There is a romantic notion of being a writer. Something magical. Only an imagination required and how bountiful it can be. The sales and acclaim. Book tours and readings. Adaptations, premieres…
And the process of writing itself; so noble and dignified. A room with a view for the creative juices. A house by the ocean or a lake. A log cabin with an open fire and a dog for company. The isolated writer creating stories that readers across the world are waiting on.
But such writers are rare, if they exist at all. James Caan was this writer in Misery but surely, no aspiring scribe would take on these odds.
Most writers experience none of the above. Most struggle against unfathomable odds and as such the vast majority will fail. And especially so, if like me, they are also unlikely publishers and specifically, they’re own publishers. What used to be cruelly referred to as vanity publishing but is now more kindly regarded as independent publishing.
Publishing is high risk. It is impossibly protracted, complicated and it requires skills that writers don’t necessarily have.
Conceiving a story, writing and editing said story into a compelling, readable manuscript is just the beginning and is the easiest part of the process. Now consider the feel of the book? The jacket design? Cream paper or white and how heavy? Formats: eBook, print book, both? Audio? Hardback?
Then there is the publication itself; fiddly and painful. To upload the necessary files (pdfs) to the online platforms, manned only by robots and no room for nuance. As sensitive as a Geiger counter – the tiniest infraction is all it takes for a book to be rejected. The ‘bleed’ marks of a jacket design must be accurate to within Nasa standards. And with never any redress to an actual human being…
Assuming then that such hurdles can be straddled and the book is successfully uploaded/published and is actually worth reading. Only now the hardest task looms, selling the blinking thing.
I don’t know how many books are published each year. But definitely more than ever before. And certainly more books than there are readers for. Most books sold are by the brand authors. The writers we’ve all heard of and one’s chances of joining their hallowed ranks… Good luck.
This year – the year of the Covid, I published my 7th and 8th book. So, by now, you might think that I have things down.
Let me explain a set of circumstances and you can decide for yourselves just how ‘down’ I am.
Smashwords is an online book retailer I have used since the beginning and probably because they aren’t Amazon. My little stance against the inevitable world take over by the American gazillionaire.
My books have never featured on the Smashwords bestseller charts. They have sold like cold cakes but even so, over 15 years the money has accumulated in to a small pot – and has continued to grow because despite my best efforts I have been unable to empty this pot in to my pocket.
Smashwords are not to blame for this. Internet sales are worldwide and involve various currencies and jurisdictions. And Smashwords being a US site of course, (are there any non US websites?) taxes are due to the IRS before the English author can receive his dues.
And for all of this to happen – paperwork needs to be in place. Fiendishly complex forms need to be completed. Not actual paper forms that can be filled out with help from people who enjoy this kind of torture. No. These are online forms to be downloaded, completed, docu-signed and returned on line. Forms with myriad boxes to be clicked. Forms that I have completed on an annual basis but never successfully.
“…dear domincholland, the forms you have submitted are not compliant with…”
Which never troubled me in the past. If anything it has amused me. Because I’m not a writer, not really. I’m a stand-up comic with plenty of work. And its only beer money anyway – which I don’t even need.
Until Covid. Suddenly I am no longer a stand-up comedian and getting these forms right becomes a thing.
If my company – Dom Holland Books – was like a real actual company, then I would simply consult with my legal department. But it isn’t and so instead, I ask my wife. Nikki stares at the form and I wait patiently.
So I call my accountant and she makes a suggestion which is a breakthrough and is also remarkably flattering.
It turns out that I am not a lowly independent trader as I had thought. According to officialdom of the United States of America, Dom Holland Books is in fact a CORPORATION.
Blimey, who knew?
When I was Paddy’s age (my youngest) – I already knew that I wanted to be a comedian and I wondered if I’d be able to make a living telling my jokes and my stories.
At this point in my life, had someone told me that in the years ahead, I would own a Corporation with a worldwide sales, I might have wept with excitement.
Now this is a reality but I weep only with frustration.
This year, after so many failed attempts, finally I get my shit together and I successfully complete the Nazi forms. Almost 15 years in to our trading relationship, Smashwords are happy to send me my nest-egg, less 33% withholding tax for the IRS.
But they remit this egg via PayPal, another US outfit – and guess what, PayPal have hurdles of their own.
Despite my clicking and repeatedly typing in my password and each time, more carefully – the robots at PayPal are not happy. The funds are duly returned to Smashwords for safe keeping.
Writing a book that people enjoy reading is relatively easy. But being a writer who sells books as a primary income is almost an impossible thing to achieve – as I have discovered on eight separate occasions. And yet the most perverse thing – is that I still love it.
The excitement is intoxicating and the hope that accompanies writing books trumps the disappointment every time. And so, fans of my books can rest easy. There are more DH books to come. Two more in fact, in the year ahead.
But don’t let this dissuade you from lending your weight to my cause. If you are a fan of any of my books and have yet to review them online…
And in the meantime, the nest egg Stateside will continual its glacial growth until one day it will find its way to me and I will be able to buy all my mates a beer – assuming we are allowed to venture outside and that there are still pubs that remain open…
Dominic Holland’s latest book is called Takes on Life – it’s funny (mostly), whimsical (always) and sometimes thoughtful. Available in hardback (this site) and online (paperback). It would have made a great Christmas present!