The empty book easel & my big why

books publishing Apr 10, 2019

I remember the day the display disappeared from my bookshelf.

For two years a paperback copy of my first novel had been sitting on a wire book easel, greeting visitors to my office.

This was my literary baby. It had been a source of quiet pride and contentment for so long.

But by the time that day arrived, this little exhibit had turned into a constant reminder of my apparent failure.

If you’re a fiction writer, you and I might have different definitions for how we measure success. These range from simply selling a steady trickle of books to becoming a big-name author.

I’ve never met anyone, though, who feels fulfilled by occasional spikes in sales followed by long periods of “Sell One Every Now & Then Syndrome.”

Unfortunately, this is the all-too-common reality for thousands of novelists in today’s highly crowded book market.

It’s also precisely what I went through with my first novel. As someone who’s been there, I can assure you it’s a gut-wrenching experience.

You see, producing a novel requires countless hours of work. Most of us rely on our dreams to sustain us during this challenge. We power through with visions of all the folks who will someday enjoy the results.

These hopes are magnified by the way people tend to regard authors. For instance, it always amazes me what happens when someone hears I’ve published a book or two.

“Wow!” they’ll say. “You’re an author?

This one fact seems to bring with it a certain level of admiration. So many people view publishing a book as this amazing accomplishment, something beyond what they could ever imagine doing.

I recently had this phenomenon driven home in a surprising way. I belong to a coaching group for knowledge entrepreneurs from all over the world. This past week we got together in Phoenix for our semi-annual workshop. The room was packed with almost two hundred highly-driven people, many of whom have ventures with amazing global impact.

Then someone mentioned they were about to publish a book.

You should have heard the buzz that rippled through the room. There was spontaneous clapping and shouts of “Congratulations!” Even in a crowd like this, the idea of publishing inspired instant respect.

So when you or I begin to think of ourselves as an author, it’s understandable how this might help us feel good about ourselves.

How powerful it is that we’re accomplishing something so many people find admirable!

Conversely, it can be devastating when our numbers flatline on the KDP Sales Dashboard, bringing those dreams and good feelings crashing back down to the ground.

When this happened to me, I thought: “Do people not like my books? Have I just not figured out how to run the business side of being a novelist? Is there something else I’m missing?”

Whatever the reason, one fact became undeniable; I was failing as an author.

It felt like the literary world had pronounced its judgment on my attempt to become a novelist. They were saying, “Andrew, you aren’t good enough.”

So I quit writing. It didn’t feel like I had much choice. Repeated book promotions were no longer producing results and I didn’t want to deal with the day-after-day hit on my self-esteem.

That’s when I took the paperback out of that wire easel and buried it among other titles on the shelf. My former pride and joy now occupied a spot where no one was likely to notice it.

Including me.

Especially me.

After all, our society is crammed full of messaging that we’re not good enough.

We’re too heavy. We don’t make enough money. We don’t wear the right clothes or look like that Hollywood actress.

I didn’t need yet another reminder of my inadequacy staring me in the face every time I walked into my office.

But after a while my stubborn side started to reassert itself. I wasn’t satisfied with the idea that I’d never realize my literary ambitions.

So, to make a long story short, I spent a few years learning everything I could about book marketing and promotion, especially when it comes to fiction. I read and studied and flew off to writers conferences and attended marketing workshops. I compared and cross-tabulated and simplified and organized. I began to try out new ideas with my own books.

It’s been a long, uphill grind but along the way I came across something I didn’t even realize I was searching for...

I found HOPE!

Turns out there really are levers we novelists can pull to take control of our literary destiny. We can make luck irrelevant. Publishing success can be predictable and inevitable.

It takes effort and a certain amount of know-how, and we won’t all become Danielle Steel or James Patterson.

But every one of us can find a sizable and sustainable readership.

I bet you can guess what I did once I figured that out :-)

Here’s the thing, though—it feels like such a waste that I should be the only one who benefits from all that effort. I want my journey to have a larger impact. That’s why I decided to share with other novelists.

Remember that workshop I attended in Phoenix? One of the themes was how important it is to understand our “big why.” My homework was to get clear on the larger purpose behind my desire to assist others.

I came to the conclusion that helping one other person avoid the emotional anguish I endured would certainly make my efforts worthwhile.

But I want to go further...

What if I can pave the way for thousands of fiction writers to recapture their dreams?

What if we can all experience the soul-filling validation that comes from more and more readers enjoying our work?

What if we can all become confident that we're good enough?

Yeah ... that’s my big why.

Let’s not have any more empty book easels.


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