A good friend wrote her first novel around the same time I wrote my first. She’d had a lot of fun writing it, and when she was finished and found that it was good, she’d decided to self-publish it. Fortunately, she came in during that golden age when self-publishing was shedding its stigmas and the Kindle was turning e-books into a cool commodity. Like me, she soon won the attention of a publisher, who offered her a contract and re-issued her novel. It continued to do well.
However, she has yet to publish a second.
The most common misconception people have about authors and publishing is that everyone has a Stephen King or EL James level of success. They think we become instant millionaires, quit our jobs after we sign the contract, and live free and clear.
The truth is that the majority of authors sell fewer than 10,000 units per year. We keep our day jobs. We raise families and struggle to make ends meet while we also carve out time to write the next novel, and the next. Even with four or five books under our belt.
I was one of the lucky ones. For the first five years since resigning from my teaching position, I’ve been able to make a living. But I confess: were it not for my husband, I would have been pounding the pavement for additional employment this year. And that’s with 10 books and seven translations. My husband tells a similar story: “I used to say I was an author who occasionally worked a pipeline job. Now I’m a pipeline worker who occasionally writes novels.”
I thought it would get easier. It seems to be getting harder. And I had to come to terms with that this year.
As for my friend, I totally get where she is coming from. And I think many authors, in one form or another, have been where she is. Like her, writing my first book was fun. I spent more time writing it than any other novel to date—not only because I was teaching a full course-load, but also because I was under no pressure to publish. Thus, I could revise it, share it with critique groups, and revise it again. Faking It had already been two years old when I started querying literary agents. It was four years old when I first self-published it. Five years old when it hit the big time. And six years old when it was reissued and hit yet again.
When I’d first self-published it in paperback, I’d sold less than fifty copies in six months, and thought that was a terrific start. When I uploaded it to Kindle and sold 73 copies in the first month, I was ecstatic. (I sold only 12 the second month.) Every sale was a celebration. Day by day, I continued to promote and sell it, all while writing the second novel, and starting the third. And still enjoying the process.
In short, I had nothing to lose. Neither did my friend with her first novel. Or my husband with his first. Which made their successes that much more exhilarating.
But after the success—after that first contract, when now you’re tracking more than sales and rankings, your outlook changes.
Because now, there’s a demand for a second novel. And a third and a fourth. A demand for better numbers. And more followers. And you need to get it done and published as quickly as possible to keep up the momentum and not to lose your followers.
And there’s the magic word again: lose. Because this time, you have a lot to lose. And if you did quit your job, then you have even more to lose.
Suddenly, 72 sales per month is nothing to celebrate. It’s something to lament, to worry about, to lose sleep over.
Suddenly, you’re in the business of writing and publishing. And for some, that’s when it stops being fun.
Being an author isn’t just about writing and publishing and selling books. It’s about mindset. It’s about desire. And it’s about conquering the fear of losing everything you worked so hard for. The fear of losing the joy.
So how do you maintain the joy and relieve the fear?
By knowing what you want.
It’s OK to keep writing books as a hobby. It’s OK to publish them on your own time and schedule and appreciate every sale you get.
It’s OK to stop at one book and appreciate the ride it took you on.
It’s OK to want more success, and to set goals and make a plan to achieve them.
It’s OK to want to maintain the momentum.
As long as that’s what you want.
And as long as you also remember why you started writing in the first place.
You started writing because you enjoyed it. Because you loved the process. Because you loved the escape. Because you loved the story you were telling, and the characters that came into your life, and the conversations they had. You started writing because you couldn’t not do it.
Because you had nothing to lose.
And the mindset to maintain, difficult as it may be, is to act as if you still have nothing to lose, even if you have everything to lose.
So how do you do that?
Give thanks for every book sold—even if you’ve only sold one per month. Give thanks for the reader who took the time to post a review, even if it was unfavorable. Give thanks for the reader who took the time to write you a personal note of thanks, telling you how much they loved your book. Give thanks for the fun you had when you wrote it, for all those who helped you birth it—editors, beta readers, distributors, friends who told their friends to buy it.
Gratitude is the reminder of why you keep doing what you do. What’s more, gratitude keeps the worrying at bay, because gratitude also keeps you in the present moment. You don’t judge how well or poorly it’s doing, whether it’s better or worse than your last book, whether it’s better or worse than someone else’s book that is selling more. You simply appreciate what it is, where it is, how it is, and that it is.
When I fear loss, I begin listing all the positive aspects of my current situation, such as:
I’m not at the place where I need to look for additional employment. Even if I was, I know I will be OK because I can keep writing if I want to.
I’ve already had the kind of success many writers dream of and beyond what I imagined.
I am paying my bills each month, and I have a beautiful home in a lovely neighborhood in a majestic part of the country. But I also know how to live in a two-bedroom apartment if need be.
I remember that the most important thing is to live joyfully, regardless of which form that takes.
Positive aspects pivot you away from worry to better feeling thoughts, including gratitude, and help you see your situation in a different, better perspective. As Wayne Dyer says, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
Affirmations keep you aligned with your desires. I always structure mine in the present tense:
I am making a sustainable living as a full-time novelist.
I am a thriving author who publishes and sells books.
I give thanks for every sale and every reader.
It’s fun to be a writer and an author.
I bring joy to everything I do.
In fact, one of my repeated affirmations is Jerry Greenfield’s (of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream fame):
You’ll be surprised as the pressures begin to melt away, or, if not disappear altogether, diminish greatly, freeing you from the fear that is stopping you of writing your next book, or moving forward in a way that is in alignment with what you want. It’s all about breaking free of that fear. It’s all about the mindset.