A Thousand Miles 05/07/21

The sleep dep is finally getting to me, I think. Everything they say about taking care of a newborn is true. You can’t explain it until you do it, I suppose.

However, it’s not all bad, or even mostly bad. Just exhausting. I had a few hours of sleep last night, and when the kid woke up needing food, I just laid there for a second like, “Dude…give me a minute.” I’m sure he understood, lol.

This morning I watched a short documentary on the Vanessa Carlton song “A Thousand Miles.” I found it through Justin Murphy’s newsletter, which you should follow.

There’s a whole series of these. I’m looking to the Papa Roach and Eiffel 65 entries.

As Murphy articulates in his newsletter blurb, the Carlton story is fascinating because she’s someone who had one hit and transitioned into a mostly normal life. She was able to make her money, and then live her artistic life the way she wanted.

I’ve talked to friends about this, and there seems to be a unanimous consensus that this is the move. I don’t know anybody sane who wants to be in the limelight for an extended period of time. All you really need is enough reach one time to attract a certain number of people. Say, oh, I don’t know, 1000.

The “1000 True Fans” model is a realistic (although not easily attainable) goal, in which you create enough work to earn a certain amount of money from 1000 people who will buy whatever you create. The logic is sound. Say you write and independently release two books a year, and 1000 people are guaranteed to buy each one. If you sell the book for $25, minus all the costs, you’re probably looking at $35k before taxes, which is a modest living if you’re in the middle of the country, like me.

I have hovered between 250-300 “true fans” for the past ten years or so. Now, my books have sold much more than that, but the retention, the familiar faces that show up every time to cheer the book on, remain largely the same (although shout out to the new people, I’m very grateful!). So how do you attract more of those “true fans”? I think the trick is getting that one big push that gets you in front of enough people to let a handful of them stick.

And that, it seems, comes down mostly to luck. In the meantime, the plan is boring but actionable: you finish writing the books, you release them, you repeat. I might even give myself a small budget for each of the books, to try and net some readers I wouldn’t otherwise be able to find. Then, in about a year, once everyone has their shots and is comfortable with leaving the house again, I’ll schedule some live readings/performances. The grind, basically. Treating it like a job.

I think the internet used to be a place where you could promote your work and accumulate new readers. It’s how I account for the success of my first novel all the way back in 2011. A no-name writer with a strange little book that had initial sales of over a thousand copies (in indie world!) is almost unheard of, now. Those same numbers are reached through big-press releases or indie releases of already-popular online artists. But in 2011, the doors hadn’t quite closed yet, and there was an opportunity for people to actually see the book on social media and make a decision as to whether or not they wanted to read it.

Now, I think it’s increasingly important to pretend like the internet doesn’t exist, except as a mechanism to alert your already-present readers that you have something new out. Its functionality is negligible beyond that. In my experience.

But it’s not impossible to achieve that humble goal of 35-40k a year. I believe it is reachable for any writer who puts their head down and gets to work.

Which I plan on doing, right after I feed this baby.

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