Lately I’ve spent a lot of time ruminating on books. What makes some books sell and others go nowhere? How important is it for a book to have “meaning?” What makes a book become a “classic?” What significance do I want books to have in my life?
A lot came together to cause such an internal inquiry. First, I realized I reached my initial writing goal. Once I had several books published and I found my place in the local writing community and with a good publisher, I fulfilled my plans. So I naturally wanted to re-evaluate what my next goal should be. Second, I observed that book sales at conventions and signings didn’t change whether I had one book to sell or half a dozen. I felt good about having more books written, but it didn’t seem to affect my overall numbers to have more books on the table in front of me. So I began to ask myself, “Why write the other books?” (Don’t worry, I write because I love it, and that won’t stop.) Finally, what do I want readers to take away from my books?
Obviously, any writer wants to sell more books. But as I’ve tried to examine what makes a book sell better than others, the variables get very convoluted. Sometimes a mediocre books is marketed so well, or referred by somebody so popular, that it becomes a best seller. Other times books that I love and seem masterfully written, will flop and find no readers at all. So there is some measure of luck involved. What seems to be the only discernable pattern is when an author writes one book that “breaks out” and is hugely popular. It gains momentum all its own, in excess of the marketing. It takes on a mythos greater than the content or skill by which it’s written. That’s really the “dream” of any author, to write something that becomes wildly popular. But how much control does anybody really have over such a system? Or is trying for such a thing like chasing a white whale?
Michaelbrent Collings said something profound. “Selling your own books won’t go anywhere. You need to write books so good that other people will sell them for you.”
I stepped back from writing for a while to internalize these things and come up with my next plan. I’m going to finish the Actuator series, of course. (Book 3 coming soon!) After that?
What I’ve come to realize is that much of this is out of my control. I can develop skills and invest in the stories I write. I plan to focus on better and less instead of faster and more. And deep down, I have to believe that a really good story will resonate with people and have a better chance of “going somewhere” than an average story. I love all the books I’ve written, and the people I’ve worked with. Now, I just need to take my art to the next level. It isn’t a quest to write a best seller. It’s just refocusing to make the best story I can. Thanks for sticking with me on the journey. I’m looking for brighter and more exotic destinations!