As you have probably noticed, I have switched my blog commenting system from native Squarespace to Disqus. And you have also probably noticed that if you hang out on my site for a while, a popup will tell you not to kill me for a popup but instead to subscribe to my fabulous newsletter. This is all part of what I told you I'd do: focus on selling my books. You see, this May 15th it's been 5 years since I started writing full-time, and though I soared at first (there was lots of interest in my first trilogy, even from agents), I then painfully crashed into the gulch of despair of not-making-money-as-an-author. For a while I waited for something miraculous to happen, as in, somehow magically Rosehead would get on all bestsellers lists and I wouldn't have to do squat. Well, no miracle happened, and eventually I had to collect myself back together, bone by bone, and climb out (the perfect crisis of the Hero's Journey, by the way). And now I'm on my way back up. I'm not up yet, but I'm getting there. Because my plan is to:Read More
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*
I keep reading these depressing articles on the Interwebs. The message in all of them goes like this:
The publishing industry is dying. It takes forever to publish your book traditionally and it takes even longer to break through the gatekeepers. Oh, you want to go indie? Well all indie books suck, because it's too easy to do them, because every idiot can write a book now and publish it and tell everyone: "Hey, I'm a published author!" By the way, we will all go to hell because now movies and games occupy people's time and nobody reads anymore. On, and on, and on.
I stopped reading everything about publishing because it sounds so depressing, I want to go hide in my closet, find a good rope, and hang myself. Now that would be a cool story, wouldn't it?
Anyway, yesterday I read one more article about publishing by Chuck Wendig, whom I admire and who said he might guest post on my blog sometimes in 2013. His post is called 25 Hard Truths About Writing And Publishing. I read and I thought, FUCK IT! I get it that everything sucks, publishing sucks, the world sucks, life sucks. But, hey, I'm not writing to get published!!! I'm writing because I love writing! Because when I write I get a high that's better than any drug, and it's fucking free! Yes, I'm broke. Yes, I can't travel or go see my mom in Russia because I have no money for airplane tickets. Yes, I have no clue what I'm doing, never having written a novel in my life before. SO WHAT? I'm happy. In those 4 hours every day that I allow myself to dive into writing (after typically battling 30 minutes of crying and anxiety because I've been brought up to believe that I don't deserve to be happy), I am as happy as a baby, as happy as a kitten lapping milk. I forget time, I forget to eat or drink or think or anything. The world stands still with abated breath, waiting. And I soar, I fly, I'm in my story and I don't care about anything else. I get goosebumps. I get to drive any car I want, ride any bike I want, I get to swim into the ocean pretending I'm a siren and I can breathe underwater. I get to kick asses of those people that hurt me in my life before, and I get to tell them everything I always wanted to tell them. I get to shout, to scream, to flip them a finger. And I get to experience love, such powerful love that it almost hurts, it feels so good. I get to LIVE double. Because I do also live life, you know, like I sleep and eat breakfast and use the bathroom and stuff. But I get to crank it up a notch and be superhuman. And I don't care that I'm a dork. When I write I'm a kid again, believing that anything is possible. That I can fly to the stars if I wanted to. I can die twenty times over and come back alive, if I wanted to. I can, I can...
All right, got carried away here a little. Emotional topic. Anyway, where were we. Ah. Money. Publishing. Selling books. Well, here is my story for you, just so you know I'm not breathing hot air here. I don't know what will happen, I don't know if I will get published. And, miraculously, right now, I DON'T CARE. All I care about is to finish my story, have it done, and then see if it's worth people's reading time. If not, fuck it. I have another one already planned out. My second one will be better. My third one will be even better. Now, here is a little problem. I quit my career to write, I sold my car, I reduced my living style to where I can survive on $25,000 a year. That means cooking at home, never going out, not being able to travel (I try to bike everywhere, because I can't afford a gym membership). So what? I can go places in my head, and they make me happy. I've decided, as soon as my savings run out, I might go take up a gardening job, because my next book is about a pre-teen girl who comes to a family reunion and discovers that her grandpa, famous gardener and grower of roses, kills people and grinds them into rose meal. The girl has a pet, black whippet called Panther, who helps her sniff it out. The story will have magic in it, of course. But my thought is, I can go learn everything there is to learn about gardening and then use it in my book, hopefully having enough money for 9 months to live on (that's how long it's taking for me to write Siren Suicides, so I assume it's about right). Yes, I'm crazy. But you know what? I'm not going back to the office, that's like liquid slow death. Forget it.
I got carried away again. What I really wanted to say was, write not to sell. WRITE TO FEEL.
When my boyfriend coaxed me into posting an excerpt from my novel draft here, I was scared out of my mind. And then I was blown away by the response. You can do it too. Please. Life is too short to doubt yourself. If nothing else stays in your mind after reading this (and thank you for putting up with my rambling), do this:
WRITE FOR YOURSELF. Write for your own therapy, to feel better. That's all that matters. I actually didn't believe it myself until I saw Chuck Palahniuk on one of his book tours, and he said the same thing. So, go do it!
WRITE TO FEEL GOOD. Spill all of your weirdnesses and hopes and dreams and pains onto paper. Paper won't judge. Paper won't tell you that you suck. Paper will take it all. And only after it's on paper, you can feel empty and free to go do the next thing. Perhaps, write the next story?
WRITE TO BE. A miraculous thing occurs when you truly write for yourself and write to feel good. Suddenly you start seeing all the shit that you're being made of! Everything! At first it's ugly and terrible, but what happens with time and with writing more, is that you come to accept yourself and become content with everything.
There, what are you waiting for? Drop everything. Go. Go write a beautiful piece. It will be beautiful, because YOU are beautiful, no matter what everyone says. So, stop staring at these stupid letters here and go write me a Pulitzer :)