Over the course of my working life I’ve acquired a pretty thick skin with regard to being rejected. That’s a good thing to acquire if you’re going to write – a thick skin. And you need to get used to being rejected. It happens a lot. As anyone who has worked in sales learns not to take ‘no’ personally, you have to understand that ‘no’ often means ‘not yet’. Some might state that as ‘no’ doesn’t really mean ‘no’ as they refuse to ever take it for an answer. It’s part of the mindset of countering rejection. Like a persistent, pestering five-year-old they refuse to give up on their heart’s desire. Like a hungry bulldog on a piece of raw meat they…well, you get the idea.
I was never all that excessive as a salesperson and that is probably why I was only moderately successful at it.
I had no trouble selling something I believed in or liked, though. Those things usually sell themselves. Just explain the features and benefits but have a sales ticket handy to close the deal. Things like that, the easy sells, don’t pay top commissions because less effort is required. Selling some unnecessary something to someone who doesn’t want it is what pays the most. And something someone doesn’t want pretty much defines that book you just wrote, especially if you’re an obscure first timer.
I know you don’t want to accept that, but it is the truth. And despite knowing that greed is one of the seven deadly sins, some of us are greedy. So you want to become rich and famous as a best seller author. Otherwise, why go through the agonizing experience of spending years writing a book and another year or two getting it published just to have no one want to buy it? We’re taught from an early age that this is a material world and one’s success or failure is often measured in terms of possessions and accumulated wealth. We sell our souls, at least figuratively, to the idea that more is always better when it comes to having ‘things’. The weight of those things and maintaining status becomes our fervent obsession. But is that really why you wrote that book? I mean, be realistic. There much more immediately lucrative endeavors and your time should have been spent pursuing those if, in fact, your overall objective was to become a rich and famous best selling author.
Not everyone makes it. You know that. We all play the game to some extent but usually we give up somewhere short of becoming rich and famous because we realize that we aren’t all that good at playing. A few of us gain some perspective and enlightenment from observing others and witnessing the results. It is almost a bromide that it is better to be unhappy and rich than it is to be unhappy and poor, so we opt out of the system at a point where we find a way of living comfortably between the two. But we are unjust as unhappy as we ever were because whether we are writing or not determined if we, as writers, are happy.
After years of playing the game, succeeding and failing like everyone else who doesn’t write, accumulating stuff that made it difficult to choose leaving high-paying, bad jobs with abusive working conditions, I gave up nearly everything I have in order to pursue writing. In retrospect I should have done it long before. I couldn’t have ended up any worse off. Perhaps it was wrong to do what I did for so many years, opting to be practical instead of pursuing my dreams. But the past couple of years I have learned how very little a human being truly needs in order to survive.
Yeah, I’m not rich. I don’t really need to be rich nor do I want to be. I’m pretty content having just enough. In the rankings of the rat race I’m poor. But as I refuse to participate in that competition what difference does it make. I’m not out to impress anyone with a flashy car, a big house, expensive clothes, watches and gadgets. Everything I have, except for my bicycle, will fit in the truck of a car. Imagine that! I have little stress in my life other than what I determine is necessary. I have goals that I set for myself but they are attainable and I am responsible to very few others. I have a couple of part time jobs to help cover expenses. Otherwise, what I do is write. That’s important knowledge and pretty radical in this material world, right?
Thirteen years ago when my first book was published I wanted it to be best seller. I promoted it amongst my friends, coworkers, relatives, people I had known in the past, neighbors and even total strangers. I personally handed it to book critics who didn’t want to read it just because it wasn’t validated by some major publisher’s seal of approval. Although I’d signed on with a small publisher that won’t good enough. They equated that with using a vanity press even though I had not paid to be published.
I drove miles from where I lived to pitch my novel at bookstores. I donated copies ot local libraries. I attended fairs and conferences to pitch my wares. I sold a few copies. Moreover I learned something very valuable from the experience. Other than me and maybe my immediate family, no one cared about the book I’d just published. It was immaterial that I’d spend years writing it, that I’d spent countless hours revising, editing, and everything else involved in just getting it to a publisher. It was inconsecquential that I’d spent another two years working the book through the production process just to finally hold a copy of it in my hands. I signed a few autographs – on the off chance I ever became famous – and some people read it and gave me their feedback. The book was a first in more ways than one. It was enlightening to learn that hardest part of publishing a book was actually getting anyone to buy it.
As crazy as it may sound, part of the realization in my situation back then was that the true objective of a writer is to be read. If people decide to purchase a book the writer might earn at living at it. But truly, that is not the objective or writing. I also understood that success for a writer is measured in how many strangers read his or her book and like it, not how many friends, family and acquaintances feel obligated to buy it just because of a level of familiarity.
So, as much or as little as I have promoted my books over the years, posting things in social media of late, and having scores of people I have known over the years congratulate me on my achievements, I have not sold all that many books to people from my past. That’s fine with me because I completely understand the process now. It’s just weird, isn’t it, having someone you knew when you both had pimples tell you that he or she has written a book. If you happen to read the book do you hear the squeaky voice of that kid you grew up with – that nerdy dude who used to sit off to himself or that shy girl who never spoke much. Why would anyone want to read a book he or she wrote?
My youngest daughter best expressed the sensation of reading one of my books. “It’s kinda creepy hearing your voice in my head as I read.” Okay, enough said. I get it.
When I write, what I compose is intended to be enjoyed, not the source of creepiness. Someone who feels forced to read it out of some obligation borne of friendship or shared genetics probably shouldn’t buy the book. Writers want to make happy readers not tormented souls. When I write I imagine it is for a person I haven’t yet met because I no longer expect anyone I know to read my books. For those of you who know me personally, if you ever read one of my books, I think you may be surprised at what you’ll find. Anyone who knew me way back when I was that weird kid was largely ignored actually had no idea I could string a few words together into something half-way coherent. Now there’s a book or, actually, several. Who would have thought it possible, right?
For all writers whether published or yet aspiring, I offer some advice suitable for having carved into something you could hang above the workspace where you write:
1) Most people you know won’t read your book.
2) Most people you don’t know won’t read your book.
3) Most people won’t care about your book whether or not they know you.
4) Until your book hits the New York Times Best Seller List, most people won’t know or care that you write.
5) After you make it as a writer, some people who buy your book won’t actually bother reading it.
6) But, because you don’t write for any of those people who won’t read your book, why should you care?
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