Life After an Author’s Mistakes

I recently took a survey that asked me, “What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as an author?”

Oh. Ouch. All the ouch.

There’s a lot of research, trial and error, learning, and growth that comes along with this authoring and publishing gig, especially for those of us who are in it for the long term. It’s a journey that requires creativity, business know-how, and oftentimes a combination of both.

Yet, my biggest mistake as an author wasn’t exactly a creative one or even all that business-related. It was part of the result of being grievously maltreated for ten years.

I’ll not go into all of those details in this post. But suffice it to say that I published some books in reaction to the constant demands for marketplace productivity from a twisted, abusive manipulator who feigned to care about my success and wellbeing—because my productivity would help the manipulator look good. There’s much more to it, but I’ll leave it at that.

No, those books I published in vain attempts to stave off further abuse weren’t bad books. I’m a good writer, and I didn’t just pick up a pen yesterday. Even so, I often say that writers should know the specific reasons why they, as individuals, write. Further, authors who publish should know the specific reasons why they publish their work. (That is, just because you love to write doesn’t mean you have to seek or desire to get into the business of publishing. Not all writers do, and it’s okay.)

But some time after I got out of that abusive situation and took stock of my work, I found that some of my books didn’t line up with my personal reasons for writing and publishing. They weren’t a reflection of my real passion. They weren’t the kind of books I hoped to be known for, nor were they books I would search for or purchase as a reader.

Why would I want to sell stuff to other people that I wouldn’t even buy myself? Publishing some of those books was a mistake.

Granted, I gained valuable information, skills, and experience in the midst of my mistake-making. Publishing those books taught me how to publish. Still, once I realized that those books (while good for what they were) weren’t produced in the spirit I want for my life and career, and they weren’t what I wanted to provide for readers, I had to stop and change my direction.

That meant doing some revising and reediting, and for one book, doing a thorough rewrite for a new edition. For other books of mine, it meant going through and unpublishing them, taking them off the market altogether. No reworking or rewriting—just removing them and putting a close to that unfortunate chapter of my journey.

Would I be further along than I am now as an author if I hadn’t had that weight on my back for a decade? In some ways, it’s quite likely. Even knowing what I learned at the time, I can see how that weight held me back, to put it mildly.

The important thing, though, is that after making my biggest mistake(s) as an author, I didn’t hang a “Forget It” sign on my door and close up shop. I kept going. I’m still going. And as long as I’ve got more stories to write and to share with the world, I’m going to keep at my life’s work, because no one can do my life’s work but me.

This absolutely doesn’t only apply to authors, but whoever you are, if you’re reading this: there’s life after your mistakes. Find a way to make things right, even if it means changing your direction or taking a totally different path, or going back and making corrections, or “unpublishing” some chapters you’ve written, taking them “off the market,” and letting them go.

Dust yourself off, inhale some fresh air, and keep going. No one can do your life’s work but you.

 

Authors and Bloggers: Don’t Discount Your Audience

True Audience

Hey. Being an author or a blogger is no joke, especially if you mean to be around for the long haul. It requires a lot of passion, time, patience, and quite a backbone. Even “overnight successes” are oftentimes only “overnight” to the public at large, since not everyone was there to see the years of blood, sweat, tears, and legwork that went into making that “overnight” possible.

I see the frustration of fellow authors and bloggers who put so much thought and effort into their work, striving to put out quality books and content, but the interest and results they manage to garner seem so minimal.

Writer Frustration“Hardly anybody reads my books, and even fewer people review them.”
“I do my best to get the word out there about what’s happening on my blog, but hardly anyone stops by, reads, or comments.”
“If nobody really cares about what I’m doing, why am I even doing it?”

Those moments of discouragement come to the best of us. But I find myself mentally (and sometimes vocally) countering the “nobody” question, asking, “Is ‘nobody’ truly no one at all? And if not, who is ‘nobody’?”

Besides the fact that, in most cases, it simply takes time to find and reach the right people and to stir up interest, I think the idea of “nobody” often comes from comparing one’s results to someone else’s. And too many times, we’re comparing our newbie or five-to-ten-year results to those of people who’ve been in the game much longer than we have or people who have resources that we don’t.

Still, there are billions of people on this planet. Billions. Even if you sell millions of copies of your book, or you have a million blog subscribers, it’s likely there will always be far more people on Earth who aren’t reading your book or visiting your blog. It’s likely that there’ll always be more people who’ve never heard of you, or who don’t care, than who have heard of you and who do happen to care about you once they’ve heard.

But are you going to spend your time worrying about all the people out there who don’t care, about all the folks who pass by your wonderful books or blog with nary a second thought or glance? No, I’m not saying not to bother with producing excellent work and growing your audience as much as you can—but I’m curious as to what magic number your audience has to reach before the people in it are no longer “nobodies” to you.

Of course, all authors and bloggers must decide for themselves the kind of results that are worth the energy, trouble, and finance they put into their work. There’s no hard and fast rule about what outcomes will or should make it all worthwhile for everyone in the writing world. Time, resources, goals, priorities, and any number of factors vary from person to person.

But if you’re in this for the long haul, I’d encourage you to remember that, out of the multitudes of people around, not everyone is, or is meant to be, your audience. Don’t undervalue or discount the people who are indeed listening to you, who are truly interested, even when the numbers are relatively few.

However large or small it is right now, your audience is your audience. And the human beings in it may very well need to hear what more you have to say.

