Life is a gamble. You pay your money and take your chances. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. All clichés but all true. Writing is the biggest gamble of all. A writer invests time and emotional energy to place words on paper and faces the inevitable voices of dissent, solely to present an idea or a story to others. Those unsuited for such a demanding life suffer considerable dismay at rejection by friends, peers, and the public.
I’ve written 15 novels to date. None have won Stoker Awards, Pulitzers, or world-wide acclaim, but some had moderate success, if measured by a exposure to sales ratio. My first novels sold a few hundred copies at most, usually by me personally. Later, as my writing skill improved and my social skills developed, I sold a few thousand of some novels. It seemed that elusive 10,000 books sold was within grasp.
Alas, it is still hit or miss. The novels that I really enjoyed writing, the ones I really expected to do well, didn’t. My fault? Publishers fault? Fickle audience? I don’t know. Even after 15 novels. My zombie novels sell well. Zombies are hot right now. Well, most zombies. One novel about Cordyceps fungus zombies was a bust. I guess people like traditional zombies. Horror seems to sell better than science fiction. I don’t think I’m that much better at writing horror, but my science fiction submissions can’t find a home. I keep trying, of course.
If I had thinner skin, I might have given up. Constant rejection is bad for the soul. Having some novels sell and still getting rejections for others is even worse. It raises doubts about one’s ability and makes them wonder if it’s worth the hassle. As for me, I would always write. It’s in my blood. I have to write. Sometimes I think it’s better to write it and then put it away in a dark box rather than try to sell it, but I usually do anyway. I certainly can write better. I hone my craft and vocabulary constantly. Every writer should. Words are tools of the trade, like a paint brush. I tried painting but I’m too colorblind. I play guitar. I’m pretty good, but at 60 I know I’m as good as I’ll ever get. I’ll never be a famous musician. Writing is my legacy, the tales I want people to read and see who I am, who I was. It’s an ego thing, I guess, but without ego, no one would subject themselves to the harsh reality of writing for a living.
I see friends do very well and I’m glad for them. I don’t quite envy them, (Maybe a little) but I do try to determine what they’re doing that I’m not. Perseverance seems to be the key. I’ve had a couple of novels – Ice Station Zombie and Judgment Day – that never leaped into the public eye, but still sell by dribbles. Over the years the sales add up. The more novels on my Amazon Authors Page, the more I sell. Slowly, but surely, the tortoise beats the hare.
If we judge ourselves as writers by winners and losers, we will eventually lose. Very few authors receive that six-figure advance, sell hundreds of thousands of copies, or sells a screen play. Most of us have to be satisfied with writing and selling in modicums. If we don’t love what we write, whether or not it sells, we will always be disappointed. Art for Arts Sake should be our motto.
Never give up. Luck, serendipity, fate – call it what you will – still plays a part in success, but you, as a writer, have to be prepared for it. Poor writing might sell, but will never build a career. Never lower your standards or your goals. It is better to fail at being better than you could ever be than being less than you could. In a world of winners and losers, be a winner.