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.
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?