There have been a whole bunch of really great articles about the capacity for success in self-publishing that exists these days, including this cool one from Yahoo! Finance yesterday. I love hearing about other self-publishing authors who are doing ridiculously well. I love seeing my fellow writers achieve amazing things. My friend Sandra Owens’s new book Crazy for Her is on the Amazon Top 10 of all books right now! It’s a really exciting time to be a part of the publishing world, let me tell you, especially with friends who are bestsellers and shooting stars.
Meanwhile, back on earth, I’m having a completely pitiful summer of sales. Absolutely nothing is working for me. Ah, the joys of how the other half lives! And while, yes, I do get depressed about the volume of suckage at this stage of my publishing life, and yes, I am a teensy bit jealous when I start comparing myself, I also know that this is just the beginning of the beginning for me.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about publishing, one thing that I really wish wasn’t true, but sadly it is, it’s that size matters. And by size I mean quantity. I’ve heard authors like Courtney Milan and Bella Andre and any number of other bestsellers say that it takes a lot of books in publication before the magic starts to happen. There seem to be certain magic numbers for people, 5-6, 9-10. Numbers like that. I think there’s something to that.
So I’ve been thinking a lot about Billy Joel this week. Some of my coworkers went to a Billy Joel concert over the weekend and came back to the office full of rave reviews. A few desks down from me, the conversation started to fly with song titles that sparked bundles of remembered music and lyrics in my mind. That in turn brought my entire childhood pouring to the surface.
Being the research nerd that I am, I immediately had to go online and read Billy Joel’s entire life history. I learned something (obvious) that I didn’t know that kind of changed my world as a published writer. “Piano Man”, Joel’s first super hit, was released in 1973. Guess when he first started recording and making records? 1965. Now, I may not be good at math, but I can subtract to discover that it took 8 years for that first big hit to hit. That was 8 years of playing clubs, finding the right bandmates, trying things that didn’t work, writing songs, and never, ever giving up. And while the first hit came in 1973, the Billy Joel songs that stick in my heart and the ones I consider his best work didn’t come out until the late 80s. That’s at least 10 more years. That’s twenty years of hard work before Billy Joel recorded my favorite of his songs!
It wasn’t just him either. I have this little obsession with Davie Bowie these days too. And Bowie worked and recorded and switched up bands and tried new things and failed and failed and FAILED before he finally succeeded. And boy did he succeed! So much so that he’s been in my dreams twice in the last few weeks…once as an oncologist, but that’s a long story.
The point is, there is a universal truth to every creative effort, every effort of any kind. It takes a lot of hard work to be an overnight success. YEARS of hard work. The more I learn about the publishing industry, the more I’m convinced that, really, anyone who wants to succeed at it CAN succeed, as long as they’re willing to put in the work that their individual career path needs for them to succeed.
Part of that is quantity. You have to write a lot of songs before you write “Piano Man”. You have to write a lot of books before you write the bestseller. And yes, even those people who hit the lists with their “first book” have actually written book after book after book that never saw the light of day. I started writing when I was ten. I can’t tell you how many novels I started but never finished before I finally cracked the code and finished one. And the number of novels I finished before I started publishing? Lots.
It’s two things, as far as I can see. First, it’s that old “it takes ten thousand hours of practice at something before you can master it” rule of thumb. I firmly, FIRMLY believe that to be true. Quantity of time is as important as quantity of output. Second, it’s the inescapable truth that right now in the genre fiction publishing world, series are king. Readers want ‘em, writers need to write ‘em. A series is not one book. A series isn’t even two books or three books, honestly. A series is a lot of books about the same characters and their relatives and their friends and their community. Series. Word.
So am I upset that this has been the summer of suck for my book sales? Okay, yeah, a little. Am I giving up and going home? Not on your life! I’m looking for the combination that works. I believe in my books. I know they’re good. I know all of the ones I have yet to write, have yet to even dream up are good. I just don’t know which one is “Piano Man” yet. But when I do know, oh boy, you’ll know it too!
Don’t give up. Ever.
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