Photo by Joel Robison
WARNING. Before you read any further, know that not only have I not written a single book yet (well, in the process of writing my first novel), I have not sold a single one of my books (of which there are none yet to speak of). So, proceed with caution or give up right now and go read some other reputable post on the topic by someone who published a gazillion novels. Go ahead. ... What, you're still here? Okay. Here is why I'm writing this, since you were patient enough to read this far. Apart from being a writer, I'm a reader, just like you, and I like reading books that I LIKE. And I hate reading books that I don't like. But I still do, because they're on a best-seller list, or everyone is raving about them, or a friend has recommended me one, and so on. Yesterday I started reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Why? Well, because I've seen so many people talk about it online and because the premise sounded crazy enough, and I'm a crazy girl myself, and I want to read more women authors, dammit! (If you look at my favorite book list, you'll see what I mean.) Anyway, I got to page 53 of Gone Girl, screeching across pages, making myself move along, and suddenly had an epiphany.
I think I got it why books sell.
There is no such thing as a perfect book. This is why publishing industry is subjective, why there is no formula and understanding (still!) as to why one book sells like crazy and another one doesn't, and then, BAM!, years later the one that didn't sell suddenly starts selling like hot cakes. What the fuck?!? Well. I think I got it. Maybe. I don't know. It's just a feeling, so feel free to butcher me in comments. I'll illustrate it on the example of Gone Girl. If you open it up and start reading, it oozes bitterness, even dark twisted unsatisfaction with life itself. Let me tell you, it's not the place in life I'm in right now, so it made my cringe and I wanted to close the book. It was not so much the fact that the story didn't start till page 23, it was the fact that I didn't care. You know why? Because I'm in a happy place in my life right now. But, hey, 8 years ago, when I first started thinking about divorce, it would've been right my alley. Know what this tells me? That a ton of people are in unhappy manipulative marriages and they connect with this book, they feel it's okay to spew bitterness. Because it's why we read, to connect, to not feel alone. That's why book business is so subjective, no book is right for everyone. Which brings me to the next point.
Write what you feel, and others will connect. Precisely because the market is flooded with indie books right now, most of which are bad and some are very bad, it's very very important that you write for yourself. Write what you feel, how you feel it, why you feel it. Because, unfortunately, we're not unique snowflakes as my favorite author Chuck Palahniuk said, we're all the same. And the shit we feel is the same, and the problems we have are the same. The only difference is, we might have them at different points in our life. Chances are, if you're true to yourself, there will be others who will want to read it. Others who will feel the way you feel and thank you for putting into words what they couldn't say. After all, that's what writing is about, translating our emotions onto paper. We don't care for facts, we read news for facts. We read books to feel, to dream, to imagine. That's why I was astounded at the feedback I got on my novel-in-the-making excerpt. I wrote for myself. I never imagined anyone would connect with it (am still pinching myself), but it seems like it's true. In this light, Gone Girl is awesome, it's just not a book for me at the point in life I'm in right now, that's all.
Some books transcend boundaries because of love. You know the lot, Harry Potter, Twilight, etc, etc. Why? Because what they talk about is applicable to many people at many points in their lives, and that's all there is to it. Also, what I've noticed, and maybe I'm totally wrong... (I think I must be absolutely and totally wrong, so I expect you'll yell at me) ...but when an author means love, the book sells. Here is perhaps a better explanation: when the book is not a chance for the author to GET something but to GIVE without expecting anything back, that's when it seems like everyone wants it. This is just a feeling I get, so please stay with me. The Dark Tower, for example, despite all the shootings and evil demons and stuff, the message overall is positive and cheery, characters making fun of themselves, even author himself being a character and laughing at himself. But when I pick up a book like Gone Girl, it's bitter, it wants me to partake in its bitterness, and I don't want to. I'm happy right now, you know what I mean? It wants something from me, this book, and I want to put it away. I want a book that gives, that oozes love. It doesn't mean there isn't a place for it, there is! It's helping a ton of people! That's why it's great, that's why it sells.
There is such a thing as a fad, but don't expect riding it. If you look at everything I listed above, one more thing comes to mind. Sometimes certain topics occupy us as a whole nation, as society at large, like war, for example. In this case, we're attuned to a particular issue and we will all gobble up a book that helps us deal with it. These society moods are often unpredictable, but when they hit, unexpected things happen. Unheard of books start selling, and then everyone starts pulling it apart. Why did it sell? Oh why? What can we learn from it? And on and on an on. I think there is only one rule you need to follow, at least I will follow it and see what happens. Write about what bothers you, for therapy, write with as much fervor as you would tell your best friend how you feel. And I think it will sell. Then write another one. Then another one. The more you write, the better you will get, and then at some point it will hit and you'll start selling like crazy. Because you stayed true to yourself, and, in that light, to humanity itself.
P.S.: Okay, this is what I feel right now. Go ahead, give me your piece of mind. What do you think? *ducks*
P.P.S.: If Gillian Flynn read this, she'd be like, WHAT?!? That's not why I wrote it at all! *ducks again*