9 Reasons I Don't Care If My Book Sells
The other day, one of my clients emailed me worried about his most recent manuscript. We’ve been working together for over 6 months, but it's almost submission time. He’s apprehensive and asked:
Is it any good? Will anyone read it? Will my book sell?
As writers, these questions linger in our minds, burrowing deep into every dark corner of self-doubt. During the day, we silence them with reassurances from friends, family, and fans, but at night the blank page of an unfinished draft bellows out our broken word count promises.
I told my client that, as his editor, I couldn’t guarantee his book would sell. In fact, I can’t guarantee anyone’s book will sell, not even mine. A turbulent publishing market makes predicting best sellers a risky game.
My client's fears weigh on my mind too. What if publishers, agents, and readers reject my story? Why even write if there's zero guarantee anyone will read my work? What's the point of pouring hours, months, even years into a book that might never sell a single copy?
In these low moments of resignation and despair, I remind myself—and my clients—that I don't just write for sales. I write…
TO TELL MY STORIES
I'm brimming with untold tales. They fill my thoughts and color my life with magic, dragons, romance, and that terrible plot twist in chapter five. Sometimes, I’ll hear a song that fills me with inspiration about a place in my dreams, or I’ll glimpse a stranger that reminds me of a character yet unwritten. I don’t just want to tell these stories; I need to tell them. Freeing a fantasy from my mind is cathartic, even if only my mother reads it.
TO PRACTICE WRITING
My six-year-old is learning to read and write. Her b’s are often backwards, and she sometimes forgets to cross her t’s. Scraping the eraser across the page, she’ll whine, “Why don’t my letters look like yours?” Writing takes practice.
When I was seven, I wrote a scribbled story about a turtle lost at sea. Halfway through the action, I changed the turtle’s name with no explanation. Today, my characters usually end the book with the same name they started it with, but it took years of practice. I have folders of unpublished first drafts.
I showed my daughter my story about the turtle and reminded her (and myself) that the best things in life take time and practice. Every time I sit down to write, I get a little better, and so will she.
TO FINISH A PROJECT
Writing a book is a labyrinthine adventure. There are characters to create, maps to draw, places to describe, timelines to track. It’s exhausting. I take pride in fishing a book, and you should too! Writing, The End, means you can complete a project—and you can do it again.
TO EXPLORE DIFFICULT IDEAS
Writing is an intimate art. When I sit down at the computer, I’m not always sure where I’ll end up. Even with an outline, my characters often lead me on unexpected adventures full of death, violence, sexism, racism, spirituality, love, and the battle of good vs. evil.
Writing offers a unique sandbox where I can face my fears, my prejudices, and my insecurities without real-world restrictions and judgment. Characters aren’t real, after all. There’s freedom in knowing the violence, disaster, and heartbreak a character might encounter (or create) remains inside the world within the pages.
TO CHALLENGE MYSELF
We’ve all been there: the Doldrums. I’ve found myself in a writing rut many times, but it's usually because I'm craving something new. In college, I knew how to craft A+ essays, but still waited until the last second to write them. When something is too familiar, it’s easy to get sloppy, bored, and bitter. Set the bar high and pull yourself out of the Doldrums one word at a time.
TO EXPERIENCE NEW PESPECTIVES
This phenomenon, called transportation, occurs when writing too. Often, I put myself in the mind of a character I’m nothing like. How do I make my villain’s cruelty genuine? How does my protagonist feel after seeing a loved one die? By exploring the perspectives of my characters, I’m better at empathizing with my friends, my family, and even strangers.
TO LEARN SOMETHING NEW
If the FBI weren’t watching me before (hi!), they sure are now. My Google search history looks like I’m planning emergency surgery on an alien life form I’ve psychoanalyzed during a six-course meal, only to poison it and dispose of the body in a wood chipper. Every time I sit down at the computer, I learn something new about aliens and murder.
Pro tip: Don’t look at a writer’s search history unless you’re prepared for some weird shit.
Writing a novel in the 21st century is a daily mental love letter to the internet gods. Answers to, “how to pick a lock” and, “what is the capital of Minnesota” are just a click away. Thirty years ago, I would have set up camp in the library reference section and never left.
TO EXORCISE MY DEMONS
I write fiction under the pen name, Elle Michael River. After profound heartbreak, I wrote fictional short stories inspired by the pain and despair of losing love.
All writers infuse their stories with pieces of their soul. There’s healing in creating a different ending to a painful experience. There’s strength in looking at a challenging situation from a unique perspective, and there’s wisdom in reliving moments from my own life as a creator, not a participant.
TO READ IT MYSELF
I’m a selfish writer. I write the books I want to read. Too many times I’ve daydreamed about a character, a plot, or an idea and wished I could read a book about it. This happened a lot as a young girl. I felt like all the heroes were boys and all the blonde-haired princesses were boring damsels or bitter mean-girls. What if I wanted a sword?
If the book I want to read doesn’t exist, it’s my job to write it.
TO SELL MY BOOK
Okay, I do care if my book sells.
I want people to read what I write, enjoy it, learn from it, draw fanart about it, and maybe pass it along to their friends. I don’t want my book to collect dust on a shelf or sit, unpublished, in a folder on my computer. It absolutely matters to me if my book sells.
Which is why I completely understand my client’s fear. I think every writer grapples with the idea that no one will read their story.
But all those hours writing aren't a waste. At 3 am, when doubts about the unstable publishing market, the harsh critics, and the oversaturation of popular genres threaten to overwhelm your desire to write, remind yourself that book sales is only one of the many reasons we write.