Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Why I Stopped Caring Who Was a Bestseller

So you may have heard of this little book series called HARRY POTTER. Its explosion of popularity was followed by the voices of  writers angry that you had to write about boy wizards to be successful in the publishing industry. Why can't there be room for their unique masterwork?

Then Dan Brown arrived (or was he before Harry? I can't remember), and his explosion of popularity was followed by the voices of writers angry that you had to write conspiratorial mysteries to be successful in the publishing industry. Why can't there be room for their unique masterwork?

Then TWILIGHT happened, and its explosion of... oh, whatever, you get the point. After TWILIGHT came HUNGER GAMES, and then 50 SHADES OF GREY, and so on. I'm missing plenty of hits, of course, but the general pattern is there.

Those are all very different books. Yes, you can make loose connections, like "love triangles" and your subjective opinions about each author's writing style, but they remain their own reading experiences with their own unique audience.

I'm not writing to tell you those books are good, bad, under or overrated. Who am I to make that decision? Read them yourself and form your own opinion. I'm just here to suggest that maybe reacting to those books and authors with anger is the wrong response.

I hit a huge turning point when I made the conscious decision to stop being mad about not being published. And no, I'm not saying I hate or hated any of the above writers - they're just common targets of literary shaming.

Submitting your work out into the world is a grueling and often self-destructive experience. You suffer intense feelings of worthlessness about your work. Your self-confidence crumbles and reassemble itself all the time. Why add hatred for other writers onto a plate already full of negative feelings? So I stopped being upset about other writers, especially the ones making huge amounts of money. And when I stopped being upset and saw the industry from a distance, I realized how silly I was being in the first place.

Let's first identify a huge fallacy echoed by many prospective writers, including myself at one point in time:


Agents and publishers get really sick of tropes, just like you do. More than you do, actually, because they spend long hours wading through slush piles full of boy wizards and sparkly vampires and sexy business men with fetishes and whatever other book everyone is trying to recreate instead of finding their own literary voice.

When TWILIGHT was at its peak, very few literary agents were accepting submissions for vampire novels. Most said flat out in their submission guidelines that if it was anything like TWILIGHT, or even read a tiny bit like it, to go somewhere else or be form rejected.

The reason why is because the next big thing in publishing is rarely a copy of its recent predecessor. Look at my original list if you don't believe me. DA VINCI CODE was nothing like HARRY POTTER. 50 SHADES was nothing like HUNGER GAMES. Agents and editors are not looking for the next version of anything. The next big blockbuster book is usually something nobody was expecting.

Let's tackle another fallacy:


Yes, it's easy to cast stones at a writer making bundles of cash. Stephen King has written two-million books, so at least a few of them won't be up to your standards. Why celebrate mediocrity (a subjective statement, considering every author is considered mediocre by somebody) when there are so many unpublished writers with masterpieces waiting to be read?

There's one huge problem with that mindset. Nothing any of those bestselling writers releases has the slightest effect on your ability to publish or sell books. In fact, I would argue that big blockbuster bestsellers create a healthier industry with more money to spend on new authors who present a risk. And when you finally do land a book deal, do you really think your book's success will have anything to do with what Stephenie Meyer is working on? She doesn't care what you're writing, and you shouldn't care what she's writing (unless you're a fan, in which case I hope you enjoy her next book).

I don't mean any of this to be smug. I also know it's easy for me to stand on Book Deal Mountain and preach to everyone still fighting the good fight to get their book a proper home. I don't mean to be that way, and please know I took this stance many years ago, long before the first sentences of I AM DRUMS were written.

There's nothing healthy about creating a fictional idea (see what I did there?) of an industry that is intentionally locking you out. That's not what's happening. If you truly love this whole making words thing and understand it's not a get-rich-quick scheme, you could break in just as easily as the next guy. Bestselling authors shouldn't make you feel left out.

Besides, hating other writers is baggage. Let it go, and I promise you'll immediately feel better.


  1. Excellent post. I think the most important point in there was that the success of one helps the success of the industry. We want a healthy book industry and eager readers.

    Also, Harry Potter did come out before Dan Brown's stuff :-)

    1. Thanks! I thought Harry was first, but didn't want to look silly. Glad you liked the post.