How many books do I want to sell? Hmm …

“How many books do you want to sell?”

“How many books have you sold?”

Two questions, years apart.

The first was asked by my former publisher, the latter by all sorts of people.

Years ago, I contacted a small independent publisher located in North Carolina to see if they might be interested in publishing my second Noah Greene novel, “Tears of God.”

It wasn’t long before I received a call from the owner of Word Branch.

“What are your expectations?” she asked. “How many books do you want to sell?”

“I just want to see the book out there,” I said.

And that was true. Mostly. In the back of my mind, I harbored a hope that I’d sell thousands of books, that people would flock to book signings and fall in love with my second child, the first being “Tears in the Rain.”

(I had that whole crying game theme until someone told me to cut it out.)

But being a small publisher, Word Branch was unable to get much traction for my book – or any of the books in its portfolio for that matter – and eventually shuttered its doors. They tried hard, but being an independent publisher these days is difficult. Large bookstore chains, only want to inventory books from publishers willing to participate in a buy-back policy. Big publishing houses are more than willing to purchase the leftovers of, say, Stephen King, because they know there won’t be many books remaining on the shelves. A house the size of Word Branch just can’t afford to buy back the books of E. E. Williams.

Perhaps you’re wondering about independent booksellers. Independent bookstores want nothing to do with independent publishers. Why? No idea. But there was many a time when I wanted to sneak in to a Joseph A. Beth store and secretly insert a copy of my book onto the shelf and see what happened. I didn’t, but I was tempted.

So, with Word Branch not an option for my third Noah Greene novel, “My Grave Is Deep,” I went searching for a new publisher. It turned out to be harder than a Medicare patient looking for a new doctor.

I got lots of positive rejections. “Loved it, but …” “Wish all our submissions were as good as this, but …” “I really wish I could, but …”

Then there were the agents. Don’t get me started.

That left me with one option – publish the book myself.

Which I did on Amazon’s KDP platform.

Amazon has all sorts of tools and videos to help you market the book, but essentially, you’re on your own. Bad news for me. I’ve never been good at beating my own drum, or asking for help. I did ask a few friends and acquaintances to mention the book and John Scalzi, the best sci-fi writer working today, gave me a space on his very popular blog to promote the book.

The novel came out in January and since then, I’ve been asked a thousand times how many books I’ve sold.

The answer is, I don’t know. I’m afraid to look.

I did get a royalty check for $5.83 so I’m guessing sales are sluggish. Still, I was able to buy a cookie and a Diet Coke with that. Well, I had to come up with another 25 cents, but basically the royalty covered the cost.

I’m not sure how to feel about how things are going. I think I’m a decent writer. I think the books are good. They’re not winning a Pulitzer, I get that. Marilyn Stasio isn’t reviewing them for her popular New York Times Crime column. But they’re as good as some writers whose books are currently sitting on the shelves at B&N or Books A Million.

So, I waft between being encouraged — $5.83 was more than I made at Word Branch – and being dejected.

Writing is a lonely art, and it’s tougher than you might think. A lot of sweat went into these books.

How much is that worth?

Yeah, I know … $5.83.

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