Finally, your first or maybe fifth book is done. All that work, concentration and discipline over, done! For a time we feel exhilaration, relief and pride. But only for a while. Maybe it will be weeks, days or merely hours but inevitably, we’ll hear that voice, “Now what?”
Recently I completed a non-fiction book I had not planned to write, (a long story), and was excited because I could return to the book I had intended, the third in my medical fiction series. My deadline for the release was this past spring. Obviously, I had missed my target, by miles. Therefore, I had decided to get cracking on the revisions needed to get it in shape for an early fall release. But when my husband returned from his daily four mile walk and told me to “Stop writing,” I was shocked. It was an order John felt compelled to pass on as just that, an order. Because he felt strongly that the message he heard was intended for me. While listening to a podcast of the Bible by a Protestant preacher he enjoys, he heard the man quote Ecclesiastes 12: 12:
And furthermore, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
In order to complete the ‘unplanned’ book, I had pushed it hard, and got sick. For weeks, I could not shake the cough and achy, feverish late afternoon episodes that sent me to bed far too early in the evening. My husband was worried and felt this to be a command. So I listened. And got well.
In rereading the admonitions,’ there is no end to the making of many books and the consequences of intense study’, I must acknowledge the truth of them, the implicit, startling wisdom. For there is no end, is there? The rabbit trails are endless.
- How many reviews are enough?
- How many Twitter, Facebook, Instagram followers?
- And the most important question of all, how many sales would we satisfied with?
For the six weeks I’ve not been writing, I have been reading. A favorite author is Stephen Pressfield, author of The Legend of Bagger Vance (remember the movie with Will Smith?) and The War of Art -(a must read for all writers, in my opinion.) His most recent book is Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh#t. Crude, cynical and coarse, intentionally so, of course, but in a bizarre way, brings us face-to-face with the reality that most people won’t read our books.
Pressfield started out in advertising and then moved to screenwriting for Hollywood. The book provides a template, if you will, for stories that sell. Maybe. We know this, right? We know that the average author sells less than two- hundred- fifty copies of her book. Regardless of whether the author uses traditional publishing or self-publishing, the onus of marketing the new book falls squarely on the shoulders of you and me. Look online to see the number of sales required for a book to be considered a best-seller and you’ll find wide variations in volume as well as definition. Fairly useless and depressing information, right?
However, after scanning this latest book of Pressfield, I became aware, again, of the reasons why I write. And sales are relatively far down my list. I find that I must remind myself of this fact with some frequency. Perhaps, like me, you find yourself questioning the stories which burn in your gut each time an author gets ‘discovered’. Like Andy Weir or Paula Hawkins. And start second guessing your choice of genre, especially if yours is one that is not currently hot, wondering how you could make some adjustments in the story to fit the current psychological thriller, dystopian or erotica phase. Only to find once you wake up, that you don’t want to write a dystopian or erotica story, in fact, you’re not sure it would be possible. You don’t write for sales, you write for the story. The truth of it, the characters you love along with a few hundred of your readers.
During my self-imposed ban on writing, I’ve also read a wide variety of novels. Some good, many mediocre and a couple which were excellent. Among the excellent novelists I rediscovered is DW Buffa. A man with whom I could identify with for more than a few reasons. Primarily that writing was not his first career, far from it. Also that he had an academic background. But the principal cause of my sense of empathy with Buffa is that like me and maybe you, he was not an overnight success. On his website, the background information about the author states that he initially ‘wrote for pleasure.’ Instantly, I recognized that as the key reason I write, my pleasure. I smile as I reflect on those harrowing days of writing, the ones where I want to pull out every hair on my head as I think, “this is your idea of pleasure?”