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No Extra Words

one person's search for story

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indie publishing

The Old Craft v. Business Conversation

I have so much to say today that I’m about to get super ranty.

First, I’m currently on my second listen of the new episode of She Podcasts. This is a podcast aimed at women podcasters, but the conversation they have is very on point for self-published writers and indie content creators of all stripes. One of the hosts got started talking about whether is okay that professional podcasters (the NPR types) get all the attention and space. The question is if what they are doing is different than what we as indie producers are doing. Listen here, to get right to the conversation I’m referring to, start at right about the 60 minute mark and listen to the last 10 minutes. I think this is a really important conversation to have. In the world of traditional and self publishing, is it a competition or separate space?

Then I found this delightful post saying that only 40 of Amazon’s self-published authors are “successful.” Yes, you read that right. And since Amazon’s Kindle store is the biggest self-publishing e-book platform, well, you can see where I’m going with this.

The commenters on this and other blogs on the issue immediately pointed out a flaw in the number: success here is defined as selling a million e-books in five years and that’s a pretty high bar to clear. Plenty of traditionally published authors aren’t doing nearly that, especially in the world of literary fiction where books come out slower and tend to not sell as well. But it’s still not a fun statistic to read. Maybe it isn’t really possible to make a living as an author. I’ve asked before on this blog if you really have to give up your day job to be a writer, and it frustrates me is that no one tells the truth about this. When you say you are writing a novel, all the people in your life assume that you will quit your day job when it is published and if not you have failed. Well, you and everyone else, it turns out. Or everyone else minus forty.

So all this was swirling in my head as I sat down to record an upcoming episode of the podcast…and then I sank into it with delight. Such great stuff is coming, such powerful storytelling, and I was thinking about how much more there is to this telling of story than words on a page. Words on a page are important…wouldn’t be who and what I am without them…but they aren’t story. Story is everywhere, and story needs to be celebrated.

Early in my librarian career I heard a very well-meaning instructor on early literacy tell a roomful of children’s librarians that “we need to teach children that stories come from books.” I think I may have actually snorted. Stories don’t come from books. Now, few people love books more than I do. I’m kind of a book hoarder and as I’ve said before I sort of want to be Meg Ryan with my own bookstore. But stories come from books?! That’s like saying Grandma’s chicken soup comes from the big pot with the crack on its lid.

Stories are everywhere. They are all around us, all the time. A friend of mine has a toddler, great kid, just starting to talk, but oh, man can he tell stories. You can’t understand them, they are in his own language, but they are stories to be sure.

I’m not a football fan, but I do live in the Seattle area, and the Seattle area has a well-known athlete who participates in that sport I don’t like so much. He’s known for his reticence to speak out loud. You may remember him. At a press conference. Saying enough not to get fined. And while he got widely criticized for that, I find myself admiring him. In a world of over-sharing, taking a stand to not say everything that comes into your head seems somehow brave.

What does he have to do with all this? Well, today he announced his retirement. With no words at all. In one image he told his story his way. Now me, I use words to share my message and if you’ve been reading this blog long you know that I really kind of suck at pictures. But it’s always nice to remember that there is a world of stories going on that have nothing to do with words on a page.

That’s the business we are in. The capturing stories business. And yeah, who publishes them and how they get to those who consume them is a very important conversation to have and we should keep having it, but I guess for me today ends as it so often does: with the reminder that the most important thing I do is focus on my content: what I am writing, recording, creating. Because if it isn’t the very best I have in me how it gets to you isn’t going to matter one bit. So back to my recording studio I go.

Happy writing,

Kris

 

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Growing an Audience OR The Tale of the Tiny Numbers

Writers are a weird breed. We really want readers. We dream about readers. We are always trying to figure out how to get published and get readers. But we don’t want, you know, people to actually read our stuff. Not critical people, anyway.

When I launched the podcast, I remember saying to a friend that I didn’t care if it was just me in my basement reading stories to two listeners. I wasn’t going to obsess about stats or reviews, just treat it like the labor of love it is and as long as I am growing as a reader and as a writer I would feel good about the project. I think at that time I believed it.

Know the thing about stats? They’re addicting. It’s really easy to watch those little graphs. I think bloggers do this to. Who is reading? Who is linking? How many? How often?

No Extra Words is a tiny little endeavor. Yes, we have grown, and I am so grateful to all the authors who have entrusted me with their work and to newpages.com for the free classified ad that helped get the word out. But we remain a tiny fish in a giant ocean. I’m going to be real about the numbers here because I think we need to tell the truth about indie publishing and how hard it really is to grow an audience.

To date, the 11 episodes published have been listened to a total of 871 times, for an average of just under 80 listens per episode. Episode 4 has the most listens at 155 and the most recently released Episode 11 currently has the least listens at 30, although it was released about 30 hours ago so its stats are still rising quite quickly.  These are pretty small numbers. If your book sold 871 copies you’d be crushed, and when you average it out to 80 per episode, that becomes even more disheartening.

But.

If 80 people showed up to hear you at a reading, you’d be elated. 80 people is more than a lot of college lit courses. If I ever invited all 80 of those people to a party, they wouldn’t fit in my house.

Since July 4, at least one person has listened to at least one episode every day. Every day. The show touches someone every day. And, in the last 30 hours, 30 people have listened to the latest episode. That’s either because they were subscribed and were waiting for it or because they saw it posted somewhere and thought, huh, I’ll try that. Either way, there are 30 of them, and growing.

I think a lot of writers approach publishing, be it on their blog, in a book, or yes, via podcast, by thinking about the numbers they might rack up. How can I sell the *most* books? How can I reach the *biggest* audience? And when you don’t, it becomes hard to keep going. But what about those 30 people? What about the 80 per episode? The one who left a review? The one who tweeted thanks? We are continually being discovered. Someone listened to episode 2 today. That person is a new listener.

You have to start somewhere. Yes, as a writer I want those numbers to grow. But you have to grow *from* someplace. So instead of choosing to be sad about small numbers, today I’m choosing to remember each of those numbers is a person and be grateful for all the individuals out there who so far have pressed “play.”

Happy listening,

Kris

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