Business Insider:

Barnes & Noble said that sales of books relating to managing and coping with anxiety are up 26% from a year ago.

The sales data shows that customers are gravitating towards workbooks and toolkits to try and manage the growing stress of “an anxious nation.”

“The Anxiety category has really popped in the last year as book buyers look for practical guides and strategies on how to manage anxiety,” Barnes & Noble’s senior director of merchandising, Liz Harwell, said in a press release.

I recently finished Matt Haig’s “Notes on a Nervous Planet”. I saw a lot of myself in it. Judging by the fact the book became a #1 bestseller, I am far from the only one to feel so. I nodded as I read about panic attacks, about fights with trolls on social media, the constant influx of bad news, the need to disconnect. On one hand, Internet allows us to get in touch with each other easier than ever before. On the other hand, however, Internet allows us to get in touch with each other easier than ever before.

I come from a generation born before Google existed. Yes. That’s how old I am. In fact, I was born before Internet existed at all. My first computer had 2 KB memory and loaded its tiny programs from tape. (For context: laptop I am typing this on has 8 GB RAM. This is four million times more. It’s not ideal. I hope to replace it with a 16 GB one, so it lasts me a few years.) I started a Facebook account with sole purpose of playing an illegal Scrabble clone with my workmates, and I did so reluctantly. I was among the last ones in the company to get an account. But I just wanted to play Scrabble.

Happiness in 2004, at a political rally. What is this Facebok you speak of?

Back in the day *harumph, get off my lawn* I had a blog called From The Life of Heterosexuals. It was a comedy blog. Sometimes “mainstream” readers would bump into it, and unleash their minuscule fury. I had blogs before then, and every negative comment made me spend sleepless nights, worrying – why don’t they love me? What have I done wrong? It was this blog, with people threatening to beat me up, assuring me they knew where I lived, etc. that made me stop worrying. Because those threats were just so amusingly ridiculous. I couldn’t find it in me to imagine that my blog nickname and posts about how funny it was that women worried their husbands were gay because aforementioned husbands peed sitting down (this was my first post ever) could cause someone to seriously threaten my safety. I was, luckily, right. Since then I received an actual death threat which sat in my “Other” mailbox on Facebook for almost a year before I read it. And I’m, relatively speaking, a nobody. That old blog used to get into top 30 most read blogs in Poland, but let’s agree that didn’t exactly lead to fame and riches. (I never monetised it, nor did I try to sell anything.) What did, however, happen was that I got anxious about producing The Content. My readers were waiting. I had to come up with something. It had to be funny. It became more and more an unpaid job. I cut the life support a few years ago. Some people still sigh wistfully when they remember the time the blog was active – it was truly loved (and sometimes hated). But I had a burnout from it. I could have plodded on. Lost readers, gained complaints it wasn’t good anymore. I didn’t. I said goodbye, started a very different blog, dropped that one.

Happiness in 2005. Still loving this hat. I mean, I got rid of it, but I wish I hadn’t.

The difference was that ten years ago trolls were basically spotty teenagers living in their moms’ basements. Nowadays they organise. So do cliques. Fan groups. There is increasing pressure both on Living Pretty #soblessed and on “you won’t take away our freedom of speech, you ‘bad’ ‘sick’ people, WRONG!!!”. This attacks us from every direction. One of my job titles back in the day was “social media expert”. But social media was very different eight years ago. The worst fires I had to put out concerned our servers not working as fast as they mostly did. Nowadays it’s possible to get under fire by retweeting something vaguely political. To get hundreds of strangers telling you they will slash your face, cut off your boobs or balls, kill your family. To get doxxed (have your personal data, including home address and credit card number, revealed in public). Those are all things that happen, and not just to celebrities. They happen to a lot of people who dare to speak out about more or less anything. No, I am not Felicia Day or Sarah Jeong. But in 2018 you don’t have to be.

This is only part one.

I’ve long maintained a theory that the increasing rates of depression and anxiety are fuelled by the sheer amount of news, and they are almost always bad news, pouring all over us. Our brains have not evolved as fast as computing did. I first used Internet in 1996. The first website I saw was www.petshopboys.co.uk. I made my own shortly after. No. You can’t see it. (I hope. Internet Archive has everything. Luckily even I can’t remember the URL of that website.) But the amount of news we receive in a day is larger than that a 18th century person would receive in their lifetime. And we have to process all this on top of, you know, having a life. We go to Twitter or Facebook for relief, only to find out about Cambridge Analytica, about how our data is mined and ruthlessly used.

