S. James Nelson: Abandon All (unreasonable) Hope

Guest post by S. James Nelson

My intention with this blog is to give you a healthy dose of despair and a stronger injection of hope.

I’m honestly surprised that this blog has turned into what it has. I’ve written and discarded a dozen drafts until settling on this topic–the topic I most hated to hear writers talk about when I started up writing again. In my heart I simply believed it wasn’t true. At least not for me. For the rest of you schmucks, sure. But not for me.

Turns out I was wrong.

I started my self-publishing experiment last August when I published The Demigod Proving. In November I followed up with Keep Mama Dead.

I haven’t sold a million copies.

Yet. I haven’t sold a million copies yet.

I’ve purposefully kept my marketing efforts to a minimum, although I have dabbled in what I would term marketing. That has netted me only about 2k sales and 12k give-aways. I’m more qualified to talk about what doesn’t work in self-publishing than what does.

But there is one thing I have learned, that I’m qualified to talk about, and that might be useful to you: you should give up your unreasonable hope, and maintain your reasonable hope.

I learned this over time, as I came to the conclusion that I am not an exception to the rule. There’s a very high chance (probably better than 99.9999%) that you aren’t, either.

I now suspect that the promise of quick and easy riches was what lured me back into writing. My day job wasn’t meeting my income desires, and so I thought, “I think I’ve got some skill with writing. Maybe I can hit it big. In fact, I bet I can.”

I haven’t told anyone that until now (so, naturally I put it on the Internet for all the world to read)–after all, they would scoff and spout some rot about those stories being the exception to the rule. They would try to distract me from my objective. I believed that I could be one of writers who had crazy huge success without much work.

Alas, it didn’t happen. At the same time, my day-job miraculously exceeded my income desires. The fire in my belly–the desire and urgency for quick and easy success–disappeared, leaving me wondering: why am I getting up early every morning to write? Why am I expending all manner of resources on this effort? It would be so much easier to use those resources for something more productive.

And yet, here I am, still writing. Still planning on putting out more books.  And, in fact, trying to find ways to be more successful. I’m certain I’ll have to work harder. Perhaps I need to step up my marketing efforts. Maybe I need to hone my writing. There’s a chance I need to understand my audience better. It might be that the package of my book (style, cover, title, editing) needs more work.

How strange to find myself thinking like that when it’s safe to say I will never be the exception to that stupid rule. I’ve worked way too hard to ever legitimately be called an overnight success.  For mercy’s sake, I’ve sacrificed for my art!

This has led me to a conclusion: I’m no longer in it for the quick and easy money. Which leads me to another realization: though success isn’t the primary goal, I still want to sell a lot of books. Which begets another conclusion: if a large number of book sales is something I’m going to continue to pursue, I’m going to have to manage my expectations about how easily that success might come. At the same time, I must maintain hope that I’ll succeed. Without hope, I have no reason to try. I may as well write and hide my work under a bushel.

Yet I have hope, and therefore I must continue to act. I must try different things, believing that if I change this or that-maybe this time I’ll have success.

So, the message?

Despair at ever being an overnight success, yet hope that your hard work will pay off.

Let your hope lead you to continue to develop your writing. If you self-publish, let your hope lead you to develop your marketing. If you fail at first and give up, it means you were in it for the money. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if you fail at first and find yourself willing to keep going, you must maintain hope that with persistent work, constant learning, and different approaches to the same problem, you’ll succeed.

You may not, though, and that’s why the money can never be the only reason you’re in this business.

S. James Nelson recently won first place in David Farland’s Nightingalewriting contest. If you enjoy action-oriented, deep-thinking fantasy, take a look at his book, The Demigod Proving. If you like strong characters, real-world fantasy, and hiking in national parks, take a look at his book Keep Mama Dead


5 responses on “S. James Nelson: Abandon All (unreasonable) Hope

  1. Colette

    I think this is a great post. Recognizing what we’re up against and the reality of the publishing industry, both indie and otherwise, can help us realize how very hard we’ll have to work. My son asked me once, “If you had no chance of getting published, would you still want to write your stories?” The answer, of course, was yes. He answered, “Then nothing else matters.” Other things DO matter, but that doesn’t mean I have to give up. I want to write the stories, I write them, and I do my best to get them out there and seen. The rest is out of my hands so whether I’m among the 99.9999% or the next blockbuster, it doesn’t change the process. We write.

  2. RD Meyer

    I’ve often heard it stated that overnight success takes about 15 years.

    I love to write. I will tell stories whether anyone listens to them or not. However, writing is less than half of what’s necessary to become successful. There may come a time that a person can sit back and allow the riches to roll in, but that usually doesn’t happen until after years of long hours and lots of frustrations.

    Sure, when I was a kid, I had illusions that if only I could write that one great novel, I’d be set. As an adult, I dropped that notion. Any success I have will come through my toils at some of the less glamourus aspects of the business – readings to two people, targeting certain stores and college campuses, trying to get my first reviews in free newspapers rather than the New York Times, etc. – but it will come. It may not be immediate, but rare few things that are worth having are.

  3. Frank Morin

    Great post, Stephen. Keep writing. I’ve read all your books, and I know you’ve got talent. It takes time, and I’ve watched your initial publishing experiment with great interest since I’m considering e-publishing one of my novels this year once I have the next draft complete.

    I’ve been writing for 7 years, and still nothing published, but I’ve made so much progress, I think my turn is coming up.

  4. KylieQ

    Thanks for a great post. I think every beginning writer starts with that same unshakeable conviction that they WILL be the next big thing. For some, reality kicks in soon; for others, it’s later. I think the real test comes afterwards, when you either keep writing or you don’t. That’s when you know whether or not you really want to be a writer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *