Why I’m Thinking of Leaving Amazon

 

Each of us are given a constellation of gifts. We do not get to choose what these gifts are. We do not have to like them – and maybe you will spend years being petty and angry about not getting the gifts you wanted. For example: I wanted to be a scientist, but I was not given the gift of mathematical intuition. I spent years training to be a physicist, and you know, I can force it, but it’s exhausting because there’s no true inspiration behind what I do. It is entirely manmade. Artificial. Artifice. Only after deciding to cultivate a gift I was given – that of being able to write with honesty and intensity – only then did I begin to see my purpose. I also got another gift that I initially spurned, but it is the perfect match for my writing: I am good at testing software. Testing provides for my financial and creature needs, and in a physical, material way supports the transcendent gift of my writing – transcendent because it is the thing I am meant to give back to the world. Trying to force the mundane and the spiritual into the same pen was a lot like my years playing at physicist. It was a pointless fight. I’m finished.

If you read my last post, you know that I’ve been trying to live by some monastic principles. I’m paring back the noise and replacing the question of “What do I want?” with “What is right for me to do?” I see now that there are very few things I must do:

  • Love my fellow man and practice compassion.
  • Be a faithful wife.
  • Write.

Part of my spiritual quest has been to be deliberate about where I spend my attention. I can choose to spend my attention on gaming the publication system, or I can spend it quietly growing into who I am meant to be. I can choose to focus on the superficial, or I can choose to dwell in the numinous. I can keep trying to figure out how to monetize my literary gifts, or I can be grateful I don’t need to figure that out because I have another gift which intersects the realm of commerce. For all of these reasons, I am considering pulling my books from Amazon, and making them free on Wattpad, Smashwords, and my own site, oddskybooks.com, where three free stories are available now. I just need to find the time to make the transition, probably after my ten-week craft class is over, because there is a lot of behind the scenes effort that goes into such a shift.

I keep thinking of the monk who is purported to have written the Codex Gigas. The Codex is three feet tall, weighs one hundred and sixty pounds, and was written longhand prior to 1295. We know almost nothing of the author other than the remarkable fact that he spent somewhere around twenty-five years working in probable isolation to produce this book. This was an act of faith. I have a feeling he understood the production of the book was never about him, and that his glory was in the act of responding to the call he was made to answer. I want to write with that purity. I want to be absent from the intention. That is humility. And again, it is faith. Someone will point out that the colloquial name for this book is the Devil’s Bible, because of the legend that the monk supposedly made a deal with the devil to write the entire 160-pounds of it in one night so as to save his own life, and also because there is a rather cartoonish illustration of a devil included amongst the pages. Maybe that happened. The picture of the devil-thing is real. However, literary forensics indicates the quieter story, the one of plodding decades of anonymous writing. I think also of Murdoch’s The Book and the Brotherhood (someone help me here! I think that’s the book I mean, but Mudoch wrote so much!). After a character’s death, someone goes through the deceased’s desk and finds thousands of pages of gorgeous poetry, the sort of work that could have brought fame. Murdoch’s point is that there are pure ways of creation that are abstracted from the communal shouting match. Can I be humble enough to stop even secretly hoping my writing will make me visible to the world?

Leaving Amazon is in alignment with my beliefs, although it is in stark contradiction to the clamoring voices who are telling me that’s not how the game is played. I’m choosing to focus on quiet and contemplation. I have faith that the people who are meant to find my stories, will. If no one is meant to find them, not even one person? That’s not up to me, either. My calling is to write and to share; my calling is to practice compassion; my calling is to be steadfast in my relationships. I’ll be a good wife, a kind stranger and, maybe someday, truly become the person I’m meant to be.

As ever,

-aniko

Naming Myself, sans Animosity

In the evenings, Mr. Aniko and I cook dinner together. As the ingredients come together to form our meal, we share the stories of our days. We talk about work, about things we overheard, about the strange dude who always dresses like he’s planning to hike Mt. Everest and is never, ever sans black-rimmed goggles. We also discuss things we’ve read. It should come as no surprise that I read a lot about writing and publishing. One question I brought to a recent dinner-prep discussion was, “Does the term ‘indie writer’ confuse you or anyone you have spoken to about my writing career?” Mr. Aniko paused by the stove, wooden spoon in hand. “No,” he said. “Why?”

