I’m going to talk about some stuff that’s going to sound like I’m cutting myself down, but I think this is important, especially if you’re considering writing.
At a vendor sale in Clancy, Montana the other day, an older gentleman stopped by, not so much interested in my books as he was talking about his own desire to collect his memoirs of his time as a soldier abroad and as a coroner. It sounded like he was off on the right foot – he was writing down memories as short stories, and wasn’t entirely sure if he should progress forward with putting them all together as a full-length nonfiction book. I assured him it’s worth the effort, as you do, and he looked me in the eyes and asked me the hardest question I couldn’t actually answer without crushing his spirit.
“How do you know people are going to be interested?”
What I told him was sort of the truth – you can’t know unless you take a gamble, same with anything else in life that’s risky. The fact is, you don’t. And in all honesty, people probably never will be. The cold but honest truth is no matter how talented we are, no matter how great our stories might be, people are probably not going to pick up our books and read them.
It’s impossible to make people sit down and start your novel, and making them isn’t the point anyways. No one owes you a read, and that’s a hard pill to swallow. People will support you in every way they can, but unless they’re actually willing to pick up the book and read it, their words and gestures are empty. And it will shock and continually depress you the people you think would give your books a shot but will let them gather dust, if they bother picking them up at all. Now blow that up to the hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of people who might stumble across your book in one way or another – and these people don’t even know you, so how likely are they to give YOUR book a chance? You cannot count on success, big or small.
Let me be perfectly frank with you. Only this year have I averaged ten sales per month and enough page reads through Kindle Unlimited that I’m now making a solid three digits every payday from Amazon. That’s three years after I first published The Ghost at His Back. Three years, and I get maybe – MAYBE – five sales on it per month. My romance novels are such an abject failure that I’ll likely never see a financial return on them. Forever and Farewell mostly sells at craft fairs on paperback, and has seen roughly forty lifetime sales. A Shot at Us, the best thing I’ve written, has seen maybe eight sales total. Fundamental Obsession, my soul ripped out and laid across two hundred and eighty pages in a love letter to my friends? It’s seen about two sales. Two. For a book I spent months on.
I say this not to get your pity or more sales. I say this because you have to know what you’re getting into. I am actively pursuing more genre fiction, because if I have a shot at this long term, that’s where I’ll be making my money. I can’t stop because I don’t have a choice in the matter. Pretty soon I’ll be hitting the point when my income will start to affect my Social Security, and I either need to ramp up the sales exponentially or give up. The latter’s not an option. I have too much I want to do to roll back over again for another six years.
So if you’re going to get into writing, go into it knowing you’re going to get your ass kicked. You’re going to put in an ungodly amount of work for people to shrug and smile and say, “Good job!” without actually giving a shit as to what you actually wrote. You’re going to put hundreds or thousands of dollars into projects that may never leave the ground. But at the end of the day, you’ll look in a mirror and be able to say you took your shot. And everything else aside, that’s all you can do with your life, really. Take your chance. If you fail, try again.
With all that said, should you write? Absolutely. Without question. There’s a joyousness to a good writing day that’s damn near indescribable, and finishing your tenth novel is just as amazing as finishing your first. But understand coming into it you are owed nothing and success is absolutely not a guarantee. There are no shortcuts. No quick fixes. There’s no secret formula except word of mouth that ensures your success. Maybe you have connections in the industry that can change that, but if you do, odds are you’re not going to need to the advice of an indie writer playing the game for quarters. Just be aware of what this business will cost you, literally and metaphorically and write for reasons other than whether or not people will like your books. Write for yourself, for the joy of creating, for the moment and the conclusion alike. Do that, and no matter if you succeed or fail, you’ll be happy.
And as an aside? I’ll take a thousand failed, unread Fundamental Obsessions over doing nothing again with my life.
2 thoughts on “On Failure”
Writers write because we have to. Success is sadly, optional. Excellent take to the uninitiated.
Absolutely. Even if I had zero sales, I’d still be out there cranking out pages.