Writing a book is hard. I started one in 2009, and finished it five years later. Getting a book published is very hard. My first one was published last year, and it was very exciting. Selling published books is really, really hard. Every day I have to fight the fear that I’m a failure as an author because we haven’t sold out our first printing in a year. Every time I open the trunk of my car, I see a box of unsold books, taunting me. There are reasons not to lose hope, I remind myself. My publisher forwarded me a newsletter from Bibliocrunch that mentioned industry averages, so I could see that my first year sales are almost exactly what the average author can expect. I remind myself all the time that the people who have read my book, though fewer in number than I’d like, have loved it. And they want more.
That brings us to now, when I’m learning that maybe the hardest thing of all is writing the next book. It should come more easily, one might think. And in a way, I suppose that’s true. This one is taking me less than five years to write, so there’s that. But I hoped to be finished with it by the end of this month, and that isn’t happening. I worry constantly that it will take too long to finish and my readers will have forgotten me. I worry that I will put months of work into writing it only to find that it has no narrative arc, no compelling characters, no reason for anyone to pick it up. I worry that I’m wrong about what people liked in the first book, and that they will hate the next one. I worry that a “sophomore slump” will be all it takes to kill my authorial dreams and I’ll never publish another thing. I worry about a lot of things.
On the bad days, I let the worry paralyze me, and I don’t get a thing written. On the good days, I still worry about everything, but I write anyway. As I type this, I notice my ragged fingernails, bitten almost to the quick in some of my most worried moments. Not long ago, I was looking at some of the books I saved from childhood, and on the back of one I read the short bio of E.B. White.
Mr. White finds writing difficult and bad for one’s health, but he keeps at it even so. He would like, more than anything, to be a poet. The poets, he thinks, are the great ones. He began Stuart Little in the hopes of amusing a six-year-old niece of his, but before he finished it she had grown up and was reading Hemingway.
If one of my childhood writing heroes found the writing hard and worrisome, compared himself to other writers and wished he were more like them, and took years to finish what he started, at least I’m in good company. So I sit down at my keyboard with my jagged fingernails and calming herbal tea and tell myself I just have to write something. I don’t have to finish it today, and it doesn’t have to be great. At least for today, Stacy N. Sergent finds writing difficult and bad for one’s health, but she keeps at it even so.
One thought on “Confessions of a Frustrated Author”
Here’s an alternate way to frame book selling: When I sell one single copy, I’m in awe of the fact that someone actually committed to buying it. Was it the next-door neighbor, or someone 4 thousand miles away? Were they sad about something when they bought it, or angry, or just intellectually curious? How did they find out about it? What is their own life story? And another thing: if I sell 10 copies that have a great impact on those people, versus 30 copies with little impact, then the former has a higher spiritual value.
As for anxiety attached to writing, no doubt it is there at least sometimes. But I try to remember I want my writing to be a spiritual act, at least for myself. A given piece will connect, if it connects at all, with some people and not with others. If I get a second book out, I will not be offended if the first one resonates and not the second, or vice versa. All best to you in your writing journey.