I started writing the 3rd novel in my Hope series (still haven’t decided on a name, so this is what I’m going to call it for now) on Dec. 1. I came into the month with a clear idea on what I wanted to happen to Maddie, and what I wanted wrapped up by the time I reached the conclusion. But all the in between stuff, like the layout of each chapter and the steps it would take to get from the beginning to end, I left that to figure out later. I was just too eager to get started on writing, and I didn’t want to lose my train of thought to create the beginning.
And so I started writing. I created my epic beginning, and it was everything I envisioned it would be. Then I came to the next chapter, and I wrote the rest of what I knew about the setup of this novel. Now I’m on Day 3 of writing, and I’ve managed to do anything but write. I’m easily distracted, and I’ve found so many things to do during this writing time, the only time I have today to work on my novel.
The reason I can’t write is because I don’t have a plan. I know where I am, and I know where I’m going. But I don’t know the in-between parts on how I want to get there.
It occurred to me today that this is exactly what’s going on with my author business. This can’t be the first time I’ve realized this, can it? I’m sure I’ve realized this before. However, this epiphany struck me today, and I suddenly feel stupid.
I’m about to be more honest than I should be in this blog, so bear with me.
Four years ago, I was polishing the manuscript that would become my very first published novel. I had this huge vision for the future, my success as an author at the very core. I was smart enough to know that my first novel wouldn’t make me millions. I’d probably only sell a few hundred copies or so. I’d heard that the third novel was the magic number, and I was banking on that one getting me out of my full-time job and onto a glittery path of being a literary celebrity. I was humble in this dream. I wouldn’t quite be J.K. Rowling. But maybe I could be as big as Liz Gilbert or Anne Lamott, or in the biggest of hopes, the next Ernest Hemingway.
That first book sold well in the first month. Of course, I had to lower my standards to see that it sold well. Amazed by my achievement of writing a book, many of my friends bought and read this novel. A portion of these friends even left reviews, prompted by my regular requests to help populate the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Over the next few months, I gave copies away and gained a few more reviews. To help speed along my plan toward success, I published two other books from writing I’d done over the years. The first was a memoir of essays on single parenting, and the second was a book on poetry.
Now I had three books! I waited for the money to start rolling in.
As you probably have guessed, my book #3 was not the magic number. I failed to recognize that you need three books to draw in the same group of people who were attracted to the first book. By publishing a fiction book, and then a parenting memoir, and finally a poetry book, I was speaking to three different crowds. I was all over the map.
And so I wrote the sequel to my first book. The first one, A Symphony of Cicadas, told of a mother who died, and her journey through the afterlife. The second book, Forever Thirteen, told about her son, a 13-year-old boy who died in the same accident. I love both of these stories. However, they should never have been written together.
The first book was full of swear words and a few sex scenes. It was appropriate for the story, and I feel that stripping those parts out would take away from the story. However, the second book was written about a 13-year-old protagonist, and was definitely geared toward young adult. So, I have one book that is aimed at adults, and its companion book aimed at young teens. If these young teens want to learn about the other half of the story, they must read through a bunch of swear words and sex scenes, and grown-up situations that probably won’t even interest them.
Do you see the problem here? Because it took me a while to get it.
My third fiction book, The Road to Hope, was the literary fiction story I always wanted to write, the one where I got to write the truth in fiction. With this one, I suddenly saw a small spike in interest through sales and borrows.
My fourth fiction book, Come Here, Cupcake, bombed (note: I should not be admitting this). It’s supposed to be the start of a magical realism series, but I still haven’t brought myself to write the rest of the books because that one took so much out of me.
My fifth fiction book, Loving the Wind: The Story of Tiger Lily & Peter Pan, is my favorite book I’ve ever written…and it still hasn’t been noticed. I still have hope that it will pick up, because I truly feel it’s a story almost anyone could enjoy. But perhaps I’m just biased because I’m such a Peter Pan fan.
In between releasing those two books was my non-fiction book, Reclaim Your Creative Soul, my answer to anyone who wondered how to fit creativity into their lives when they also held a job, raised a family, or felt like they were just too busy to do anything they were passionate about. This one had the best of intentions, and a lot of vital information I’ve learned over the years. And yet, I have not been pro-active at all in getting it into the hands of people who need to read it. It’s like I thought I could just release it, and the magic would happen on its own.
That’s eight books in all over the span of four years. Eight books, and I am still working full-time at a highly stressful job, and now going to school so that I might be able to figure out what I want to do with my life that might make me happy because writing novels is not paying the bills.
