Every now and then I come across an author who is devastated by a lack of reviews, or sales, and is desperate to move into the “big kid’s pool.” I was that kid, once.
First, let me say that I read because I am an escape artist. I want to be completely immersed in a world elsewhere, anywhere that is not this world. I write because my favorite authors are unable to turn out a book a week, which would be what I require to satisfy my reading habit. So, I write the stories I want to read.
But I am a ‘niche’ reader. I love Tolkien, and his epic style, and Tad Williams with his lush story development. I adore Neil Gaiman and his meandering prose. I liked Robert Jordan’s side quests and multiple story lines.
I also adore George Saunders, and Patrick Rothfuss, and Erin Morgenstern.
This means my work doesn’t resonate with everyone.
I know! I was shocked to discover this too!
When I was first published in 2011, I would read my hard-earned reviews and be alternately elated or depressed. It came to a point where I couldn’t write because I was so concerned about what readers who also review would say, and that overwhelming concern stifled my ability to tell my stories.
I had allowed my damaged ego to become a vampire, sucking the joy from my creativity.
My own grandmother was right—listening to your ego is always a mistake. Your best bet is to put a gag on it and lock it in a closet.
Nowadays I don’t read my reviews, good or bad. I ignore them because they either feed my despair and lack of self-worth or they artificially inflate my ego. These mental conditions can’t coexist with my true desire to just write what I want to read. I have embraced the fact that I am writing the stories I want to read, and this means I can’t care about writing in commercially viable genres.
What I do have to care about is writing to the best of my ability, writing the story that makes me happy, and learning as much about the craft of writing that I am able.
My work is weird, it’s odd, it’s “out there.” My early books each have flaws I wouldn’t repeat if I were writing them now, but despite the flaws inherent in these early novels, they have life and passion and characters who are real to me, and I still love those stories. My growth as an author has been gradual, but the growth is clear in my more recent work.
We all have this desire to have the work we have so lovingly written and struggled to produce be accepted, and be as beloved by the world as we think it should be. We all want to write award-winning bestsellers.
But that star-struck need to be loved by millions of readers is just noise, wind in your ears distracting you from your real task. Ask yourself, “Am I an author writing a story I am passionate about, or am I calculatedly producing a marketable product?”
When I noticed my books were not easy to market, I asked myself that question. I had to also ask, “If I am pouring time and energy into creating a marketable product, who is going to market it?” The answer was “No one.” I certainly don’t have time to become a marketer if I am creating the product, nor do I have the funds to hire a marketing firm.
My point is this: if I must be strapped to the millstone, grinding away on a book I don’t love, why would I even do it? I retired from that sort of work in 2007, and believe me, working in a data entry pool gives the word “boring” new meaning.
I have no problem pegging out a short story to fit the theme and parameters of a contest or an anthology. In fact, I enjoy doing so, and try to write at least one a month. But an entire novel written to fit someone else’s idea of what my ‘genre’ should be?
Ask yourself, “Do I write because I am passionate about a story? Or do I want to mindlessly enter data to fit some formulaic template readers will chew up and forget as soon as they’ve swallowed it?” Decide what you want to be known for, and pursue that goal.
I am an author. I have accepted that my head occasionally makes noise that steals my creativity. For the last few years, I have chosen to ignore the voices and immerse myself in my chosen craft, and I do this for a purely selfish reason: I want to tell my own stories.
I don’t care if my novels are acceptable to the general reading public or not. I am proud to be a niche reader and proud to be writing the niche stories I want to read, stories that don’t fit into the boxes that genre-Nazis would like to enforce on all authors.
This supremely selfish aspect of my personality keeps me going, keeps me pouring my heart, my life into something others likely won’t see, and if they do chance upon it, they may not find it to their taste.
The fact is, I am writing novels and doing the best I can to turn out a good book. This is all I care about, and I am proud of what I do, whether my work resonates with a broad spectrum of readers or not. I love what I write, and a niche group of readers seems to enjoy it, women more often than men.
That makes sense to me, as I am a woman, and this is what I want to read. While I’d like to have the world love my work, ultimately my own enjoyment is all that matters.
And that is the wisdom this old lady would like to impart to you: Write because you have a passion for a story, learn all you can about the craft, and develop your own voice.
Don’t listen to the voices on the wind, because they will suck the joy out of you. Listen to the still voice in your heart, and write something you will want to read.
I’m a reviewer as well as a reader, but don’t write your novel for me. Write it for yourself, and enjoy the ride. Chances are, I will see the good in your work and the good will more than outweigh the flaws.