You’re a writer and you’ve decided to start your own publishing company.  But in the first three months, you’ve only sold three copies of your book.  You

a) start making fun of all the bestsellers. A bunch of hacks. They all sell their stuff for 99 cents. And the traditional publisher’s fat cats have publicity machines behind them. They’re all bastards;

b) start hiring people to make more beautiful, sophisticated covers or edit your novel again–the first two versions obviously didn’t cut it;

c) run to the Kindle boards and start posting and PM-ing, meeting writers, tagging each others’ work, trying to get a review or make friends with a self-professed avid reader who has 5 bucks to spend on one book (but you’d give them a coupon from Smashwords to they could save that 5 bucks!). Just, somebody, somewhere, buy my book!  Please!

d) start troubleshooting. So many things could be wrong. The cover. The formatting. The language (how unfortunate that most Estonians don’t seem to have e-readers yet). The lack of reviews. The one two-star review. Should you make it free? What about 99 cents?  Is that too much?

e) realize it’s a waste of time. No one makes any money at this anyway. Take the book down and walk away.

The five Buddhist hindrances (mental mind states that lead you away from enlightenment) are

Aversion (anger, ill will)

This one is pretty self-explanatory. It’s easier to blow up at other writers than to deal with the fact that no one wants to read your book.

Lust (sensual desire)

Everyone else has a nicer cover, a better proof-reader, or a more dedicated bunch of friends who buy their books and tweet about them.  If only you had that, or the money for that, someone would read your book.

Restlessness (worry, remorse)

I can’t stand it. I’m checking my numbers again. Argh! Still no one’s bought it in the last 12 hours! I hate you all! I’m going to call my friend! Shoot, no one’s home. I’m going for a run. Okay, now let me check my numbers. Still nothing! Aaaaargh!!!!!!!

What’s wrong with my book? I should post it and ask people for help tweaking my cover.

Again, it’s easier to stomp around, creating a lot of sound and fury, instead of dealing with the fact that no one has bought your book in the past 8 seconds.


Because everything from content to cover to publicity is under your control, that leads to a lot of doubt and a lot of things you can fiddle with while waiting for people to buy your book.

Sloth and torpor

It’s easier to pull up your stakes and walk away than deal with the fact that very few people are buying your book.

Okay, so I’ve gone through all these things myself.  This is what I’d advise intellectually, in a “do as I say, not as I do” thing:

1. Low expectations.

Three people bought your book? Wow! Good for you! They spent their hard-earned cash on your words. That’s an honour.

Nobody bought your book? Well, that will just make it even more exciting when someone does!  (And by the way, if you go through Smashwords and wait for their premium distribution, etc., it will take six months to hear about any sales, so you may be selling without knowing it.)

2. Take the long view.

You have years, not days, to connect with readers and make your money. Your copyright lasts for a lifetime plus 50-70 years. Dean Wesley Smith points out that five books sales a month on the Kindle can equal $10,000 after 10 years; one book a day for 10 years can equal $30,000. (I can’t find this link right now, so please ping me if you can find it.) Sounds good to me.

3.  Stop letting the numbers determine your self-worth.

From what I see, writers used to obsess about rejection by editors and agents. Now that we can easily publish ourselves world-wide, we’re obsessed about our sales.

You are not your numbers. They’re just numbers.

My husband told me to stop looking at my numbers.

This just made me more desperate to look at them and fret, and no matter how good or bad they were, I wasn’t satisfied.

I know some people input their numbers into spreadsheets every day. It’s just data. My friend Genevieve encouraged me to do this, so it would be like, “Oh, do I have to input my numbers again today?” Since then, I haven’t looked. It works better for me.

4.  Write more.

The more content you get out there, the better.  My Kindle sales jumped as soon as I put up a bunch more short stories. And it just feels good to create something brand new that hasn’t been rejected yet.

5.  Publish more.

Now get your work out there. They can’t buy it if they can’t see it.

This takes courage. I didn’t want to go indie. I dreamed of traditional publishing, with an advance and a beautiful book I could hold in my hand. Just jumping in, with no guarantee anyone would read anything I wrote? Especially when I only sold three stories in my first two months? Yikes.

Two sayings I hung on to were a) “past performance does not predict future performance” (so even if I sucked now, I might not later), and b) “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

Independent publishing is rising. I can see it lifting all the boats. It’s a beautiful thing.

Copyright Melissa Yuan-Innes, 2011

P.S. I’m writing a book about the Unfeeling Doctor and Buddhism and decided to detour into Buddhism and indie publishing. If this article helped you, please consider buying my books. Thanks!