Occasionally, I suffer from hope.
See, I write these books that some readers (and me) like, but I occasionally get this idea that this or that particular story is going to be a big hit with a very large readership.
That’s hope, and it’s an awful thing. It distracts and disappoints. It makes me take my eye off what matters most. It tricks me into thinking there’s some external standard that I need to meet.
I was just discussing this elsewhere in another author’s private space: there’s this sense that we’re writing the wrong thing, and readers turn away from us and our work as if we were beggars shaking a tin cup at them. We get a few sales, a few reviews, then our books fade away because everyone moves on to some other thing they’re excited about. It goes without saying that no one “owes” a writer anything, but it also goes without saying that we can’t help but give in to that four-letter word when we release something new.
I can say from experience that it is incredibly painful to put a year of work into a book only to have it widely ignored. It’s not as painful as that time no kids showed for my son’s birthday party, but it’s still pretty bad.
But there’s one thing I can’t compare it to: I have no idea how it feels to write something because you think it must be “the right thing” for commercial success, and have it fail anyway.
Here’s a true story that I’ve talked about here once or twice: My editor wanted me to change the ending of Game of Cages. Specifically, she wanted me to change The Sentence (if you’ve read the book you know the 500+ word sentence I’m talking about). She knew it was a powerful scene, but it was not a commercial choice at all. Too dark.
She suggested, quite sensibly, that I revise it so the protagonist could be more of a hero. Readers like heroes.
Now, I was seriously torn over this. Child of Fire wouldn’t come out for months, so I wasn’t even a published writer yet, who was I to disagree? Besides, I loved that scene–the whole book was aimed to create it.
My agent (who is awesome) said my editor was right about that creative choice being anti-commercial, but she was ready to support whatever decision I made. The truth is, I could have changed that ending, and no one would have known by my editor, agent, and me. No one would have had a clue.
But what I told her, finally, was that I was afraid that I would replace that dark, harsh scene with something more Indiana Jones-heroic, but the book would fail anyway. Then I wouldn’t even be failing with my book.
It was almost certainly a stupid decision, career-wise, but I made it and I’m still living with it. You know what else I’m living with?
Hope for the new book I’m revising.
Check this blog post out: An Unexpected Ass Kicking. It’s worth reading, for real, especially if you use computers and/or care about elder wisdom. The OP’s takeaway is:
1. Nothing is withheld from us which we have conceived to do.
2. Do things that have never been done.
Me, I’ve tried to be original in my work, but I’ve never felt I was original enough. I’d really like to do better in that area.
As for what I “have conceived to do,” I have conceived to be my own marketing category, to write books are are uniquely mine, and to have a large readership who want to read them as soon as they’re available. Not because those books make the smart commercial choices or they are about the right subjects, but because I think they’re cool.
But seriously, read the linked post. It’s short.
Anyway, I have to pursue this stupid goal of mine, but I have to do it without killing myself hoping it will come true.