I first quit Facebook a few years ago. My friend list grew to over 400 people, which I realise is very little compared to an average teenager. It began to weigh on my nerves, and create anxiety. Was the photo I posted good enough? It got four likes, but this other one got 25. Should I delete the first one? Do people hate me now? Oh Gosh, Karen posted another 50 photos of her baby drowning in poop, and got 500 likes. I DO NOT HAVE A BABY TO POST. I am over. Everything is over. And that was before certain politicians started making the news twenty times a day.

The first thing I did was pruning my friend list until I got down to 100. This proved not to be enough. Being on Facebook made me anxious. Not being on Facebook made me anxious. The amount of messages I received from strangers through my blog – and those were NICE messages! – made me anxious. I started to spend spoons I didn’t have to help other people until I hit the wall – hard. I requested people to stop asking me for personal help. I felt like a shitty person. I then deleted the account completely and started a new one. I had seven friends. But then people I really liked sent me requests. It was going well, until I found myself in the exact same spot as before, too anxious to even open Facebook. I had a Twitter, and whether I was even looking at it or not it kept on stressing me out as hell. Just by existing, and by me not existing on it enough. I was missing out on important news if I hadn’t checked the news sites at least eight times a day. I could possibly miss one email AND THEN WHAT.

I deleted the second account as well. The last drop was when I uploaded a photo of myself after corrective surgery to a closed group. Ever since then when I wanted to change my avatar picture the first suggestion Facebook made was this photo. I looked like a victim of violent fight on it, which was amusing after the surgery, but less and less amusing when I discovered this photo was impossible to delete. It did not appear in any of my albums. I would have to find the original post I made in the group. It’s a very active group, and I was very active in it. I found some posts with my photos and deleted them, but this one was hidden somewhere deep enough that I couldn’t get rid of it. Every. Single. Time. I tried to change my avatar pic I saw my bruised, battered face. The only way I could get rid of this picture was by deleting the account and starting another one.

Happiness in 2018. I wish I could have stayed in this tub forever.

Somehow in the last year or so I seem to have found a way to use social media and not be consumed by it. I do not use Snapchat or Instagram, because they don’t work for me. There are perhaps two photos of me that I put up, my avatar photo here and that one where I am in a hot tub in Iceland. Alone. Without my phone in my hand. Without Twitter, Huffington Post, CNN, BBC, etc. There are mountains, some snow, the magic of sitting in a hot tub while snow is all around me. I am able to disconnect. But then I get anxious. What if there is something I should know? What if something changed? In the previous centuries most people learned that there was a new king months or even years after the event. Nobody particularly cared which king they are never going to see unless they are sent to battle, unless the king was a particularly nasty person. Today I know about almost everything certain politicians do, despite actively trying to avoid the news.

Writing is my escape. So is, weirdly enough, installing operating systems on computers and fixing software problems. Listening to music (if I can hear it over the noises from the outside). Being in nature. Amsterdam doesn’t have much nature in it, unless you’re willing to brave crowded streets and crowded public transport in order to get to a crowded park.

Yes, Matt. Yes, Barnes & Noble. We are living on an anxious planet. We created it ourselves. We created the need that people feel to get plastic surgery so they look like filtered Snapchat photos. For someone born in 1977 this is a sort of anxiety I am very unlikely to ever feel. But, really…who knows? in 1996 I didn’t expect to ever find out Facebook was downloaded a billion times from Play Store, or that I would constantly see a photo of my bruised face without being able to delete it. I never expected people to willingly pay for devices that constantly listen to them. The article I linked to at the beginning of this post mentions fantasy books’ sales are going up as well. I can really understand why.

Main photo: ‘Notes on a Nervous Planet’ by Matt Haig. 5/5, recommended.

As mentioned previously, I am working on two books at once.

The first, ‘Storyteller’, is the novel set in Iceland between 1885-1920. I believe we are in final editing stages before querying agents. I would like to try traditional publishing for this one, which most probably means I have to have lots of patience. I am aiming at American market, which means my road to $ucce$$ is going to look like this (based on research and partly guesswork):

I have to find an agent. I know of people who had three rejections. I know of people who had more than 100. The process lasts a very long time, because there are many writers, not just me (shocking!) who would like to be published. Imagine you are an agent, and you receive 100 book proposals a week. Obviously, nobody has this sort of time – heck, I’m reading two books at once, and I’m on fourth day with Amanda Palmer’s ‘The Art of Asking’. (Recommended!) Therefore, agents require queries.

