Being an author can be a humbling career choice. Most writers (including me) head into it with high hopes, big dreams, and endless enthusiasm. They're looking for a big book deal. They dream of seeing their first ever novel front and center in every book store. And they're determined to earn all of the accolades that come with their definition of 'success' as an author.
Sound overly optimistic to you? Not really, because if you don't approach it with that kind of exuberance, you might give up sooner than you think, especially when you realize just how many uncontrollables there are in this business.
I recently spoke with an author who'd published her first and only novel in 1998. It was good, really good, yet she hasn't written anything since. When I asked why, she said, "It's too competitive for me. You either make a whack of money, like the top 20 authors out there do, or you don't make enough to live on so you can keep writing. I had big plans for my novel and then... it just seemed to fizzle away after it came out. I know now that my expectations were set too high, but after that, I didn't have it in me to write another one. It's just too hard. All of it. Know what I mean?"
I did, yet it still made me sad, and I caught myself wanting to coach her and urge her on, tell her to keep writing. I didn't, though, because I could tell it wouldn't make any difference.
Years ago, I had a discussion with another author, this one a NYT bestseller of many novels. Here's what she said: "I've met many talented writers who'll never make it in this business. Some could write circles around me. Others had huge egos that required regular feeding. Many lacked likability. Most, however, had no business sense and failed to understand this: You are only as good as your last book, which does have a shelf life, so aim high, write it to the best of your ability, shoot it out there, and move on to the next one."
Good advice, huh?