My wife and I recently paid a visit to a new bookstore in Russellville called Dog Ear Books. It is a nice place with a great atmosphere and a good selection. After only a few minutes inside however, I found myself looking at the countless books around me from a new author’s perspective. The experience was stressful, and a bit depressing, but it got me thinking.
Bookstores From a new Author’s Perspective
We don’t have a huge selection of physical bookstores in our area anymore, thus online research and shopping is more or less mandatory. As such, I haven’t been inside a brick and mortar bookstore since I published A Boy Named Zephyr. I suppose it’s put me out of touch with the real world a bit.
Though Dog Ear Books is a relatively small local store, there were thousands of books on the shelves. After a few minutes of perusing the sci-fi/fantasy shelves however, I found myself growing very frustrated.
Currently, I have two books on my list that I’d like to look into: Genocidal organ by Project Itoh, and Gene Mapper by Taiyo Fujii. Both crossed my radar courtesy of their mention from articles online that spoke highly of them. Word of mouth and reviews are usually how I find new things. Rarely do I just look at covers when making my choices.
Standing in front of several shelves of books, I felt lost. Many of the books looked the same. Without a favorite author, the numerous names meant little. With so many possibilities, and nothing jumping out at me, I started to lose interest entirely. It was then that I came to a few realizations.
I’m one of those names that means little. My book, is but one of many. Online, it’s easy to find things you like, and the world seems so much smaller. In the real world though, you don’t have the tools you have online. Seeing this bookstore from a new author’s perspective made me realize just how vital, yet undervalued, standing out visually really is. A good synopsis is great, but nobody will ever read it if your book blends in to the crowd.
Success isn’t handed to you
Like any other bookstore, Dog Ear Books had several promotional displays up front with new releases and best sellers. It’s easy to see those and think: “It must be easy to move books when you’re right up front with a neon sign.” but in most cases, that’s not fair. Some authors spend many years or decades building a platform. When they’ve finally built it, things are of course easier, but only due to all the work that was put in.
From a new author’s perspective, Stephen King levels of success almost feel like looking up at the summit of Kilimanjaro from the savanna floor. It’s humbling, intimidating, and even a little discouraging. The thing is, Kilimanjaro doesn’t have an escalator. The only way to that peak is to get climbing.
The Internet warps our sense of time and scale. Things happen so much more quickly there, and we start to expect everything to work that way. Slow book sales then, feels like a personal failure. Is my book terrible? Am I slacking in marketing? You have so much data, and so many tools, that anything less than instant success feels like your fault.
Looking at the real world from a New author’s perspective by comparison is quite sobering. You realize as I did the other day, that you are struggling to stand out amidst billions. Your competition isn’t just new releases this month, but everything from today, to hundreds of years ago, or more.
Slow sales then, are just how it is in the beginning, because success rarely if ever happens on the short term. To ever stand a chance at being a successful writer, I think it’s necessary to steel one’s self to the fact that it can and will take years/decades.
Be Prolific and be long term
Establishing yourself as an author isn’t for quitters. That voice that tells you to give up is not likely to ever go away. The mountain you climb isn’t ever going to suddenly flatten out. Unless you live a charmed life or are extremely lucky, a celebrity is not going to appear and hawk your book to the world. The promotional displays come from past work and success, not future potential.
Writing is long term. Write the best book ever written, and it may still gather dust in obscurity for decades before someone finds it. If you publish it, wait around a few months and then say “well, guess it’s not gonna work out!”, then no, it never will. I went into writing expecting it to take years to get going. Even going in with that mindset, it is very difficult to keep motivated sometimes.
Pardon the cliché, but a single book is a needle in a hay stack. If anyone is ever gonna discover your work, you need to flip the situation around and turn it into a piece of hay in a stack of your needles. The more you write, the better your chances at success. This doesn’t mean an author should just churn out garbage and wait to get rich. That stack of needles needs to be gleaming, not rusty and chock full of tetanus.
Stay motivated and keep chugging along. With enough patience and work, anything can happen.