Today, while selling my six mystery titles at a Christmas craft fair, I hit a milestone. I sold my 1,200th print copy of my first self-published mystery, Taxed to Death. When most unknown authors barely sell 100 print copies of their novels these days, (or so I’m told—I don’t know the actual number) this may seem like quite a feat, and it is, but not for the reason you might think, i.e. making money. You see, this didn’t milestone didn’t occur easily or quickly, and that’s the point I want to stress.
I’ve talked with a lot of writers and crafters over the last five years who all want to sell their products and make money, understandably. But I’ve also come across too many people who expect quick success. My craft fair season, which is from early November to mid-December involves both small high school craft fairs plus large three-day events. Time after time, I listen to vendors complain at the six-hour high school fairs (table rentals are $35 to $40) about not having cleared a $600 profit. I average $150.00 profit at high school fairs, and I’m happy with that. Hey, I don’t have lofty expectations. Craft fairs and, dare I say all bookselling events, are unpredictable. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life is that tenacity pays off.
As I mentioned, selling Taxed to Death hasn’t been an easy ride. Would you be surprised if I told you that the book was published twenty years ago? I still sell it because I believe in my work and because the story’s centered around fraud, a more timely topic today than it was when I was first wrote about it.
Here’s the thing, though. I had to overcome a lot of hurdles to sell that book, and to be honest, there were years when I made little effort to sell Taxed to Death at all. I remember 1997, when we filled an order from the Chapters chain that necessitated a second print run (and this is before the POD days), only to receive over four hundred returned copies months later and learn that our distributor, who owed us $1,000, had gone bankrupt. I had to make cold calls to independent bookstores along with personal visits, asking managers to consider carrying my book. Happily, over twenty stores did. All but two of them are gone now. I spent many hours doing a massive mail-out to nearly 1,000 libraries (which resulted in nearly 200 sales), and then I found Christmas craft fairs and summer farmers' markets. 1,200 copies later, I’m most proud of the fact that I made the effort and stuck with it, That, to me, is the big accomplishment.
Wise writers know that the writing biz is a long-haul journey. For the vast majority of us, there is no easy money or instant fame and fortune. But there is belief in your work and opportunity and tenacity. It’s up to you to decide what you want to do with it.