Once upon a time I was a fledgling young writer with dreams of multi-book contracts and booksignings in my future. I worked very hard to hone my craft (still do) and become the best writer I could. And still the rejections came. I know I’ve blogged here before on the magic combination of getting published, but it’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax to STAY publish.
In order to sell that first book my writing had to be in tip-top shape and I naively believed that that is what would keep me selling. It’s not that writing skill and talent don’t have anything to do with longevity in this career, but in addition to those elements is one that perhaps you might not be expecting. I know I wasn’t. Perhaps that was foolish of me, but when I realized that publishing is more a game of numbers than it is of words, it was a shocker.
I’d done my job as far as pleasing readers – I had fan mail to prove it. And I’d done my job with my editor because they loved my work. Yet, I had first one and then another contract not get renewed. And I was left wondering what the hell was I doing so wrong? I still take responsibility for part of my slow-growing career, but the truth is much of it is out of my hands and always will be. I can’t make readers buy my books with the kind of velocity that most publishers deem as successful. I can’t make readers love my books and want to share them with all of their friends – though I certainly hope that happens, it’s never a guarantee.
There are numbers everywhere in this business – print runs, advances, royalty rates, sell-throughs, bestseller lists…its enough to make you send hate mail to your high school algebra teacher. Even Amazon uses some kind of magic algorithm to figure their bestseller lists and which books get shown where. Feeling dizzy and a bit depressed yet?
Okay so now that I’ve depressed everyone, let’s talk about how to keep working in the face of all this gloominess. The first thing you have to do is figure out what success means to you – it will be a different answer to each of us. The next thing you have to realize is there’s really only so much you can do. Promo efforts are a crap shoot, some things work beautifully for some authors while they fail miserably for others. Decide what you are and aren’t willing to do to reach that level of success and be willing to work your butt off. And then do your level best to ignore everything else. Stressing about reviews, stop looking at them. Comparing yourself to another writer, stop it. Fretting about your sales rank on Amazon, walk away from the browser. Every writer out there wishes they were doing a little better. #2 wants to be #1 and #1 wants to do it again with the next book and the next…. So yes, the numbers are depressing, but try, try, try to stop worrying about it all so much. And if my words aren’t enough to encourage you, I’ll leave it to Bob Newhart.
At the end of the day this whole writing gig needs to be a labor of love. Be prepared to be more frustrated and defeated than you ever have been in your life (unless you’re a mom, then you’re already golden cause that gig is WAY harder). So how do you keep sane in the midst of the numbers game?