1. PensiveQuill
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    PensiveQuill Contributing Member

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    What happens if you don't become a bestseller?

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by PensiveQuill, Aug 25, 2014.

    I just finished reading, How To Not Write A Novel. A funny account of what happens to 99% of all published authors. A true tale of how once in print most books are destined for the bargain bin and the author a life of obscurity. The author has five crime novels to his name, critically acclaimed even. But he still struggles to achieve more than get his books on a library shelf. It reveals the publishers use of new novelists work and is both discouraging and heartening in it's advice. What I loved about it is how it changed my perspective on why I write and what I intend to do with my work once it's finished. It made me ask myself these questions.

    - Am I chasing publication for vanity?
    - How does a writer find their audience and build it?
    - If I never become a bestselling writer, then what?
    - Would I still choose to do this even with no financial reward at the end?
    - What's really important here, developing skill? Joy of expression? My characters or what they are trying to do?

    I decided after reading this book that I write because I enjoy the act of writing, that publication while a worthy goal and nice validation could not be my prime objective. That I might have to face the reality of never being paid for my work. And if that was the case I had better be reaping my rewards while I crafted convincing characters, wrote interesting dialogue and brought the stories in my imagination to life for the hell of it. I still intend to take my writing seriously, the craft of it, but I won't take myself as an author seriously because actually it's a profession riddled with tragedy, if it's a profession at all.

    So I'd like to put it out there, what will you do if you fail to become a bestseller? How will that change things for you?
     
  2. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Most writers do not become bestsellers. That's like thinking most pilots become astronauts. But many writers make a nice supplemental income from their books. A writer who gets a trade contract will make some money. Yes, books do end up in the bargain bins, but they've made some money for their authors first (I've picked up former bestsellers from bargain bins so that's not necessarily a sign of failure).

    So, in answer to your question: If I fail to become a bestseller, I won't be disappointed. It's a nice goal to strive for, but it's not the end of the world if it doesn't happen.
     
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  3. elynne
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    elynne Active Member

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    I have always considered someone wanting to read what I write as--more than a compliment; it's almost a validation, for me (yes, I know how messed up that can be, but I developed my writing habits while dealing with a severe depressive disorder, so it's kind of tangled up with that). even if I don't ever make enough money to pay the rent (I'm lucky enough to have a spouse who can support me), even if I don't get anything published "for real," even if it's "just fanfic," I do know that the stories I've written have touched people--I know that for a fact by the comments, the praise, and the subscriptions, as they wait for more.

    my ideal isn't to become a bestselling author, exactly; that'd be nice, of course, but it's such an out-there fantasy, it's easier to believe I'll win the lottery someday. (and I don't play the lottery!) my ideal is to write something that affects many people profoundly; something that changes the way they look at the world, how they think about themselves and others, for the better. obviously, the best way to reach the largest number of people is to write a bestseller, preferably with a movie contract (at least a trilogy!)--but if all I ever manage is a handful of fans on AO3, that really will be enough for me.
     
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  4. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    You don't need to be a best seller. I dare say you shouldn't strive for it.
     
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  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Some of us are writing for a very small audience, so not having bestselling novels wouldn't actually be a bad thing as far as I'm concerned.
     
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  6. LeighAnn
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    LeighAnn Member

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    Writing a bestseller has never been my goal. Instead, my goal was to make a living writing books, and that's what I've accomplished. If one of my books were to land on a bestselling list...well, good for me. Either way, I just keep writing.
     
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  7. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Like @elynne, I prioritize quality of readership over quantity of readership. That is, I would measure the success of my effort not by the amount of people who buy copies (in fact, my WIP will be free to download), but by the degree to which it affects the people who do read it.

    The only reason why I currently write is to fulfill the potential of a certain concept. To me, fulfillment of that potential means the novel is excellent literature that emotionally transforms readers and sticks with them for the rest of their lives. I was introduced to the concept when I read a novel that partially fulfills this potential. My goal is to achieve what that novel almost achieves.

    Therefore, I am not even playing the game of selling books. The whole idea of beginning with the goal of selling copies, then designing the story for emotional effectiveness as a way to entice people to buy copies, is reversed in my case. I already know the story is an emotional experience because it already affected me deeply. I begin with the goal that other people can experience the same thing. Writing a novel and making it available for people to read is a means to that end.

    It is not the case that I observed that it is a lucrative business to sell books, then I decided that I wanted to enter the business, then I came up with a product to offer to the market, then I gave it my best shot, then I put my fate in the hands of the powers that be (publishers and bookstores), then I waited for the market to judge the quality of my product. That is not how I (currently a college student) will make my living.

