I saw a rather intriguing movie last week—Margaret, in which Anna Paquin (playing 17-year-old Lisa Cohen) performs a powerful scene with Allison Janney as Monica, the woman hit and dismembered by a New York City bus after Lisa thoughtlessly distracted the driver over a stupid cowboy hat. Lying in the street in Lisa’s arms, her severed leg lodged beneath the bus’s rear wheel about ten feet away, Monica asks Lisa, “Am I dead?”

It is a gruesome, bloody, and emotional scene—one which certainly puts my petty problems in perspective. And yet, I, too, cannot help asking, “Am I dead?” (In the water, that is.) Launching a self-published book feels a lot like a bus wreck. You climb on, you pay your fare innocently and in good faith. Then you crawl along in this slow, overcrowded, humbling craft, trying not to grow annoyed by the many fits and starts over which you have no control. And then—BAM—out of the blue, you crash. (As in, less than two months after releasing Stage Daughter, sales—pitiful though they were to begin with—have dried up. At the time of this posting, I have sold exactly two e-books this month. You read that correctly: two.)

I would graciously concede defeat and go back to the drawing board, but Stage Daughter earned a Compulsion Reads endorsement (meeting 19 objective criteria), and bloggers and reviewers seem to like it! Granted, not everyone has bestowed the coveted five stars on my latest novel, but I am so past that it isn’t funny. I now urge everyone—especially friends—to be honest, to not feel obligated to give me extra stars out of friendship or charity, and certainly not to spare my feelings. That’s for grade schoolers (“There are no winners or losers here, honey. You showed up with a pulse and a smile, so everyone wins a prize!”). No, I want to graduate to the big leagues, and in professional anything, there are winners and losers (along with rankings and stats; kudos and criticisms; and successes and failures). Making it into the self-publishing “major leagues” requires talent, perseverance, and determination. It is just as difficult (and rare) to self-publish a bestseller as it is for an unknown “nobody” to land the starring role in a major motion picture. I realize this, but still—two lousy sales??

But speaking of movies, let’s get back to Margaret. In that same scene, Monica asks Lisa in a panic, “Are my eyes open or closed?” She’s bleeding to death in the street, massive amounts of blood having literally drained from her amputated leg, and her world has gone dark. She cannot see! How freaking terrifying is that—spending your final minutes amid a sea of strangers’ faces, unable to witness what is happening under your own nose? As the crowd waits in desperation for an ambulance to show up, a few hapless (if well-meaning) bystanders try to fashion a tourniquet from a belt. But it is too little, too late. Lisa tearfully pleads for Monica to hang on just a little longer, until the ambulance arrives. But a few moments later (thinking she has already passed on after confusing Lisa with her own dead daughter of the same name), Monica is gone. It is a horrific, despairing scene—the most powerful and pivotal point in the movie.

And so, as Stage Daughter gasps what feels like her final breath, I—like Monica—want to know, “Are my eyes open or closed?”  Like dear departed Monica, I want answers. I want to know what is happening, whether my book is dead or alive, whether I should try to hang on until help arrives, or let go and move on. Sometimes it feels as though I've got one leg figuratively stuck under a bus somewhere while I struggle blindly for an impossible outcome—that being literary success.

Thankfully, unlike Monica, I am still very much alive and have not been befallen by unexpected tragedy. But Monica and I do share this much: We both want the simple truth, without sugar-coating. So, if anyone has the slightest inkling why, after I wrote a halfway decent novel (my fourth) and faithfully performed the many “to-do” items on my marketing checklist, my book only sold two copies its second month out the gate, please leave a comment and enlighten me!

And while you’re at it, if you don’t feel like spending good money on Stage Daughter, pick up a copy of Margaret instead. It’s a bizarrely edited, well-acted film that is weirdly haunting and definitely worth watching.