Of Bookies and Butterflies

Okay, so I know I promised you guys I wouldn’t write about writing while I was on vacation, but a recent post by Jody Hedlund got me a little fired up and I thought maybe I’d throw in my two cents.

The post was entitled, When You Feel Like a Nobody, and it was practical advice for writers facing the discouragement that comes from the realization that there are millions of other books out there, and what exactly do you think you’re doing adding to such a huge heap of fiction anyway? I’d encourage you to go an read her remarks because some of the things I’m going to say will be in direct response to that post.

Here are just a couple of somewhat scattered thoughts that came to my mind:

1. The Odds

In her blog post Jody posted numbers that said that a million new books are published each and every years.

A million.

That seems like a lot right? Well, yes and no. I’m not sure where Jody is sourcing her numbers from (not that I’m calling them into question), but the first thing you have to consider is that that number is going to include (I assume) non-fiction books, things like history books, cook books, and car repair manuals.

You also have to take into account the fact that since Jody’s stats include self-published eBooks that means that many of those are likely short stories or novellas for sale on Amazon.

But even if we assume that every singe one of those books is a full length novel of reasonable quality (which is a pretty big assumption) that still means that the ratio of writers to non-writers in the United States alone is over three hundred to one. Assuming that approximately half of non-writers don’t read brings those odds down to one-hundred-fifty to one. Now if we consider that most writers don’t have the clout to grab all those people’s attention and that most books sell less than a thousand copies, a whole range of potential opens up for us.

I’m not much of a betting man, but I’d say the odds aren’t nearly as bad as you think they are.

There is someone out there who wants to read your book. They just don’t know about it yet. It’s up to you to tell them.

2. The Truth

This may come as a shocker to you, but you are a nobody. What you are doing today, the words you write or don’t write will likely have minimal impact on the world at large.

Yes, I know about chaos theory and the butterfly flapping his wings causing hurricanes in Florida (thanks a lot you stupid butterflies), and I’m not saying your work won’t have any impact at all, but let’s be real here: your book isn’t that important. Neither is mine. Neither is Stephen King’s. Neither is Shakespeare’s.

Yes. I said it. Shakespeare wasn’t all that important in the larger scheme of things.

See, I was brought up to look at the long view of the universe. The odds of your work even still being around in a thousand years are slim at best. Even some of Shakespeare’s plays were lost. And the odds of your works becoming famous enough for people to care very long past your death are vanishing small.

On the bright side it won’t matter to you because you’ll be dead.

And when I say “you” here please understand that I’m talking to myself as well.

I think it’s important for all us to face the cold hard truth. Are we writing to leave some kind of legacy? Are we writing because we want people to know our names? I don’t know about the rest of you, but for a long time for me the answer to those questions was ‘yes.’

But I’m starting to think a little differently. I know I’m a nobody. I know the odds of my works rising above the madness to become paragons of literature are thin at best. But the reason I do what I do is love. A love of words, a love of stories. And even if my writing career never takes off, I’ll always have that.

I hope this doesn’t come off as an attack on Jody’s post. She’s got great information there, and it’s well worth your time if you’re a writer to follow her blog. I just wanted to try to put things in perspective. And to ask you this one simple question:

Is it okay to be a nobody?

4 responses to “Of Bookies and Butterflies

  1. on the ball (chair)

    Okay to be a nobody? – Okay to be a grain of sand on the beach? Definitely!! Anyone who has illusions of being more than that – in the greater scheme of things – is kidding themselves. Important to do what you love and make a contribution to that greater scheme – absolutely.

  2. It’s okay to be a nobody if, by nobody, a person means a small fish in a big pond. In that case, you’ll have lots of company. I’m amazed everyday since I began writing at how many authors have written multiple books that became best sellers, but I had never heard of them or seen their books. Mind you, I am a voracious reader of several genres and used to mainly read bestsellers. You’d think I’d have at least heard their names. There are so many authors in the world that to be a really BIG fish, or a Somebody, apparently takes a unique talent or one hell of a marketing team and prolific writing! But all of us small fish…we just haven’t finished growing yet.

  3. Books have certainly changed me, which might not matter on a grand scale but they have helped avert hurricanes in my life and home. I love the way humanity connects and learns through literature.
    I do agree with the truth of the post, and find it a good reminder to concentrate on the eternal matters in my life.

  4. If we think about the grand scheme of things, we are a nobody. We are but a speck of a speck of a speck in the universe. However, to ourselves, we should be the greatest of all that ever lived. This might sound like egotistical but who we think is the greatest is a matter of subjectivity. My favorite authors are J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer but a lot of people think they’re crappy. Even if other people think we’re awful, we should do our best to improve and keep on believing that we are the best (no need to convince other people, just ourselves).

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