Writing a book was at the top of my bucket list for years, and as I worked on the manuscript that became my first release, I told myself it didn’t matter if nobody read it.
I told myself there was intrinsic value in the work, and the process of writing could be its own reward.
It would be an accomplishment just to finish a process I had begun so many times but always abandoned. I told myself if my message took hold with only a few people, that would be enough.
But the truth was, I wanted to be read. I wanted to make at least a little bit of money at this, and preferably a lot.
I knew the chances of becoming the next Malcolm Gladwell were slim, but I had read a lot about other self-published authors who made a good living from their work.
So when I released my book in mid-February and it sold a single copy in its opening weekend, it hurt. When six weeks passed and my marketing efforts produced only a handful more sales, I felt like dirt.
Yes, there is inherent value in the process of writing. It’s like any other form of artistic expression, from playing the piano to learning how to paint.
But every writer wants to be read. If we put nearly two years into a project and pour our souls onto the page, like I did—the truth is, we want it to amount to something.
The first six weeks of my book launch were incredibly difficult—sobering, humbling and a little embarrassing.
I had put my work into the world and the world said, “Meh.”
What I learned along the way was how to measure success, and how to not let my self worth be reduced to math.
I would prefer to have sold a million copies by now, but I can rest in this: A bookstore in the rural county where I grew up carried my book and sold out within a few weeks.
Six people were willing to spend actual money on something I created. That’s not much, but it’s something. It’s a win.
The bookstore ordered six more copies and gave me my first royalty cheque as an author.
That went a long way to legitimizing my work, even if the cheque was barely enough to fill up my car with gas. It was enough to keep me going.
Take the compliment
Nobody has formally reviewed my book so far, but I have a colleague in the magazine industry who twice told me it was wonderful.
Another colleague told me she enjoyed it and discussed it with me at length. A fellow author said similar things and went as far as to quote her favourite passages in a thoughtful and encouraging email.
I have family members who loved the book, and so far none of my friends have disowned me.
They perceive me differently now, because I wrote about a lot of things I kept inside for years. I can handle that. I told those stories with the hope they would help other people, and maybe they have.
Giving it away
I’ve only sold a few books, but I’ve given away dozens of copies to colleagues, family and friends.
One of those copies was to a woman whose daughter is considering a career in journalism. Her mother requested a copy as a birthday gift, and there is a chance it will inspire the daughter in some way.
As small victories go, that’s pretty spectacular. And I know for certain that others who received free copies have read them cover to cover.
If the goal was to be read, for my words to be constructive, and for my message to connect in some meaningful way, I may have succeeded.
Perseverance is key
A quotation from Ray Bradbury, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, is popular in writing circles.
“Quantity produces quality,” he said. “If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.”
I knew that was true as I worked on my first book, and I know it’s true now, as I begin working on my next one.
I’ve decided there will be a next one, and hopefully a few others after that. I’m going to take my lumps, learn from my mistakes and get better as I go.
It took a lot of small victories to bring me to this point, as well as some genuine and encouraging words.
A few of them came from an extraordinarily kind woman who told me I should keep writing, regardless of how many books I sell.
“Follow your dreams,” she said.
That was exactly what I needed to hear, and I continue to write with the hope my words have the same effect on whoever reads them.