I’ve spent a lot of energy lamenting my failure as an author. Again, I shouldn’t even write this. No successful author ever admits this. They write about how much they love their fans, and cool things about their book, and post photos of how awesome they are as people because they’re writing books and killing it. Me, I’m spewing my disappointment on these pages because I have 10 or less people who read this blog every day, and it’s way too long and self-loathing for anyone’s attention span.
I’ve spent thousands of dollars on covers, editing, advertising, and everything else it takes to create a book and present it to the world. I’ve spent so much time listening to podcasts, reading articles, and trying to absorb every piece of information I can gather to bring my author business to the next level. I’ve lost sleep in favor of writing, created and posted cool images for social media marketing, sent out newsletters to my mailing list, and tried to build my platform in hopes that I could grow the audience that reads any of my books.
And my sales have flat-lined. Even The Road to Hope, the one I used to see activity on every day, has been forgotten.
I realize now that I’ve spent a lot of energy on all the wrong things. Of my eight books, I have a two-book series that takes place in the afterlife—one that’s geared toward adults, and one toward young adults. I have one literary fiction book. I have a magical realism book. I have a young adult fan-fiction book. I have a parenting memoir. I have a non-fiction guide for creators. I have a poetry book.
I have eight books aimed at eight different audiences. There’s nothing for each audience to come back for, as I keep speaking to a new audience and forgetting the old. Readers can’t figure out what to expect from me, because I haven’t been clear on what I write.
And this is why I’ve failed.
Here’s the truth. I love writing literary fiction. I also love writing magical realism and young adult. I know I can write all of these. I also know people love reading across the genres. However, I need to stick to one at a time, and really build that genre up. Right now, my focus is on The Road to Hope and building that story out into a series. I have an exciting idea for it that will create a series of at least five books, and I hope it generates the same enthusiasm I feel about it.
Back to that plan for the book I’m writing now. To make this book a success, I need to pause and really think about what steps need to happen to get from beginning to end. It takes more than a good idea to write a novel. I need to plot out the story so that I don’t lose my focus as I write.
As well, I need a plan for my author business. I keep wishing for success. I keep getting distracted by all the millions of things I should be doing to gather attention toward my books. I keep begging my family and friends for support, but I don’t know how to reach beyond the people I know and hold on to them as readers. I keep lamenting the fact that I’m still a full-time employee, and my books are costing me more than I make from them. I keep wallowing in depression that things aren’t happening the way they’re supposed to happen, and then wasting my time on things that don’t work…or worse, doing nothing at all because I’m so overwhelmed by too much information, lack of energy, and the weight of failure that remains on my shoulders.
I realize now that, just like my lack of focus in writing to an audience, I’ve also developed a lack of focus when it comes to growing my business. I’ve thrown a lot of things at the wall in hopes that they’ll stick. Goodreads giveaways. Facebook advertising. Promoted Instagram posts. Paid mailing lists. Promoting to friends and family. An occasional call-out to join my mailing list. A weekly newsletter that’s opened by only 20% of the people I send it to. It’s all well and good, but there’s no focus.
So yes, I need a plan. I don’t know what that is, but I do know it needs to be more than just a few sporadic actions with no backbone. On the writing side, my focused plan is to stick to a series, and then build from there. For growing my platform, I still need to figure that out. I’m tired of writing my soul, and then releasing it into oblivion. I’m not just writing for me. Writing is my way of communication. I wish to change people through my stories, to give a new perspective, and to offer inspiration though my characters’ journeys. But that won’t happen if no one is reading my books.
If you’ve read this far, thank you. I know this is just a lot of word vomit on the page. This post is way too long. I shouldn’t even publish this. But I will for several reasons. First, if there are other authors who come across this and are frustrated by the process, I hope to offer my own warning about how lack of focus can kill your business. Second, if I ever do become successful, I want to have something I can look back to so I can remember how hard this was. I want clear evidence of the time when I was ready to throw in the towel so I can be grateful for where I’m at. Third, if I’m ever successful, I want there to be clear evidence to other authors just starting out that it’s not unique to feel lost in this crazy world of novel writing.
If you’re in the same camp as I am—wanting something so bad, feeling like it’s just out of reach, and ready to make a change to get to the next level—please let me know in the comments. I need support today, and I want to connect with others who need the same support. I want to hear from you so that I know I’m not alone. Let’s be miserable together, and then let’s cheer each other on as we move forward in building our businesses.