Dear Reader Who Didn’t Love My Book…

Dear Reader Who Didn’t Love My Book,

First of all, thank you. You took a risk on me. I really appreciate that. Asking a stranger to read your novel is just about the hardest thing we writers have to do. (Apart from writing query letters.) So when someone actually decides to purchase a book, we experience a rare and wonderful gratitude that you decided to take the plunge.

A rare and wonderful gratitude that is quickly buried by an avalanche of anxiety.

See, here’s the thing: I want to have written the book just for you. I do. But there’s a good chance I didn’t. It’s not that I don’t respect your personal taste in fiction – I am a cheerleader for diversity in books and the people who read them. Love what you love, and do so unapologetically. But whenever someone picks up my book, I reach for a tremulous hope that it will be the next thing you love unapologetically.

When it is? Well, we’ve just proven that magic is real. That’s the only word to adequately describe the inexplicable connection between writer and reader. Somehow a writer finds a story and manages to write it down, and then a reader – usually a complete stranger – finds herself in that story. How did she get there?

Magic.

I’m pretty sure when you picked up my book, you were hoping for magic. Otherwise, why read a book at all? Okay, there are other reasons. But magic is the best reason. So you started reading, and maybe a few pages in – or perhaps as late as a few chapters – you started to get a sinking feeling, a gut-level ache that told you my book was absent magic.

I’m sorry you didn’t find yourself in my words. I mean that, sincerely. After all, you invested time and money in hopes of making a connection. Do I still believe in my book? Yes. Usually just slightly more than I believe I’m a hack. (It’s a writer thing.) True, my ego gets bruised from time to time when people say they didn’t love the fruit of months, sometimes years of hard work. But I won’t spend even one second trying to convince you why you’re wrong. Because you’re not.

I didn’t write it for you. Wish I could have warned you of that in advance. (My time machine is on the fritz, else I would.)

I truly hope the next book you read is chock full o’ magic. Meanwhile, feel free to share your non-magical experience in a review. A thoughtful negative review is just as valuable to a writer as a thoughtful positive one. Your words probably won’t change my approach to writing, but they will remind me of an important and universal literary truth: no book is for everyone.

And that’s okay.

Happy reading.

Sincerely,

The Author

 

The First Book

Congratulations. You’ve written a novel. Your first. It’s no longer a thing “you’d like to do someday,” it’s a thing you did.

The End.

You just wrote that, and it made you smile. Family members barely recognize you. Where’s the sullen, contentious, lost, confused, un-showered, frustrated writer-wannabe they’d come to expect every time you crawled out of your writing cave into the real world to briefly consider eating food that doesn’t come out of a plastic bag?

She’s gone. That was the exhausted, mud-caked, sweaty Basic Training writer; the “I’m going to finish this thing if it kills me” writer. You’re not her anymore. You’re a Bonafide Author now. And guess what? Your book, this very first novel of yours, could be the Next Big Thing. I’m talking Harry Potter big.

Have a sip of that celebratory wine. You deserve it.

You might want to have another sip. Because I have some news for you: your book is not going to sell a million copies. Or a hundred thousand. Or ten thousand. Chances are very good it won’t even sell a hundred.

Let me repeat that because you’re still distracted by that word “million.” The book you just finished, this book you slaved over for weeks or months or years, this baby you birthed all by yourself right there on the cobbled-together standing desk in the converted closet you call your “writing studio” – is most likely stillborn.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “I’m not expecting my book to sell like Harry Potter. I’m not that naive. I really don’t care if I sell a single copy. I’m content to have simply finished writing a book.”

Or maybe you’re thinking, “I know it’s not that great yet…but that’s what revisions are for. I’m going to hire an editor to help me make it better. Because once it’s really good, then I can find my audience. I can sell more than a few copies.”

Or you could be thinking, “You don’t know. My book could actually be the next Harry Potter. There are all kinds of stories of debut authors hitting it big. Might as well be me.”

I’ll address the last response first: You’re right. It could be you. And you could win the lottery this weekend, too. You really could. Honestly, if that little dream keeps you going, keep on dreaming. Please note – I’m not disparaging you for holding onto that fantasy – I have a black belt in chasing impossible dreams. But know this: if your dream of hitting the publishing lottery with your first novel keeps you from writing the next one, it’s time to wake up.

Now to those of you who are saying you’re content with your participation trophy, I need to say “good for you” and also “really?” If you’re happy simply that you’ve written a book, go ahead and enjoy that feeling. But then take a moment to think about who you want to be as a writer. Think about the hopes and dreams you had while you were writing the first book. Is that it? Are you done? Maybe your soul is satisfied. But if it’s not – if there is a restlessness in you that says “I have to write again” or “I know there’s an audience for my stories out there somewhere,” then get back to it. Be happy to have written, then let the discontent of unfulfilled dreams drive you to write again. Just be honest with yourself.

Finally, let me speak to those of you who are counting on the revision process to make your novel great. You’re on the right track. That’s a good answer. You apparently understand the hard work that goes into writing a novel – that it’s as much (if not more) about the revision process as it is about finishing the all-important first draft. With the help of smart beta-readers, and an even smarter editor (I know a few), your book will get better. Better is good. Better means a greater chance of finding an audience.

But even then, your first novel could stall right there. Whatever the “final” draft looks like, no matter how much time and money you’ve spent trying to make it essential reading for anyone with a Kindle, it could fall flat. Most books do. Good ones, bad ones, amazing ones. I could list a dozen incredible novels I’ve worked on that have yet to find a home.

But that would only depress you. And, despite what you might think, this isn’t a post about discouragement. I’ve written that one already. This is about encouragement.

You wrote a book!

And every word you labored over, every meal you skipped, every gallon of coffee you downed was worth it. Not because you won the lottery. But because there are no wasted words in a writer’s journey. No, it’s not “all about the journey.” That’s overly-simplistic thinking. But the journey matters. The books you ultimately file away as “not ready to share” or “couldn’t find a publishing home” matter. Maybe just to you, but they matter. Because without them, you’ll never get to the books that will matter to others. The books that will make people smile or think or cry or hope. The books that will capture readers’ hearts. The books that will make readers wonder how you could possibly know them so well.

And yes, the books that will inspire them to become writers. Like you.

And so it goes.

 

This Isn’t an Abandoned Blog

The lack of recent posts is merely evidence that I’m ALL-CAPS VERY BUSY with editing work. [And all my clients said, “Amen.”] Oh, and also with a little fiction writing of my own. [And all my clients said, “You mean after you finish editing my novel, right?”]

I’ve already said lots of writerly things in this space. Feel free to skim the archives for writing tips and clevery-worded encouragement and a smattering of nonsense.

I’ll be back with a new post when Available Time and Having Something to Say intersect.

Meanwhile, write stuff.