I stumbled upon this video this morning, and while it’s geared toward aspiring writers, it can also fit for writers who’ve been doing this for a while. This video is under 3 minutes, but there’s a lot of wisdom in it.
When I published my first indie book in 2009, the authors around me who decided to also publish their own books were doing so for the passion of writing. We were glad to finally have an avenue to publish our stories that didn’t require a ton of money or a publisher telling us to change them.
(Now, don’t get me wrong. I think traditional publishing is wonderful. I have nothing against it. But I am grateful to indie publishing because it opened up doors most authors wouldn’t have had open to them otherwise.)
So, early on, the mindset of most authors in indie publishing was on writing for passion. I don’t know exactly when the mindset shifted in the indie community, but it seemed that most authors started entering the indie publishing world in order to make money around 2013-2014. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to make money if you’re writing. If you can write books you love and make money at it, that’s great. My concern is when money is THE MAIN REASON you’re writing. Writing stories for the purpose of making money will end up stifling your passion. When you stifle your passion, writing becomes more of a chore than a labor of love, and if it keeps being a chore, you’re going to probably end up bitter and resentful. Something you once loved can become something you hate.
I don’t think the “writing to market” mindset really exploded until 2015-2016. Suddenly, there were courses all over the place where authors could learn how to write to market. You couldn’t get away from it, or at least, I couldn’t. This philosophy was all over You Tube, in podcasts, in author forums, on Facebook, and in blog posts. These all led to me feeling like a failure as a writer because I couldn’t measure up to the level of success some authors were “so easily” obtaining. And, now that I think about it, it probably made a lot of other authors feel the same way.
But it seems that this phase is starting to fizzle out. I think authors are beginning to realize that writing to market doesn’t work well in the longterm. You can sustain it for a few years, but sooner or later, the chore of writing what others want (instead of what you want) starts to take its toll on you. Oftentimes, I don’t even think writers are aware of how much of a toll it’s taking until they wake up one day feeling as if all of their energy is gone, which is where I was at in March 2018.
Writing what you’re passionate about is energizing. It fills you up. Since writing for passion in October 2018, I have been averaging 3500-4500 words every writing day. (I take weekends off, and sometimes a day or two off during the week. You do NEED breaks!) At this time last year, I was struggling to reach 3000 words, and sometimes I would only manage 2000 on a good day (even with the breaks). So yes, there is a huge difference between writing to market and writing for passion. And honestly, I’m super excited about all of the books I have coming out this year. I want to go back and reread them, even though I just finished editing them. These are what passion books are like. They’re the keepers.
I think as we move forward in indie publishing, we’ll realize that “writing to market” is unsustainable. As the men in the video I posted above said, there IS room for passion books in the market. But it takes courage to pursue passion because the world is only impressed with a big sales number (aka lots of money). The world isn’t impressed with a story written out of love. The world wants to hear the success stories of how an author sold a million copies or made a six-figure income in under a year.
But at the end of the day, I believe writing stories for passion will produce books that resonate with the people who read them. I have never once regretted the time I spent on a book I wrote for passion. I’ve done quite a few books for passion that have sold very little. For example, one series didn’t even earn $50 in 2018. (Keep in mind that is an entire series, not just one book.) I have other examples just like that, too. But I’m still glad I wrote them. I go back and reread them, and I enjoy them as much today as I did when I wrote them. Most of my books don’t make much money. It’s a myth that all writers are making a lot of money off of their books, whether they indie or traditionally publish.
This is why it’s important to focus on the main thing that truly matters if you’re writing: a book’s real worth boils down to how much that book touches the person who reads it. That is why writing for passion is so powerful. Books are more than words on paper; they are an emotional experience to be savored.
So for those of you who might be feeling discouraged, I just want to say that it’s okay if your book isn’t a big seller. We shouldn’t be measuring our worth by a dollar amount. We should be measuring it by the joy we have and the joy we can pass on to others. There is a place for your book in this world. There is a story only you can tell. So I encourage you to follow the advice the two men in this video offered. That advice will sustain you for a lifetime in the writing world.