As many of you know, I spent the last two months promoting pre-sales of my debut poetry collection, A Statistical Study of Randomness. This pre-sales period determined my print run (total number of copies printed, pretty big deal).
I had high hopes and big dreams for my book. It was an effort that took over three years. Many of the poems in this collection are deeply personal and close to my heart. When pre-sales began, I thought I had tons of sales in the bag. After all, with 1,000 Instagram followers, nothing can wrong, right? *Tosses hair back.*
Spoiler alert: it didn’t go at all how I imagined. I sold copies, sure, but did I reach my sales goal? Nope. Not even close.
I know my book is worth reading. I know I have talent. I know I am loved. It absolutely sucks to feel the opposite. I’m sharing this with you, because I know many authors have had similar experiences. It doesn’t matter how many copies you sell. It doesn’t matter how many followers you have. Those things are not markers of your talent. Even if you’re the most talented writer in the world, you should not demand fame and fortune.
Keep working towards your goals and don’t let negativity stop you from achieving them.
Be Proud of Yourself!
Whether you went the traditional route or self-published, you’ve accomplished something huge! You put your work (and yourself) out into the world. That deserves to be celebrated, but…there’s still work to do…
Harsh Truth #1: Book Promotion Can be More Difficult Than Writing the Book!
You poured your heart and soul (and tears) into writing. That was just the beginning. Next comes searching for the perfect publisher for months, maybe even years, amassing a slew of rejection letters and stress-induced wrinkles. In the event you find the right fit, the waiting game starts anew all over again as your book goes into production. And when the book is finally in your hands, it’s still not over!
Most of the publishing world lacks the needed funds to effectively promote their books. Authors must do it themselves in order to succeed. That means book readings, emails, social media, newsletters, word-of-mouth, mail, anything they can possibly do to get their book into as many hands as possible.
Take it from me, we hate promoting ourselves. I’m sure every author dreams of their book becoming an overnight success with little to no effort. After all, our words are so good they should sell themselves, right? But talent isn’t everything. Publishing is a game of luck. Some authors will sell thousands of copies. Some will sell zero.
Sometimes, even after everything you do to ensure your book’s success…it doesn’t work.
Harsh Truth #2: Not Everyone Will Buy Your Book
Yes, even some family and friends. Even the people you thought would have your back forever.
You will likely be disappointed by who doesn’t buy, but before you rush off to write everyone off, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by who does buy!
Some of my closest family members and friends didn’t pre-order my book, despite my constant attempts at explaining that pre-sales were crucial to my book’s success. Most of them didn’t even ask about my book, despite knowing how important it was to me. It hurt. It still does.
But you know what made things a little better? An old high school friend pre-ordered her copy, someone I hadn’t had a conversation with in five years. I didn’t know she even thought of me anymore, let alone had an interest in my poetry. I was overjoyed! She gave me the dose of motivation I needed to pick myself off the floor and keep writing.
Stay positive. The number of copies you sell has nothing to do with your talent. And it doesn’t mean people don’t like you. It just means they have different priorities.
Harsh truth #3: No One Cares About Your Book as Much as You Do
Think of your book as your baby. We’ve all heard new parents talking about how their precious newborn looks just like Mommy or Daddy, when, to the rest of us, it might as well be an alien from outer space.
Your book is your own creation. Of course no one’s going to care as much as you do. Sometimes people simply forget to buy because they have a busy life. Sometimes they can’t afford to purchase. Sometimes they’re afraid of how you’ll react if they don’t like the book. Sometimes, they’re just not interested. And that’s okay.
I know these things can sound like excuses. My book had the unfortunate timing of pre-sales starting in the middle of the holiday season and a global pandemic. People were thinking about Christmas presents. They were thinking of ways to make their rent payments. They were thinking about how they were going to stay safe in the wake of rising Covid cases and political unrest. They were not thinking about my book, and I should not have expected them to.
Harsh truth #4: Writing is a Labor of Love
We all know this already. Writers are so often disrespected, underpaid, and not given the recognition we deserve. We don’t do it for the money. We don’t do it for the fame. We write because we must.
It’s okay to feel hurt when your book doesn’t sell as well as expected, but don’t let it stop you from putting your words out into the world. Whether your writing has been rejected a million times or published by The New Yorker, whether your book sold 10 or 100,000 copies, whether you’re self-published or in Simon&Schuster, whether you have 1 or 1 million social media followers, keep writing. Keep improving. Keep sharing. Keep going.
Success is whatever you decide it is.