I once saw bestselling crime novelist/screenwriter Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, Shelter Island, etc.) at a special event where he was interviewed on stage by "Czar of Noir" Eddie Muller. He summed up the secret to his success, or anyone's success as a writer, in two words: "Cream rises."
That's an old saying, but his point was well taken. The good stuff always manages to float to the surface, no matter the depth or density.
Be the Cream of Your Own Crop
That's how you should consider your own work. Every author wants to be a bestselling literary celebrity, or at least make a decent living at their craft so it's a career rather than a hobby. But frankly, given the seemingly endless amount of product and the limited pool of readers, the odds are against it. That doesn't mean it won't happen. Just don't count on it.
Now, if your agenda as a writer is solely making money, you will probably ignore this advice. No offense taken. Every individual is different and it's all subjective. There are no hard and fast "rules," only generally accepted guidelines that apply loosely across a broad spectrum, with specific exceptions that are impossible to anticipate or predict. Luck is a fickle factor. The writing game is always a dice roll, no matter how well prepared you come to the table.
Hedge Your Bets, But Don't Withdraw Them
The point of this post is how to reconcile your expectations vs. the eventual rewards, and appreciate the fruits of your labor, even if they're not exactly your loftiest dreams come true.
One payoff is certain, if you enter the arena with the right amount of pride and confidence: self-satisfaction in a job well done. And that sensation is priceless.
Far From the Madding Crowd
Sure, pretty much anyone with access to the Internet can upload a Kindle book nowadays, within minutes, sometimes after only spending a few days or hours on the actual work. For many critics of the format, this unprecedented accessibility automatically lowers the standards of literature in the marketplace these days, since "amateurs" are free to peddle their wares right alongside seasoned professionals, without any "gate keepers" filtering out the riffraff.
Of course, this also means bolder indie authors are now free to bypass a sometimes conservative "vetting" system and sell their more daring experiments directly to the readers that would most appreciate them.
In any case, there is definitely a glut in the marketplace these days. Sometimes just scrolling down my own Facebook feed and seeing dozens of daily posts about all the books my friends are publishing and promoting makes me wonder why I bother at all. I feel so anonymous and, well, common. Anything but special.
Until I remind myself: their books are nothing like my books. So in that way at least, I retain my sense of individual value.
So yes, pretty much anyone can publish a book nowadays, and it seems like pretty much everyone does. But not just anyone can write a good book. And what exactly constitutes a "good book"? The answer is naturally subjective. Remember, you're trying to appeal to the tastes of total strangers. Even if you follow a tried-and-true generic formula, there's no absolute guarantee you'll connect with the target audience. No formula is 100% foolproof.
The one person you need to please, first and most? Yourself. The definition of a "good book" as far as you're concerned is the best one you can write, to the best of your own special abilities.
That's why over-publishing can backfire, especially if you're churning out inferior work, meaning below your own standards, in a vain effort to impress the world with your prolific prowess, rather than producing work that will stand the test of time.
Forever Is a Long Time
One of the best things about self-publishing is that the shelf-life of your books is indefinite. You have no one to answer to but yourself, so your work can remain in print and available to generations of audiences, discovered eventually if not immediately. There's no point in anxiously checking your sales on a daily or hourly basis, or comparing your position on the charts to your "competitors." That will only wind up driving you crazy, depressing, or worst of all, discouraging you.
Don't let it. It's smart to keep abreast of trends in the marketplace, especially if you want to remain viable in the long run. But as an indie author, or even if you're a client of a small press, you have to to do most of your own promotions and publicity, without the benefit of a corporate budget. And truth be told, even larger publishers don't invest much if anything on any author that isn't already a proven commodity.
Bottom line: you're on your own, so be yourself. If you happen to please others, that's because you share common interests. So if you're a horror or romance or crime buff, by all means, write horror and romance and crime novels, the types you'd like to read yourself. But the difference is they won't or shouldn't sound like anyone else's books in these genres, because they were written from your own unique perspective and experiences.
And that in itself is triumphant.
It's How You Play the Game...
Some lucky writers make lots of money with their books, in many fields, fiction and non-fiction. Thats' largely due to strategic marketing. But it's also due to random fortune. Don't be too hard on yourself. Writing has always been a challenge, and most writers throughout history have struggled to make ends meet, even famous ones. Poverty is often part of the package.
So let fame and fortune be more like a possible byproduct rather than your main goal. Define "success" on your own terms. Focus on presenting only your best work to the public, and do as much as you can via your own social network platforms to increase awareness once it's published. Realistically speaking, the rest is out of your hands, Your fans will take it from there. Generating positive word of mouth, providing the response is positive, will eventually make you a "player."
In the sport of writing, you're not a boxer or fencer. You're more like a swimmer. Just keep driving forward, oblivious to those on your flanks catching up or passing you, as you head straight for that finish line. As long as you reach it without drowning, you're a winner.
And don't bet against yourself, either.
Do you feel overwhelmed by the amount of authors competing for readers' limited attention spans these days?
PHOTO: SCREEJITH K