A query is basically a short summary of what the book is about, and why someone would be willing to read it. The query can’t be too long. Each agency (sometimes each agent) has requirements of some sorts. Those requirements need to be met, because otherwise you are not sending a query, you are sending proof that you are nowhere near published yet, and you already don’t care. Those go in the trash. This initial selection process is often done by interns, who have to go through 100 queries a week, and sometimes more. I am not jealous of their job.

The next thing to include (depending, again, on agent’s requirements) are sample pages. Five of them. Which means first five pages must be interesting enough for someone to want to read further. This is, of course, assuming the query didn’t land my manuscript in the trash already. When you get 100 books a week, and remember this is a conservative estimate, that means 500 pages to read in case all queries are murderously good. Some agents find time to respond with critique. Most, I guess, don’t. (Which is partly because enraged writers “respond” to them…) If my first pages are good enough, I will receive a request for partial (say, first 50 pages), or full (well, duh, full manuscript). And then I will WAIT, since agents tend to have a pile of books that they requested half a year ago. Which is because agents don’t just read the book within half an hour, then press the magical “publish” button. They actually have other things to do than read my masterpiece!!! Do they KNOW who I am?! (No. They don’t.) I am important and so is my work! But…so is everybody else’s.

Once I found an agent, which may take a month or a year or longer, the search begins for an interested editor at a publishing house. Again, editors receive a lot of manuscripts, although less than agents (whose job, among others, is to make sure the editor doesn’t receive 100 half-baked books per month just from this one agent). That editor must be interested in my genre, which for ‘Storyteller’ is historical fiction with fantasy elements. Sending a fantastic historical fiction to someone specialised in non-fiction is a waste of time, both editor’s and agent’s. And, dare I say, mine. Therefore I do the research to find an agent interested in my genre, after which the agent has to find an editor interested in my genre. This can last up to EIGHTEEN YEARS. So I may be in the situation where I have a super enthusiastic agent totally in love with my book, and then wait for years until the right editor falls in love with it as well. Largely because a genre might go out of fashion for a while, and there is nothing anybody can do about it, unless 100000 readers suddenly send a petition demanding immediate release of my book.

This is not the end.

Traditional publishing process takes many months. First of all, the publisher’s editor will request more edits from me, because that’s their job – make the book as good and marketable as possible.

Marketing plans need to be prepared. Cover designed. Layout done and approved. Galley copies read and corrected, because typos exist no matter what. Advanced review copies (ARCs) distributed among reviewers. I don’t even know what else, since I didn’t quite get that far yet. What I do know is that my book will not be published a day after the editor receives the manuscript from the agent.

All this means that if I pursue traditional publishing, I will wait for years before the book is out. Which is a part of how it works. First, though, I will have to deal with tons of rejections. Again, it’s not personal unless I have proven that I am a horrible person to work with (beginning with ignoring the agent’s requests – which are not what they are to make my life difficult, but rather to make the agent’s life easier). It’s just how things work. The editor might say the book is fabulous, then ask to add vampires and zombie babies to the book. It happens. Publishing is a business. Piracy is hurting it a lot. Competition is stiffer than ever.

I estimate if I am lucky ‘Storyteller’ might be released in 2020. At which point I better have another book ready to go. Because if I now take a two-year break and wait for ‘Storyteller’ to be published, I will find myself in a spot where I have no follow-up of any sort. Before I have a follow-up, it will be 2022. Before it gets published… etc.

The second novel, tentatively called ‘God of Fire’, is urban fantasy, where a bunch of Norse Gods decide a nerdy graphic designer from Amsterdam is the only person that can save the universe. No pressure. I finished the second draft, and sent it to beta readers. I made a mistake of asking on my Polish blog’s fanpage whether that one lady who commented on my old YouTube clip could contact me. Now I have 28 beta readers. Their feedback might come in all forms and shapes, including “I died of boredom on page 60”. I will be using this feedback to rewrite the whole thing until I feel it is good enough…to start working with an editor. (FYI, regarding ‘Storyteller’… So far I’ve been working with Crystal Clear Resources for 10 months, while writing the book took nine months.) There is a chance that feedback will be overwhelmingly negative, and then I will scrap the whole thing. This is why beta readers are incredibly important. I can’t objectively judge my writing.

Once I have that feedback, I estimate research and rewrites will take at least six months. And then I will be hitting the editor for help again before…that’s right! Querying!

All this, for some reason, makes me feel happy. I am not under pressure of any sort right now. I can go on writing, then querying and writing, then waiting and writing. Right now nobody except my potential readers is waiting for me to deliver anything. There are no deadlines. And if I run out of agents willing to look at my query, then I can self-publish and pray for the best. (Which is, by the way, why most authors who don’t publish one book per month on Amazon have day jobs.) Again, without deadlines.