Reading Audience

 

Rough Days for Reviews, and My Encouragement

All the Book Love

As it happens with anything and anyone else, some days are harder than others for an author. On the marketing side of things, there’ve been some recent rough days in many an author’s neck of the woods, particularly where one crucial area of book marketing is concerned: book reviews.

There’s been an uproar (a recurrent one?) and much speculation as the online book reviews of more authors and reviewers have been disappearing. (Here are samples of the uproar and speculation, in case you’ve been out of the loop.)

I understand what all of the fuss is about, particularly for independent authors who work hard to get book reviews. Yes, the couple of handfuls of precious reviews I’ve been able to gather for my own books are the result of hours and hours, months and months of searching and querying, reading the review policies of anywhere from 600 to 700 book reviewers and bloggers, individually contacting about 300 whose preferences and requirements I met, getting “Yes, I’ll review your book!” responses from about half of those, and resulting in what I have so far.

Please excuse my inexact numbers. I’ll admit that the closer I got to 1,000 reviewers, fatigue set in, and I started losing track of the count, even with my recording all the data. 🙂 I had to get back to reading and writing to regain my strength.

And speaking of reading and writing, reviewing parameters have the potential to get sticky for a bookworm who loves writing books as much as reading and reviewing them. I mean, once someone writes a book, any other book that person reads from that day forward is “another author’s” book. That’s a whole ‘nother subject.

Anyway, in the midst of these rough days, I’ve had to recall the dear memory of once finding a novel that saved my life. The author wrote it long before I was born, and there’s no way she or her publisher could have known anything about Nadine C. Keels and what Nadine would be going through when she happened to find the book on a shelf, decades down the line. And I have no idea what difficulties the author or publisher may’ve had to overcome to get that book out into the world.

But God and the orchestration of His universe had a way of making sure the right book from the right author got into this reader’s hands at just the right time. I believe I’m not at all the only reader that has ever happened to, and it makes me trust that the same will ultimately happen for the books I’ve written for others.

Nope, this encouragement isn’t very scientific, but when I’m putting everything I am and everything I’ve got into writing and planning and publishing and marketing and all, and another uproar or obstacle in the process arises, I have to remind myself of why I think it’s worth it to keep at it, even when favorable results are hard to come by and seem minimal. There are so many uncontrollable factors anyway, factors that go into when, where, and why a book sells, and once it’s sold, if it’s actually read.

So, as a reader and an author, I’ll keep doing what I can, change or improve what I can, try not to stress too much over what’s out of my hands, and remember all the books that have gotten into my hands at the right time, despite what the obstacles may have been.

*Oh! And if you’re a reader, do know that the reviews you write mean so much and are a great help to the authors you love to read.*

 

“Your Lifework Doesn’t Matter.” Really?

Life's Work

My point, right out the gate: I’d advise against being quick to call what other people do with their lives—their art or vocation—unimportant just because their work may be (or seem) unimportant to you.

My reason for posting this point at this particular time: while waiting in anticipation for the NFL Super Bowl, I heard someone enter a Super Bowl discussion and dismiss the biggest event in professional American football as something that didn’t matter, before the person went on to change the subject.

Oh, it wasn’t the first time I heard someone indicate that competitive sports, particularly of the professional variety, don’t matter. After all, games like football and all the rest are just that: mere games, right? Mere entertainment. And games aren’t important like ending wars and addressing famine and finding cures for diseases and…

sportsBut, may I ask, just how long have human beings been playing games? Why isn’t game playing just a passing fad instead of an enduring part of the human experience, century after century? Why do thousands and thousands of people from all over the globe gather to play games with each other every four years at the Olympics, while millions and millions of other people watch? Why do men and women dedicate their hearts, minds, bodies, years, their lives to the lifework of athletics and competition, both amateur and professional, giving us tangible pictures of strength, skill, agility, strategy, endurance, perseverance, passion, cooperation? Why, year after year, do people tune in to certain channels on certain days; spend their hard-earned finances; flock to particular parks, fields, rinks, arenas, and stadiums; round up their friends and families or gather with complete strangers at appointed times to witness athletic competition? For “mere” entertainment?

I daresay that the athletic experience, whether on the side of the athletes or the spectators, meets a human need, as, critical as they are, peace from wars and cures for diseases aren’t the only needs humans have. (Of course, many amateurs and professionals also use their platforms as athletes to advance all manner of other worthy causes, which would take another blog post to get into.) Sports might not be the “thing” that meets an intrinsic need in you personally, that gives you an experience worth savoring and remembering and that teaches you something about the rest of life (as sports do for countless people). Books might be your thing instead. Drawing or painting might be your thing. The ballet might be your thing.

balletBut a novelist can’t look at an athlete and say, “Your lifework doesn’t matter,” as much of what novelists do through books, athletes do through sports. A dancer can’t look at a painter and say, “Your lifework doesn’t matter,” as much of what dancers do through dance, painters do through artwork. Filmmakers, comedians, musicians and composers, stage actors and playwrights, acrobats and circus performers, parents who amuse their infants and toddlers through Pat-a-Cake and Peekaboo and an untold number of impromptu games that have no name—I could go on to list how all kinds of people who provide others with entertainment are meeting a human need by doing so.

Hey. Even bloggers meet needs through writing interesting blogs.

So. Back to my point. I’d advise against being quick to call what other people do with their lives—their art or vocation—unimportant just because their work may be (or seem) unimportant to you. Chances are, the people you dismiss may be doing more for the world than you think they are.