The book, Skipping Through the Graveyard in My Puke-Stained Suit, has been out for roughly seven months. How has my life changed?
In a nutshell, as Mr. Welker would often say, not much. Sure, it feels great to have it out there. People back in that part of Pennsylvania have told me, it’s good that someone has finally written about here in a reasonable way. Hell, in any way! Nostalgic, but no too nostalgic. Not demeaning, not looking to take some “Trump/Red State” style dump on the Coal Region. (Reading that sort of nonsense makes me see red, too.) Anyone raised there is sure to have some negative feelings about it, as with any working-class neighborhood or area. I know those people too well, I know myself too well, to understand that there’s a lot more going on in rural American than mediocre, desperately out-of-touch nimrods in most media will ever understand. Their version of rural America may as well be rendered in crayon and the size paint brush you’d use on a house.
A few people in New York have told me that I should be contacting the local papers back there, hitting them up with promo copies. But I’m not so keen on that as most of those papers don’t have any sort of book section, not even an Arts section these days, and this would be positioned more as a “human interest” story.
I’m particularly not so keen on the home-county newspaper, The Pottsville Republican. When I graduated from college back in the 80s, I blanketed the country’s magazines and newspaper with my resume and clips from the campus newspaper. I got one writing assignment out of that, for Musician magazine (thank you Scott Isler and Bill Flanagan!), about The Georgia Satellites (just before they broke big with “Keep Your Hands to Yourself”). (More importantly, that was my introduction to New York City.) Two papers, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Detroit Free Press, wrote back enthusiastic, positive letters of support, each running 2-3 pages long – while not offering jobs. I got one-line rejection letters from most major newspapers and magazines. The Pottsville Republican ignored me. I had included them on a lark, not really wanting to write for them, but I had the stamps and envelopes, why not. I can’t recall any other publication that ignored me with that mailing, but you better believe I remember my home county newspaper doing so.
Of course, I’m seeing that any sort of publicity is good publicity when you’re trying to sell books. But it’s also my attitude that a paper like that isn’t going to set the world on fire. If they approached me, I’d be amenable as I realize most or maybe all people working there now weren’t around in the 80s. This book isn’t my livelihood … by a longshot! This has helped me see the pay scale for books and how they relate to a person’s life. Sell a few hundred or thousand copies, you can break even, make some nice pocket money, or a tax-return size chunk of change for sales in the high thousands. Tens of thousands, you can have this as a respectable side income. Hundreds of thousands, you could probably support yourself. Millions, you’ve hit the jackpot, and time to look at the next mansion over from Stephen King’s in rural New England (which always seemed to be the high-school daydream for me).
Anyone who writes a book, the secret hope is that he can make a living doing nothing but that. But that is such a rare option for so many writers, me included. As I’ve noted previously, that would be a “lightning in a bottle” situation, probably involving movie or streaming-service folks catching wind and throwing money around. I never know who’s reading this thing (the only way Amazon sale analytics falls short is in demographics), but I surely can’t count on some producer in the HBO office reading it and blurting out: “Man, this would make a great limited series!”
The every-day reality for me is the second paragraph, and it’s not bad. In the past month, sales have slowed down. Every quarter, I can do a “countdown sale” on Amazon, which means pricing the Kindle version of the book at a buck or two for a week. It’s not even the pricing scheme that matters: it’s getting free publicity as Amazon will promote the book more visibly in that time period. There’s always a windfall of sales that week, although I’m hardly making any money in the sale. It’s worth it for the free publicity. The ads I take out roughly every quarter tend to be break-even proposition in terms of the sales they generate.
The one heartening aspect of selling a book on Amazon, at least this one, is that roughly a third of my sales come from Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s program that charges readers $9.99/month for the ability to read thousands of books, mine included. It started slowly but really picked up after the first Countdown sale in January. For every 300 pages read on Kindle Unlimited, that’s roughly one digital book sale for me. Some days creep along with only 0-50 pages read. Other days, I’ll check in and see 500-900 pages read (haven’t hit 1,000 in one day). That means people are reading all over the place, seeing an ad, or getting good word of mouth. Not taking too much of a chance: it’s “free” or at least part of their monthly service payment. That’s been the one consistent plus through this whole experience.
The worst part? When you’re an author and you look at your sales page, you can see worldwide sales. That’s right, Kindle will make your book available on their sites in over a dozen countries. The problem being, you’re more than likely to see sales only in your country. I’ve sold three books in the United Kingdom, one to someone I know, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the other two were friends of hers! I know this book would do well in Ireland as Irish Catholicism, and the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) friction between my Protestant mother and dad’s Catholic family are running themes, along with that black Irish sense of humor I was raised with in the Coal Region.
In January, I realized I could get on Kindle UK and order books as gifts to send to various magazines and publications in Ireland and England. So I did, 10 copies to various Irish newspapers and literary magazines and two newspaper in England, focusing on book editors in the publications’ reviews sections. I even picked two prominent Irish-American newspapers here, both with offices in New York City, and sent them copies.
I’ve been pissing in the wind: total silence. I don’t expect to sell books in France or Spain. I do expect to sell books in the UK but, for the life of me, I don’t know how at this point. When I buy ad space on Amazon, it’s only for the United States, nowhere else, with no option to buy space internationally. This is the one thing that sticks in my craw, probably the only thing. Sure, I want the book to take off like a rocket, but it was just as important to pull it together and make sense of that time of my life. I’ve been meaning to do that for years, could sense I had enough stories and material to do this. So I did. Didn’t want editors monkeying with it. Didn’t want some false narrative inserted into it, as that’s not how life works. Our lives do have a beginning, middle and end, but as far as I can see, the type of drama you read in fiction or see in movies is rarely part of our every-day lives. As I’ve learned, the end leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, it scares the shit out of most people. But I don’t believe our lives are horror stories or fairy tales with happy endings. Thus, this book.
Will I do it again? Sure, why not. I already have a lot of material for another one, although this one would be fiction, and I already have a few missing chapters in mind. Completely different from a memoir, but in my mind, a fun read. Will I get it out this year? It’s possible. I have to rouse myself from mid-summer stupor and make it happen. But give me some time, and I think this thing can happen again. At least now I know how to navigate the Amazon publishing system. I’d still rather do it this way than deal with publishing houses and editors, assuming that would even be an option. I’ve spent so much time on the outside of that world that I feel perfectly comfortable on my own. About the only thing I envy them for is the marketing department!