I have no idea how this all is going to go. But that, too, is exciting. It will be considerably less exciting after my 100th rejection, I suppose. But I am not there yet. I will keep you posted.

Photo: working hard on research. If you like this picture, why not check our photo book on Etsy?

Let me begin with a confession. I pirate books regularly. (Like the one above.) Now the reason why. I use a Kobo Aura One reader, which is advertised as compatible with EPUB and MOBI files. It isn’t. But Kindle and Google Play that I use for buying books come with DRM (Digital Rights Management). I use software to remove DRM, then convert the books to KEPUB (Kobo format), then read them. This is how I ended up buying Marian Keyes’ “The Break”, and THEN downloading it from a pirate site because my DRM removal tool didn’t work and I couldn’t read the e-book I paid for! I call this “Sales Prevention Team”. And yes, Kobo has its own book store, which has maybe half of the selection of Amazon and Google Play, much higher prices, and also some books bought from Kobo do not work with Kobo reader. And this is how I both pay for books AND commit illegal acts, since it is not actually allowed to remove DRM. From legal point of view stripping the DRM is just as illegal as me downloading the book from a pirate website…except the pirated book is much easier for me to read. Because I don’t need to remove DRM in order to put it on my reader. Does this picture look right to you?

While I love paper books, my back injuries mean that a thick book is never going to be read by me for a simple reason – it hurts. Physically. E-books are my saviour. The reader is the absolute best I have ever seen, but the software – regularly updated – isn’t. Epubs don’t render correctly. Mobis just don’t appear at all (or didn’t last time I checked). While Google Play and Adobe Digital Editions allow me to upload the epub files, they don’t render correctly. But this is not the sort of piracy that is harmful.

Here is a very useful and informative article by Maggie Stiefwater:

It’s the story of a novel called The Raven King, the fourth installment in a planned four book series. All three of its predecessors hit the bestseller list. Book three, however, faltered in strange ways. The print copies sold just as well as before, landing it on the list, but the e-copies dropped precipitously. […]

I expected to see a sales drop in book three, Blue Lily, Lily Blue, but as my readers are historically evenly split across the formats, I expected it to see the cut balanced across both formats. This was absolutely not true. Where were all the e-readers going? Articles online had headlines like PEOPLE NO LONGER ENJOY READING EBOOKS IT SEEMS. […]

I asked my publisher to make sure there were no e-ARCs available of book four, the Raven King, explaining that I felt piracy was a real issue with this series in a way it hadn’t been for any of my others. They replied with the old adage that piracy didn’t really do anything, but yes, they’d make sure there was no e-ARCs if that made me happy.

Then they told me that they were cutting the print run of The Raven King to less than half of the print run for Blue Lily, Lily Blue. No hard feelings, understand, they told me, it’s just that the sales for Blue Lily didn’t justify printing any more copies. The series was in decline, they were so proud of me, it had 19 starred reviews from pro journals and was the most starred YA series ever written, but that just didn’t equal sales. They still loved me.

This, my friends, is a real world consequence. […]

The Ronan trilogy nearly didn’t exist because of piracy. And already I can see in the tags how Tumblr users are talking about how they intend to pirate book one of the new trilogy for any number of reasons, because I am terrible or because they would ‘rather die than pay for a book’. As an author, I can’t stop that. But pirating book one means that publishing cancels book two. This ain’t 2004 anymore. A pirated copy isn’t ‘good advertising’ or ‘great word of mouth’ or ‘not really a lost sale.’

Pirating books is easy and tempting. When you google a title, more often than not first hits are pirated copies. Not even Amazon or author’s website. When I type a song title into Google, I get, again more often than not, “mp3” as autofill. This is not so that Google can redirect me to a legit store.

I originally decided to stop making music when I sold less copies of my album Deviations than there were pirate sites I found offering it for free. There were tens of those sites on the first page of Google results. After diminishing returns I only make music nowadays if I really feel pressing need to do so. Some of this music never even sees Spotify. I’ve recorded a 19-minute triphop cover of Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You”. I was aided by a wonderful bass player, and my brother who is a great guitarist. I love that song so much I play it for my own pleasure. So does the bassist, and the guitarist. Other than them the only person to have a full copy is the keyboard player I hope to get to add solo parts to the second song for this two-track album which will in all probability never be released. Because in order to publish a cover version I have to pay for that. Last month I earned $3.65 from my back catalogue of music. Publishing a cover version costs $10.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The picture above is the cover art for ‘I Want You’. Oh, hang on, there is no picture. That’s because ‘I Want You’ exists mainly on my hard drive. It might be awful or amazing. I don’t know whether anybody but the four of us who worked on it is ever going to find out.

