So, You Just Had Your Book Published

(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 increasesit 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.

114 comments

  • Wow, this is so accurate and funny and scary and true. “Holy shitsharks”??? That is some funny shit. Thanks for the reality check and the gentle reminder of the “why” of all this.

  • YES! YES! YES!

    I don’t care if I ever get published in my life time … honestly I don’t. I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since my teacher at school put a pencil in my hand and taught me to write my name – I felt there was magic in them there words that came from my scratchings; and nobody could stop me from writing.

    By the time I hit high school, I had begun reading publishing books at my local library and they all said the same thing – but were in different covers and by different authors and companies – however I found what I loved about getting to the publishing part was that I was doing ALL THE HARD WORK, not them.

    I was up late at night when every last soul in my unit complex was sleeping.
    I was the one who’d drag themselves out of bed at 10am after a 2am curfew the night before to squint at the horrible daylight outside my house while I stood there in my pajamas.
    I was the one who has had to get my glasses changed every year because I’m on a computer more and more due to editing my own work – and not letting another soul near it in case whole paragraphs were chopped out of it! (this has happened to one of my books when I entrusted my book ‘Graveyard Shift’ to one of my friends and she chopped up two stories because she didn’t read ahead… silly woman… and she didn’t put the parts back when I asked her to).

    And now, I’ve got stories, novellas, flash fiction, books, poetry and other great shit on my thumb drives – quite a bit of nobody has read because the publishers don’t want something not solicited and end up throwing away manuscripts that haven’t been done… and so my name never becomes known… and finding an agent – a good one who doesn’t think the sun shines outa their ass – is harder to find than hen’s teeth!

    So, publishing something here – in Australia – is impossible. I’m 40 this year, mate, and I’d love to be published… honestly I would. There’s so much work I’ve done and I’m getting it all oranised and ready to travel with me so I can take it to publishers in the USA and Canada where I know I won’t have to do backflips and jump through firey hoops to get my shit made into a book; which is something that must be done here.

    Dammitt! I’m goddamn writer not a circus performer… and writing is what I do so damned readers can read!

    • Mozette – self publish on Amazon. If I can do it you can. It is free!! And people read your work and ask for more. While you still send out to agents. Even if you put them on free you get a thrill that readers are READING your work. Good luck.

      • Hey thanks. I’ve tried Bibliotastic; and not many people have said much about my book there… so I think I’ll re-proof-read it again myself, fix it up where it needs fixing and publish it on Amazon instead. Might have a wider audience there with more people able to download onto more devices. I’ll look into it. 😀

  • A wonderful description of the bipolar inebriation of publication. But this: “…even a low six-figure book deal on three books (one book per year) is like, barely cutting it financially…” hahaha I recognize the irony, and I guess if you have a decimal point in about four digits from the right…

    Glad you love writing, Chuck. You get my guts.

  • “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.”

    This. I wish someone had warned me about this. Trips to bookshops used to be an unalloyed pleasure, now they’re a Orphean trek into my own personal paranoid circle of Hell. And yet seeing my books on the shelves still gives me a thrill. It’s what drove me to shoot for traditional, commercial publishing in the first place, after all.

    No-one in their right mind would want to be a (published) writer…

  • July 17, 2013 at 2:15 AM // Reply

    I think you should run for president. Or maybe fill in for God. You almost made me cry. I’ve got a novel coming out next year and I shall print this out in a big font and stick up over my desk.

  • I like to think that Ancient Hyperborea is where all the ent-wives are, and they want to get back to the ents but they can’t because they’re all strung out on crack…wait…this went wrong somewhere.

    Oh, right, it was where I didn’t google hyperborea before I started.

    I’m a dumbass, carry on.

  • I read this and went, “Yep. Yep. So true! Yep. Absolutely!…”

    So very, very true. I want to make money from my writing so I can afford to write MORE!! (and with fewer distractions, like other work). Not likely to happen off one book, so I better get writing the next ones, eh?

    “No-one in their right mind would want to be a (published) writer…” Yeah… this is true, too.

  • There’s a lot of truth in this post. You can spend a lot of effort trying to push your books to the world and feeling like the guy in Greek mythology cursed to keep pushing a boulder up a hill only to have it roll back down on him for all eternity. Most of the time, it’s impossible to tell if your efforts are making a difference but you still try and figure it out through the voodoo of Amazon rankings etc.

    It’s important to remember that last piece: “write to write and to be read.”

  • Hi. It’s 5:30 in the morning so it’s time to write and this was exactly what this very tired, very sick of the heatwave, very how-is-it-only-wednesday storyteller needed to hear. Thanks.

  • I shall frame the blog and the blog shall be my pet in a frame and the frame shall be made of gold and unicorn fur and it shall have a fake signature that says “I love you, Julie. From Chuck Wendig.”

