The ONE Book
I remember being twenty two (shuddup. Yes, I DO have a good memory) and in awe of the idea of writing my first “real” book, i.e. the first book I intended to submit, I managed to block myself for almost an entire year, in fear of “ruining” it.
Fortunately, later in my career, when I HAD to do six books a year I had not time to consider each of them my precious, and also aware at least two of the houses I was working with at the time would kill them dead before they got to press, if not by bizarre editing (one of them) by refusing to publicize them or even distribute them. So I just wrote them. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. It has to be done by Wednesday.”
So explain to me how 32? 33? 34? (I keep forgetting to count some series) books on, I woke up yesterday morning realizing what held me back on the current book in progress, for just about a year, was the desire to make it “perfect.” Which frankly is bloody stupid. It’s not even a book-of-the-heart (more on that later) it’s just a fun book, and anyway, it’s always been destined to indie, which means the chances of its going Harry-Potter-big are near zero. Not that they were much higher with traditional, particularly not with my history. NO ONE — not even me — is going to throw that kind of promo at someone who failed to make it really big in the last twenty years. Yes, not even if I have explanations for every failure, they’re all different explanations and mostly the first three hinge on “Stupid publisher tricks” and the rest on “But you have three failed series.”
Besides, with indie, it’s perfectly obvious to anyone with eyes on their heads, that the game is now “as many books as possible as fast as possible.”
Yes, that’s changed the game for traditional publishers too, because that’s the market they’re competing in. No, that doesn’t mean they’ll get it, not now, not any time soon, probably at no time before the bell tolls for THEM. I’m strangely cool with that, at this point.
They don’t get they’re competing with indie, because they’ve bought into the “bags and bags of slush/sewage, so we’re a completely different market.”
In fact what’s happened with indie, unless you’re trolling in very specific markets like what I call “legal fanfic” (I.e. writing in long-dead-author’s worlds) or the crazier genres like “Male pregnancy” (No, I’m not joking. I landed on one by accident. The blurb sounded like space opera. Once I figured out what it was I was like “how are they going to make this biologically plausible?” Hint, they didn’t. Also, the writing in general had become like watching a train wreck) which are tiny little subgenres with an underserved (yes, it’s possible, because tiny online is still hundreds of thousands) fanatical following that will read ANYTHING even books seemingly written in sanskrit, is that the really bad ones have long since dropped away. Their “oeuvre” failed to sell millions, writing is hard, and their one book they left up has dropped out of sight in the rankings.
Most of the stuff in indie, even in Kindle Unlimited Lending Library is like most of the stuff that traditional publishers put out: popcorn books. I.e. books you read, enjoy, and sometimes remember the name of the author under “hey, that’s not painful.”
Back when bookstores stocked authors in general and not those that the publishers were betting everything on, and pushing with all their might (so pre-nineties) entire careers were made on “hey, that’s not painful.”
You see, most of the people who buy books are not the ones looking for “the one book” that is going to set their world on fire, and define an entire generation. (Say, Harry Potter.)
Most of the people who buy MOST books are like me. I don’t know how many of us there are. Someone estimated we’re like 5% of the population. We might be. Or there might be up to 20% if you don’t restrict yourself to “all genres but romance.” There are a lot of romance readers.
But we punch WAY out of our league.
I was reading about how many books people read/buy a year, and even among the population who “read for pleasure” (instead of just watching movies or playing games) that’s around 2 per year USUALLY. Some people read up to 10 year or a little less than one a month. These are known to the industry as “voracious readers” btw.
And then there’s people like me. We require on average a book a day unless we are, say, installing floor or rebuilding a Victorian (and even then we usually go through an audio book a day.) If we spend two days without reading we start feeling a little funny, like we left our burner on and have been out of the house. Or like we lost our wallet. Or something.
People like me have often tried to figure out how to read while asleep or (of course) in the shower. Because it’s too cruel to be story deprived for minutes at a time.
Yes, we probably have problems, psychological kind, but let’s forget that for a moment. Let’s say there is way less than ten percent of us. Let’s say there’ a million of us. In the US that’s a negligible minority. Or is it? In fact, at a book a day we buy 365 million books a year.
