A couple of months ago, I quietly unpublished the only novel I’ve self-published to date, Results Not Typical.
Maybe you noticed. Maybe you didn’t. You probably didn’t, and that’s a good thing, as I’ll explain in a minute. But I know it seems like a weird thing to do, so let me explain my reasons behind it.
The Story of Results Not Typical
Results Not Typical was the first full novel I ever wrote, typing “THE END” back in January 2010—two months before I’d self-publish Mousetrapped. My description of it was The Devil Wears Prada meets Weight Watchers and chick-lit meets corporate satire, and I still think that’s pretty apt. I got the idea for it after a visit to a brain-washing “behavioral modification clinic” that specialized in weight loss (or so they claimed), and it was an opportunity for me to make fun of the craziness that is the slimming industry who, I’m sorry, are just asking for it.
The first Results Not Typical cover.
A literary scout here in Ireland who has great contacts in the publishing world read it and loved it, and we spent two or three months tweaking and re-writing and improving, until Results was really finished in May 2010. Then it went out on submission to editors in the Irish offices of major publishing houses—household name publishing houses—and one editor in the UK. The general consensus was that I could write (well, thank fudge for that!) but that this wasn’t the right kind of book for them. Could they see something else?
I was devastated, because I was in love with this book. I had followed the advice to write the kind of book you want to read but can’t find on the shelves. Results was exactly the kind of book I wanted to read. And while I knew that the best it could do to fit into a genre was to teeter precariously on tip-toes between two, I really believed that it would find a place for itself, that a place would be created for it. When that didn’t happen—and when the criticism seemed to fit right in with the rejections Mousetrapped had got—I was frustrated. Why couldn’t I just write the “right” kind of book?
Publishing Just Because
I self-published Mousetrapped in March 2010. Then the first edition of Self-Printed in May 2011, and Backpacked a few months after that, in September. Self-publishing had really taken off for me, but it was a sideline, a distraction, a way to afford coffee while I pursued my real dream of getting a novel published. Anyone who has so much as glanced at this blog knows how I feel about self-publishing, and while I’m proud of what I’ve achieved and am delighted that the world now offers more than one route to writerly success (and better yet, multiple routes to having a writerly income), self-publishing was never going to “do”. It was never going to satisfy my childhood dreams of seeing my books on the shelves in my local Waterstones, or make me feel the way I imagine I would were I ever offered a book deal. But it was a wondrous thing to have readers, and to sell books, and to get lovely reviews. So I figured I could have the best of both worlds, but keep them separate: self-publishing non-fiction, continue to pursue publication with fiction.
Then, a moment of weakness. In the summer of 2011 I looked around and saw nothing but self-published authors selling thousands upon thousands of self-published books—far more than I was selling. But theirs were all fiction. It seemed so much easier to sell a Kindle novel than it did what I was writing, humorous (she hopes) travel adventures. And guess what? I had a novel. Ready to go. Results Not Typical had been sitting in my drawer for the last twelve months. Maybe I was sitting on a wasted opportunity. Maybe I’d do even better with fiction than I had with my existing books. Maybe I was just being too cautious not wanting to blur the lines between my work, and where would that leave me anyway if I never got published? How long was I going to wait around?
Not for much longer, I decided. And I self-published the book.
Out Here, All Alone
Results Not Typical was, sales-wise, a complete disaster. Despite a 21—21!—stop blog tour to herald its arrival, excellent reviews from influential book blogger sites and my existing readership, it sold in 8 months what Mousetrapped sells in the month of January: about 1,000 copies. This doesn’t sound so bad until you consider that I gave away over 25,000 copies of it through free promotions and that when I unpublished it, it only had 18 Amazon reviews. I even changed the cover mid-way through, but after an initial bump it had little to no effect.
The second one.
Now in fairness, it took Mousetrapped a year to sell its first 1,000 copies. And I advise authors to wait at least a year themselves. But I couldn’t hold on. I didn’t want to. Because having Results out there suddenly felt like an overwhelming exposure, and I didn’t want to be out there, exposed, by myself. I felt like I’d taken this huge risk—self-publishing fiction; turning self-publishing from a sideline into my focus—and that it’d all been for nothing.
