Here is a harsh truth for starting writers (and maybe even for those who’ve been at it a while): no one asked you to be a writer. That’s something you signed up for, for whatever reasons. But you can’t be surprised or angry when your sense of entitlement is undermined by the utter lack of interest and/or attention for you and your work.
I’m saying this because I’ve heard so many new(ish) authors say, “I worked so hard and then no one cared.” Hell, I feel that way almost all the time! But then I remind myself that there are billions of books out there competing for a limited number of readers. Think about it: how many of your friends and family and coworkers read? For pleasure, that is? And when they do read, how many of those people read the genre(s) you write? In some cases, it’s a very small market. And that market—those readers—can be difficult to reach because of all the noise. By which I mean, there are so many books out there, so many authors yelling about their work, and readers have learned to tune most of it out. Being seen becomes increasingly difficult. Being read even more so.
In a society that has petted us and told us we’re all special and unique, we’ve created a sense that there is constantly a spotlight on us. With Facebook and Instagram and so on, we cultivate “audiences” and become stars of our own shows. Or so we think. But if everyone is thinking about themselves and their “show,” no one but you is thinking about you. Or your book.
“But I deserve to be successful!” By whose metric? I know we’re all told that if we work hard enough we’ll succeed. Eventually. But the truth is, maybe you won’t. You can work hard and not get an agent or publisher. You can work hard, self-publish, and not sell. It can and does happen. All. The. Time.
Bottom line is, no one asked for you to add more to the growing pile of unagented manuscripts or self-published books. No one is going to miss you or your work if you don’t write. They’ll find other books to agent, other books to publish, other books to read. So if you’re going to be a writer, do it not just because you want to, but because you have to. Because you can’t not write. Don’t tie yourself to a specific outcome for your work. It’s fine to set goals, of course. But be prepared with backup plans if you don’t get that agent or don’t sell x number of copies.
I know some will say that readers do ask for books from their favorite authors. If something ended on a cliffhanger, people might literally email and ask for the next book. Agents and publishers continually ask for books from their best-selling authors because, hey, those authors make money for them. If you’re one of those, congratulations. This post isn’t meant for you. For the rest of us, though, until we’re someone’s (really, more than someone’s, lots of people’s) favorite author that moves thousands of copies per year, we’ve got to just do for ourselves. Until readers are clamoring for our work, we have to have the clamor inside of us. And I honestly believe that clamor produces quality writing, far more than a sense of obligation ever could. So even if you do “make it,” I hope that clamor continues in you. That you don’t write because you’re expected to, but because you still love it.