Publish and Punish

Why do so many people think they can write? I’m not talking about text messages here, but novels, poetry or memoirs. My own theory is that writing is one of the few areas where lack of talent isn’t immediately obvious, as it is in singing, dancing and sports. If you don’t have the looks to be a model or the coordination and musculature for sports, there isn’t much you can do about it. But writing — anyone can string words together in the privacy of their own home. Successful writers can become celebrities, or at least rich. And now that self-publishing is so easy, almost everyone has found the writer within and is busy cranking out stuff.

But by what standard should success be judged, especially by the writer him- or herself? Right now it seems there is only one standard — number of copies sold. Million-copy sellers are unquestionably successful. Every other situation has a “but,” as in, “Yes, my sales are small, but I’ve had some really good reviews.” Or, “I’ve sold hardly any books, but as soon as readers discover them, that will change.”

How many of us self-published authors are willing to reveal our sales figures?

Maybe we need a different standard: the amateur writer, like the beer-league hockey player or community theater actor. Instead of judging all writers by one standard, which makes 99.999% of us abject failures, some of us can be respectable amateurs.

I don’t expect this to happen soon, if at all. It’s that magical, delicious word “publish.” To most, it means acceptance by the established league of experts, who will take you under their wing, polish your work and promote your brand to stardom (never mind that this is rarely the case  with most first-time authors). Any other kind of publication is qualified (the big BUT) — it’s self-publishing, or vanity publishing or print-on-demand publishing. Not the real thing. If a self-published author manages to sell large numbers of copies, the  big door may open, but only then. The rest of us come to realize that the real challenge is self-promotion, to which most of us gave no thought while in the throes of creation.

So here’s the question I’ve lived with for the past three years, while watching my less-than-stellar sales numbers:  Is my writing deficient, or my ability to sell it? I can live with the latter, but may also have to live with the uncertainty.

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