What’s Enough?

It’s been nearly three years since I first ‘self-published’ my books. I began with Smashwords, then Feedbooks, and eventually added Amazon Kindle as well, though I was reluctant to go that route, since I intended from the start to make my books free always, and Amazon has a minimum price (99 cents US).

My thinking went like this. I’d been writing these books for more than twenty years. I had more than sixty of them piled up, though only a third or so of those were any good at all. Of all that stuff, only twelve people in this universe had read any one of them, and only one person in the world had read more than two. The darn books wanted to be read. They didn’t care who read them but they were sick and tired of sitting around being completely ignored.

Free is good. I like free. My computer runs Ubuntu (free), and on it I use Mozilla Firefox (free) and i write computer programs in Ruby and Python (both free and open-source). My servers run Apache (free). I enjoyed Facebook and Twitter (free). I love my Android tablet and all of the apps I use on it are free. I read a lot of books downloaded from Project Gutenberg (all free). I enjoy browsing Smashwords for new free fiction and science fiction and have discovered several truly great writers that way (all of whom I recommend here on this blog, from wordpress, which is free). I make my books’ covers using GIMP (free). By self-publishing my books for free, I’m basically just putting my money where my mouth is, and it liberates me from the whole publishing rat race.

By now my books have been downloaded somewhere around 600,000 times and I estimate that somewhere around 200,000 distinct people have read at least one of them. So I ask myself, isn’t this enough? What am I looking for now? (I was able to finally quit smoking partly by using this mantra, “so, you’ve smoked about 100,000 cigarettes – how many more do you need?”). I remember three years ago, when Ledman Pickup hit 100 downloads, I was very happy. What could be better than that? And nothing has been better. It’s all been equally good.

I ask myself this question because I kind of want to stop. Not stop writing, but stop checking out the numbers of downloads. Stop checking out the number of Goodreads users who’ve added my books. Stop looking at the average ratings (my books’ average ratings are, surprise! average. Actually, that’s higher than I expected).

Because enough is really enough. None of this minor success has deterred me from writing what I want to write, and none of it was encouraged me or spurred me on, either. It just sort of gets in the way. I’m only around for a short time in this world and I just want to do what I want to do.

Recently my friend, the writer “Willie Wit”, reminded me of the works of Richard Brautigan, and sent me a BBC documentary about him. Here was a writer I thoroughly enjoyed when I was young. He was original, funny, smart, interesting, and for a few years quite popular, up there with Kurt Vonnegut. And then what? He absolutely vanished from the collective cultural memory of the USA. Gone. Sadly, he committed suicide. I hope that had nothing to do with his roller coaster ride through celebrity status.

Most of those who flower find the bloom is brief, and that’s all right. As my good friend used to say (the one who read more than two of my books) – “life is for doing stuff”.


2 thoughts on “What’s Enough?

  1. Tom, I know you don’t do it for the money. There is something great in that, but at the same time, isn’t it about time you earn something from your art? It’s not just about the money. It never is. It’s about value. How many people value your work? Money is just a stand in for value, because we have no other way to gauge it. Unless you count fan letters. In that case, please consider this one here.

    Anyway, I think checking the ratings, the numbers, etc is something we all do, because we want to know how many people are responding to our work. Regardless whether I sell a copy of Mentachip or not I still look at the numbers of views, because I want to know how many visited that page. Maybe it’s the curse of the internet that causes this. We always need to compare the numbers to the responses…?


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