(I thought about doing this post as a series of animated GIFs, but by golly, I am a writer — I am not your dancing GIF monkey. *makes harrumphy noises and frowny faces*)
So, you just had your book published.
And you want to know what’s going to happen now.
Here is — roughly, potentially, maybe — one scenario.
For a variable amount of time, let’s call it a week, you’re going to be flying high. Hell, flying high doesn’t even cover it. You’re going to be flitting around the big blue heavens with a pair of magical laser dolphins as shoes. You’re going to be past the moon. You’re going to feel like you’re snorting comet dust and making sweet love to asteroids.
Because you wrote a thing.
And now that thing is really for real a really real thing.
Like, holy shitsharks, it’s a book. That you wrote. That people can buy!
This is the best thing ever.
(That is not going to last. Your first high is always your best high.)
When you’re not vibrating through floors and walls, you will do things in support of your books. You will write guest blogs. And you’ll go to bookstores to sign books. You’ll tweet about it, or say things on Facebook. Maybe you’ll make a book trailer. Maybe you’ll do some interviews. It’s still exciting! You wrote a book! You birthed it out of your head-womb! This squally word-baby needs your love and the love of everyone around you!
But the feedback loop isn’t as robust as you’d like.
The guest blogs you wrote maybe don’t get as many comments as you would have imagined. Or the tweets about your book haven’t been retweeted as far and as wide as you might have hoped. You did a book reading and only three people came. Or hell, thirteen. Or thirty. Is it enough? You don’t know. You don’t even know if this stuff has an effect. Is it just you belching into the abyss? Throwing words into the void? Again you ask: is any of this enough?
And you start to wonder: well, shit, what is enough? You don’t know.
How’s the book doing? Is it selling? You literally can’t tell. You don’t have enough information. So you start trying to suss out information. You go to the bookstore. Maybe they have plenty of copies on the shelves which is good, until you realize that maybe it means they haven’t sold any. Or maybe they have no copies which could also be yay but could also be oh shit they never ordered any in the first fucking place.
So, you go and look at your Amazon ranking. Which is a number that has almost no discernible meaning, and yet you stare at like it’s a Magic Eye painting where eventually you’ll see the image bleed through the chaos. You try flicking the number on the screen with your finger like maybe you can make the number jump up — tap tap tap — until you realize you want it to jump down, not up, and then you wonder if you’d be better off sacrificing a pigeon or a lamb or at the very least attempting to divine some news about your book from the guts of said pigeon or said lamb. You know people are buying the book and so you do another promotional salvo and three hours later the number increases, it gets bigger, which means it’s going the wrong fucking way, and in three hours it gets bigger again like it’s a snake that just ate a heavy meal.
Then you see there’s an Amazon Author Ranking, which is a number that may not be hooked up to anything at all, but it purports to place you in some kind of Penmonkey Hierarchy, some Authorial Thunderdome where you aren’t a champion, where you aren’t within 1000 miles of a champion, and where you are in fact sandwiched between the author of How To Avoid Huge Ships and some algorithmic spam-bot biography of the guy who played Potsie on Happy Days.
Ah, so, time instead to look at reviews, because even if you don’t know how many copies you’re selling you can at least see what people think. And the reviews might be glorious — readers have written epic paeans to your wonderful book and authorial presence and for one fleeting moment it’s like you’re back huffing comet juice and banging meteors with those magical laser dolphin shoes until — until! — you see that someone has written a one-star review, or worse, a completely milquetoast mediocre review where they say such awful things about your book. They take to task your voice, your characters, your plot, your face, your fashion sense, your very existence, and it’s like someone flung a booger into a perfectly good bowl of ice cream. Because no matter how good that ice cream was, now it is utterly booger-fucked.
After a few weeks you can at least start to see Bookscan numbers through Author Central at Amazon. And the numbers are, you know, they’re not great. You’ve at least sold some! So that’s good. Though they’re reportedly way inaccurate. And they don’t show Kindle numbers. And they don’t show Amazon’s own sales numbers for physical copies because while Amazon is happy to give you other people’s numbers their numbers are a trade secret HA HA HA STUPID AUTHOR.