    Instead, I was introduced to an interesting and emotionally powerful concept, then I figured out how to fulfill its potential in a way that has never been done, then I decided to take on the responsibility of fulfilling that potential, then I researched my options for delivering the story to as many people as possible, then I decided that the best option is to write it as a novel and to make it available to download for free.

    So to me, the question analogous to "what if I don't become a bestseller?" is "what if very few people read the novel I wrote?" The answer is simple: I will advertise it more and I will make it available via more channels. That is the great thing about making the text available for free on my own terms. It is not even an issue to be "destined for the bargain bin". Hell, it would be great if there were copies in a bargain bin because that is just one of many ways to reach readers.

    My novel will not be subject to the typical life cycle of a trade novel: the initial print run, the marketing, the initial buzz, hitting bookstore shelves, getting reviews, getting a shot at monthly and annual lists just like every other new trade novel, then fading away to make room on the shelves for the next iteration of the cycle. It will not be subject to a cycle at all. It will simply exist. Like ancient texts, it will not even have such a thing as an official date of publication, and it will probably be anonymous.

    And I am patient. One month or ten years after I write it, the situation will not be much different: if I "review" it on a forum, vote it onto a Goodreads list, or advertise it in whatever other faux-word-of-mouth way is effective at the time, and someone consequently learns about it, reads it, and enjoys it, then that is a success.

    Furthermore, I hypothesize that by refusing to enter the "hottest new book of the year" game, I can create a perception of timelessness, which, combined with the timeless nature and emotional staying power of the story itself, can keep people talking about it without losing interest. It will not be compared to novels published at the same time, but to all novels ever written. It will not fade out of relevance because its year of publication will not be a source of relevance to begin with. That way, it has all the time in the world to reach the critical mass necessary for word-of-mouth. The novel will not be "one my favorite novels of this year"; it will be "a novel I once read that has been important in my life ever since, one that I have been thinking about recently."
     
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2014
  8. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Never write with odds playing in your head. Nobody can say when anyone will have that turning point and find an audience.
    Don't put time limits on art either. I was watching a snippet on Youtube of one my favorite authors - Caroline B Cooney. She said she wrote eight novels before finally selling one. Can you imagine - writing eight novels and all of them are rejected? Why didn't she give up - because she loved writing.

    I'm going to write and keep writing cause I love it, and I will find my audience. Patience, determination and passion are key.
     
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  9. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    I don't see anything wrong with aspiring to being a best-selling author. You may not achieve that goal, but almost all basketball players won't play in the NBA either, but having the goal to do so has to make you a better player at every level. If you're good enough, you'll make it.

    I know the above isn't an exact analogy, since professional sports is the only true meritocracy in our culture, but writing exceptionally well gives you a leg up on the competition.
     
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  10. naturemage
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    naturemage Active Member

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    I very much doubt that any best sellers really strived to become such. They were simply people who were good at what they did, and perhaps got a little lucky. Athletes strive to become professionals. People go to college to get into a career. Writing isn't a career, but bestseller author might be. Just part of the journey.

    Me personally, I just like writing. If I'd write a bestseller, well, it would solve a lot of problems for me, that's for sure. I'd LIKE to become one. Personally, I'm not sure I have quite the talent to get there. So, if I do, great. If not, I'll share my stories with my friends and family. Just getting it out of my head is enough for me. (It's so crammed in there. Trying to show 50 movies in a 4 theater cinema).
     
  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Look on the bright side. Bestselling authors come under lots of pressure to keep churning out bestsellers. Some of them manage to, while others fall by the wayside and start churning out dreck. Maybe some of them work well under pressure, but I bet a lot of them don't. If you're writing because you love it–then somebody decides you have to write faster and stick to a formula, I think the love of writing might fade rather quickly.

    Of course it's nice to be read (and paid), and if you're not published you won't be. But that's different from the fame and fortune aspect of the game.
     
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  12. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Yes, I remember reading about Janet Dailey getting into a plagiarism scandal. She'd ripped off numerous scenes from Nora Roberts.
     
  13. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    They come and get you.
     
  14. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    Yes, it would be an awful temptation to become a Janet Evanovich and, at the behest of your publisher, write the exact same book twenty-one times. I'd be embarrassed for her except that Wikipedia says she's worth $100 million. I might not sell out for a measly hundred grand, but a hundred million? Here comes number twenty-two.
     
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  15. Superbean
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    Superbean Member

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    Though my dream is to write an international bestseller, I have a more realistic goal of just being published. I also have a dream of writing at least one book that gets national fame. Aim for the moon, if you miss you're still among the stars.
    I would really like to get a job writing for a magazine or blog or something, but I'm afraid I wouldn't put my heart in it for long with that constant pressure, unless I find something I really burn for. But that is maybe hoping for to much, I don't know.

