I believe every author has that moment of “What am I doing? Is what I’m writing any good?” And then if you can get beyond the quality of the work, there is the question of “Does anyone even read this?” I’ve heard it described as playing a solo in front of an empty music hall.
After all, where do authors get feedback? Looking at review sites like Goodreads and Amazon have a catch 22 built in to them. For me, an excellent review can make me feel like I’m on the top of the world. A bad review (and I’ve gotten a few) can make me go into one of those funks as noted in the first paragraph.
Another great analogy I heard from another author is that reviews are like a drug. Once you start seeking them out for the “high” they give, you need to keep getting those great reviews to feel good about being a writer.
Some authors refuse to look at their reviews for those very reasons. I’ve heard of authors that have other people (a spouse, a friend, a family member) look at the reviews and then share only the good ones.
And then there is the financial aspect of being an author. I read somewhere that 99% of the books published sell less than 100 copies. Fact is, a very small percentage of authors make any sort of tangible money from their work.
So, why, oh why, should an author continue to write?
I can only speak for myself, but this is what I’ve come up with: Writing is something I love. It’s a magical experience to discover ideas as I write. It’s a way I can express the creative nature burning inside of me.
There’s more. I have gotten quite a number of reviews, personal emails and even face-to-face comments stating how I was able to connect with the reader—how my work touched them on an emotional level.
As I get older, I realize I most likely have few years ahead of me on the earth than behind me. The books and short stories I’ve written will live on long after I pass away—in a sense, it’s part of my mark I left on this earth.
So, when someone says to me, “You’ve been doing this writing thing for a while now and you’re not rich or a New York Times bestseller—sorry it didn’t work out for you.” Who says it hasn’t?
I believe authors can’t truly know the range or scope of how their books have made an impression on people. It can’t be tracked by sales—I’ve read a number of books several times I’ve bought only once. My wife lends out books to friends that they have enjoyed.
At what point should an author give up?
One of my favorite authors, Greg Keyes, had written seven books before I’d discovered him. I hadn’t heard of the Harry Potter books until the fourth one was released. Stephanie Meyer had written five books before I’d heard of the Twilight series. I could go on and on.
I fear too many authors give up because their first book (or first few books) weren’t smashing successes in the public’s opinion.
If you love something, truly love it, don’t give up on it. Don’t let others determine if you can claim victory or not.