I’ve never been a pop star, despite having had a proper radio and TV hit 15 years ago (I am ancient and just began to decompose). That radio hit earned me about €2000 within 15 years, largely because it was used in an ad three years in a row, and every year I earned €500. The follow-up didn’t become a hit. The label who was supposed to release the album stalled so long that the record finally came out digitally a few years ago, more or less ten years after we recorded that first song. I spent tons of time promoting it, designing the cover art (it was supposed to be a digipak with a thick booklet). I would estimate my earnings from music, including production and remixing, to be around €5000. Within 15 years. Rappers put up photos on Instagram bragging about how much money they have. My photo would be extremely unimpressive, unless I exchanged the money to kronur first, asking for 100 kronur (less than one euro) notes.

Writers in general do not get rich, with exception of book stuffers (who publish 2000 page “books” with “additional novels added”, then get rewarded by Amazon since Kindle Unlimited pays per page) and those who manage to release a book every month (yes, they exist). I can’t possibly imagine a good book being written in a month. Not one. Much less 12 a year. I’ve read some of them. My eyes still hurt. John Grisham, JK Rowling, George R.R. Martin, Dannielle Steel, Stephen King are the only living authors I can think of that are actually properly rich. Very few writers get to make comfortable living from their work. I’ve now been working on “Storyteller” (the first work in progress) for 19 months and counting.

Sales of #1 novels in 2018 are counted in thousands. Not in tens, or hundreds of thousands. The publisher has to market those books. Editor has to, er, edit them. Cover designer. Person responsible for layout. Agent. All those people work on the book. It’s not just the author who essentially loses money. Just supporting the author directly, as some people suggest, doesn’t help the books to actually get published. What’s the point in having €50 monthly from Patreon if I am going to get dropped by the publisher because of low sales? This is what piracy causes, and this is why quality level of self-published books is either very high…or very low. The music industry caught up with this a few years ago, and now streaming can earn you money. Or not, if you aren’t Drake or Justin Bieber. I am awaiting Spotify for books, and I’d be happy to pay €30 per month for it. (Scribd does not work on my reader in any way at all.) I, too, would like to not have to pay €18 for a Kindle version of a book I really want to read – or €250 for a second-hand copy of a book that’s been printed in 2000 copies in 2014, doesn’t exist in e-book form, and is now impossible to buy legally. This book wasn’t printed in more copies than 2000, because it failed to earn its advance.

Speaking of an advance. I believe the average advance for a first-time author is somewhere in the region of $6000. This is for two or three years of work, research, querying, waiting, waiting, waiting, writing more, hoping someone will want to publish us at all. This advance includes tax we have to pay, is split into two or three parts (€2000 when signed, €2000 on delivery of manuscript, €2000 on publication). Tax here in the Netherlands is between 32 and 41 per cent. Let’s go for the lower 32%. That €6000 turns out to be less than €4200. Split into three parts that are paid within two-three years after the book has been completed. And the first book generally makes or breaks the author. If it doesn’t sell, it’s probably going to be the only one to be published. Once you get through the “gatekeepers” – i.e. agents, editors, etc. (See Maggie’s article above.) The “gatekeepers” goal is not to stop me from ever releasing my book. Their job is to figure out whether there is a chance for the publisher not to make a loss.

Writing books hoping to become rich is really a stupid idea (unless you publish a book a month, again, and add “10 additional novels” to it to get more pages). Amazon is now trying to remove some of those stuffed books. The results are mixed. My second work in progress, tentatively called ‘God of Fire’, is supposed to become a trilogy. Trilogies sometimes sell. Sometimes the first book sells 10 thousand, second – five thousand, and then the third never gets published because the author is dropped because of low sales. This is the actual effect of book piracy. For someone who sells millions it’s not a huge problem. For a new author struggling to earn out the advance (which is the moment publisher finally stops bleeding money on advertising etc., and the moment when the author has a small possibility of getting published again) 1000 lost sales can equal the end of writing career. This is why almost all writers need to have day jobs. This is why you have to wait for the third part of the trilogy for four years, because the author has one hour per day to write between work, chores, and simply dying of exhaustion – and that’s assuming this third part will ever be released at all.

If you are the person who says “I would rather die than pay for a book’” you contribute to those books not actually existing. Sure. You saved €4.99 (average Amazon price). The author, in the meantime, found a really good job as a barista in Starbucks, and stopped writing altogether. Was it worth it? Do you feel proud now?