Do you like to write? Do you hope to publish a book, or have published a book? Do you have dreams of becoming a bestseller? Congratulations, you’re completely delusional and in denial of basic facts. You should cut your losses and quit now!
At least, that is the logical response to the long shot that is being a career writer. The odds are not in your favor. Anywhere between 300,000 and one million books were published last year (the figures are hard to pin down with self-publishing, but either way, it’s a lot). That’s hundreds of thousands of authors struggling for the reading public’s limited consumption. The chance of breaking out is, strictly numerically speaking, remote.
So why bother? That’s a question I’ve asked myself, as I am poised to begin a self-publishing (ad)venture. There’s cold hard numbers standing in your way. It takes a lot of time, time you may not have with a regular full time job, family commitments, etc. It costs money, whether you are SP or under a traditional publisher – those big guys don’t do the kinds of marketing they used to, or at least they’re not really interested in marketing the newbie like they deserve.
But there’s another way to look at it, and that’s from the story perspective. And stories don’t obey logic a lot of the time. How often do miraculous and rare events happen to fictional characters? A lot, because they have to happen. Let’s map our story, and maybe we can find some inspiration.
For most heroes, there is a call to adventure. For the writer, that call is a desire to tell stories. Let’s remember this, because it’s the core of our story, our motivating purpose. What we want to accomplish is to write a story and have that story read and appreciated by others, hopefully many. There may be different background causes for this want, and there are almost certainly going to be as many paths as there are writers in the world. But the archetype is the same: person wants to communicate something to other persons.
Few heroes can carry the weight of the story alone. We need a cast of characters to help us. The Mentor is perhaps the most important, but don’t discount the others. A good foil or sidekick, an antagonist or two to challenge your resolve (it may be you yourself – I’ve certainly worn that mask, or come in the form of anthropomorphic rejection letters laughing and taunting you).
We’ll have trials aplenty. From the actual act of writing, to the editing process, design, distribution, and the Sisyphean task that is marketing, how much effort you put in will make or break your story. Do you have what it takes to slay the dragon? Skill and luck will only get you so far. This is a journey, and you must change and grow to complete it.
Ultimately, you may not achieve the goals you started with, but instead find a different, equally satisfying result. Life doesn’t resolve in a nice, neat finish, and neither will your writing endeavors. It may be a cliché, but the journey is often the best part. There’s nothing wrong with stating things honestly: the odds of success aren’t good if your measure of success is mega sales. So temper your expectations, and let what happens happen.
One more thing about those odds. Forget ‘em. I’m taking the Han Solo approach. Knowing the odds isn’t nearly as important as flying into that asteroid field full speed and kicking some ass.