I gave him a quick recap of Jonathan D. Allen’s riposte to Sarah LaPolla’s assertion that calling myself ‘indie’ “only confuses people who want to self-publish and pisses off actual independent publishers.” According to LaPolla, the term independent is reserved for small presses, and that authors who follow the publication route I did with Stolen Climates should refer to themselves as self-published. That is not a new definition of either of those terms and, in fact, is not really interesting. What is interesting is that LaPolla’s main point in her post is that  there needn’t be animosity between the big publishing industry and those of us who go it alone. Yet in something that reads more like an afterthought than a legitimate part of her argument, LaPolla writes “AND STOP CALLING YOURSELVES INDIE [sic caps].” In both content and delivery, the phrase comes across as calibrated to provoke.

I don’t harbor any ill-will towards traditional publishing or agents or the entire money-plex that is publishing. I choose to publish my books myself, not out of desperation, but because I do not want to take the traditional route. I am not tired of waiting to get an agent or a contract – those aren’t things I even want.

No. I want full creative control. Independent self-publishing gives me that.

I don’t view myself as stigmatized, held-back, unprofessional, impatient, bitter, in a civil war with legacy publishing, or any of the other terms LaPolla uses to characterize some sub-set of non-traditionally published authors. I would like to think that if LaPolla knew my work, my ethic, and my honest dedication to the craft,  I would be one of the independently self-published writers giving her hope. Her hope, however, is ancillary. As a writer, I don’t want my words to confuse anyone:  not other writers, and certainly not potential readers.

Is it confusing when I say I’m an independent author?

I take full creative risk. I take full financial risk. I am an entrepreneur. I am sole proprietor of a legally recognized LLC that handles the business aspects of publication. I am a manager, contracting out and coordinating cover design, editing, beta reads. I choose to create something maybe only five people in this world will ever truly love, and I do it because I believe in my vision. I work weekends. I write in the pre-dawn dark. I skip lunch dates, happy hours, picnics, and movies – both to save money to put towards my editing fees, and to buy myself more time to write. I don’t ask anyone for permission to bring my dream to the world. I decide for myself. In every way I can see, I am as independent as the singers and the film companies that fly the indie banner. Independent isn’t an industry term that legacy publishing can demand I relinquish as if I am impersonating a small press. In fact, I am a small press; my LLC exclusively publishes works by Aniko Carmean.

You can call me what you want, but I’ll call myself indie.

In the very lengthy and active comments column, Sarah LaPolla acknowledges that maybe the term is changing. I quote her,

“I’m getting the sense that the “self vs. indie” label is one that’s currently in transition, and that I just haven’t made the shift yet. Like many others in the business who were only familiar with the traditional definition of “indie,” I probably won’t come around to it for a while. “

LaPolla isn’t alone. Big media of any type is not keeping up. That’s why we see indie artists producing break-out hits like The Guild web series and best-seller books like Ania Ahlborn’s Seed. Yes, both of these examples have led to contracts, but they started as people following their own dream, and working outside of the confines of their media tradition. The independents are agile in their response, and understand that the audience isn’t “out there,” but here – right here! – interacting on the web. Authenticity, agility, and direct human access to the audience are changing the shape of entertainment. Unlike LaPolla, I wouldn’t characterize this as civil war. I call it revolution.

Out of the Ambition Room

I’ve been distracted. I have been smitten. I have allowed the seeming immediacy of another’s success catapult me into full-on frenzy.

It’s a frustrating thing to be unknown. It is terrible to work very hard, make a work public, and then have naught but a resounding mess of crushed crickets to show for the effort. Those poor crickets! They were the only greeting my book received. I heard them singing their little hearts out in the enclosed room of my ambition. It’s a lightless place, a nearly airless place. The Ambition Room is a dark and soul-devouring place.

