Every author reading this knows what this column will be about, just from reading the title. Well, at least every self-published author.
You have done everything right. You have a website, a blog, a facebook profile (and page/group!). You’re on Twitter, the ‘gram, Slack, Zoom, Discord, and a hundred other apps you probably forgot you downloaded.
You’ve writen your ass off, paid a professional editor, and have created or commissioned covers that would make the Gods weep. They ought to – they cost you enough.
You have Nanowrimo’d, workshopped, critique-grouped and edited your writing to a finely honed skill, and your reviews tend more to five stars than one.
You’ve buckled down, creating a writing schedule that would kill Sisyphus, bending yourself to Amazon’s will to release something -anything – new every month to satisfy their damned algorithm. You’ve gone wide, gone narrow, and even KU’d your books, prostrating yourself on the altar of corporate America.
You’ve released your books in mobi, ePub, pdf, paperback, hardcover, audio, Italian, German, French, and Swahili (just in case).
You’ve offered them as stand-alones and series, box sets and novellas, short stories and even the occasional flash fiction, showing just a little leg, hoping someone will whistle and come check you out.
You’ve BookBubed and Bargain Booksied and Fussy Librarianed your books, and grew your mailing list with a subscription to Prolific Works and other giveaway sites until you have thousands of folks who receive your weekly or monthly missives.
You’ve changed your publishing schedule to accommodate the big guys – Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist and Library Journal and Locus – hoping a good review will help lift you from obscurity, even if it does mean sitting on your finished book for four months to get them an early ARC.
You’ve haunted social media, sharing your new releases, your sales, excerpts from your WIP, and cute little details about your life outside of writing:
“Did you know I grow basil in little pots on my windowsill that I decorated myself with crushed porcelain teacups, artfully glued to them in patterns that make faces of gorgeous, strapping young heroes fighting dragons?”
And still, it’s not enough to get you where you want to be.
You are shouting into the void.
*takes a deep breath*
And then you close your eyes and remember why you write in the first place. Becoming rich and famous as a writer is a laudable goal. Maybe even a possible one. But that’s not why you write.
You write because you’re a writer. Stringing together words is something that pleases your soul – no, something that’s demanded by it. When you’re not writing, you’re a wreck. Writing gives your life meaning, especially in these perilous, gray and dismal times.
And bit by bit, heartache by heartache, critique by critique, you’ve gotten better at it.
Slowly you’ve grown your brand, reaching not thousands or even hundreds of new fans, but a few at a time. Folks who get what you are doing and become loyal to you and the work, and maybe tell one or two of their friends about you.
Then you do get one of those coveted reviews, and it pushes you just a little closer to your goal of critical mass, and suddenly, the void is just a little less empty.
Take a moment and think about how far you’ve come since that first fateful acceptance letter or self-published story. Looking back, every step you’ve taken, every advance you’ve made before today takes on an air of inevitability:
- Of course they published my first short story. It was good!
- Of course my novel won a Rainbow Award. I put my heart and soul into it.
- And of course I got into SFWA. it was only a matter of time.
And then remember how frightened you were, how uncertain, how riddled with doubt you felt before each of those things finally happened.
When you look ahead, and the future feels dim and daunting, when it seems like you will never reach your goals, remember that you did it before, and you can do it again. You have – as our Italians say – a lot of meat on the grill, and sooner or later something will catch fire.
So write because you have to, because it fills your soul like nothing else. Write because you want to see where your characters go next, what mountains they conquer, and what terrible, beautiful events lay in wait for them.
And for once, trust that the void will take care of itself.
To my writing friends, what do you do when you feel like you’re just shouting into the void?