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This Writing Life: Forgetting Stats and Sales

28 July, 2014

I’ve been talking a lot about self-publishing recently, and particularly about my own self-published works. Not surprisingly, a lot of my writing time has been dedicated to thinking about them, from the technical aspects of where to upload them and how best to go about promotion, to the more creative side of ‘what’s going to happen in the sequel?’. Something writers don’t talk about very often is that, no matter how calm and collected they might appear, there’s always worry associated with putting a new story out into the world. No-one wants to produce a flop. Everyone wants, no matter how modest they are about their own work, to be successful.

The thing is, in publishing at least, ‘success’ is both impossible to predict and difficult to achieve. Not only that, but one writer’s success is another’s abject failure. There’s no single recipe to great sales, a wide audience and lots of fans – and even if there were, that definition of ‘great’, ‘wide’ and ‘lots’ will depend entirely on the author in question.

This, then, is why I want to propose a new manner of working, one I’ve been thinking about more and more lately. Put simply: stop worrying about success. Or at least, success as defined by and relying on other people. Having writing goals is all very well, but as writers we’re constantly looking for the approbation of others. We want a certain number of sales, of blog views, of comments or reviews. These days, that even extends to numbers of Twitter followers and fans on Goodreads. These can be indicators of success, certainly (with sales being the biggest and most important in commercial publishing), but they’re largely things out of the control of the individual writer.

Despite that, of course, most of us spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about them. They take up time, and energy, and headspace as we try to deal with and then remedy them – time, energy and headspace that could be better spent. Better spent doing what, exactly? Well, you’re a writer. What do you think?

I’m not saying every writer should cease paying attention to the money they’re making and completely retreat from social media; if we want to publish in any sense of the world, we can’t exist in a vacuum. However, perhaps we shouldn’t be letting things we can’t control take over our lives, and instead focus on the things we can control. Not getting the sales you want? Write something else. No-one read your last blog post? Write another. No re-tweets of that really funny joke you just made? Start a conversation instead. Instead of worrying, and worrying, and worrying, turn your anxieties into writing, writing, writing. Not only will you feel better, but you’ll have produced something at the end of it – and that something might just be what brings you success after all.

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