In the dark, suffocating in the stale air of my dismay, I decided that I should have some say in how things went. I ran from wall to wall, pounding my fists against unresponsive concrete. I tweeted, I facebooked, I announced my Authorhood any place that would acknowledge me. I paid money for a week of New Release Promotion and got… more crickets. The walls in my Ambition Room were closing in and I ran in more erratic patterns, chasing ever-elusive and definitely unexpected desires. I set up a pay-per-click ad and while it’s been fun to design the copy, the $35 dollars worth of clicks I bought will last me the rest of my life at this click rate. I considered a dalliance with the Mechanical Turk, but luckily my ethics are stronger than my ambition. Yet even knowing there were limits to what I would try, I stayed walled up in my ambition. The crickets fell silent. I’d trampled them all; I’d made it so all I could hear was my own frustration, rebounding from the insect-slick walls. I didn’t bother looking for a door. It was obvious there was no way out.

Except.

Of course there is a way out. The Ambition Room is only as solid and as real as I choose to make it. The grasping need is a chimera born of misplaced care.

The emotional, intellectual, and metaphysical energy I poured into chasing ambition were wasted. All of that care was misplaced, badly directed, irrevocably spent. I spent time I could have spent writing trying to come up with The One Great Thing that would Sell My Book!

It’s funny, because when I published, I had hopes that my book would sell ten copies. That’s it. That is all I expected. I busted through that limit almost immediately. I’ve had positive reviews posted online, and multiple people I never expected to read or enjoy my book have done both. I broke my original best case many times over and it hasn’t even been three months.Yet, the small taste of having my work appreciated was the first brick in the wall of my Ambition Room.

I assure you: it is possible to wall yourself in.

I assure you: it is possible to get back out, but it will take admitting the extent of your anxiety, your fear of failure, and facing desires you never expected to have.

Soon my Ambition Room wasn’t big enough to hold the desperation of unquenched ambition. The raw, crushed-bug stench of it seeped into my daily life. I spouted non-stop MARKETING, ceaseless ADVERTISING. I wrote less and less. At the pinnacle of gnawing self-doubt, I contemplated making everything I ever write free, thinking that would rid me of the strange need to manipulate the timeline of my success, something which is out of my control. There be monsters, kraken, and dragons here! Not to mention the whole money thing; not the make-a-living thing, just the make-back-what-I-spent-to-produce-the-book thing. It didn’t matter that the one guaranteed way to raise visibility, the only way to get more reader notice is to … write more books! I was obsessed with my MARKETING plans. I was focused on my ADVERTISING  for the series I was only half-heartedly writing.

And then one morning Mr. Aniko said, “Why don’t you wait to do a big advertising launch when you have multiple books completed? Write first. Worry about marketing later.” My entire outlook shifted. The walls of my ambition didn’t so much crumble as disappear. I had allowed myself to get spun up about the accidental qualities – sales numbers, rankings, popularity (!) –  when what I really love is the Thing In-Itself, the Platonic form of writing. Sure, I want people to read and enjoy my books. But the numbers weren’t the focus until I made them the focus. Giving myself permission to restore my energies to writing changed everything. The tremendous block of pressure that stoppered my words was gone! I am proud to announce that after about a month of fumbling, I am within a couple thousand words of completing the second novel in my series. If it weren’t for my little trip to the Ambition Room, I would have met my deadline for completing both books by the end of April. As it is, I’ll be drawing that buggy to the finish line about a week late. I’m all right with that, because I’ve learned a valuable lesson: spend more time doing what it is I am meant to do, and less time worrying about getting people to find my books. Write to write. Let the books come into being, share the stories. Who knows? There may come a day when I long for the cricket’s lullaby.

Afterword

I owe a big thank you to Marie Loughin for helping me find my way out of the Ambition Room. In a private email she helped me get my head on straight. Compounded with Mr. Aniko’s suggestion, her comments on social media and blog tours got me back to my writing desk.

I’ve also found it incredibly helpful to locate the blog of someone I admire, and then go back to the first post and read from there. If the blog was started before the person’s career took off, you get to see that the success she has now didn’t just happen.You get a sense of how much of a struggle, anxiety, and hard work went into “making it.”

Blooper Reel

Here’s are a couple of those pay-per-click ads that will last the rest of my life:

ADVERTISING!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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