Dealing with letdown in your career as a novelist.
By: Michael Melville
For us authors writing a book is an extremely personal thing. More things go into our novels than what even our closest non-writer friends and family can even imagine. For most of us it’s not a just whim; something we are going to try for fun. We didn’t wake up one day and say, “I’m going to be a novelist now.” The process included more rationalizing and second guessing ourselves than most people realize. But it’s the culmination of our dreams coming true, a small business forming and something we hope we will be able to turn into a career and make a living from. The process from character sketches and outlining to writing and drafting then editing and eventually publishing takes a long time; months and even years.
Along the way we let it slip out what we are doing, we tell friends and family that we are in fact writing a novel. We get shocked wide-eyed mouth agape looks (it’s the he/she can’t write look), the polite good lucks, snickers and some people who are extremely excited for us (or they seem to be at least). As we are getting closer to publishing we do (should do) all the required social media marketing.
We open up and talk about our book. We tell our parents, those same friends, co-workers and family. We do everything we can to get as many people who are close to us on board and excited hoping that they will all buy the book when it comes out; our first book. We put signs up, order forms at work checking them every day hoping someone pre-orders a copy from us. As the date gets closer we talk about it all the time. It’s like the 40th week of a pregnancy. All we want is for it to finally be out so we can share it with everyone and so they can see it and believe what we have spent so long making is real. We hope they will buy copies and hopefully give us good reviews on Amazon or wherever and set our journey as novelists off on a good note.
Almost everyone you know will say, “They can’t wait to get it” and they want you to sign a copy for them.
Your book finally comes out.
I don’t want to break hearts but sometimes hearts have to be broken so we can see exactly how tough we are as authors. So we can figure out whether we have the metal to push forward and write more and so we have realistic expectations.
A funny thing happens once your first book is published. Remember all those people who said they were so excited to buy and read your book? Well they don’t. Not many of them at least and sometimes none at all. Of course your mom and dad will and maybe an aunt or uncle and 3ish friends. But as the post publishing weeks add up you think about all those people who said they wanted a copy and they were excited about it. You ask them as nicely as possible, “Hey its out now did you want to pick up a copy,” without trying to sound like a used car salesmen. And then you hear them say, “Well maybe next week or the week after.” Or “Well I just started a new series so maybe when I’m done with that I will.”
A few of your “best” friends say, “Well I don’t read that kind of book”. These are the same friends you’ve helped over and over.
And then you hear my personal favorite, “You wrote a romance novel?” This is a reaction I think any male romance author will get outside of Nicolas Sparks. Like somehow it’s a completely fucking foreign concept for guys like me to write a great love story. “You stabbed a cop. With an icicle! You can’t write love stories” is what one idiot said to me. Well I did so…yea.
As the weeks and months go on you might start selling books from marketing campaigns and advertising that you can actually afford. A few copies a week, maybe more and mostly eBooks but hardly any paperback sales which we all know is the biggest payday per sale. A whole 5 bucks give or take (far better than traditional publishing). Either way the sales are never consistent and wont be for a long time until people hear about you. We all struggle to figure out how to get consistent sales. At some point you may realize you have given more copies away than you have sold hoping for some much-needed reviews using KDP free days. I read somewhere that for every 100 hundred copies you give away for free that might result in 1 amazon review. Kinda sad but I get it. Some weeks with my first novel Running Northwest are better than others.
You cringe and growl as you hear coworkers and friends going crazy and talking non-stop about the newest books they are reading. It wouldn’t bother you if they were good books but its shit like Twilight or those stupid 50 Shades of Grey books. You know you could write better stories than that in a coma. Some of these people are the same ones who said they were so excited about reading your book. Hope turns into disgust and disgust turns into nothingness. The funny thing is that some of these people DID get your book, when it was free because spending $0.99 -2.99 for an eBook was just too much for them apparently. Regardless though they still haven’t read it and still haven’t left a review. You stop caring whether they do at all.
You keep your eye on the ball and keep writing, you keep working and slowly accepting the fact that few people in your everyday life really believe in you. You start realizing how few friends, supportive friends you really have and accept that as just a fact a life. Strangers, who you have never met reach out because they found your book and loved it. It is those strangers, some family and a few close friends who keep the dreams alive when you are up at 3am writing and wondering if you have what it takes. It’s their faith that keeps you going when you feel your own draining away.
So what do you do?
You can hope. If you want too. Like I said you WILL get a few friends and family who buy the book, or get it some other way and tell others about it and maybe leave reviews. Be as appreciative as you can to them because those will be far and few in between. Literally bend over backwards to show your appreciation. Just like anyone else who starts a small business you will get the lip service, the empty promises and showings of support. In the end it’s not about the ones who don’t but the ones who do that matter.
A friend of mine, an author with several best sellers who is far more successful than I, explained it to me like this when I was at a low point: Every young author has a group of people; friends and family who are close to them—I did. These people fall into 2 groups. The ones who really believe in you and support you and will do that for your entire writing career and then ones who don’t. The ones who don’t from the start never will and won’t not because they don’t like your writing; they would have to read your book to know that. They won’t because they are jealous. Not jealous of the success if that happens but jealous you had the tenacity and courage to try to build something instead of just accepting a humdrum life. They are jealous that you had the nerve to try to achieve something grand. That you didn’t let go of your dreams or your nerve like they did. Those people will always be jealous and will always find a reason to tear down your success. Michael write for yourself and write for the people who enjoy your writing.
Maybe you will be one of the rare, lucky ones whose entire families, entire group of friends on Facebook and real life buy your first and subsequent books. But I will tell you the chances of that happening are slim to none. Just remember that when you make it. If you get that publishing deal or hit the nail on the head of self-publishing and find success that way. Remember that let down if someday you are a known author and your books make the lists of best sellers and Hollywood turns a book or two of yours into a film. All those people who paid you lip service, and gave no real support when you were a struggling author will come knocking on your door, friending you on Facebook (or then existing social media) and texting you after not talking to for months or years.
Don’t be bitter. I’m not. Be proud. I am. Be proud that you knew you were doing something good and special when few did. When few were willing to believe and give you and your books a chance—you stayed the course.
When you’re almost ready to publish your first or even second book. When all those people (friends and family) start telling you how excited they are about your book and how excited they are to get it; don’t pay attention to them. Hope for nothing but smile and say thanks when it does. It’s very easy to be let down in this business so just be careful and minimize that chance. Just remember not everyone is a reader.
– And no I didn’t stab a cop with an icicle nor do I condone such acts. It just an urban legend about it.- mjm