But let’s suppose some of us are slackers, in the book a week category (as I was while hypo-thyroidal, or raising toddlers.) If all of us slack off, that’s still 40 million books a year. Fiction — almost all of us read fiction, though in a pinch I read everything, including instructions for someone else’ medicine — books that rock your world aren’t put out at the rate of 40 million a year.
Hell, even fiction books of the “well, that wasn’t painful” variety aren’t put out at that rate.
And we need it. There’s only so much you can re-read. And really, guys, most of us read more than one book a week, even while sick/raising toddlers. Because we have vacations, or times we land in bed through overwork. And then we consume 6 books a day or so. I’d guess the super-readers’ aggregate average is more like 300 million books a year, if not more (now there’s indie.)
My sheer need for books back in the bad old days and the inability to find enough “well, that wasn’t painful” books pushed me out of SF to Fantasy to Mystery to Romance to “fictionalized history.” Like a heroin addict switching to methadone. Exactly like that.
So, you know, there are careers to be made in “well, that wasn’t painful” which is good news for most of us. But it means that we have to write a lot of those books, because those careers — like pulp careers (indie most resembles pulp in mode) — are made on “there’s more to read, yay.” And people won’t remember the author’s name until they’ve read ten or twenty (and sometimes not that. I know some mystery series’ titles, but space on the author.)
I want to emphasize again this is true for traditional publishing too. Even with their search for “the one book” since… well, since I’ve been in the field, all they’ve managed is mostly “Well, that wasn’t painful” though they’re shading ever more towards “OMG, I can’t even finish this” because they think what makes a book memorable is MO’E MESSAGE.
Trad pub doesn’t see it that way. They don’t understand that they are competing with indie. They don’t understand that indie IS competition. So, instead of trying to figure out how to compete, they’re holding themselves to pseudo-heights and saying “of course they’ll come back to us. We’re better.” News flash guys: you’re not. You’re perhaps/sometimes better distributed and publicized and that gives you an edge with Ms. one book a year. Ms. 365 books a year because it was a low year MIGHT read your book…. and a lot of others.
So, what’s the point of this for indie authors (since trad publishers are known not to listen?)
Don’t treat yourself like a traditional publisher would. Sure, some books are books of the heart.
What is a book of the heart? It’s a book that you’re in awe of having written, a book that pours out of you and leaves you feeling like it’s ultra-special forever, a book you love above all your other books.
The sad thing is that books of the heart don’t perform markedly better than other books. None of my books that won awards are books of the heart. My short story of of the heart took 8 years and 80 rejections to be printed. Stories I wrote on a day I was bored, meanwhile, sold first time out the door and for more money.
IOW what makes a book your book of the heart has zero to do with what makes it sell well. Or even SELL. Which I need to remember, because I have at least one book and the beginning of one series ‘of the heart’ to write this year, and I must remember not to stop in awe and go “I must make this so perfect.”
A colleague once told me that any book you write will be someone’s favorite of your books, and someone’s least favorite of your books. Think about that. It doesn’t matter what the book is, this will happen. In my experience that’s true.
My best-selling book that has paid twice in royalties what it paid me in advance was a write-for-hire under a pen name (a house name, actually) which I didn’t want to write, put off until I rushed through it in 3 days (I wrote another book that month, which was far more important to me, and which sank without a trace) and sent off first-draft.
It’s not the loving care. It’s not the idea. It’s not the love you put into it. Past basic competence, the market right now rewards being prolific. This could change, of course. But right now, that’s what it is. If you can turn out ten readable books a year, DO SO. You’ll do much better than if you spent a year tinkering with a book, making it “perfect.”
Because most of the people buying your book want “well, that wasn’t painful” and that’s what they’ll read.
So stop blocking yourself with the be all end all importance of “making it perfect.” Make it not painful and finish by Wednesday.
And sometimes, weirdly, in the middle of it, you’ll find you wrote a book people consider perfect, anyway.
Now, go write.