The news isn’t helping. Barnes & Noble has decided that the only thing the Nook is good for is to sell to North Koreans to control the nuclear missiles that will eventually irradiate the Californian coast. JK Rowling published under a pseudonym and only sold like 400 copies which sounds bad except then you realize it’s really good and you haven’t sold 400 copies and oh, shit.
And then you start to look to see how other authors are selling compared to you, and fuck-me-sideways-with-a-set-of-horsehead-bookends that is not a good idea. Even if you’re selling well, somebody’s always doing better. They have more reviews, more fans, more “to-be-reads” at Goodreads. Then you’re gonna find that one self-published author with the ugly book cover and the misspelled book description who’s probably outselling you by a margin of 137 to 1 and so that night you soothe yourself by reading a good book and suddenly you’re all like oh shit this book is way better than mine I’m fucked my book is fucked we’re all fucked this is the fucking bookpocalypse for me fuck fuck fuckable fuck.
But you calm down. You got an advance. You have money. Book money, as a matter of fact, which is money you made from selling books which you used to buy dinner or pay some bills. And that’s exciting! Okay, it’s not as much money as you once thought it would or could be — hell, even a low six-figure book deal on three books (one book per year) is like, barely cutting it financially. But you made money. On your writing. You breathe. You scrub the panic urine spots out of your office chair. And then maybe some other good news trickles in: an agent just sold foreign rights for your book to some distant country — Libya, or Ancient Hyperborea, or Canada. Maybe there’s an audio rights sale. Or an options sale for some guy who wants to write the script so it’ll be an episodic YouTube smash sensation.
And you start to get emails here and there — people have read the book and they liked it. Some people have loved it. Those emails are kite-string and and a strong wind — they lift you, buoy you, send your spirits maybe not quite as cosmically high as they were, but you’re still doing barrel rolls and loop-de-loops in the clouds now and again.
So you do what you must. You do what you’re made to do.
You sit back down and you start writing the next fucking book.
And you love it. And you hate it. And the days come where you want to throw it all on top of a giant garbage fire. And the nights come where you secretly remember why you love what you’re writing and your heart pinballs around the bumpers and flippers inside your soul.
You soon are reminded that you can edit a bad page, but you can’t edit a blank one.
And you realize that you can’t manufacture luck, but you can maximize your chances.
You write the next book. And the next after that. And the one after that.
Somewhere along the way you realize that the happiness of publication is fleeting. The second published book isn’t quite as exciting as the first, maybe. It’s chasing the dragon. The first high remains the craziest and best high. But what happens is, you get to be okay with that.
Because at some point you recognize that this isn’t why you write.
This isn’t why you tell stories. You tell stories because you like to tell stories, not because you like to sell books. That’s what gets you through. You marvel at the craft. You drown in the art. You roll around in it like a dog covering himself in sweet, sweet stink. It’s not that you don’t care about being published. It’s not that the money is meaningless. The money is a lifeline. The money lets you do this in a bigger, more real way. But all the publishing piffle — the Amazon rankings, the guest blogs, the tweets and marketing and Kirkus reviews and drinking and existential dread — it’s all out there. It’s extra. It’s connected to it, but it’s not it.
You do it because you love it.
You do it because you want to be read.
You tell stories because you’re a storyteller. And because stories matter.
And so whether you sell four million copies or whether you sell forty, you keep going. You keep taking your shot. You keep writing your books, your comics, your movies. You write shorts and novellas and you publish some stuff traditionally and you publish other stuff directly and you find satisfaction not in the high of putting books out but in the power of doing what you do, day in and day out. It is the work that sustains you: the work of taking a dream and making it real.
You don’t write to be published but rather, you write to write, and to be read.
Because that, for really real, is the truly best thing of all.