At a recent author event, an excited eighteen-year-old stepped up and asked me about my new novel, Blood on the Chesapeake. After I’d given my elevator pitch, he pivoted and asked the question above. He was thinking about becoming a writer and wanted an honest answer.
My response threw him. “The hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
“Really?” He looked unconvinced. “I mean it looks like fun. And people come up and talk with you at author events like this.”
I plowed on. “The book you see here,” I pointed to my novel, “took years to research, write and edit, and that doesn’t include all the time and effort it took to find the right publisher.”
He said he had a friend who wrote a fantasy novel and published it himself. “Jeremy said it took him only about three months. No big deal, he said.”
I nodded and didn’t answer right away. I always try to encourage other writers, but I also didn’t want to mislead him. “The self-publishing route wasn’t right for me, but some authors do it like that. Either way, it’s anything but easy. Maybe a few stats about the business will help make my point.”
He shifted his weight from one foot to the other and I could almost see the glaze roll over his eyes.
I went on, “Do you realize that there is a new book title released on Amazon every two minutes! Just to be clear, that means about 33 books every hour, 800 new titles every day and that’s more than a quarter million every year. At last count, Amazon listed over 6,000,000 books on Kindle—and that’s only one tenth of the total number of books on their site.”
His jaw dropped, so I continued. “Yeah, and that tsunami of books buries every…single…newcomer. Imagine trying to make your book stand out among all those titles.”
He started shaking his head. “That’s unbelievable.”
“And on Amazon, guess how many copies of a book are sold, on average.” I paused.
He took the bait. “A hundred. Uh, no, maybe a thousand?” He looked up hopefully, his brown eyes narrowing.
“The average number of copies of any title sold on Amazon is six.” I stopped, letting it sink in. “And that includes adding in the million seller titles by Patterson, Grisham, Evanovich, Baldacci and J. K. Rowling. Do the math.”
He shook his head.
“Maybe this will make it clearer. If your title sells more than 3000 copies, you are in the top 1% of all the authors in the country.”
I was proud that my first novel, Leave No Child Behind, crossed that threshold and was still selling. I had copies of that book as well and offered him one.
“So why do you do it?” The young man pointed to the paperback in the hand. “If it’s really that hard and you don’t sell that many books, why do you bother?”
I smiled. “Because I love it. The only reason you should choose to do something this hard is because you love it.” He looked unconvinced. “When I’ve spent hours, days and sometimes weeks to get a paragraph, a page, a chapter just right, darn near perfect, I’m thrilled with the result.” I spread my arms out. “Like wow, look at this. I did this.”
He started nodding his head.
“And when it’s finally published and readers write back or post 5 star reviews, saying how much they love the book, or how the book was hard to put down, or how reading the novel late into the night made them lose sleep, it makes my heart jump. No feeling like it.”
He grabbed up the other novel, now holding both in his hands. “Maybe, after I read these, I’ll share one of those reviews.” He turned to take the books to the cashier and glanced back over his shoulder, nodding. “And thanks for the explanation. Not what I expected, but maybe what I needed to hear.”
I gave a quick wave. “Just decide if writing is something you love.”
I turned back to my display to rearrange the copies when another reader approached, picking up Blood and distracting me from such sobering calculations. I smiled and ran through my pitch. When I finished, she said, “Sounds like it hits all my buttons. I’ll take one.” I autographed a copy and watched her hurry to the front, past the paper turkey and cornucopia.
The display reminded me it was almost Thanksgiving and I offered a silent prayer of thanks. With the tsunami of books out there, I was grateful my novels made it this far. And I was truly thankful that readers continue to enjoy my writing.
I guess I’ll keep on.