Spoiler: I don’t control the world.
If you Google something like, “Things you should never say to a writer,” you’ll find quite a few articles. I spent some time doing that yesterday, because I’d hit my limit. There are some nice people out there, but even nice people can say some well-meaning-yet-incredibly-soul-crushing things. They just don’t realize how things look/sound/feel, etc. from the other side.
I didn’t disagree with any of the articles that I read, but by the time I was done with my brief survey, there was at least one item on my list that didn’t seem to be on anyone else’s.
“I really want you to have a bestseller! I know you can do it!”
I know, I know… this person is just being supportive. Except no. There are a couple of demon-infested implications lurking in those innocuous-seeming sentences, and those implications are:
1) That I have ANY control whatsoever over whether or not any of my books go on to become bestsellers. I don’t. Even successful authors whose names you might recognize will tell you that authors have very little ability to influence how well a book will sell. (I know this, because I compulsively stalk their Twitter feeds. In a very non-creepy way, of course.) Even an absolutely perfect book is still a crap shoot. People have to like the book, review the book, tell other people about the book, etc. etc. and so on. Authors with big publishers have to rely on said publisher to promote their book, which has a much bigger influence on the process. An indie author has… well, pretty much just has you. We can’t control what you will or will not do.
2) The other implication here is that I can make it happen if I just try a little harder. The flip side of statements like that one goes something like this: “If you aren’t rich, you just haven’t worked hard enough for it.” Anyone who lives in the real world knows damn well that’s not how the real world works. Plenty of people nigh-unto-kill themselves working their butts off without ever getting anywhere near rich. It doesn’t matter how hard I work, there’s no level of effort that can guarantee a bestseller.
When you read articles about writing and publishing, you encounter the same number over and over again. Here’s that number: 2,000. Most books sell fewer than 2,000 copies. I would bet money that among those books are fabulous reads that deserve to be bestsellers, but finding them is hard. Getting a whole bunch of people to find them is even harder. Getting those people to write reviews and tell all their friends is… well, it’s impossible, because the author still can’t control what you will or will not do. (And I categorically deny ever spending an evening trying to figure out how to perfect that whole mind-control thing…)
As I was reading through the various lists, something struck me. Several of the things that you absolutely should not say all have something in common. Things like, “Do you want it to be a bestseller?” (yes, apparently that’s also a question that people ask) or “How many copies have you sold?” or “How much money have you made?” are all fruit from the same poisonous money tree.
Money is not the be-all end-all measure of success. It’s not. It can’t be, because that’s just a really empty way to live, in my opinion. Take last week: in the midst of my vacation, I somehow (and no, I absolutely do not remember how it even came up) got a bee up my butt about figuring out how to do a really great watercolor effect on a photo. None of the tutorials that I found were satisfying me, so I spent hours playing with different methods until I finally figured out how to create something that I loved. How much did I get paid for that? Zero. How much do I expect to make from it? Zilch. I was just incredibly happy to have created something that I thought was really neat. I like figuring out how to create things. It makes my brain happy.