Sunday, December 4, 2011

Book success and the art of the ego

It's terrible to be a writer. We're all crazy. Writing--the act, the art, and the career--is a specific set of mental defects grounded in the most outlandish insecurities and wrapped in a poisonous atmosphere of ego. It's bad enough to think what you have to say is worth anyone's attention, but then you want money for it? Puh-leez.

I've served as therapist for several writers over the past year, and it's almost entirely about their numbers. I can't recall one writer saying "I'm stuck in my writing, and I need some inspiration." Instead, all I hear is "Oh my gosh, my numbers are down" or "Sales are hot, how can I keep it going?"

Because I've had exhilarating success and abject failure in my writing career, it's easy for me to seek the middle way. Being a taoist libertarian works fine when I'm sitting here in a Blue Ridge Mountain hollow with nothing out my window but the garden and the trees, but I can't afford to be a taoist unless people buy my books. Indeed, the primary goal of The Indie Journey: Secrets of Writing Success is to define happiness as apart from money while at the same time offering you tips to sell more books. The inherent contradiction drives me nuts, but at least I am not tricking you into believing you can sell a million copies. Because you won't. Neither will I.

So my advice to writers worried about their numbers is, "The numbers are numbers and the words are the words." I am not sure what that means, except after 15 years I've come to believe that sales are largely due to luck. Talent is luck, the mental stamina to work hard is luck, and getting book sales that stimulate book sales is luck. Indeed, in the larger picture, all writers sitting right here in the Great Digital Gold Rush of 2011 are lucky. It won't last, of course. No good thing ever lasts. But there will be a next good thing, and a next, just like always.

Nothing sells like sales. Nothing writes like words. I don't know if that's taoist or not. But your numbers are no more real than the stories themselves. This entire thing is impossible--from writing a book to finding a reader. The fact that it has happened once or twice doesn't make it any less impossible. You, as a person, are not your numbers any more than you are the words you put on a screen.

My thriller Liquid Fear hit the Kindle Top 20. Right now it's probably around #12,000-15,000. Yet it's the same book. Amazon will publish it Dec. 20th, and it will likely be a hit again with their promotion. Great editorial assistance aside, it's basically the same book. So am I the indie rock star from April, the forgotten shmuck from November, or the Amazon poster boy of 2012? All and none. All and none.

The book that didn't sell at first is still the same book as when it breaks the Top 100. No better or worse. You as a person and as a writer have no more inherent value than you did before or after your stardom. You will be forgotten. You will go out of print. We all do.

So what are you so worried about?

What am I so worried about?

All and none. I told you all writers are crazy.



Bridget McKenna said...

What a great reminder for all those writers (not me, those OTHER guys!) who sometimes forget that writing is about...writing.

Scott, you crazy writer you.

author Scott Nicholson said...

LOL, Bridget. Yeah, you and me are FINE, right?

Brenda Wallace said...

"..but I can't afford to be a taoist unless people buy my books." Amen, Brother Scott. I've seen talented authors take the Field of Dreams "write it and they will come" approach, but their books just sit there. It's another area where a bunch of THOSE unbalanced folks need to find a balance between writing and promoting. You have to be obsessive compulsive enough to complete your books, yet sane enough to do something constructive with the voices inside your head. You need to promote, yet better put the brakes on the OCD stuff when it comes to numbers. Great thought-provoking post, Scott. Ouch. My brain.

author Scott Nicholson said...

Brenda, you're starting to make sense. I'm worried now...

Brenda Wallace said...

Me, too.

R.E. McDermott said...

Hmmm? I wonder where that post came from? :) Thanks again for the chaplain service Obi-Wan.

S.G.Royle said...

After reading that post, Google then asks me to 'Choose an identity' before I can comment - which in a way is appropriate...

When you write, you need to be a writer;
When you sell, you need to be a publisher;
When you promote, you need to be a little bit of both;

To succeed you have to be lucky.

As writers we are now incredibly lucky. Able to live off it or not, we can publish our words, if no one else will.

And whether it is 1, 10, 100, 1000 or tens or hundreds of thousands of copies that sold; your story was told.

Put me in the "Field of Dreams" category :)

author Scott Nicholson said...

Bob, we are all of the same mind...I often get both "Pinch me, I'm dreaming" and "Oh, god, my sales are slipping HEEEELLLLPPPP!"

Simon, yes, my antidote is to think back two years ago when I was lucky to sell a short story and my novel prospects were pretty dim. To have this opportunity was beyond imagining. Thanks for sharing.

Mark Terry said...


Aric Mitchell said...

Timely much? I swear, Scott, sometimes it's like you've got a direct window into my brain.

This last weekend, I went through the "God I wish I'd sell another copy" turmoil only to get an email from a guy, who bought my book and wrote me a glowing review and sent out a tweet about it to all his followers, all without me even asking. I was a schmuck, a hack, an idiot and a superstar, in about a 12-hour period. You've got to love the work involved, and yes, if you do, that does make you crazy.

Oh, and I'm reporting you to Al Franken.

author Christa Polkinhorn said...

"I can't recall one writer saying 'I'm stuck in my writing, and I need some inspiration.'"

Happy Holiday Season.

D.D. Scott said...

I luuuvvv what you're saying here, Scott!

I know I'm the Queen of "sharing the real numbers" on our grog The WG2E...speaking of which, I'm looking forward to your post this Wednesday.


Not a day goes by that I'm not totally focused on making my muses dance across my pages with gusto.

I write because I have to. I've got stories I've just got to get out to make my muses happy.

That said, I sooo believe in sharing my real numbers (as in real sales numbers) because I'm inspiring other writers to go for the gusto of their restless muses too! And I'm Paying It Forward by sharing what's worked and what hasn't. (Yep...that All or None)

Nothin' makes my muses happier than creating great books for great prices and helping other writers reach readers too!

See you Wednesday at The WG2E!

author Scott Nicholson said...

Okay Christa, but you're bilingual so that counts as insane...You're the exception that proves the rule, whatever that means.

Aric, sometimes it's minute by minute.

Mark, thanks for dropping by.

SBJones said...

I think there is slot machine style luck that you have no control over, and then there is hard work that suddenly pays off and looks like luck.

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Alicia Street said...

So true.

Selena Kitt said...

You are the coolest, most grounded indie writer I know. I *heart* you, Scott Nicholson!

CS-Connie Suttle said...

You are correct about the craziness. Feel free to add anxiety attacks to that :) Thanks for a great post!

author Scott Nicholson said...

DD, maybe I'll write more about this for Writers Guide to Epublishing Wednesday.

SB, wise words--the hard work certainly helps the luck.

Alicia, thanks for stopping by.

Selena, I'm just trying to be half as cool as you are. I constantly think somebody's going to make me "stop having fun."

Connie, in some ways fear is my biggest motivator.

Pj Schott said...

What me, worry?

author Christa Polkinhorn said...

Okay, I accept your diagnosis of my mental health, Shrink Nicholson.

Vincent Zandri said...

Scott you rock!!!

author Scott Nicholson said...

hi PJ and Vincent, thanks for dropping in!

Christa, I pronounce you the most sane of all of us.

author Christa Polkinhorn said...

Scott, you may have just lost your position as reputable shrink! Stick to writing. LOL.

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