.

Years ago, I wrote a letter to “Writer’s Digest,” asking why every single success story it published in the last several years did not result from the prospective writer learning how to write a better synopsis, an awesome query letter, or from a dedicated approach to markets and their submission criteria. Instead, the successes occurred when an agent moved into the house next door or when a creative writing teacher became a bestselling author. That is, the novice got unexpected help that had more impact than everything the magazine had to offer.

The magazine did not reply, much less publish my letter.

So when I’m asked, “What’s the point?” all I can say is that the gurus say you gotta love it while it bankrupts you and steals your soul. 

Most people don’t like that answer. I don’t like it either. If you have a better answer, please send me a telegramme because I want a meaningful response for those asking, “What’s the point?”

As for me, I’m retired and keep writing to avoid being bored.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the dark and sarcastic novel “Special Investigative Reporter.”