Not a bestselling author? You must be a failure

 

Lately I’ve noticed that when I tell someone I’m an author, but that no, my books don’t make enough to support me financially, I’m met with silence. I suppose their looks are pitying too. To them, if I’m an author and I’m not making a lot of money, then I must be a failure.  On top of that, my books aren’t worldwide best sellers, so I must be just an eccentric with a delusional affliction.

To some, I explain that to be a best seller, one need to have the right marketing tools, a lot of money, or, if the author is lucky, get a movie adaptation. In fact, I can testify to a lot of books I read who could easily turn into best sellers if they were only marketed right. The same, sadly, is also true – meaning I’ve read best sellers that are hardly worthy of the title.

For one, a few years ago, there was this bestselling trilogy by Amanda Hocking called The Trylle trilogy. There was so much talk around it, naturally, I couldn’t help but pick up the first book.

My first impression was that my draft – before the editing – sounded much better. Biased that I am, I put my thoughts aside, aware that a lot of books I read had unappealing beginnings. But it wasn’t just that the beginning was dull, but the characters were 2D, the language boring, the dialogue flat, not counting all the blatant typos. I can’t, in good conscience, mention the plot because I never got around to deciphering it, or even if there was one. Her books sold so many copies, She eventually signed a multi-million dollar deal with St. Martin’s Press.

But before I knew that last tidbit, and  after I realized my draft was much better than this already published, bestselling book, I did what any other person in my situation would do: I googled the author’s name with the question why was she a best seller. And surprise, surprise, google provided me with so many links that I realized just by scanning the headlines that I wasn’t the only one confused with the success.

One of the many articles google provided me said “She’s a case of good luck and the right place at the right time” – https://jessicameigs.com/2011/06/07/on-amanda-hocking-and-self-publishing/

The opposite of Amanda Hocking, I dare say, is Deborah Harkness. The first book, a discovery of Witches, was a best seller when it was released in 2011, but when I read it in 2014 after the final book in the trilogy was released, the books had only a few thousand reviews. The rave reviews came around a few years later when the books were turned into a TV series. Now, around nine years after its release, the book has more than 300K reviews

So then I’m asked, why not send your books to Hollywood?

Hmmm. I’d like to point out the ignorance in that question, but then I remember the days when I too, believed all I needed was to type my thoughts on a page and send a copy off directly to the publisher, and another to Hollywood. Of course, I knew not every book was picked up by a publisher, I was aware there were rejections, but then again, I was also of the mind that I had created a masterpiece and no one would turn it down.

Again, to some, I explain  it isn’t as simple as it sounds, and again, I’m met with pity, because, if I’m not making a lot of money, I’m just deluding myself. That could be true to a degree, but the simple task of creating characters and building a world around them makes me happy, not to count the huge sense of accomplishment that follows when the book is released. Maybe it’s a feeling only other authors and artists can relate to, and maybe only a few outside my virtual life will ever understand the feeling, but I don’t plan to give up my writing, even if I never become a bestselling author.

 

68 Replies to “Not a bestselling author? You must be a failure”

  1. You raise so many interesting points here. One that many non-writers don’t realise how very few published authors make enough to live on, at least by writing alone, even where they have an agent and a publisher. Also yes, luck has a lot to do with it. A good plot or concept can catch the book buying public imagination even if the actual writing isn’t great, then there are those who grab the coattails of a successful genre, such as the plethora recently of psychological thrillers – fair enough, it’s one choice. Most of all, I agree – most of us won’t make money, but enjoying writing and being proud in producing our work is available to all.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. True. It’s not even that the books don’t sell, but when your royalties are %20 from the 70 that is left after amazon takes its share, and when your book is priced around $1.99, selling a thousand book per month wouldn’t be enough. I knew that going in, and I still went in. To the non-writers, it’s like working long hours for pennies.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. In fact, that’s like working long hours for pennies to writers, too. But as you say, we love what we do and will stick to it. And who knows, maybe we’ll hit the right buttons one day and find that wider audience as well.