    What scares me more, is if I actually become an international bestseller though. A million on my account I could probably handle, but 100 millions terrifies me.
     
  16. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    But the odds are that bestsellers will not be the best books. They'll have to be good books, often very good books. But they will also have to appeal to a very, very wide audience, and they will probably have to avoid being too challenging. So striving to write a bestseller is not the equivalent of striving to write the best book.
     
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  17. DromedaryLights
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    DromedaryLights Active Member

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    You mean I might not become a best seller?
     
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  18. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    I'm not sure I agree with "the odds are". That supposes that there are great ("the best") books out there that don't sell many copies. I don't know how one would determine that, but I doubt if it's true.

    I do agree with your last point. See my post #14 above.
     
  19. FrodoKreuger
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    FrodoKreuger Member

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    If you write and publish a novel without it becoming a best seller? The most horrible thing in the world happens...

    You end up with a published book to your name, something a very tiny percentage of your - any - nation's population can claim, and have to live with the fact that at least a few people might read your words! Even if self-published you've achieved a level of success in writing very few people ever do statistically! Oh, the horror! ;)

    Seriously, though, it's fine to want to be a best-seller but I don't see it as a viable reason to write. Most don't become best-sellers. If it happens, yay you! For myself, my goal is to finally finish a novel or book of poetry to my satisfaction and publish it (self-publishing is fine) before I die. I don't care how many read it (even if 0), it's just a goal of completion.
     
  20. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    If I never become a best seller? Eh, nothing much. I honestly am not striving to be a best selling author. Hell, not even a published author. Right now I'm focused on getting a draft done from beginning to end. I work on a step-by-step process when it comes to things like this. And even if I become Obscure Writer #5,383,759,200, then that's just fine. What would matter the most for me is that I had done it, my book is out there in the world for the world to enjoy if they wished, and if that total of people who read my books amount to just a handful? Well, then, I hope I made their world a bit more exciting.

    It's the love, the passion that matters the most. Trying to get all famous and rich has its own bit of glory in it, sure, but we shouldn't sell love and passion for the enticement of being rich and famous. That's my two cents.
     
  21. Sheriff Woody
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    Sheriff Woody Active Member

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    Are you writing for money and fame, or because it's something you love to do?

    If it's the former, then you should stop writing. Not only because you probably won't make much money or gain much fame, but because your heart isn't truly in it.

    Do what you love. The reward is greater than any amount of money or fame.
     
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  22. Empty Bird
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    Empty Bird Member

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    What's wrong with writing a book that's going to become a best-seller? Can't you love writing but strive for that title too?

    I've got everything planned out, see. I'm going to send my manuscript off, probably get rejected about...say, 79 times? Nice number, that. Then, a publisher will grab my book and it'll get sold in 570 different languages, I'll become a best-seller, finally able to buy the cat I was never allowed, and then, with the cat, I will dominate the world. Every Wednesday will be for Ice-cream, and Friday's will be a day off for everybody.

    Perfect.

    Of course, I'm joking. :) Basically, it's all about humble beginnings, right? Your first dream is to write the book, then, to edit it well; then, you dream of it getting accepted and etcetera, etcetera. Baby steps!

    But I believe you can dream. You love to write, you want as many people as possible to read your books. Dream and hope, but don't dream so much that you're not happy with whatever success you recieve. A success could just be finishing your book. The fact is, not many people become best-sellers. But think of some of the people who have become famous for their works!

    Fifty-shades of grey what's-her-face? No, no, no...goodness knows what went wrong there.

    The fact is, if you can touch someone with your work, that's magnificent.

    If you can become a best-seller, that's magnificent too!

    But it's not going to come overnight. Susanne Collins The Hunger Games was out for years before it received any recognition!

    Basically, don't sell yourself short. Dream big, but don't let your big dreams squash out the success you've made.
     
  23. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I actually know exactly what went wrong there. :p
     
  24. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Maybe we have a different definition of "bestseller". It's not just "bestseller" versus "doesn't sell many copies". There are a whole lot of books out there; not all of the ones that make decent sales are bestsellers.
     
  25. sunsplash
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    sunsplash Bona fide beach bum

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    • If I don't become a best seller ... I keep writing until I'm bored with the process. Granted, I have yet to even pursue publication and the majority of my works are geared toward children. My biggest dream would be to be invited to a library or school for a guest reading as an honored local author rather than be interviewed on TV or make the NYT Best Sellers list.
     
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