Just as I was working madly to finish the edit on my next book, two things happened that made me take a long hard look at what I do and why I do it. The first of these was a wonderful thing. I received an email from a reader which said:
I have been busy with my work reading but after having seen so many interesting posts on Facebook I have now decided to make Australian and particularly local women writers the focus of my reading. After having just completed your novel “What is Left Over, After” I am so glad I decided that this would be my reading focus. I got lost in Gaelle’s story, I have not read a novel for such a long time that has left me with such conflicting feelings about a character. I went from feeling frustrated with her to feeling the most unbelievable sympathy and sadness for her. What a powerful story about mothers and mothering and coping with such a loss! I did not know what to expect from the novel but I found the plot so engaging and cleverly constructed.
Thank you for writing this story and for allowing readers the opportunity to come to know an amazing character like Gaelle. I will be reading your other novel and continue to enjoy your blog.
Now I haven’t put this here to blow my own trumpet. It was because it was so uplifting to have a reader respond to my book and the character of Gaelle in exactly the way I had hoped. It told me that everything I had written in a recent post on Why I Write was true. I felt momentarily hopeful that the book I was editing would meet with a similar reception when (if!) it was published.
The next day, fellow writer Annabel Smith posted this piece on exactly how little money many writers make. As I read her piece, I knew just how she was feeling because I went through the same upheaval and disbelief six months ago, after receiving my first royalty statement for If I Should Lose You. I could not believe that so much effort on my behalf had been rewarded with so few book sales, and I really began to wonder if what I was doing was worthwhile. It affected my confidence and motivation hugely for a while, until I sat back down at my desk to write my New York book, which has been a joyful experience and one that has demonstrated to me that, regardless of sales, there is nothing else I would rather do. So I can’t complain, because I’ve chosen to do this, but I can ask some questions.
Some books succeed and sell in huge numbers. And none of us begrudges another author their success; in fact it gives us hope that there can be success. But why do some books rise to the top? I’d love to know what people think; what is the single biggest motivating factor for you to buy a book?
- Is it because you read a good review in a newspaper?
- Is it because you heard a lot about it on social media?
- Is it because of other word of mouth, i.e. friends talking about the book?
- Is it because of the book cover?
- Is it because some aspect of the plot caught your attention?
- Is it because it’s written by an author whose other books you have liked?
- Is it some other reason I haven’t thought of?
The reason I’m asking is because I read this terrific article on luck during the week and it made me re-assess some things about my own approach to my writing. I questioned whether I always do whatever I can to create my own luck and I came to the conclusion that I could do more. This is particularly important to me right now as I am finishing up the edit on my New York book which, by the way, is now called A Beautiful Catastrophe. I don’t have a contract for this book. I need to get out and shop it around and hope that someone picks it up. I need some luck. So I have to get busy ensuring I’m taking advantage of all the contacts and opportunities that come my way, to give luck a little help to find me.
Because I am really proud of this book, and really excited about it. It’s very different to my first two books. One of the reasons for that was my disappointing royalty statement. I decided that I could no longer afford to write serious literary fiction about, let’s face it, what were some serious and pretty heavy issues in my first two books. This time, I deliberately set out to write a book that is much more commercial. I have, in fact, set out to write a love story. Because when I think about all of my favourite books—The Blind Assassin, Jane Eyre, Possession, Persuasion—they are all love stories. And why shouldn’t I write the kind of book that I love to read?
But here’s hoping there are still readers out there. Of course, one of the possibilities for the kind of sales Annabel is talking about in her blog is that readers are congregating around the big sellers, and buying only those books. Or, people are doing something else with their reading time, possibly browsing the web, when a couple of years ago they might have picked up a book.
So, lots of questions this week, and not many answers. I’d love to know your thoughts on some of the issues I’ve raised here. Oh, and if you can send me some good thoughts over the next few months as I prepare to pitch my book, that would be most appreciated!