My New Normal: Finding my Happy as a(n “Unsuccessful”) Writer
My first book was published December 21, 2010. Near daily for the four years following it, I judged my worth as a writer on two statistics: my sales numbers, and my book(s)’ ranking(s). If had a handful of sales that day or a freebie that ranked up on the charts, I felt vindicated and full of hope. If, like most days, I had no or only a few sales, or if my rankings floated off into the outer reaches of the Amazonian universe, passing Neptune and taking shots at Jupiter’s moons, however… We all have dark places within us where even we fear to open our eyes and reach out our hands.
Part of this is drawn from my life philosophy. I’m a huge fan of the free market. I’ve always espoused the credo, “let the market decide what is worthy, and to what extent.” The rise of self-publishing has let many authors benefit from the market without the constraints of the Big Five deciding to what they would allow readers access. However, as time has gone on, I’ve also seen how some books skyrocket up the top of the charts by using immoral and/or illegal methods. (Buying clubs or purchasing reviews, straight up plagiarism, or tired, recycled plot lines that mimic some other writer’s successful spin.) These occurrences made me question why I work so hard to put out books, and why I don’t just try to be trend writer, publishing out books that chase the tailcoat of whatever genre du jour is hot.
Then, a couple months ago, somewhere between the end caps of NaNoWriMo, it all Snapped.
Yes, that is a cheesy play on words. (For those not in the know, Snapped is the title of my most recent release, as well as my 2014 NaNoWriMo project.) Like many authors, the post-deliluvian market has led to a steep decline in sales and readership. It’s not that it’s impossible to build up a readership and fan base, there’s just a flood of competition. I got to a place where I was questioning why I was spending so much time writing yet another book that was almost assuredly going to hit the market and, as my previous three releases had done, flop. What was the point of writing books only a handful of people would ever read?
And then something amazing happened: I realized I didn’t care if Snapped flopped. I wasn’t writing it for financial gain. (I’ve never written for the purpose of becoming rich, but at some point, if you’re publishing with a price tag, the cost/revenue equation has to be a factor.) I was writing the book because I NEEDED to write this book. I’ve wanted to write all my books, but this is the first one that felt like it was an obligation I had to uphold to myself. I needed to write it. I needed to believe that two people who have been traumatized and self-destructive can have a way out. I need to believe that they could, so that I can hope that someday I will. No, I’ve never been through something like Taryn and Rafael, but I’ve soldiered through my own struggles, and they still haunt me. Snapped, for me, was a form of therapy. It was my Neverland, a place where I had the power to fight back against personal demons. To that end, its reception in the market didn’t matter near as much as the way it allowed me to process feelings I don’t feel safe expressing somewhere else. Even though that reality isn’t joyous, getting to a place where I realized the purpose of the book was the book was very rewarding.
Yes, I would like it if people read it, and if readers discovered it. However, I know a few people who have read it, and have made a connection both to it and to me because of it. Even though small in number, having that empathy and understanding come my way has meant more to me than high sales rankings ever could. Hence, when Snapped debuted last week and only got as high in the Amazon charts as the lower 20,000s, it didn’t really matter to me. It’s been out a week now and only has four reviews. That’s four more than I expected, and I’m touched by each one. I’m in this amazing new place where I’ve learned to value connecting with a few readers on a very personal level over winning many with kindle fodder meant to chase trends. My books are a boutique in a hidden corner of town; you’re not going to look like everyone else wearing these words down the avenue, but that’s sort of the point. I’ll think you look fab, and if you feel fab because of something I’ve sold you, we’re both in a pretty good place because of it.