Making a Positive Difference with Each Book
So the first rule for every author is to ask, “Is this book worth writing?” And, by extension, when finished, “Is this book worth reading?”
Publishers will ask a similar question:” Is this book something my company should publish?”
If you write books, or if you aspire to write a book, it is important to remember that the first reader, the most important reviewer and critic, that you need to please is you.
If you set high standards for yourself, if you remember the ideas behind your book, whether it’s a nonfiction self-help book or a young adult novel, that drove you to write your book in the first place, you’ll be able to better handle the response to your book whether it’s enthusiastic, lukewarm, or negative. There are numerous examples throughout the history of literature of books that were ignored or even condemned that later became revered as classics. It sometimes takes time—lots of time —for readers and even reviewers to catch up with a book’s value. There are also many examples of books that were hugely popular in their day, whose authors made millions of dollars, that are completely ignored now with their writers (and books) long forgotten.
As Michelle Kerns notes in her article, “30 Famous Authors Whose Works Were (Repeatedly and Rudely) Rejected (http://www.examiner.com/article/30-famous- authors-whose-works-were-rejected-repeatedly-and-sometimes-rudely-by-publishers), novelist John Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill, was rejected by twelve publishers and sixteen agents before a relatively unknown publishing company, Wynwood Press, in 1989 gave it a 5,000 copy first printing. It was Grisham’s second book, The Firm, that became a huge international bestseller published by Doubleday. But A Time to Kill finally got its bigger audience after Grisham’s second novel became a best-seller. That
first novel not only went on to sell well but it became a popular movie in 1996 as well as being adapted into a play in 2011 that it was announced in 2013 was set to debut on Broadway.
Poet e.e. cummings’ work, The Enormous Room, was rejected by 15 publishers, leading him to self- publish it. Publicity guru John Kremer has some additional excellent examples of debut novelists whose first novel might have hit it big for them, but the road to that success wasn’t that fast or easy. (See “Success Stories: First Novelists, Debut Novelists.” http://www.bookmarket.com/debutnovels.htm)
What’s Your Story?
Reading about such examples can be inspiring and educational, but remember that every author and every book has its own unique story. What will your story be? Will it be your first or your tenth book that helps you to “break out.” I remember years ago being told that it took novelist Elmore
Leonard ten books until he “broke out.” Leonard worked fulltime at an advertising agency while he wrote five western novels, short stories, and screenplays. Although he finally felt he could leave his fulltime job to write, he still initially found that he needed to get freelance advertising jobs to support his family until his book career really took off.
The best reason to write a book is that you are compelled to do it. Of course it’s wonderful if someone also pays you to write it but especially for that first book, having that intensity and commitment to completing and publishing that debut book is key. And
it’s icing on the cake if, once you finish your book, it’s praised and it sells and makes lots of money. But if that doesn’t happen, if its sales are only so-so, and if the reviews range from terrific and amazing to unfair and annoying, as long as you, the author, and/or you, the publisher, are proud of that book, that is all that really matters.
You can’t control the public’s reaction to your published work. Yes, you do need to promote your book, a topic I’ll discuss in another blog. But whether or not you promote your book, once you finish your book and it is available to the world, your book has to be what ultimately counts, not the hype and not all the reviews or interviews, or whether it finds one reader or millions.
So pat yourself on the back for a job well done. As long as you, the author, and you, the publisher, feel that you are sharing with the world the best book that you could have written or published, everything else will take care of itself.
Even though it has become a cliché’, content is truly king (or queen), and it is still the most important reason to write, or publish, a book. So ask yourself, “Will this book that I am writing or publishing make a positive difference in the world?”
If you can answer “yes,” keep going and don’t worry about whether you get the pats on the back or the financial or critical acclaim for your book that of course you’d like and that you deserve. That may happen, and hopefully it will, whether it happens right away, down the road, or even when you are long gone.
But that shouldn’t be what genuinely matters.
There still needs to be a reward in knowing that you have contributed to the world a work that didn’t exist before. The book you wrote –and, if you’re a publisher, the book you published – is a work that you either created from scratch (as the dedicated author) or you made it accessible to the world (as the proud publisher).
So write on! Publish on! Keep making a positive difference in the world! That’s what truly counts!
About the Author
Jan Yager, the former J.L. Barkas, started her first book in connection with the research for a speech in her public speaking course in college. It was published by Scribner’s in the U.S. and Routledge & Kegan Paul in the U.K. when she was 26. It’s a history of vegetarianism entitled The Vegetable Passion, that has just been re-released as an e-book. Jan worked in publishing for three years, first at Macmillan, and then at Grove Press. Years as a freelance writer followed as well as receiving advance degrees in criminal justice and a Ph.D. in sociology from The City University of New York and teaching at the college level. In 1996, she founded Hannacroix Creek Books, Inc. (http://www.hannacroixcreekbooks.com). For more on Jan and her published works, translated into 32 languages, go to: http://www.drjanyager.com or http://www.whenfriendshiphurts.com.