    –Julie

  • Oh oh oh, you read my heart!
    And still I write on, impervious, or nearly impervious to the negative flow of energy that surrounds my books. Grasping at sales and positive reviews like a lifeline, sucking air in as I haul myself from the waves of despair, then soaring above the waves like a flying fish, sparkling in the sunshine of someone who LOVED my work, before I am dashed under the next big roller. Sorry, I got a bit carried away there – I can’t help it. I’m a writer!

  • Damn. I so wanted you to be wrong, but every point was bang on. From the 3 people at the signing to the ho hum review to the “is this thing on?” reaction to all that guest blogging for which I spent months prepping. Whatever. We gotta hope something’s working. Regardless … off to the next story. Thanks again for pointing out the obvious in such an awesome way. You rock.

  • “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.”

    So true ;_;

    (substituting the writing for the visual arts)

  • “you secretly remember why you love what you’re writing and your heart pinballs around the bumpers and flippers inside your soul.”

    Love this, Chuck. Isn’t this why we really write? For those moments when it’s just you and the page and something is flowing out that makes your heart sing. I thank you for the words of wisdom.

  • A lot of what you say is true but the sad reality is book sales do matter to the publisher which does such a disservice to authors who want to write because they love it. And it doesn’t matter if you get good reviews either, which I have, the publisher just wants to see them ole hard sales. As a newish author, who at the start had all the wonderful emotions and excitement you describe when I saw my words all bound together in a shiny little, real book, I now feel quite shattered and disillusioned by the whole experience of being a published author. My first book has failed to get the sales for me to remain at my publisher and if I want another publisher I’m basically going to have to start from scratch i.e. come up pseudonym if I want to continue in this industry. .

    • I’ve heard of publishing being unforgiving toward authors without sales (though I’ve heard just as many tales of publishers being kind toward authors with poor sales, too — giving them second, even third shots to pan out as authors).

      That said, this is why self-publishing is so great. It allows you to try to reach an audience directly without publisher intervention.

    • I’m way behind you, Tess. Not even published yet. But I already get that the dream of succeeding in this business can become a harsh reality. Hope you have a better experience next time around. Hang in there!

  • What about that moment when you realize there’s an error in the book that didn’t get caught by any of the editing phases or beta readers or editorial staff or anybody, and now it’s OUT THERE where people can RIDICULE YOU FOR IT.

    I’m not saying this happened to me. I’m also not saying I drank myself into oblivion when it happened to me.

  • This is why I simply write for the love of writing, self-publish with no expectations, and keep writing for the love of writing. Then I don’t have to worry about all the shit you mention in your article. It makes life much easier.

  • OK I must say, you describe the initial high so perfectly. How did you know about the dolphin shoes?? Anyway… thank you for this. I am dealing with one client who is pretty much this description to a T (the rest just sit down and write and promote like I tell them to).

  • I have my second book coming out in August and the high from the first release felt like this. I’m not so high this time and I’m not going to worry about it. This is great and so correct.

  • You are the fly on my wall. Or the fly in my brain.

    Or maybe you are the earwig who I actually plucked off the windowsill with some tissue yesterday and then put in the toilet. You were still alive as you twirled round and round and round and round.

    Either way, you got it right on. I used to refresh KDP every few hours. Now with a traditional publisher, I refresh author rankings. All of this with the self-awareness that it is quite masturbatory.

    I am so glad you can swim and survived the flush. Awesome post.

  • Perfect. You have captured my personal experience (minus the advance money) in a way that might suggest you might be able to hear the screams that come from my night terrors.

  • I am roughly a week and a half out from self-publishing my first novel.

    …yeah, I’m going to be referring to this article about once a day for the rest of the year. God be with me.

  • When my first novel came out, I rushed my young son out to a local library so that I could show off. Here is the exchange that followed:

    Son: Wow.
    Me: I know.
    Son: But Dad…
    Me: Yes?
    Son: If it’s here, doesn’t that mean that nobody is reading it?

    Coincidentally, that was also the day I tried to trade him in for a cordless drill.

  • As a lover of all things literary, I must highlight this language: “booger-fucked.” So adding that to my lexicon.

    This is a timely post as I ready for my debut release in January. Thanks for helping me keep my head on straight!

  • Obviously, you can’t live on your novel proceeds until your name goes platinum. However, I see a lot of new authors sitting on panels, lecturing, hosting workshops, and teaching. Does that help supplement your income? At what point will I be able to go into my bosses office, and append all his motivational quotes with “in bed” and quit my job?

  • Bravo – excellent piece of writing. How long does it take you to write something like that? It’s so well written, I think it would take me a day.

  • Second best moment: Encountering your book for the first time in the wild, being carried by a total stranger, and smiling as you resist the urge to grab the guy by the lapels and say, “I wrote that!”, instead just walking on down the road…

  • “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.”

    Wait….really? It doesn’t show Kindle or Amazon sales?
    …that seems…somewhat unhelpful…

  • After my 8th book came out, I took a day off to bask in the publication, and then I went back to work. This entire post nailed everything I went through a few years ago. Bravo!

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