Playing the long game is hard. Doing so successfully requires patience, endurance, steadfastness, and perseverance despite unending obstacles and little encouragement. This, however, is the game of the self-publishing author. I write this not as someone who has already won a long game but one who is still at the beginning of it.
I have released one novel, Stronghold, and I am closing in on six months of release. I'm looking toward year-end and still being in the red. For those not familiar with accounting shorthand, "in the red" means that my income has not exceeded my expenses; I still have not recouped all of my investment on the book.
I should note, however, that in actuality those investments were not made on a single text but on the start of a publishing company and a career. And that's the whole rub of this post. When I consider that fact, then the amount that I have made is substantially more encouraging. If I'm starting to build something larger than a single release, I can afford to be in the red for two years; most businesses are (which is why so many close up shop in that time).
I do not say this to brag, for believe me I have very little about which to brag. I have sold fewer copies in nearly 6 months than some of my peers from Biola university sold in their first week of publication. But success in any venture should not be based on comparing oneself to others so much as enduring and completing project oneself.
This is the necessary mantra for the self-publisher who wants to play the long game, for doing so is akin to the tortoise running the race one slow step at a time. I have never once heard that old story told with the tortoise paying mind to the hare. Not once. In each incarnation, the reptile is focused on his finishing the race, regardless of the rabbit ahead of him. Of course, the tortoise will also have a very different experience, and he should expect and accept that.
For the writing tortoise, he (or she) may not have a five week whirlwind blog tour, but he may have an interview here or there. The tortoise may also not sell 1000 books in his first week of release, but he may sell ten in week-one, five in week-two, none in week-three and twenty in week-four. This type of cycle may repeat itself month after month after month, and he may never find himself on the bestseller list.
But while book one is still finding its audience, book two is being written. While book two is being revised and prepare for release, book three is under way, and when book two is made available, book three is being edited while book four is just waiting in the pressure cooker. This is the long game, the game self publishers play, the game few will win, especially in our current society where the hare is always seen as the ideal model.
The hare releases one book with more money, more time, more effort, and more energy than the tortoise even has in the queue. The hare does great sales for the first week, but the work, which was produced at a breakneck pace without an editor or second glance, begins to trickle. Because sales do not result in meeting the hare's expectation, he doesn't bother again. The Hare goes to sleep; he may eventually awaken and continue toward the finish line...or he may not.
Friends, I will be honest, after the release of Stronghold, despite all my desire to be a tortoise, my emotional response was that of the hare. Oh how disheartened I was! How frustrated! I was ready to stop. But enough people kept reminding me that just because my emotions resembled a hare, my will resembles the tortoise. For this reason, I have stayed committed to the long game. Novel number two was a big dud, abondoned until further notice after it's first draft, but novel number three is looking pretty good during revisions, and novel number four is about to be written. By the end of 2013, I will have four drafts of full novels completed, and one released. It may be another 18 months before one gets released, then again it could be six months, the point is, I'm not ready to give up the race just yet.
You should not be either.