Photo by MP Clemens.
I have failed at many things in life, but I did become a writer.
This is, perhaps, in spite of myself. Early in Rogue Priest’s history, I produced a lot of posts that weren’t very good, and some that were downright combative. I judged my progress in terms of site traffic. But that is the same metric that guides the direction of low-quality news and entertainment sites. It’s equivalent to the metric used to guide television programs, and it is very easy to become the daytime TV of the internet.
Pandering to large numbers has a predictable effect (“large” being relative to your platform). It changes how you title your work, how you open your work, the tone that you take and to some extent the very topics you choose to discuss. “5 Ways to Be a Hero” with an open ending will attract more eyes than “Heroism Is a Spoken Song” with a definitive closing thought.
Literature is hard to eat.
Then I began to use my website as a place to sell things. I would market other people’s products and get a sales commission. If I were a business, that would be fine—although the bloggers who head down that highway do not seem to know how clownish it makes them look. Your conversion rate is the inverse of the number of people who see you for what you are.
The essential problem is this: I’m here to promote a philosophy, a way of life. I want you to try traveling away from familiar surroundings because I believe that journey will help make you a more whole human being. And if I have these products to sell you, maybe it’s because they’re great products that will help you on that journey. But maybe they aren’t so great, and the whole thing is a sham. How can you tell?
This conflict of interest eventually overrode my desire to “monetize” and even my faith in the products I recommended. Less than one year after starting, I removed all affiliate products and services from my website and I made an official policy never to promote them again.
I do believe in selling my own writing, and my book will be available on this website (release date: “soon!”). Lúnasa Days began as a wild idea, a series of daydreams as I biked through a blighted landscape. But readers believed in it and slowly, painfully, I made it real.
The bun is in the oven.
Learning to manage myself as a writer has been hard. Smart and encouraging bloggers—with helpful affiliate products nested on their sites—report that this is the age of the Indie Author. If that’s so then authors everywhere must be developing a new sympathy for giant publishers, who speculate real money on potential losses.
Not that I’d give it up. It’s nice to be the one speculating, and far nicer to be independent. But to give an example of how it’s been hard, let’s talk about ISBN’s.
Every book should have an ISBN. It’s a long number that you’ll never notice or care about, unless you happen to work in the library or publishing worlds. A book isn’t required to have one, but it makes some vague difference in your sales figures, that no one can ever explain well. Perhaps all those chain bookstores rushing to stock self-published novels won’t know where to shelve you if you don’t give them the number.
There is only one authorized ISBN agent in each country. They sell you the number, you register it and put it in your book. Kind of like registering a domain. Domains cost around $8. An ISBN costs $125.
I’ll need two of them—one for print, one for digital.
Graciously, you can buy them in bulk to save money. For $250 you get ten. To put it in perspective, that’s more than the entire cost of having my book professionally laid out by a printer.
Or you can go to a reseller. Resellers buy them thousands at a time and sell them for between $10 and $100. But the reseller’s company name will forever be locked into the ISBN, and they appear as the publisher of record for your book on some industry catalog.
That causes bad things, but they are vague and hard to explain.
This week was my ISBN Learning week, just like last week was Cover Art Learning week and the week before was How to Format an eBook. There is always one more hurdle, it seems, before I can make my book go live—and simply go back to the business of writing the next one.
Lúnasa Days, I’m proud to say, creaks onward.
It’s an honor to work as a writer. I spend most days writing articles, but then, so did Hemingway. What gets me is: if he hadn’t needed to eat (and drink) when he lived in France, if he hadn’t spent his work days on newspaper dispatches, would he have created more great books?
Or would he not have created any at all?
Increasingly I view myself as a writer on sojourn from one typewriter to another. My journey provides me with all the literary and philosophic wool that I need—but until I reach a quiet place to work, it cannot be spun. Sanctuary is spending two days or a month completely buried in writing.
Last week’s redesign of Rogue Priest is part of that change. The new look puts the focus squarely on the written word. The change in voice to a more philosophic tone—oddly closer to my in-person tone—is intentional, too.
While there are many things I have yet to discover on my journey, there is no longer any doubt what my art form must be. I always wanted to be a writer, but it wasn’t a likely career; they say it’s impossible to succeed. Some days it feels like they’re right. But I make my living that way now, and it fuels me.
I want it to be something more. I’ve learned to combine words, and if there is a way to hold that before me like a sword—if there is a way to use words to change our species—I count myself armed.
Armed, and wandering the earth. Penniless as a ronin. But just as ready to struggle for the right lord.