        Liked by 3 people

    2. Good plot, good timing, good luck–I agree: All of them come into it. But when we compare our own work to badly written stuff that either is or seems to be successful, we’re wasting our energy. We can’t, any of us, judge our own work well. We’re on the inside and can’t be trusted to know what it looks like from the outside. And I’m saying this about my own work as much as anyone else’s. Sure, I think it’s better than X, Y, and Z’s, but do I really know that? I don’t. All I can do is keep writing, keep getting it out there, and as Libre said, take pride in the work.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s so true. I’ve often put a work aside, only to pick it up a few months later and be surprised at how much it can be improved. It’s why I always look for beta readers, and do take their advice, even if I do it with gritted teeth 😉
        Thanks for dropping by, and apologies for the late response.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Jina, I know that look! The one that is trying not to be condescending but in the process is utterly so! Some people just do not appreciate the work, effort and joy in writing and the promotion needed to try and launch a book. With over 200,000 published in the U.K. alone last year, luck and I think who you know counts for a lot! I think writing a book is a huge achievement and then to bring it to publication another amazing feat! I’ve learnt not to argue the point, which can sound like I’m making excuses … and instead garner warmth from all the wonderful understanding and support I do have around me. An interesting post and one that takes up points many of us experience.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Annika, I love your comments, they’re always so upbeat! The e-book commerce is soaring, but I’ve heard that audio books are going to surpass even that. I can’t imagine what the literature world will look like in another decade.
      Thanks for the visit and have a wonderful day!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. An excellent post, Jina. Making a living at “art” is so difficult, and I think that luck plays a huge role. There are so many amazing books that don’t get off the ground and so few that do. For that reason, we have to do what we love. Can you imagine if people only painted or sculpted if they could make a living that way? The world would be a grim place. Keep doing what you love. ❤

    Liked by 4 people

  4. People make assumptions about everything, and ask things without giving any thought. Now I suppose asking you why you don’t send your books to Hollywood is a reasonable question to someone who doesn’t know….but how much do we want to explain ourselves

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Interesting, Jina. Sounds like you’ve had some tough experiences, but also that you can understand why there are so many easy myths out there. You are a published writer, so Congratulations, and keep spreading the joy and the message. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Great point. I’ve run across those thoughts or people telling me that as well. Always ask what my second job will be (the one that will pay the bills.)

    Reminds me of Nicolas Sparks’ story. If I remember correctly, his manuscript was found in some literary agent’s rejection pile. But after that agent died and they were cleaning out their office, someone found his manuscript and sent it off to a friend who they knew would like it. One million dollar book contract. Right then and there.

    It can always seem like we just need the stars to align to be a bestseller nowadays.

    Liked by 5 people

  7. People sometimes ask me if my books are in the grocery store. That’s a high bar I never thought of….like you, I do it for the love of the work, not money. Agree that hitting the big time (or even the medium time) takes luck and timing (and sometimes being young and photogenic) as well as hard work.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Photogenic, hehe. I bet people would buy books written by super models. then again, maybe not. I think it’s really the case of right place, right time, most of the times. Sometimes silly books go viral for no apparent reason.
      Thanks for the visit and have a wonderful day!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Luck, being in the right place at the right time, or having a marketing machine (like Hollywood or a NY publisher) behind your work makes a huge difference it having it seen by a larger audience.

    I may never be able to support myself writing books, but I’ll continue to write them anyway. Despite all the hard work, and people not understanding what’s involved in being an author, I enjoy putting my stories out there for an audience, no matter how small.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I agree.I read an article once on gr on how to successfully promote, and the main theme was to spend buckets of money. Most comments were about the context being redundant for indie authors. Thanks for the visit and have a wonderful day!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Jina, we think alike. I also picked up the first book in the Hocking series and it was a DNF for me. With A Discovery of Witches, I bought it the day it was released and loved the series. Most people don’t realize the majority of authors also have day jobs. Unless you’re J.K. Rowling, of course, lol.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Wonderful post, Jina. I can relate to this, and I know many, many other writers (and artists and people in creative fields) do as well. Cheers to you for following your passion and doing it because you have to do it for you. Kudos.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I believe the writer who is in it for the money is missing the greater part of being an author. I do it for my own self fulfillment, and the money, though a good addition, is the bonus part.
      Thanks for the visit, Theresa!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. A great post. There’s truth to that – about being in the right place at the right time. It’s funny; when people ask what I do, I never mention I’m a writer. Why? Because I don’t feel like one. I don’t believe that I warrant the “title” if I’m making $0. Self-perception is everything. Perhaps I need to re-perceive? 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Ah but you’re a writer, Tyler. The moment you pushed that publish button, you became a published writer, regardless of how much money you’re making. The money is, for me, a great bonus, but I’d write for free too – and I’ve done that before, so I know for sure I’m not writing for the monetary side of the deal. Hope things are great on your side.

