Monday, February 14, 2011

Currencies of the Ego

The indie movement has launched a new measure of "success"--the number of downloads. It doesn't matter whether they are free, 99 cents, or $4.99, and it works like this:

"Gee, I had 1,700 downloads last month!" You don't see Stephen King going around bragging about his numbers. But it also doesn't mean much without context. If you gave away 1,700 copies, that has almost zero value right now, unless it's the Gateway Drug to other purchases. If you sell 10,000 downloads at 99 cents, you made less than the person who sold 1,700 downloads at $2.99. So who's "bigger and better"?

If it's a newer writer, I can understand the exuberance, because the ebook era seems like a miracle after years and years of carefully controlled distribution, when your sales numbers were set in stone the moment an agent said hello to an editor. But it's also easy to sound like you are either bragging or insecure. I shared some end-of-year numbers and I shared on Konrath blog once, more to support the point that people can make a living at this, and now I regret having done it, because it feeds the whole notion of "How much I earn is how good of a writer I am."

"Units moved" has become the new currency of ego that used to be "I GOT AN AGENT!" And money is another currency of ego. I'm guilty of it myself. When I see somebody's raw numbers, I instinctively compare mine, even though consciously all I care about is how I'm doing, not how well I'm doing in relation to other people. In fact, the less I pay attention to other writers' performance, the generally happier I am, because all that matters are my readers and the work in progress.

Maybe that's human nature, and this "Currency of the ego" is an idea I'm exploring in my spiritual philosophy, so hopefully I'll revisit the topic. In the meantime, feed my ego and buy my books. And, by the way, the 3/15 Tweet for gift certificate is for The Skull Ring. All you have to do is RT the book link and you will be entered for a $10 gift certificate:
#mystery The Skull Ring by Scott Nicholson for #kindle http://amzn.to/9Ii8kC and #nook http://bit.ly/hzGa5Y $2.99 #books
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15 comments:

Charlie Pulsipher said...

No. I think you sharing these numbers was both helpful and motivating, at least for me.

I do not think how much you earn is entirely linked to how good a writer you are and I do not make that assumption when someone posts their download stats.

Large download numbers can indicate a great novel, but not always. And low stats does not mean a novel is not worth my time. I see them as the luck you have had in this new and crazy market.

It helps us novices see what is working and what is not when it comes to publicizing. And, if it boosts your ego a little, then good. We writer's need our ego's constantly boosted. It helps us write. It gives us hope as we hammer out words and toss them to the masses in the hope that our combinations please them.
Funny Stuff I Write And Draw

Rabid Fox said...

I suppose on one hand, a writer talking about their download numbers can be a helpful sign to other writers, so long as there is a context offered.

Otherwise, it winds up sounding like a Scrooge McDuck version of bragging. Instead of swimming through a vault full of gold coins, a writer wallows in the number of e-books they've pawned off for free.

Charlie Pulsipher said...

Context is always helpful. Funny. I talked about Scrooge McDuck and his money vault with someone else just the other day.

author Scott Nicholson said...

Haha, the Scrooge McDuck era of publishing! I like it.

Yeah, I suppose there's a balance, which is why I used to do it. But I also have books that sell hardly any, and I know they are good, too. So, to me, the numbers don't mean as much, since I am more interested in trying to figure out what works and what doesn't, even though a lot of it is luck and timing.

Scott

A.P. Fuchs said...

It's just another card in the writer ego game. Before, it was traditionally published authors bashing us self-publishers. Now those same authors have no market so they self-publish and have turned it into another case of "I know better."

Sometimes the politics of this game makes me sick.

I'm glad you posted this, Scott. I agree: bragging about how much you sold--unless it's to illustrate a point--is useless.

This is just another example of writers writing for other writers instead of readers.

Which is stupid.

author Scott Nicholson said...

AP, I believe it's more a case of "what you know." It's human nature to develop peer groups and tribes. Logically, writers collecting is dumb--writers should be meeting readers, and writers aren't customers because they are all broke, and half of them can't read. But it's comforting to pretend we share these common problems of "writing process" and "word count."

Scott Nicholson

Stephen T. Harper said...

I agree with most of what's being said in the original post and these comments. Writers are well served by seeking out writers to talk about writing. And only a little served to talk about the business of writing.

But... at this moment in time, with so much change ("revolution"), I think it's very helpful to talk business. In the way Konrath talks numbers, and the way other successful (or as with a recent post, less successful) writers talk numbers on his blog - it's incredibly helpful. It's also helpful for someone like me, who is new to publishing but diligently pursuing it as a career, to hear anyone's experiences at my level. I hope to reach a point where I'm not checking my own numbers everyday, but for the time being, every movement of the dial helps me to see what works and what doesn't.

T.S. O'Rourke said...

I suppose it helps people to measure their own sales/success level - so as an exercise it's not a bad thing, as people need to have a context by which to measure their own progress. But if it turns into an ego-tripping pissing contest then I agree. Put it away :)
http://tsorourke.blogspot.com/

author Scott Nicholson said...

Stephen, yes, you should track your own numbers becuase it's a business. But to look at Joe's numbers and say you're failing because you don't match them is not a good way to run a business! Good luck, it sounds like you are paying attention to what's happening.

Scott

author Scott Nicholson said...

Thanks for sharing, TS

Scott

Nicholas La Salla said...

Hey Scott,

I agree for the most part on sharing numbers. Just take a look at all classic literature -- you can "buy" it from Kindle for free if you look hard enough. Regardless of how many copies I wind up selling or don't wind up selling, I believe my books are worthwhile, and that they might just help someone out there somewhere.

I think that's the most important thing: connecting. Touching someone's life for a while, even if it's an evening waiting for the dentist's chair. My goal is to be read, not to be rich.

Not that I'd have a problem with being rich. I'd much rather earn loads of cash while doing what I love.

But, as time has worn on, I realize that earning money is something very temporary, something which will happen regardless whether I write or not. The day job is not going anywhere any time soon.

But writing, and expressing myself through words, is something I'll be doing on my dying day, even if I never made another cent.

Best,

Nick

author Scott Nicholson said...

That's lovely, Nick, thank you. Connection is the most important thing--and will be the theme of my columns at www.indiereader.com. I'm a taoist so you'd be preaching to the choir, if taoists ever had a choir.

Scott

A.P. Fuchs said...

I meant more specifically, writers managing their careers to impress other writers, instead of the reader, where it counts.

author Scott Nicholson said...

Yes, AP, one of the first things I figured out was writers never have any money and many of them don't read at all.

Nicholas La Salla said...

Thank you Scott! I very much enjoyed your first post at Indie Reader and I'll be looking out for more!

And I don't see why taoists can't have a choir... ;-)

Best,

Nick