It was the first evening of a conference, and I was at the cocktail party with three authors I know slightly (from hanging out at conference cocktail parties). As we sipped wine, the topic of success came up. Each of us is traditionally published and has received good press, awards, and accolades from readers. Yet none of us has a name you’ll see on a NY Times Bestsellers List. We won’t be the Guest of Honor at a con or have publishers engage in a bidding war for our next manuscript. One wise fellow put it this way: “When you realize you’re not going to reach the Big Time, that’s when you re-discover the joy of writing.”
Most writers learn two huge lessons over time. (1) You probably won’t become famous, and (2) that’s okay, because writing is its own reward.
When I got my first book contract back in 2006, I made a list of things I wanted from my writing. While I didn’t realize it at the time, that was a really smart thing to do. Sometimes I go back and look at the list, because nowhere did I say I longed to become rich or famous. I wanted two things: to share my stories with readers who enjoy them, and to earn enough money to stop claiming a loss on my taxes. That’s pretty much it, and though the money part took a while, I am where I wanted to be.
The reasons we write are sometimes forgotten under pressure from publishers and fans. “When will the next book be out?” is a stressful question when the book is no more than a vague idea at that point. Lists of what a writer “must” do abound, though there’s no proof any of it actually works. We’re told we have to blog, arrange promotional events, advertise, collect email lists, and a dozen other things that take time from writing.
Here are some questions I ask myself when I’m feeling Publication Stress.
Is my primary concern money? I’ll admit, the money is nice, but I’d proceed differently if a tangible reward was really important. Those blog tours would matter a lot more.
How hard do I want to work to become famous? Once I accepted that promotional efforts are difficult to quantify, I was able to relax a little. I promote in the ways I want to, when I want to. My interest in what’s new in social media has begun to lag, but I figure most of my readers are in the same boat. I stick with what I know or can do well.
Why do I want to write? I suppose even the James Pattersons of the world started out with the simple urge to share a story. Mega-authors tell about wanting to kill off their protagonist because they’re sick of him/her, but their publishers won’t hear of it. When I ended my Loser Series, on the other hand, the publisher asked for more, but I felt the story arc was complete in three books. They were nice enough to let me end it, but if we’d been making millions, would my principles have stood up to the reward offered? If not, I wouldn’t have been writing what I wanted to. For me and my modest wish-list, that would be wrong.
What have I learned that can benefit others? If you write because you love it, if you don’t care that your name isn’t a household word, and if you’d rather write than promote, relax! You’re doing what you love. Maybe ten years after you’re dead someone will say, “That author did some great writing!” It won’t matter to you then, but it shouldn’t matter now either, as long as you’re doing what you love.
Peg Herring reads, writes, and loves mysteries, and that’s a good thing. As an educator she once set the school stage on fire. As a driver she’s
been so lost that she passed through the same town in Pennsylvania three times in one day. Family and friends have lost count of how many times
she’s locked herself out of her house. It’s much safer if she sits in her office and writes, either as herself or as her younger, hipper alter ego,
The Dead Detective Mysteries ask the question: What if a murder victim could arrange for his/her death to be investigated from the Afterlife?
Seamus the cross-back detective is introduced in THE DEAD DETECTIVE AGENCY and continues his tough-guy P.I.role in DEAD FOR THE MONEY and DEAD FOR THE SHOW. Seamus’ final case–his own murder–is the subject of DEAD TO GET READY–AND GO, releasing in April of 2016.