      Like

  12. As you can see from all the other comments – we are all in agreement on this one. My short story was recently published in an anthology (first publication!) and it made me beyond excited. “So how many books have you sold?” – was the first question out of someone-I-know’s mouth. I found myself explaining that it JUSt came out and wasn’t even available on Amazon at that time, etc. My mood was automatically dampened. It was implied that if I didn’t sell millions, the publication was a waste. Just like you said – I felt like a failure instead of a winner.

    The market is SO saturated. Plus, every celebrity is writing a book nowadays. It’s just not easy…

    I find it slightly offputting knowing that some books will be more popular than others based on niches and connections.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. That’s true, but wasn’t the thrill of the publication something to be proud of? Not everyone will give you that pitying look. Some will be impressed, especially if you stick to your guns and keep on writing, no matter what. When someone – often an e-friend – ask for advice, the first thing I say is that determination and persistence is the key. It’s true the saying that you only fail when you give up.

      Like

  13. How’s the book selling? – is not, to me, the most important question – but one that keeps coming up. I suppose people just want to be thrilled for us and to know someone who is ‘famous’ in some way, and are sorry for us if we’re not. To me it’s a measure of success to write at all, to meet a deadline, to do something that felt necessary. Even the ‘never mind the next one will be a bestseller’ kind of comments are tricky. It’s nice to feel that other writers understand.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. As long as writing fulfills me, I’ll keep on doing it, regardless of the bestselling/famous and even the monetary benefit, though I admit I wouldn’t mind either.
      Thanks for the visit and have a great weekend!

      Like

  14. I have many thoughts about this. In my experience, many people are ignorant of what really goes into any profession. Writing is a good example. I think people believe you just write a book and go hand it to a publisher and then become Stephen King. I’ve also had this experience as a professor. People believed because I had a PhD, I could just knock on a university’s door and ask them to hire me lol Neither is how any of this works. Thanks for highlighting these points.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Before I began writing, I actually believed all i needed to do was put the story down and the publisher – after recognizing what a masterpiece I’d created – would do all the rest.
      I learned the hard way 😉
      Thanks for the visit, Kathy!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. You should never give up writing. I think being a bestseller really is a matter of luck for so many of them aren’t the best. Or of having the money to promote it enough. You write well and are awesome even if others don’t see it. I know that some authors I really like and I’m given a list of similar genre by ‘top’ authors. Some are good, and some are trash. And some have good books but once you’ve read a few you’ve read them all…
    I know someone who published an academic work (jewish philosophy) and had to pay for it to be published. His work was/is considered to be good. Yet he loses by printing. Which for him is worth it to share his thoughts (anonymously, for it isn’t with his name).
    How much you sell is no indication of anything. And I’ve rambled on nothing again…
    I hope you have an awesome week.
    Love, light and glitter

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Ah no worries. This happens to me a lot – it’s actually kind of embarrassing too when you think the blogger hasn’t posted anything and then learn they have a dozen posts you haven’t seen and they’re probably wondering if you’re ignoring them.
        I’m glad someone else has this same problem with wp.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Authors usually have a theme they cling to. Some are broad – like dramatic and dark moods, funny and humorous scenes – others are tighter – like the same ending (different heroine and name and location though). Every author have the option to pay for publishing, there’s certainly a number of paid publishers out there, and some are successful. But the free option is also there, and because everyone can use it, the number of published e-books yearly is staggering. With such variety, a lot of books go unnoticed. I wouldn’t mind the money – though it’s a nice benefit – but I’d like to be read. I’ve given hundreds of free books away in the past, and I still do.
      Anyway, I’m rambling 😉 thanks for the visit

      Liked by 2 people

  16. It’s hard being a writer for so many reasons, and trying to explain to non-writers how the publishing process works is one of them. Another is seeing those mega-success stories that don’t make a lot of sense, although I suppose each reader is different in what they like. I haven’t read the trilogy you speak of, but I can certainly think of a few other big hits that left me with a lot of questions! I’m glad you don’t plan to give up on writing, and so much good on you for recognizing the satisfaction that comes from the craft alone, and the work that goes into world building! ❤

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, if I wasn’t compelled to write, I’d have given it up long ago. But the voices are there, and the story keeps playing, and out they have to come, lest I start talking to myself and people think me crazy 😉
      Apologies for the late response and thanks for dropping by!

      Like

  17. So many good points in your post. I’ve read many excellent indie and self-published books, worthy of a best-seller status, and many best-sellers that are there because of marketing. It is truly a matter of having a good budget, support and being in the right place.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Definitely. Herd mentality works too, if everyone is talking about it, people are bound to get curious, no matter if the reviews aren’t flattering. Thanks for the visit, and apologies for the late response. Stay safe.

      Liked by 1 person

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