I suspected that I didn’t know how to market a book like this. I didn’t have enough experience. The publishers of Max Barry’s books had managed to get them into my hands—Max Barry’s Company being the closest thing to a book like Results that I know of, except of course, his is much better!—so there must be a way to convince people to read books like this one. I just didn’t know what it was.
And when people criticized the book, I couldn’t deal with it. I don’t know why, exactly. I’m fine (most of the time…) whenever Mousetrapped or Backpacked gets a bad review. It’s like I know, deep down, that those books are okay. They’re not as bad as those horrible reviewers are making them out to be. (Although, they’re probably not as good as the five-starrers believe they are either, to be fair…!) But with Results, it was like I had no confidence. The tiniest criticism would have me convinced that, yes, the book was actually terrible. Which would lead me to believe that all my fiction would be terrible, which would have me thinking my dream of publication would never happen,which would lead me by the hand into a dark abyss where I’d have to go get a proper job…
It was just too much. If I’d been selling thousands of copies, I’d probably have learned to deal with it. At the very least, I’d have been able to afford the therapy. But with Results limping along in terms of my Kindle sales, it just didn’t feel worth it. So I unpublished the paperback through CreateSpace, and a few weeks later, the Kindle edition disappeared too.
Back to the Plan
I instantly felt better, like a weight (ha! No pun intended…) had been lifted from my self-publisher’s shoulders. I’d just never been comfortable with self-published fiction, much like European DVDs have no place on my shelf because their spine text is printed in the opposite (wrong!) direction and they don’t match my other ones. The European DVDs belong in a box under my bed, and my fiction belongs to the world of as yet unrealized dreams.
But imagining for a second that those dreams are, one day, realized— it brings up another good reason to unpublish Results Not Typical: I’ll never write anything like it again. Yes, there was a sequel planned, but after that I think I would have flushed out all my angry rants about the slimming industry and I would’ve been out of ideas for more satirical weight-loss company romps. So let’s say that then, one dreamy day, I was offered a book deal. The book in question would be something very un-Results like—let’s say a crime novel, for demonstration purposes. What then of Results? If you heard I had a book coming out and you wanted to see what I write like, you’d sensibly download Results. If you liked it and read the new book wanting more of the same, you’d be disappointed. And if you didn’t like it, you’d just be disappointed—and you wouldn’t give the new book a chance.
Results just didn’t fit in with the overall plan, which is—and has always been—to earn a living doing something fulfilling that doesn’t require the leaving of the house. (And to achieve childhood writer dreams too, of course.) And while it was out there, I felt off the plan and getting further away from it day by day. So I decided to take a hit, sooner rather than later, and unpublished the book.
And then I got back to the plan.
Why It’s Good You Didn’t Notice
In all the time it’s been unpublished, maybe 4 or 5 people have mentioned its unpublication to me. And this is a good thing. Great, even.
I think as self-publishers we assume that everything we do is out in the open, noticed by all. For instance, let’s say you have a novel that’s $2.99 and you want to charge 99c for it for a while. You might feel obliged to inform your blog readers, or your newsletter subscribers or your Facebook fans, explaining why you’re doing this, hoping they won’t be upset if they’ve already paid full price for it. When you put the price back up, you might feel obliged to do the same.
BUT NO ONE NOTICES. There is only one moment when people absorb the details of a book, and that’s when they’re buying it. If I buy your book for $2.99, when am I ever going to notice that it’s now 99c? I’m not watching your book listings like you are. I don’t care; my relationship with the book is over now. And this is a good thing.
Feel free to experiment as much as you want. Up the price. Drop the price. Bundle. Separate. Unpublish. Re-publish, with new material. Do whatever you like. No one’s watching until you tell them to.
So that’s that, then. Results Not Typical is no more.
[UPDATE 20/11: I've added a lengthy comment below, clarifying some points.]