(Written in late 2019.)
It looks as though my total royalties for the year will be $23. Twenty-three bucks against twenty-four titles.
Is it a pathetic amount, as I'm wont to think it is in my weaker moments? Maybe. I'm willing to accept that value judgment from anyone who feels that way. I'm good with it. I'd probably be inclined to ask how much cash they've earned from their creative works this year. But then--so few actually go out on a limb and attempt to sell any such works--provided, of course, that they do anything creatively. To those I will merely laugh in their judgy-judge faces.
I'm not going to hide from that number, regardless. And whether or not you feel it is pathetic, I, truly, do not. In fact, in some very significant ways, I am proud of it.
I no longer sell my books at Amazon, for one. And when I did last year, I actually earned less money than this year. That's an important victory, no matter how small or "pathetic" the total may be.
For another, I didn't sell out in order to sell. I didn't start doing market research, for example, to find out what the great herd wanted and then go write it for them. Most authors, in some form or another, do just that. I didn't attempt to kiss anybody's ass. I didn't pander. I didn't plead. I didn't beg. I didn't pop around book reviewers' blogs, as almost all authors seem to think I must, and beg them to read something of mine and post a review of it on their blog in order to gain new readers. If you were to rank wastes of time, that's right up there at the top, probably second only to trying to convince a Trump supporter that he or she is completely morally fucked up.
The fact is, this is a grotesque age of corporatism and herdism writ large upon this dying planet. Both are killing it dead, and are the primary vectors of its demise. Individuality--the kind worthy of the notion--is at an all-time low. Google search condemns people like me, as a matter of simple fact: I'm not a huge institution; I'm not a corporation; I don't run their ads on my blog; and so they punish me by disappearing me in search results. Amazon did the same thing until I quit.
I can quit Amazon. I can't quit Google.
Another fact is this: fewer and fewer people--Americans especially--actually read books anymore. I've seen numbers as low as one in sixteen Americans actually open a book and finish it within a calendar year. When they do open one, it is almost guaranteed to be a bestseller from a big-name author. "Nothings" and "nobodies"--like me--get absolutely no attention, or even the chance to gain any attention, even the negative kind. Corporatism and herdism win again. You count only if you're a bestseller. You count only if you have a million followers on Facecrotch. You count only if you appear on the Late Show or NPR. Else you're screwed.
Novels and fiction are almost impossible to sell these days. (Don't get me started on poetry, of which I sell as well. What is more impossible than impossible--?) Most people prefer television or videos; they prefer playing computer games or going to a movie. Reading is a real time commitment. Fewer and fewer are willing to bother.
Not that they ever really did in the past. Reading--especially fiction--has always been a niche activity, with not a lot of devoted members. There has always been the pull of entertainment that requires far less of folks, and so, by that alone, it (whatever it is) almost always wins. That's nothing new.
We live in an age of soul-crushing cynicism as well. Cynics don't make great readers. They're too busy trolling people. They're too busy enhancing their poison sacks of sloth and indolence and calumny. Cynics--the very few who have bothered reading even a little of my work--despise me. I've got a few hate mails from back in the day to prove it.
Another problem: I don't write romance, which makes up at least sixty percent of all ebook sales. (Some think it's closer to seventy-five percent.) Romance is all when it comes to literature these days. Pop by Smashwords sometime and gaze at their home page. Almost all of the titles on offer there are romance. It's ... kind of sickening, to be honest. It's so bad that I'm very seriously considering no longer publishing with them as well.* Smashwords has done virtually nothing for me in terms of sales; and refuses to feature anything other than romance, their bread and butter, which makes that platform fairly useless to writers like me.
Yet another problem: the glut of literature, almost all of it bad. People have no interest in shoveling through mountains of literary manure in order to find something that may or may not pay off. I can hardly blame them.
It comes down to a simple, harsh reality for me. I'm on my own here. And the bottom line is, very few people give a shit about that, or about me, or about my work. I have no advertising budget; I don't have a big online presence; I don't write porn--er, sorry--romance; I don't placate cynics and sniffy book bloggers; I don't please the largest search engine on the planet; and I refuse to sell at one of the world's most evil corporations. Add all that up, and you get, for this year, $23.
So am I still pathetic?
*That decision became official at the beginning of this year.