Everyone wants to write a best seller. It is my dream as well. I couldn’t think of a downside to it. I thought that having a number of bestsellers to my name would solve all of my problems.
Come to find out, it actually creates a few problems of its own. I could totally relate to much of what Brian Klems has to say in his article: The Dark Side of Being a Bestseller. You can read the original article here: http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/the-dark-side-of-being-a-bestseller.
There’s an unspoken perception of bestselling authors that reminds me of the 1987 vamp flick, Lost Boys. You know, the one with Kiefer Sutherland in his pre-Jack Bauer days when mullets were still en vogue.
The film’s tagline was, “Sleep all day, party all night. Never grow old, never die. It’s fun to be a vampire.” Ah yes, the eighties. Good times.
Replace the vampires with marquee authors and you might get something like, “Write all day, play all night. Never go unnoticed, collect fat checks. It’s fun to be a bestseller.”
The thing is, there is a dark side to being a bestseller. There are secrets they don’t share publicly.
I know because I’ve worked inside the Publishing Machine for nearly a decade, advising multi-million dollar bestsellers and publishers on everything from creative development to grassroots marketing. I’ve been equal parts strategist, editor, and counselor.
Bestsellers carry secrets, and if they were to share a few it might be these.
Expectations Change Everything
A New York Times bestselling novelist once told me, “You’ll never be as free as you are at the beginning. It’s easy to forget how to take risk and write as if no one is watching.”
She went on to explain how success creates a cycle that few authors know how to handle expertly, especially when recognition comes early.
Everyone loves the popular kid. In that way, life (and publishing) is a lot like high school. But, the popular kid is expected to not only stay popular, but to do a better trick next time so they can become even more popular.
Publishers expect it (who doesn’t want to be the popular kid’s parent?), retailers expect it, and readers expect it, too. Expectations can feel unrelenting and I’ve seen the pressure it brings to authors who feel the weight of it as they sit down to create.
Truth is, they don’t know why something becomes popular. No one does. But in a day when publishing decisions are made based on two to four weeks of sales performance, and not the long-term promise of an author, expectations are everything.
Fear Doesn’t Take Hush Money
Success begets success and opens doors that were previously closed. It’s true and it enables you to “trade up” to higher social circles and opportunities. But even that too is a twin blade.
I’ve watched time and again as authors who were once large fish in a small pond find success. But inevitably, they find themselves surrounded by others who have sold more books than them, command a vastly larger platform, and might have even been on Oprah.
Like the rest of us, they often slip back into the comparison game. The tendency to play the game always leads to self-sabotage and fear. Fear of missing out, fear of not being successful enough, fear of being found out as a fraud.
No amount of money will quiet those fears, which is why refusing to play the game at all is so important. Authors who log decades of prolific output create their own rules, and the most important one is childlike in its simplicity.
Only one thing really matters.
If there’s one core lesson that has embedded itself deeply in my psyche, it’s that doing the work is what matters most. It is the point. The point isn’t having written, as many are so fond of saying, but the actual activity of creating that matters most.
You see, once you’ve released a story into the world it no longer belongs to you. The reader brings their world to the edge of yours and what they experience from there is a process we don’t control.
Doing the work for the sake of it truly is the staying power. It’s the love the craft, our surrender to the art of exploring and illuminating new ideas that matters most. Of course, recognition and compensation are nice, but the shine wears off quickly. Every success carries within it the seeds of suffering.
Act Like No One is Watching
Take my friend’s advice, no matter where you are in your writer journey. Write as if no one is watching. Write as if no one will ever read it or judge your work. That’s where the magic lies, and that is ultimately what readers want to experience, too.
I might change one thing. You’re never as free as you are right now, and the beautiful thing is that you can choose just how free you really are.
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