Why Bother? The Two Deadliest Words to a Self-Published Author

You said it, Daria.

You said it, Daria.

Y’know what sucks? Being unemployed and your books not selling at the same time.

It’s not just the lack of money, either. I’ve been unemployed before back when my second retail job went under thanks to rent issues in 2012. The funny thing is, the first month is kind of a like a honeymoon period. You wake up when you want to, do what you want to, don’t do what you don’t want to, and feel this general sense of relaxation since you don’t have a set schedule as you don’t have to go to work anymore. You sleep pretty well and you have the free time to do practically anything.

Then it wears off.

Then the stress starts.

Okay, so it’s not like you thought getting hired for your dream job was going to be easy. It’s going to take time. You throw yourself into your writing while you’re praying to God (and sacrificing a goat just in case Satan’s listening) someone hires you. After all, your sales have been pretty consistent for the past few months and you’re slowly building readers, right?

Kevin Spacey WRONG

Out of the blue, September hits you with the biggest sales flat-line since you started self-publishing. I’m talking you don’t even make it into double digit sales per week. You close out your September sales with less money than you made in literally four hours at your previous day job. And October is looking to be the exact same way.

No big deal. Deep breath. You can totally handle it. It’s not like you became an author to get rich. It’s probably easier and more lucrative to sell crack than be a self-published author, after all. You’re in this because you love writing and you love stories and you want to share the reading/writing experience with your fellow man. That’s easy enough. It’s what the Internet is for—connecting people together across vast distances.

Except you kind of suck at it.

Twitter? Not that many followers. You get maybe a handful of replies per week. Maybe you should redirect your energy.

Tumblr? Oh, don’t talk about your book. No one cares unless it’s a natural recommendation from a book nerd. Just write occasional fanfics and reblog handsome celebrities and social justice speeches. Anything else and you get unfollowed en masse.

Facebook? Only a tenth of the people who liked your page see your posts, and even less than that like your posts? Right. Uh, keep trying. Maybe it’ll get better.

Then you’re lying in bed for a while, watching television because it’s a fantastic distraction from the horrible current state of your life, your manuscript untouched for days, and then a quiet little voice whispers in your ear the scariest words to any self-published author:

“Why bother?”

“What?” you sputter back indignantly.

“Why bother?” the voice continues. “What’s the point of putting yourself through this misery? You’ve been writing your whole life with nothing to show for it but a couple fans and a pocketful of change. You can’t make friends. You can’t get through to readers. You can’t even make enough money to get your own place by yourself. Just give up. You gave it your best shot. You’d make twice the money if you just settled for a job like your old day job. You’re never going to be the female Richard Castle. You’re never going to be a bestselling author of any sort. Better to figure that out now than before you use up all your savings and die in a gutter somewhere.”

“That’s pretty melodramatic,” you scoff.

“But it’s not far from the truth. Aren’t you tired of this? Aren’t you tired of being a nobody? Of putting yourself out there and almost never getting anything out of it?”

“I have gotten stuff out of it!” you argue. “I’ve met people! Not a lot of them, but enough. And I’ve met some really cool people who think my work is great.”

“Yes, and I’m sure you can pay your student loan bills with reviews,” the voice muses.

You hesitate. This a-hole has a point. Maybe you’re just being stubborn, chasing this dream of yours. Maybe it’s time you grew up and did what thousands of people do every day—shelve the dream in order to make a living. After all, you can’t get what you want. Who reads your work is beyond your control. You can’t hold a gun to your readers’ heads and order them to buy your books. You can’t threaten Bookbub into accepting your book. You can’t convince bloggers to review and spread word of your book on your own. Maybe it is time to throw in the towel. Maybe you were wrong. Maybe your work isn’t that good. Maybe it never will be. You have too many bills to pay. Time to get real.

But then you think about Stephen King’s On Writing. You think about how that man spent the better part of thirty years trying to get his feet beneath him, facing hundreds of rejections day in and day out. Sure, you’re nowhere near as good, but he’s fantastic and even he had to wade through the long stretch of no one knowing who he was or caring about the work he poured his sweat, blood, and liquor into.

“No one cared who I was until I put on the mask,” Bane said in The Dark Knight Rises. The fictional villain had a point. Nobody cares who you are. They won’t care until you’ve made it to the Big Time. Right now, it feels like you’ll never make it, but you’ll definitely never make if you give up. Maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll never be anything more than an underground author with a tiny fanbase of less than 100 people.

But guess what?

There is one goal you’re still meeting. You’re sharing your story with others, even if it’s not as many of them as you’d like. People are reading your work. People have made the choice to sit down one afternoon with your characters when they could be reading Stephen King or James Patterson or Suzanne Collins or J.K. Rowling. They said yes to you when they said no to so many others. For better or worse, they stuck with you, even if they end up disliking the book, even if they don’t want to move on through your series.

And that is why you still bother.

“Screw you!” you say cheerfully to the voice. “Maybe I’ll always struggle and not be where I want to be, but at least I met my original goal and not even you can take that away from me.”

The voice grumbles and shuffles off to that dark place in the back of your head, kicking over trash cans along the way. You turn off the television—well, after that Castle marathon on TNT ends—and crack your knuckles and open your Word document and get back to work.

You are a poor self-published vagrant and you’ve got work to do.

So keep doing it, against all odds, even those your own doubts and fears present.

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  1. […] M presents Why Bother? The Two Deadliest Words to a Self-Published Author posted at She Who Writes Monsters, saying, “For all those who need a little encouragement in […]

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