By Jason Sizemore
There are many variables that dictate how successful you will be as a small press author, publisher, or indie writer. Some are obvious: quality of content, branding, personality. But every hero’s journey has that moment where everything is darkest and the hero is on the verge of failure. How do you respond to this challenge? Personally, I answer with stubbornness.
I recently had the pleasure of sitting next to Literary Underworld Supreme Leader Elizabeth Donald for nearly 20 hours. It was for a local regional convention where both of us were hoping to make a few bucks for ourselves and our authors via bookselling to waves and waves of readers dying for new genre fiction. I pictured Elizabeth and I smoking stogies while counting fat stacks of money.
The throngs of adoring readers never appeared. I sold a total of five books over three long days of sitting behind a table, smiling and waving at people. Staring woefully at Elizabeth Donald. Elizabeth staring back at me, surely wondering why I was staring at her.
Live events are like that. Some weekends you’ll hit the jackpot. More often, you’ll sell enough to break even. Once in a while, you’ll have a soul-crushing “five-books-sold” type of convention.
I have a bad habit of letting a bad weekend get me down. After this recent poor showing, I fell into a funk. Some of it was self-pity, much of it was self-hate. I had decided that I was the reason for the failure to sell books. There had to be something about my personality, appearance, demeanor that was off-putting to people who approached the Apex Books table.
I posted my fears to Facebook. Thankfully, no one admitted to finding me creepy (though I’m sure some were just being polite). Instead, many offered insight into sales tactics. Others shared their similar bad experiences. The confidence boost put me back on my feet. That familiar stubborn notion that I would not let one bad weekend keep me from continuing my trek as a small press publisher.
As creators, it is easy to be too hard on ourselves. We are already rife with anxiety and the usual problems of being introverts. Our failures feel magnified more than they should be. For example, all weekend at the convention as I sat there staring at Elizabeth Donald, I kept thinking about how others must be seeing how poorly the Apex Books table was doing. Apex Books, the little company with the Nebula Award finalist and multiple Hugo Award wins, drawing no attention. “Sizemore must be doing something wrong.” I should be more aggressive and not be a passive introvert when people come to the table.
Obviously, nobody pays attention to how much business a certain vendor is doing. Most readers don’t care about awards and award-nominations. Being friendly and helpful when someone approaches the table beats an overbearing, aggressive approach.
While using stubbornness as a shield, I recommend personal introspection as a means of making yourself feel better about the time and money lost. Only once have I ever done a convention and sold less than five books. Yet, that same convention is where I first met Lesley Conner. A decade later, she’s my editing partner and the other half of Apex Books and Apex Magazine. At Scarefest some years ago, I paid an exorbitant sum for table space only to sell about $100 of books that weekend. But my table was next to Midnight Syndicate. I became pals with the band and consider them friends.
At this convention where I only sold five books and pouted online afterwards about my lack of sales, I had ice cream with Ellen Datlow. Had a bonding moment with Jeff Strand about Anton Cancre’s weird antics. Accepted the gracious praise of numerous people who sought out the Apex table to tell me how much they appreciated the work we did.
These things, though intangible, have value. Social capital. Networking. Friendships. These things are often far more valuable than a few hundred bucks at a live event.
It’s okay to feel disappointed in the moment. I certainly do every single time I do poorly at an event. But I encourage you to fall back on stubbornness and introspection so that you can properly assess the actual value of your time spent at the event.
Help Jason not feel like a failure and support the Apex Magazine 2023 Kickstarter! Apex has been part of the Literary Underworld for many years and we have always been proud to offer their titles. Apex’s Kickstarter launched on July 27 and runs for one month, offering preorders for the amazing content they’ll be offering all next year. Exclusive content, free fiction, and awesome stretch goals await!
Jason Sizemore is the publisher and editor of Apex Books and the award-winning short fiction genre zine Apex Magazine. He’s a multi-Hugo Award nominated editor who also occasionally writes a short story or two. His debut collection, Irredeemable, is available from Second Star Press. For more information visit www.jason-sizemore.com or you can find him on Twitter @apexjason.